In her book Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, Barbara Ehrenreich describes the emergence of the postmodern mindset as it blossomed in college campuses in the 60s, without ever using the term:
In the intersection of the left and the counterculture, a new kind of political ideology emerged. It was definitely of the left by its hatred of corporate power and the military-industrial complex, but too wary of government to be socialist. It was altruistic in its commitment to the downtrodden, but too invested in a vision of personal liberation to be dour and self-sacrificing. It was egalitarian, but in a way that went far beyond the reach of law or Supreme Court rulings - demanding and envisioning nothing less than the abolition of all hierarchy - whites over blacks, teachers over students, parents over children, and (by the late sixties) men over women. It was, of course, utopian, contemptuous of mere reform, and committed to a startling, total transformation that would bring human social arrangements into line with human needs and desires.
The same themes were echoed in the antiauthoritarianism of the German student left, the levelling spirit of the Chinese Red Guards, and the anarchic ebullience of the French student movement, which demanded no less than "All Power to the Imagination!" At the most general level, the worldwide student movement of the sixties represented the aspirations of the first generation to come of age after a half century of world war, genocide, and global depression: to put aside the gloom of history and live, at last, in full freedom and genuine equality.
Even those intellectuals who did not depend directly on the university for their income and prestige had reason to fear this new left that respected no hierarchies, not even those based on "objective knowledge" and expertise. To all of them, professors and pundits, the student movement demanded, in so many words (and sometimes in these very words): Why should we listen to you? What do you know about American society compared to a black woman on welfare, a Southern sharecropper, or, for that matter, a Vietnamese peasant whose village has just been devastated by American firepower? What is your vaunted objectivity but a mask for privilege, your expertise but an excuse for power?
And if the professionals' claims to authority were not respected, then what Midge Decter saw as the "power and prestige" that made the middle class a social elite would be lost. Physicians and attorneys, sociologists and scientists would have no more standing in the world than mechanics or secretaries.
Many spokespersons for the backlash hinted at this frightful possibility, but Robert Brustein, professor of drama at Yale, confronted it squarely in an attack on the student movement titled "The Case for Professionalism." If students and professors were to be "coequal," as the students seemed to want, then all respect for an "inherited body of knowledge" would be gone, and professionals would find themselves with no more authority (or importance) than "amateurs." The result, he warned would be a "bleak future… of monochromatic amateurism in which everyone has opinions, few have facts, nobody has an idea."