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Michael Bauman on the 1960's

James Allen recently recommended to me this post by Michael Bauman on the 1960's. I in turn recommend it to you. It is well worth reading.

(I was forced to note while at the park this past week that the peace sign on clothing is back as a fashion statement. What a shame.)

Here are some great bits, but do read the whole thing:

Like almost all dissidents of my generation, I was a protestor without a plan and a visionary without a vision. I had not yet learned that you see only what you are able to see, and I was able to see only the egalitarian, relativistic, self-gratifying, superstitions of the secular, wayward, left. Please do not think that this was simply a case of prelapsarian innocence. It was not. It was ignorance and it was evil, although I would have denied it at the time.
I had to put my insipid and airy romanticism where it belonged, on the burgeoning junk pile of the fatally flawed and conclusively overthrown fantasies to which the human mind seems continually to give rise. Not romanticism but religion, not Byron but the Bible, not poetry but Paul, not Voltaire but virtue, not trends but tradition, not idealism but ideas, not genius but grace, not freedom but faith could cure me. I had to exchange Wordsworth for the Word and revolution for repentance.
Whenever someone insists upon freedom, you must ask "Freedom to do what?" You must ask that question because freedom, like tyranny, has its unintended and unforeseen consequences, some of which are colossally vile. In passing, I name but one — abortion.
The sixties were a bad idea, if for no other reason than because the sixties had no ideas, only selfish desires hiding behind the shallow slogans and freelance nihilism emblazoned on psychedelic bumper stickers, slogans like “I dissent, therefore I am.” The only things about which we were intellectually modest in the sixties were the claims of objective truth. We seemed unable to wrap our minds around even the most obvious ideas. We seemed unable to realize, for example, that you cannot raise your consciousness until you have one. The sixties were perhaps the most unconscious decade in centuries.
Tenured faculty members everywhere have traded their tie-dyed T-shirts and their bell bottom jeans for a cap and gown, if not a cap and bells. Those faculty members are the entrenched purveyors of an unexamined and indefensible hand-me-down Marxism...
The denizens of modernity probably do not realize and probably do not care that they are the befuddled and bedeviled lackeys of designer truth, of made-to-order reality, and of ad hoc morals making. If you follow them, you walk into the night without a light and into the woods without a compass. I want to tell you as plainly as I can that their vision of academic tolerance lacks intellectual virtue. It dilutes the high cultural inheritance of the past with the petty and insupportable leftisms of the present.

I would be gilding the lilies if I tried to add much of anything to Bauman's eloquence. This piece is worth passing on to the young people you care about. If you teach undergraduates or high schoolers, try to find an excuse to have your students read it, or at least recommend it to them.

One strand that I particularly thought of as I read Bauman's piece was the sexual revolution. There were really people in the 1960's who believed that love would conquer violence, that flower power would make everything nice. One wonders if they would be willing now, in our increasingly violent, and specifically sexually violent, culture, to admit that they were wrong. When Eros is made a god, he becomes a devil. Of course, it was always necessary to kill the unborn to allow absolutely free love without consequences. I doubt that many 60's radicals were in much doubt about this, though I suppose some of them might not have realized it. Those, I guess, are the ones who have now become conservatives, or at least pro-life. But the violence of pornography is something that I think they did not predict; nor did they foresee the union of the sexualization of culture with the glorification of violence. The flower children thought they would make the world beautiful. How incredibly naive. But as Bauman says, this was not innocence but a kind of deliberate and evil ignorance. Even though they might not have known what exactly the genie would do when let out of the bottle, they knew there was a genie, and they were reckless of consequences.

I think that now it is most probably too late for any of those 60's children who are still around to turn back if they haven't already done so. If the many and horrifying fruits of their revolution have not shocked them into sanity already, that won't happen now.

But it isn't too late for their children's children. Maybe not even for some of their children. And that is why Bauman wrote this piece.

Comments (19)

Classic Bauman!

Pure Poetry and biblical truth. I have passed this on to everyone I could via e-mail and facebook. I cannot wait for my freshman daughter at Hillsdale to have Professor Bauman in class.

Take a bow, Bauman! More aphorisms than the whole Kirk anthology and reading you criticize modernity gave me the same kind of feeling they say can only be attained with the aid of a bong and Jimi Hendrix. One quibble;the sixties didn't just head to academia, we could have survived that.It was when Madison Ave repackaged the whole thing and sold it back to us, while Wall Street became the natural destination for a Woodstock Nation anxious to transform adolescent lust to middle age greed, Still, quite a performance for a man who was there and yet has managed to remember most of that tumultous decade.

