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The story of William Sloane Coffin Jr. and William F. Buckley Jr. sheds some light on the complexity of student politics in the 1960s, challenging the simplistic historical analysis so often applied to the period. In large measure, liberal and conservative student movements evolved, like Buckley and Coffin, in conversation with one another in the 1960s, with roots that extended back to the beginning of the decade and before. These movements did not emerge organically on college campuses, in a sphere free of adult influences; many of these student visionaries found their mission with the encouragement and support of generational mentors. This paper uses the Buckley-Coffin story as a framework for examining the interplay between the New Left and the New Right in the 1960s among college students. It demonstrates how the campus climate was simultaneously an important part of and shaped by the larger conversation that was already happening on a national level: a debate over how America would respond to the challenges of the post-war decades and define itself for the future.

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