Louis Menand in The New Yorker-
The movement inspired young people to believe that they could transform themselves—and America.
The New Left was born in the early nineteen-sixties as a revolt against the modern university, and it died less than ten years later, in the auto-da-fé of Vietnam. Although it helped mobilize opinion on issues like civil rights, urban poverty, the arms race, and the war, the New Left never had its hands on the levers of political power. But it changed left-wing politics. It made individual freedom and authenticity the goals of political action, and it inspired people who cared about injustice and inequality to reject the existing system of power relations, and to begin anew.
If this was a fantasy, then so was the Declaration of Independence. Fresh starts are not difficult in politics. They are impossible. You can shake yourself loose from some of the past, but never from all of it. “All men are created equal” did not turn the page on slavery. But there were many who hoped that it would, and if there weren’t people willing to place all their bets on a better future—and that was the spirit of the New Left—then we would not be worth much as a society.
The New Left emerged independently at two great postwar knowledge factories, the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley. More than a third of their students were in graduate or professional school.