|Week of: |
November 19, 2000
|Mainstreaming the Counterculture
by: F.R. Duplantier
"In a democratic society like ours, where free elections are guaranteed, political revolution is almost unthinkable in practical terms," observes Roger Kimball, managing editor of The New Criterion. "Consequently, utopian efforts to transform society have been channeled into cultural and moral life. In America, scattered if much-publicized episodes of violence have wrought far less damage," Kimball contends, "than the moral and intellectual assaults that do not destroy buildings but corrupt sensibilities and blight souls. The success of America's recent cultural revolution can be measured not in toppled governments but in shattered values. If we often forget what great changes this revolution brought in its wake, that, too, is a sign of its success."
In his new book, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America, Roger Kimball cites the sexual liberation movement and the drug culture as key elements of this revolution. "Both," he says, "are expressions of the narcissistic hedonism that was an important ingredient of the counterculture from its development in the 1950s." Kimball remarks that "the behavior of the 'revolutionaries' of the counterculture consistently exhibited that most common of bourgeois passions, anti-bourgeois animus -- expressed, as always, safely within the swaddling clothes of bourgeois security."
Kimball identifies the Beat Generation of the 1950s, epitomized by poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist William S. Burroughs, as the source of "many of the pathologies of the Sixties and Seventies." He cites the following Beat-rooted pathologies: "Their programmatic anti-Americanism, their avid celebration of drug abuse, their squalid promiscuous sex lives, their pseudospirituality, their attack on rationality and their degradation of intellectual standards, their aggressive narcissism and juvenile political posturing."
Kimball dismisses as a countercultural myth the idea that "America in the 1950s was a sterile, soulless society, obsessed with money, stunted emotionally, negligible culturally and intellectually, brutal and hamfisted in its politics and social policy." Nevertheless, he concedes, "anti-Americanism became a neces- sary badge of authenticity for writers and intellectuals; more and more, the cultural establishment demanded the pose of anti-establishment animus."
America's cultural revolution was "an attack on maturity," Kimball concludes. "The idealization of youth has resulted not only in the spread of adolescent values and passions; it has also led to the eclipse of adult virtues like circumspection, responsibility, and restraint," he laments. "One of the most far-reaching and destructive effects has been the simultaneous glorification and degradation of popular culture. Even as the most ephemeral and intellectually vacuous products of pop culture -- rock videos, comic books, television sit-coms -- are enlisted as fit subjects for the college curriculum, so, too, has the character of popular culture itself become ever more vulgar, vicious, and degrading." Kimball emphasizes that "the integrity of high culture itself has been severely compromised by the mindless elevation of pop culture. The academic enfranchisement of popular culture has meant not only that trash has been mistaken for great art," he explains, "but also that great art has been treated as if it were trash."
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