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Professor Michael Flamm's New Book Explores Ideological Transformation of American Politics in the 60s


March 17, 2006

When Michael Flamm decided to write his new book, "Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s," (Columbia University Press, 2005), he was determined to answer a question that had intrigued him and other scholars for years: How had conservatives managed to wrest control of national politics from liberals in the 1960s?Intrigued by the transformation in American politics which took place in the 1960s, OWU's associate professor of history and department chair spent six years doing research and conducting interviews. The result was his recent book, which explores how conservatives between 1964 and 1968 constructed a new national issue--law and order-- and used it to capitalize upon the widespread sense that America was coming apart in the wake of rampant street crime, civil unrest, and antiwar demonstrations.

"I loved doing the archival research for this book, but I also loved finishing the writing process," says Flamm with a smile. Above all, he enjoyed exploring how the past helps shape the present and how the ideological transformation of the 1960s continues to influence American politics today. Flamm has loved studying about history since he was a small child. He majored in history at Harvard University and went on to receive his doctorate in history at Columbia University.

As someone who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, the 41-year-old Flamm believes he has brought a fresh and different perspective to histories of the 1960s."I am part of a new generation of historians who are writing about that decade," he says. "Until recently, most accounts were written by those who were actively engaged in the great struggles of the era, from the civil rights crusades to the protests against the Viet Nam War."Flamm contends that since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the politics of security has dominated presidential elections. But the form it has assumed has changed from decade to decade. In the 1930s, the focus was on economic security; in the 1940s and 1950s, as Americans confronted first fascism and then communism, it was on national security. In the 1960s, personal security was the focus while today, national security has again assumed center stage. In his courses, Flamm emphasizes how, when national security or personal safety is the main issue, conservatives have historically held an advantage, as they have since 9-11. Whether they will continue, he argues, depends largely on how the war on terror goes.In the meantime, Flamm is proud of his work, which has already garnered strong reviews.

"I am pleased to make a permanent contribution to the historical profession and to the sum of historical knowledge," says Flamm. "This [book] is my contribution to better understanding our country's past and, by extension, its present and future."