The writer, politician, and antiwar activist Tom Hayden died yesterday at the age of 76, a year and a half after suffering a stroke. Now, as they say, he rests in peace—a man who devoted his life to making the world a place where the living can do the same. From helping to found the New Left in the 1960s right up to this turbulent election season, Hayden was a pillar of Democratic politics, a brilliant strategist and political thinker, and a leading advocate for a more just and equal society. Here at The Nation we are especially saddened by the loss of a close friend. A longtime contributor to these pages, Hayden joined our editorial board just weeks before the attacks of September 11, which gave a new resonance to his life’s work. He attended most biannual meetings, often in person and sometimes by Skype, until September of 2015. His most recent piece for the magazine, published in April, was a moving essay about why he was supporting Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary:
So here we are, at the end of one generation on the left and the rise of another. Both camps in the party will need each other in November—more than either side needs to emerge triumphant in the primary. We still need the organizing of a united front of equals to prevail against the Republicans. It will take a thorough process of conflict resolution to get there, not a unilateral power wielding by the usual operatives. It’s up to all of us.
Though an irreplaceable voice for peace has been silenced, there will be one more reminder of Hayden’s unsurpassed ability for making readers understand what it takes to hold the powerful to account. Next spring, Yale University Press will publish Hayden’s final book, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement. For now, here is a sampling of some of the important work Hayden published in our pages.3
A month after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president, Hayden wrote a cover story titled “The Future Politics of Liberalism” (February 21, 1981), which showed that there was much more to his vision of the United States that the limited set of issues that usually falls under the rubric of politics:4
We need more than ever a participatory society in which persons of all life styles believe that they matter, instead of the escapist culture that absorbs millions in irrelevance. We cannot contend with the coming of external limits unless we delve more into our rich inner potentials.5
It comes down to moving from a wasteful, privately oriented, self-indulgent existence to a more conserving, caring and disciplined life style. The cornerstone has to be a renewal of self-reliance, not the outmoded frontier fantasy of the Republican philosophers, but the reassertion of personal responsibility in everything from conserving resources to decentralizing services to keeping ourselves well through self-care to practicing a “right livelihood” in business. It is a change from planned obsolescence to the production of useful goods that last, from consumer madness to the achievement of inner satisfactions, from the opulence of Jay Gatsby to the frugal self-assurance of Henry David Thoreau.6
More important than money and technique in elections is the factor of motivation and vision. The Democrats (or someone else) will return to national leadership when they are inspired again.7