False Promises of the '60s
We’re going to devote most of this newsletter to a message we think you’ll find very encouraging. This message comes from a recent speech by nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, and it offers genuine hope regarding the future of our country. It’s titled “The Sixties Are Dead: Long Live the Nineties.”1
False Promises of the ’60s: “Shattered Like Glass”
If you slept through the sixties, you woke to a different America. It was the pivotal point of the recent past-an authentic decade of decision. It marked the beginning of a passionate social debate that still divides us. It changed ancient attitudes on matters both public and private. No generation of Americans has ever heard more extravagant promises. Promises of revolution. Promises of utopia. Promises of ecstasy. Promises of justice. Here is a brief look at some of the other features of the sixties’ ambitious agenda:
- The promise to end poverty. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress for the creation of a “public welfare program” designed to “attack dependency, juvenile delinquency, family breakdown, illegitimacy, ill health, and disability.” During the Great Society, these goals were expanded even further, and President Lyndon B. Johnson assured his fellow Americans, “The final conquest of poverty is within our grasp.” This massive government effort led one wag to comment, “God is dead, but fifty thousand social workers have risen to take His place.”
- The promise of liberation from the traditional family. In the 1960s, children and marriage were represented as the sworn enemy of self-fulfillment. Distrust and suspicion were returned by the young: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” were the passwords for entry into the counterculture.
- The promise of sexual freedom. In 1966, Masters and Johnson cast the blinding light of research into the “dark corners” of human sexuality. Everything was measured, categorized, and revealed. The lesson drawn? It was less than profound: “Do your own thing.” Many committed couples were harangued until they admitted their “political errors” and split apart. Marriage began to replace cohabitation as the unpardonable sin. The youth culture began to experiment with group sex and homosexuality out of a sense of political obligation, as well as a yearning to be trendy.
- The promise of “pharmaceutical enlightenment.” Harvard University professor Timothy Leary urged students to “tune in, turn on, drop out” as a surefire method to expand their mental horizons. Happiness and drug use became synonymous. And, of course, flouting the law and convention on the issue of drugs soon led to a general disrespect for all law and convention.
- The promise of progressive education. On the sixtiesstyle open campus, students were delighted to find more and more courses without assignments, lectures, or grades. Universities began to abandon their most basic mission of providing liberal arts undergraduate education. As sociologist Robert Nisbet explains, “The ideologies which gained entry into the academy in the sixties claimed that the fundamental intellectual princouples of Western culture were illegitimate and must be overthrown. With that destroyed, terms like truth, good, evil, and soul could be discarded.”
- The promise of unrestrained expression. “Little Richard’s First Law of Youth Culture,” named after a then-popular singer, set the agenda: please kids by shocking their parents. Beyond popular culture, even “high culture” led by prestigious artistic figures threw off all convention in an effort to redefine the medium, and in so doing opened the floodgates of nihilism and perversion in the name of “art.”
- The promise of God’s death. Radical activists and even once-conventional theologians sponsored an escape from traditional religion and morality in an attempt to create “new values” for a new generation. Some merely wanted to make the church seem “hip” and relevant; some desired to tear it down. Few demurred at all when Chicago Seven defendant and militant atheist Abbie Hoffman proclaimed, “God is dead, and we did it for the kids.”
The mottoes of the time, charged with wild-eyed, unwashed intensity, tell the story of the sixties: “If you see something slipping, push.” “Burn, baby, burn.” Ideas like personal honor, gentlemanly conduct, loyalty, duty, obligation, and the sacred were all disowned. The past was demolished, like a decaying, outdated historical landmark, to make way for a chrome-and-glass future.
The decade of the sixties was judged, in its own time, by the height of its aspirations. Today, it can be judged by the depth of its influence. When the evidence is weighed, the verdict is irrefutable: we have lived through the unfolding history of its utter failure. Promises and illusions were shattered like glass. Americans are left to walk carefully among the jagged shards.
What Was the Impact on the Family?
To fight poverty, the government has spent beyond the wildest dreams of avarice-let alone Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, or Lyndon B. Johnson. For over three decades, we have conducted the greatest social experiment the world has ever seen with $3.5 trillion in government funds. Yet poverty is still on the increase, deeply rooted as it is in fragmented families, and welfare is still a trap that eventually destroys the soul.