When we condemn the Sixties, let's remember that 1969 was four decades ago. Even among the intelligent youth, I bet it's hard to see the relevance.

It's like a professor in 1969 complaining about the recapitulation of the Roaring Twenties.

Further, it's obvious that "The Sixties" did have ideas. They were just shallow variants of Freedom and Equality. Popular relativism hides its absolutism.

I had the feeling that I've read most of Bauman's essay before. Allan Bloom's breakthrough work itself came 25 years ago. Where are his successors? Is it possible to criticize the Sixties Rut without ourselves becoming stuck in a parallel trough?

Bauman addresses the relevance question. And considering that at the moment we have a President (treated as positively messianic by the media) for whom the canards of 60's and 70's radicalism are gospel, I think the relevance is more evident than ever.

Education was forever transformed during that time and probably will never recover. Postmodernism has since then picked up on the relativism and the politicization of the professions and destroyed many of them. The legacy of regnant, influential leftism will not be finished with our country for a long, long time.

And, while we're at it, I'll bet the twenties did have an influence on the sixties.

Home School advocate and speaker Gregg Harris always pointed to the roaring 20's as the first generation which had been exclusively schooled in the age segregated public system. He saw the 20's as the first sign of the root rot that was under the surface of the American culture.

I think Gina is on to something. Not least because I have made the point before: it was only with advent of the notion that education could be turned into a mass-production affair, all "by the numbers" like car production, that we came up with anything like separable and distinct "generations". And, as a result, turned mid- and late- teenagers into a cohort with license and virtually no responsibility. And we were expecting...?

If you insist on divorcing "education" (or what passes for it) from what a young adult is intent on, it will always be only book knowledge for him, and conversely his "real life" will be divorced from any depth of thought. No wonder supposedly educated people are so incapable of thought that they cannot stand to be in a silent room for 10 minutes at a stretch.

I would say myself that age segregation probably lends itself to indoctrination in education better. I'm at a bit of a loss to say why, but my inclination is to think that the young people separated from their families and even from their own older and younger siblings by a rigid sense of age-related peerhood are more ripe for brainwashing by the teachers with whom they spend so many hours. Perhaps part of it is that they are taught, osmotically, to be snotty to their younger siblings as being beneath them and smart-alecky to their parents, and thus the only meaningful intergenerational connection in their lives is with their teachers, who mold them as they like. I do certainly believe that one of the healthiest signs among home schooled children is their natural and affectionate behavior towards younger children around them.

But the larger point (going back to Kevin Jones's comment) is that history, and especially the history of ideas, is always a continuum. If you told me that the eighteenth century was highly relevant to the problems of today, I would have to agree, even though it was 200-300 years ago. Of course, the relevance Bauman cites is a nearer connection, but there I think he is right. The peculiarly shallow nonsense of 60's (and I would also say 70's) leftism is by no means dead. Anyone who thinks it is because it's been 30-40 years is just wrong. Why, just recently someone was expressing shock at Wesley Smith's blog about the horrible ideas promulgated in the 1970's by Obama's proposed (?) "science czar," Holder, ideas he has never recanted concerning forced sterilization and the like--population control nonsense. I explained to this fellow that being a 1970's radical means never having to say you're sorry. He had to admit that he was only born in the 80's, so this was useful information to him.

Believe me, these people are still very influential among us, and will be for the foreseeable future. The long march through the institutions was incredibly successful, and the virus has reproduced itself, with even a few nasty mutations along the way.

Allan Bloom's breakthrough work itself came 25 years ago. Where are his successors? Is it possible to criticize the Sixties Rut without ourselves becoming stuck in a parallel trough?

Good point, though Bloom's empty philosophy is no more attractive than a return to the Eisenhower 50's. The 1960's did not happen in isolation from all that preceded those years, and as far as education is concerned, John Dewey's "child-centered" Progressive education was eating away at our cultural organs prior to the first Love-In.

The past is a foreign land, so it falls to conservatives to honestly navigate history in a way that eludes an amnesiac Left content to live off of fatuous Whig narratives, self-hating recriminations and dishonest hagiographies of its sainted figures. And, too often the conservative lazily settles for a self-definition shaped almost exclusively by a reaction to that decade, bereft of a compelling, alternative vision for a humane social order.

The professors of the Sixties didn't teach the kids anything. They had nothing of interest to offer. It was the kids teaching the professors and they ate it up. Youth and inexperience are not the same as vulnerability and the young don't admire the wisdom of their teachers half so much as the teachers admire and covet the vitality and beauty of youth. This has always been true.

