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Idealism Without Illusions




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“A man who can produce the magnificently honest – and therefore also stunningly original – last four issues of New Options [#4 and #10 below – ed.] is also a man, I have no doubt, who can foster ‘a truly creative synthesis between alternative and mainstream approaches.’  Go for it!”
– unpublished letter to Mark Satin from Jane Jacobs (1916 – 2006), urban theorist and activist

Twelve Uneasy Pieces; or,
Up from Hyper-idealism

Mark Satin Shares What He Sees as His 12 Best Political Writings, 1967 – Present

I have written nearly a million published words since my first little pamphlet for the Student Union for Peace Action back in 1967, including five books and the bulk of over 130 issues of hard-copy national political newsletters (Renewal, New Options, and Radical Middle).  Most of that writing consists of analyses of national and world problems (with proposed solutions!), anatomies of social change groups, and constructively-critical reviews of “political” books, and you can find the most lastingly relevant of that material HERE and HERE.

But occasionally I would write more encompassing or more reflective or more self-critical pieces, and as I’ve grown older I’ve begun to think of that as my best work.  In addition, I’ve begun to see that what I was doing in those uneasy pieces evolved over time, in ways that I think the radical social change movement itself needs to evolve, if we are ever going to be something other than the hyper-idealistic conscience of left-liberal politicians; if we are ever going to take the lead in healing and transforming this nation.

 I could say more – much more – about this.  But taken together, my 12 pieces say it better.  So let me turn the floor over to them.


1. The Three Committees: SNCC in Mississippi, 1965
Radical Middle website, August 2015

This short story is my contribution to today’s debate over America’s racial divide.  It is based on my experiences as a civil rights volunteer for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi in 1965, when it was beginning to move away from its integrationist stance.  The story raises issues that are not properly being raised today.  [Readers' responses to this story can be found HERE.]

2. Bringing Draft Dodgers to Canada in the 1960s: The Reality Behind the Romance
Radical Middle website, September 2014

Many war resisters romanticized the work I was doing at the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme in the 1960s.  Even some mainstream journalists wrote quasi-sympathetic articles about us.  But behind the scenes, mistrust, power struggles, and resentments ran amok.  I try to explain why.

3. Participants Agonize Over (and Draw Lessons From) the Death and Life of the New World Alliance
Radical Middle newsletter, January 2008

In 1979 I helped organize the New World Alliance, America’s first national transformational / New Age / holistic (we never could agree on a perfect moniker) political organization.  Although our Governing Council was diverse, well-connected, and had beautiful intentions, after four years we dissolved.  In this series of missives, 15 of us try to make sense of it all.

4. You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry: The U.S. Green Party in 1990 [PDF]
New Options newsletter, September 1990, pp. 1-4

In 1984 I helped found what eventually became the U.S. Green Party, and this is a first-hand account of a national Green gathering.  In my articles on the first two gatherings, I bent over backward to give us every benefit of the doubt (see HERE); however, in this article I highlighted – with as much empathy as I could muster – some of our enduring flaws.  [A subsequent issue, consisting entirely of responses from 46 readers, occupies the last eight pages of the PDF.]



5. What Can We Learn from the Antiglobalists?
Radical Middle newsletter, August 2006

In 2006 one of my old New Options advisors, David Korten, published a book – The Great Turning – that reads remarkably like my New Age Politics book from the 1970s.  Reviewing it gave me a chance to reassess many New Age / Great Turning ideas in the context of the 21st century, and I found many of them to be simplistic, inadequate, or unappealing.  While I recommend this book as a valuable thought experiment, for me the experiment shows that many hyper-idealistic ideas need a radical centrist makeover.  [Author Annie Gottlieb’s commentary on this article is HERE.]

6. Is There an Invisible and Exceptionally Life-Loving Political Movement in Our Midst?
Radical Middle newsletter, October 2007

In the early 1980s, Paul Hawken criticized me and some other New World Alliance members for trying to organize the emerging transformational movement into a coherent political force.  His views carried the day, and in his book Blessed Unrest (2007) he defends and celebrates the “invisible” (his word) movement that developed instead.  Although I like many of Paul’s books, I argue that this one is both muddle-headed and dishonest and that his strategy helped give us the Bushes and the Clintons.