Feminist disdain for the family and the sexual revolution have given millions of women the chance to realize their full potential-of abandonment and poverty, that is-and have “liberated” countless children from the affection and care of their parents. The results for children are particularly disturbing, because their suffering has been uninvited and undeserved. The Census Bureau estimates, for example, that only 39 percent of children born in 1988 will live with both parents until their eighteenth birthday.
Other surveys suggest that over 40 percent of all American children have no set goals, a limited education, and a sense of hopelessness about their lives. The doctrine of the dispensable two-parent family-so central to the sixties-turned out to be a lie.
What Was the Impact on Our Culture?
Progressive education, designed to provide enlightenment, has generally left students entirely in the dark. Since the sixties, college professors have taken up political causes as a profession, using the classroom to denounce falsehood and injustice while teaching that truth and justice are illusions. J. Allen Smith, the father of many modern education reforms, confessed: “The trouble with us reformers is that we have made reform a crusade against all standards. Well, we have smashed them all, and now neither we nor anyone else has anything left.”
In regard to culture, theories that hate beauty and order have undermined meaning, value, and conscience. Whether it is popular culture or high culture, they have led to ever stranger sins and more startling obscenities. Each year requires more baroque perversions to provoke society’s capacity for outrage.
On the font line of the drug war, the news is even more grim. Everyone has seen the effect of drugs on the young, who are seldom more than a handshake away from any drug they can afford. The permissive treatment of drugs has spawned a violent subculture of gangs, guns, and random terror.
The escape from religion and the triumph of secularism have left many Americans isolated, confused, and alone. They are disconnected from traditional sources of meaning, value, and love like the family and the church. Sociologists call them “loose individuals” who are free from traditional restraints, obsessed with self-fulfillment, but uncertain of whether anything makes much difference.
The ultimate result is a genuine social crisis-a crisis, if you will, of cultural authority. How can we make any moral judgments? How can we draw dividing lines between sane and insane, noble and base, beautiful and hideous? How can we know anything about living a good life? How can we cry for reform when “form” has no meaning? The promises of the decade of the sixties have been broken. Nearly every victory turned out to be a defeat. The revolution that was meant to solve every problem became the problem.
The Good News: America Has “Turned a Corner”
We have borne, and continue to bear, the brunt of the failures of a destructive generation. But there is ample room for hope and optimism. Those failures have provided an opportunity-precisely because they are obvious to everyone with eyes to see-to call for real reform. The terrible price we have paid for the sixties has become evident to more and more Americans on the left as well as the right. Some will still be bound to romanticize certain features of the sixties, but there is no longer any question that they were harmful.
In the process, an older, higher tradition has found some unlikely sympathizers. In just the last few years, Americans have turned a corner in the realm of ideas. Social science has documented beyond a doubt the importance of strong families and individual character- not just as moral ideals but as basic human needs. And, without flinching, it has documented the result when these things are absent in society.
Barbara Whitehead’s widely remarked article in the Atlantic, “Dan Quayle Was Right,” carefully recounts study after study in what one commentator called a “social-science saturation bombing about the harm that family dissolution is doing to children and to the social fabric.” Ms. Whitehead makes the case, moreover, that illegitimacy is not a lifestyle choice but a form of adult behavior with profoundly destructive effects on the young. She also argues that no-fault fatherhood can cripple poor children faster than lead paint, and that the two-parent home is the best defense against poverty, crime, and despair.
David Popenoe, a prominent sociologist at Rutgers University, has added: “Social science research is almost never conclusive. Yet, in three decades of work as a social scientist, I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: for children, two-parent families are superior to single-parent [families] and stepfamilies.”
A Growing Awareness That Virtue Is Essential
This change in public reaction reaches deep. Once Americans generally believed that mediocre education, welfare dependency, and increasing crime were technical problems with economic or legislative solutions. But that belief has now failed. In a groundbreaking article for The Public Interest, UCLA professor James Q. Wilson says there is a “growing awareness that a variety of public problems can only be understood.if they are seen as arising out of a defect of character formation.” He concludes, “In the long run, the public interest depends on private virtue.”
This conversion is reluctant but real, especially in the media. It is something new and hopeful, for example, when Richard Cohen of the Washington Post observes: “About 1.2 million children are being born annually in single-parent homes. Without mature males as role models (not to mention disciplinarians), they are growing up unsocialized-prone to violence, unsuitable for employment, and thus without prospects or hope.” Or when political commentator David Broder argues: “The facts of social disintegration are so staggering, this is no longer a matter of ideological argument..It is no longer possible to pretend that the values by which people live their lives don’t matter.” Others who can hardly be called traditional conservatives have become articulate spokesmen for this new consensus in the media.