I've no idea what today's kids think but I'm sure it's something interesting and something they've never been taught. Probably not much to do with religion, the Bible, Paul, tradition or grace either. The need for those things comes later. You can teach things. You can't teach the need for them. Life produces the need. Some people might even call this phenomenon, the culture of life.

They come around eventually. That's why there is still a Church. Take comfort in that, if nothing else.

Obama's proposed (?) "science czar," Holder, ideas he has never recanted concerning forced sterilization and the like--population control nonsense.

Happily, you may be wrong on this point. See "Obama’s science czar does not support coercive population control, spokesman says." Holdren disavowed govt coercion at his confirmation hearing and through a spokesman.

You know, Kevin Jones, that just doesn't impress me. I wrote a post on this called "Utterly Beyond the Pale." If the ideas in Ecoscience had been KKK ideas, no one, no one at all, would consider the distancing chronicled in that article sufficient. Notice that part of it--the last part--is taken up with a claim by the Ehrlichs that their views were "misrepresented." That tempts me to bad language. The Ehrlichs must think we all suffer from collective amnesia. That sort of stuff was _huge_ back then, and Ehrlich's own ideas were known as ZPG--Zero Population Growth. _Of course_ he advocated that. I read an article from him around 1970 in of all things Reader's Digest advocating the same stuff. How insulting for them to claim that that was a misrepresentation. Yes, the horrific ideas in Ecoscience were deliberately couched in this weird, "It might be considered necessary to do X" language, but that should fool nobody. This is hardly repentance by Holdren. It's a combination of, "Well, I don't believe that the government should be trying to set a maximum population" combined with dismissal--"a three-decades-old book" "a textbook" "authored by three people," and so forth. As I said, no one would accept that for some Nazi: "No, I do not now believe the Jews should be exterminated. And please don't bug me with what I and two other people merely presented as possibilities in a three-decades-old textbook."

Not impressive. And hmmm, what is the Obama administration's positions vis a vis the Mexico City policy? The UNFPA? Forced abortion in China?

I'm sorry, but the horrible ideas of the 60's and 70's live and in some ways are more influential today even than they were when Bauman wrote that article.

For at least ten years I have been trying to point out to people what many historians have known for years: there is a bipartite structure to the history of the twentieth-century that allows the first part of the century to comment on the second.

Gina is right, to an extent, that the 1920's set the stage for the 1960's, but she doesn't go far enough in her analysis by halves. Let's take a look at the correlations between the 1920's and the 1960's in terms of certain aspects of cultural and politics. Once the correlations become visible, it then becomes possible to discuss the common causative factors (if there are any). My source for the 1920s is a book called: Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's by Frederick Lewis Allen. The author felt the changes in the 1920's so radical that they had to be commented on by a contemporary for posterity.

Let's make a list:

End of a World War
Disaffected Youth Movement
The Red Scare (Bolshevism)
Rise of the idle (young) Rich
The Revolution in Manners and Morals
Increase in Divorces
Radial Fashion Change
X-rated Cinema
The Rise of Fundamentalism
The Revolt of the Highbrows
The Rise of Mass Media (Radio, Short Wave)
Rise of Eugenics
Renewed Civil Rights (Black, Women)
Prohibition and Illegal Drug Use
The Rise of "Scientific" Methods of Education
The Rise of Assembly Line
Scandals in Government (Harding)
Economic Independence of Women
Rise of Psychotherapy
Disintergration of Societal Cohesion
Rise of New Music

End of a World War (10 year delay - see below)
Disaffected Youth Movement
The Red Scare
Rise of the idle (young) Rich
The Revolution in Manners and Morals
Increase in Divorce
Radical Fashion Change
X-rated Cinema
Rise of Fundamentalism
Revolt of the Highbrows (Academics)
Rise of Mass Media (Color TV, Computers)
Rise of Eugenics under the guise of Planned Parenthood
Renewed Civil Rights (Blacks, Women)
Rise of Illegal Drug Use
The Rise of New Education Methods (Whole Phonic
The Rise of Automation
Scandals in Government (Nixon)
Economic Independence of Women
Rise of Psychotherapy (Child, New Bizzare Techniques)
Disnitegration of Societal Cohesion (Family)
Rise of New Music

