Culture & Criticism Since 2003
The passing of Kevin Starr, the notable historian of California, is already being observed with predictable political correctness. For his series of popular surveys, beginning with the 1973 volume Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915, Starr has been noted as a paragon of the state’s presumptive, if unacknowledged, secessionism. His breadth of research and easy style made him palatable to readers of all ideological tendencies, to whom he preached a kind of “California exceptionalism.”
For most of his career, Starr viewed the California experiment benevolently, as a phenomenon balanced between utopia and reason. But he was an intense Catholic believer who seems finally to have despaired of California’s grandiloquent and heartbreaking destiny.
I became acquainted with Kevin during the 1990s, a period in San Francisco’s annals darker than most. The Democratic Left was firmly in control of local politics, media, and academia, and the gloom of intense political correctness had settled over the region. San Francisco had become a “sanctuary city” in 1989, in part to accommodate the political needs of the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Leftists who were long established in the city’s Hispanic milieu. San Francisco’s then-archbishop John R. Quinn, who served until 1995, aligned the Church in San Francisco unequivocally with the Central American Communist forces.
Click here to continue reading the complete text of Stephen Schwartz’s article which originally appeared at on January 18, 2017.
Stephen Schwartz’s literary career has spanned some 50 years, with his work appearing in many major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and The Toronto Globe. He was also a staff writer at The San Francisco Chronicle for a decade.