7. Two Conferences, One Generation [PDF]
New Options newsletter, October 1987, not the cover story – pp. 3-4 only

Part of the Sixties Generation is frankly after power, and is comfortable with it.  Another part wishes to retain its idealism and “innocence.”  Can these two impulses be brought together?  A first-hand look at two intriguing conferences highlights the importance of that question – which has raised its head in every generation since 

8. Twenty-eight Ways of Looking at Terrorism [PDF]
New Options newsletter, January 1986, pp. 1-8

Suppose they’re all valid and “true.”  How would that affect our understanding of the world?  And how might our politics change as a result?  After spending two months with terrorism “experts” ranging from the hyper-pragmatic to the deeply spiritual, I could not get such questions out of my mind.  [Responses from 14 readers follow this article.  The first and last still bring tears to my eyes.]

9. The 1980s Were Better Than We Thought [PDF]
New Options newsletter, January-February 1990, pp. 1-4, 7-8

Forget the self-aggrandizing individual of conservative economic theory and the self-sacrificing, collectively focused individual of radical-liberal dreams.  The 1980s marked the emergence of a third model of human being, the “caring person,” equally committed to personal growth and social change.  [Responses from 21 readers are on pp. 5-6 of subsequent issue #66, HERE.]

10. Some of Our Daughters, Some of Our Lovers [PDF]
New Options newsletter, October-November 1990, pp.1-8

There’s a lot of pressure right now to define sex as “only” sex, and prostitutes as “sex workers.”  This perhaps excessively first-hand account of Washington, D.C. street prostitutes questions these hyper-idealistic (or are they hyper-cynical?) reformulations.  Along the way, it asks what these women’s’ lives reveal about love and relationships in America.  [A subsequent issue, consisting entirely of responses from 59 readers, follows the article.]

11. Futility, Fury and Hope Outside the Republican National Convention
Radical Middle newsletter, September 2000

First-hand account of the anti-corporate protests and “shadow convention” outside the RNC in Philadelphia (the first George W. Bush convention).  Concludes that, in the 21st century, the most effective social change agents will be inside The System, not outside it.

12. The Katrina Dialogues
Radical Middle newsletter, October 2005

As soon as Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, liberals, conservatives, and radicals offered up “solutions” by the score.  But they weren’t listening to each other.  Enter “Dio” (short for Diogenes), a rakish hero who manages to do what a truly transformational and truly successful third political party will do in the future – make all sides listen to and learn from each other.

baker’s 12.  What the Poor Need Now
Radical Middle newsletter, March-April 2008

First-hand account of life in Section VIII housing in Oakland CA today.  Liberal, conservative, and radical solutions to the problems of the poor are all partial at best.  What the poor need can be delivered, but not bureaucratically, and not by jobs or income alone.  [Responses from 23 readers are HERE.]



Fifty selected Radical Middle newsletter articles are HERE.

Twenty-five selected New Options newsletter back issues (encompassing over 50 articles) are HERE.

Wikipedia’s Mark Satin biography, now a “Featured Article” there, is HERE.



WHY "Radical Middle"?


50 Thinkers and Activists DESCRIBE the Radical Middle 

50 Best Radical Middle BOOKS of the '00s


100 Great Radical Centrist GROUPS and  Organizations

25 Great Radical Centrist BLOGS


Generational Equity and Communitarian platforms 1990s

First U.S. Green Party gatherings, 1987 - 1990

Green Party's "Ten Key Values" statement, 1984

New World Alliance, 1979 - 1983

PDF of  the Alliance's "Transformation Platform," 1981


What the Draft Resistance Movement Taught Me

What the Civil Rights Movement Taught Me


New Options Newsletter, 1984-1992 (includes back issue PDFs!)

New Age Politics: Healing Self and Society, 1976,  1978 (includes 1976 text PDF!)


50 Best "Third Way" Books of the 1990s

25 Best "Transformational" Books of the 1980s

25 Best "New Age Politics" Books of the 1970s


10 Best U.S. Political NOVELS

50 Current Political IDEOLOGIES

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