See what I mean? Correlation after correlation. The 1920's is a laboratory for studying what would later happen in the 1960's. In fact, it makes me wonder that no one noticed the parallels sooner. The 1920's and the 1960's are, essentially, the same reaction, using a chemical metaphor, producing the same products. What separates the two eras? The Depression and World War II. It is often stated that World War II brought us out of the Depression, but this is a half-truth. The United States, at the end of the 1920's was too fragmented a society to be able to fight a world war. It was the Depression, where people had to learn to work together, which restored the cohesion necessary to be able to fight World War II. Without it, I doubt we would have been able to mobilize so quickly. There were millions of people eager to work and ready to fight, who knew how to pull together very rapidly. Thus, it wasn't just that World War II pulled us out of the Depression, in a real sense, it was the Depression that enabled us to fight World War II.

During the Depression/World War II era (DWII, hereafter), most of the excesses seen during the 1920's either went away or went underground only to resurface during the 1960's.


In both cases, there had been a World War. During war, passions are stirred up and psychologies are perverted. At the end of World War I, most of that energy went into, at first, social protectionism, then into self protectionism (narcissism). At the end of World War II, most of that energy was diverted for about ten years with the rise of suburbia. It was the second generation that inherited the restlessness of their parents. Of course, these movements that went underground during World War II, such as the Eugenics Movement, were waiting for a group that was young, disaffected, and ahistorical - the identical group that existed after World War I.

Ultimately, it is the causes of the World Wars, in moral terms, which caused the same phenomena in both periods. The complete analysis of the correlations between the 1920's and the 1960's would make an interesting research paper.

The Chicken

I have read what seems to me a plausible theory to the effect that it was the difficulties of the Depression and WWII that sent radicalism scurrying away for a while. This is similar to what you are saying, though a little more stark: They just didn't have the money to go on being flappers and doing jazz, and once we were into WWII, we had more important things to do. Eugenics even became rather unpopular for a little while by being associated with the Nazis, though that didn't last long.

So it is idle riches allowing youth to squander their time inventing and investing themselves in pseudo music, psuedo art, and "causes", instead of being forced to buckle down and earn a living like all the generations before them, that's the culprit, and not the education they had foisted upon them? Or is it that the so-called education partook of the same deformed view of life as the rest of the youth culture?

We cannot get away from the fact that for both the 20's and 60's, and for all the other decades of the 20th century, the education has been in the hands of the Deweyists, assuming the objective of schooling is to pour a determinate set of facts in the brains of the brainwashed. No need to worry about how to think, or whether there is a reason to think, much less imparting the intellectual and moral virtues (like internal honesty) necessary to think persistently and well. So that would suggest that the different results from the 20's and the 60's comes more from the other social circumstances - like the relief following the intense pressure of world war. And the rational expectation and hope in material progress for the next generation to make all things easier. Of course, this hope only makes sense when one reduces everything important to merely material good - when did this change hit our culture? Surely it has not always been true that Americans are materialistic culture.

There are going to be too many factors to give some one simple answer to the question, "Why did the 20's lead to fewer immediate problems than the 60's?" Just one of these factors is the higher representation in the halls of learning of people with bad ideas--sympathizers with communism, atheists, etc. While the college students of the 60's considered themselves to be rebelling against the correctly behaved, dweebie professors with short hair and bow ties, I believe that they had also learned some things--and not always good things--from those very dweebie professors.

Re: Ecoscience, I agree some of the defenses were questionable. However, the most exculpatory fact is that the textbook was 1,000 pages long and meant to be a state-of-present-science review. The Holdren case isn't clear-cut to me, and I'd sure be willing to attack him if I thought it was. I think they would be more dismissive who aren't already sympathetic to his critics.

My concerns about the Sixties critics' rut have deepened. Sure, it's interesting to know the parallels between that era and the 1920s and today. But what good has Sixties criticism done? Why has it been so powerless? At best, such criticism can attract people like my younger self and preserve a dissenting opinion amid the Hippie Hegemony.

But the average student might hear this critic of the Sixties and think "So what? My dad was nine then."

It's like we've responded to the Long March through the Institutions either through fruitless activism or through penning affecting but irrelevant analyses. We're the anthropologists of our usurpers and the historians of our own demise.

However, the most exculpatory fact is that the textbook was 1,000 pages long and meant to be a state-of-present-science review.