“Evidence of a National Reawakening”
And this consensus has even begun to filter its way into our political life. In a State of the Union address, President Clinton said: “Our problems go way beyond the reach of government. They are rooted in the loss of values.and the breakdown of our families and communities..We cannot renew our country when, within a decade, more than half of the children will be born into families where there has been no marriage.”
And the president has also publicly testified: “We are a people of faith..It is religion that helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive.” Now there are many questions about his sincerity, but there is no question that these arguments, coming from Bill Clinton, are clear evidence of a national reawakening to the importance of family, freedom, and faith as well as a renewed understanding of the urgency and necessity of virtue.
Indeed, there seems to be a growing agreement among all citizens on the nature of our problems as a society. It is increasingly obvious that, first, we cannot build an orderly society when there is disorder in our souls; second, a political culture cannot survive apart from a moral culture that nourishes the values that made it possible; and third, these values are shaped in stable, two-parent families where children are initiated into the civilized traditions of the human race.
We have rediscovered in the nineties that democracy is moral before it is political, and that social order is the public evidence of private conscience. This has led, ultimately, to spiritual questions. As Christian author G. K. Chesterton foretold at the beginning of this century, “Men will more and more realize that there is no meaning in democracy if there is no meaning in anything; and that there is no meaning in anything if the Universe has not a center of significance and an authority that is the author of our rights.”
We Must Work Together to Achieve the Victory
What is the reaction of conservatives to this gradual but undeniable shift in attitudes? Sometimes, it seems as though we are angry to hear our own words from other mouths. Sometimes, it seems as though we remain content to rehearse our disadvantages and resentments. Yes, the media is still largely secular and often biased. Yes, Hollywood still too frequently celebrates moral anarchy. Yes, politics still tries its best to avoid hard issues. But this is like cursing the darkness during a splendid sunrise. We should be calling people to confront the implications of this new consensus, not questioning the motives and sincerity of those involved. Our goal should be to extend and strengthen our agreement instead of merely replaying the battles of the past.
Such is the proper attitude of a confident belief. And today, we can confidently assert the bankruptcy of moral relativism and the failure of social planning-because we know from objective evidence that they have produced a series of individual, economic, and political disasters. As a result, we now have the opportunity to show that traditional values are survival values, and to build a coalition of realists about human nature and human needs across the ideological spectrum.
“At least five times,” wrote Chesterton in the early twentieth century, “the faith has, to all appearances, gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases, it was the dog that died.” Every promise of the sixties has been broken-and now that dog is dead-but the future is bright and full of life. We can come forth once again with the positive ideas of a confident belief, and, whatever our past differences, we should welcome the company of those who share it.
Lengthening Our Stride in 1995
We should all be encouraged by these developments. A number of current political and social trends suggest that the tide may finally be changing in America. As Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family has written, “It appears that we have turned a corner in the cultural war that has rocked our country.” But he also noted that “only time will tell.whether the movement back toward traditional values is a temporary shift or whether it presages one of the major transformations in history.”2
In other words, there’s still a lot of work to be done! And so in 1995 we’re going to continue spreading the founding fathers’ inspired message from coast to coast. You can help advance this important work through your generous donations to NCCS and by sharing the founders’ teachings with your own family members and friends. We’re excited about the initial response to our “Evening a Month for America” project, and we invite you to become involved in it if you’re not already having these discussions in your home.
In addition, our seminar program continues to expand in many parts of the United States. We’re grateful to Lara Christensen and her committee for organizing such a successful event in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 28. People came from seven states to learn the original American “success formula”! And while we’re on the subject, here are the dates, locations, and contact persons for some of our upcoming seminars:
Every Wednesday Mesa, Arizona Earl Taylor (602) 832-0174
February 25 Tularosa, New Mexico Rod Becket (505) 585-4434
March 25 Elko, Nevada Alan Gaertner (702) 738-3424
April 22 Vincennes, Indiana Gail Bowman (618) 943-6070
Thanks again for your loyal support and your commitment to preserving “the land of the free.” We appreciate the role you play in this vital effort to restore our Constitution.