I completely disagree that this is exculpatory. Again, I believe that if we had the rightful horror toward these ideas, we would not consider this exculpatory, particularly if we realized that the authors of the book (the Ehrlichs, for example) were _famous_ for advocating government involvement in population control in multiple venues. And you are not, I think, sufficiently considering what the book actually says. E.g.,

One way to carry out this disapproval might be to insist that all illegitimate babies be put up for adoption—especially those born to minors, who generally are not capable of caring properly for a child alone. If a single mother really wished to keep her baby, she might be obliged to go through adoption proceedings and demonstrate her ability to support and care for it. Adoption proceedings probably should remain more difficult for single people than for married couples, in recognition of the relative difficulty of raising children alone. It would even be possible to require pregnant single women to marry or have abortions, perhaps as an alternative to placement for adoption, depending on the society.
Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.

To be acceptable, such a substance [a sterilizing agent added to the water] would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: it must be uniformly effective, despite widely varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have no effect on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets, or livestock.

Oh, yeah, _that_ would make it acceptable.

If some individuals contribute to general social deterioration by overproducing children, and if the need is compelling, they can be required by law to exercise reproductive responsibility—just as they can be required to exercise responsibility in their resource-consumption patterns—providing they are not denied equal protection.

That's starting to show the tentacle a little more even than the others. "They can be required." Says who?

In today's world, however, the number of children in a family is a matter of profound public concern. The law regulates other highly personal matters. For example, no one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent a person from having more than two children?

That really sounds like a mere "survey of present science" to me (not).

This is not science. This is not a survey of science. This is pseudo-science-cum-horrible-ideology. Again, if someone wrote a "textbook" meant to "review the state of present science" that contained statements about how there is a crisis of the control of the Jews over the world and how it may become necessary to exterminate them, or about how the inferior races are in danger of overrunning Western countries and may need to be reduced, including details on how their reduction might be carried out under the law, etc., no one would consider it exculpatory to say that this was a textbook and meant to be a review of the present state of science, even if that was what the authors really thought--that this horrific junk was somehow "scientific." I just believe that population control Nazism doesn't arouse enough horror and disgust in people now, so it is more easily considered to be exculpated in someone's past than racist Nazism.

As far as what good sixties critics do. Well, you may have noticed that Professor Bauman teaches history. I teach my own kids. I kind of gather that Allan Bloom might have been helpful to a few people in his time. I think that in this post Bauman does an excellent job of using his critique of the sixties as a critique of _ideas_, ideas that his students need to hear critiqued. He gives them a good idea of what these ideas are, and he points them toward the remedy. That could do a lot of good. I suppose each person has to decide for himself whether to use references to the sixties specifically as a rhetorical matter in critiquing the various leftist cancers threatening to devour our society. But the cancers need to be addressed and answered in order to try to turn some people from them, to change their minds, to make converts to a better, clearer, holier, saner view and vision of the world. And if you don't see that as valuable, Kevin J., I'm not sure what I can say that would change your mind.

But what good has Sixties criticism done? Why has it been so powerless?

It has been so powerless because we, as a nation, have become so steeped in sin that we have had our intellects darkened to the point where we can no longer see the light of higher things, only the darkness of base materialism. Until people begin to recognize sin, again, they will never recognize what was wrong with the sixties. I hate to say this, but one of the things one should have expected after 9/11 was a renewed sense of the fragility of life and this should have focused people on their own mortality and cleaning up their own act, but it did not. This tells me that there was something seriously disordered in the American public. When a man learns that he has a terminal illness, many times, the first thing he does is start praying and starts reforming his life. I saw the praying, but not the reforming after 9/11. There is a passage from the Book of Sirach [7:36] that says, "In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin." Hardly anyone thinks about the end of their lives, these days, at least until they are forced to. Most people live in a perpetual adolescence where they deceive themselves with thoughts of their own immortality. Technology has helped create this illusion because of many escapes it provides. Most of the technology in past ages were concerned with mundane tasks connected with the business of living, so even technology reminded us of our final end. Much of the technology, nowadays, is connected with helping us to escape our final end or at least pretend that it will never come. An example: in past times, one would go out to see a singer, live, because that was the only way to see them. One realized that it was a once in a lifetime event. The singer would soon be dead and you could only pass on the experiences that were in you memories of the singer to your children. It became important to remember. Nowadays, we have recordings and video. One can, in a sense, stop time. No need to remember, the recording will do it for you. No need to consider the singer dying. His performance is immortal and the listener is frozen in time.

As long as we run from death or can pretend that it will never come, we will never learn to see our sins. Couple that with the watering down of morality, sadly, by eclessial bodies in the United States, so that what is sin has been redefined as a virtue, and this accounts for our powerlessness to change the effects of the Sixties.

The Chicken

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