An Enduring Legacy of the Sixties
by Ryan McMaken
When I was in college, I harbored the secret belief that my generation would reverse the 20th century's march of statism and illiberal central control. It seemed obvious. Most younger people generally reject the more radical aspects of the 60's ranging from sexual matters to racial integration. A growing number of people in their 20‘s and 30's are rejecting the legacies of love-ins, forced busing, and other militantly egalitarian remnants of the 1960's and 70's. I extrapolated from such evidence that my generation would reject the values of the 1960's and somehow look to the examples of culture and civil society exhibited by pre-1960's generations. It was a poor extrapolation.
It has now become clear that the rising class of the young members of the "New Class" have made a lateral move from the radicalism of the 1960's to a new (small ‘c') conservative ideal that denies any connections to previous generations at all but seeks to preserve the current state of affairs as the ideal environment for tinkering our way to utopia.
The young elites are happily and willfully taking their place among their older cohorts in the New Class and in many ways, the new youth is just another generation of highly educated, self-righteous elites as imagined by Christopher Lasch, Allan Bloom, and David Brooks.1 It is a generation of ahistorical social "scientists" who have vague notions of the value of equality, mass democracy, and state planning but lack any knowledge of the true moral dimensions of such values or what their implications might be beyond pseudo-scientific attempts at perfectly implemented public administration.
The "we've got it all figured out now" attitude of such a generation is exhibited most recently in Spencer Phillips' recent piece at Frontpage about how "uncool" the sixties have become. While the social movements of the 1960's forwarded a host of dangerous and statist agendas, those involved in the movement at least had the courage and the intellectual interest in thinking outside the status quo. Our modern crowd of young anti-revolutionaries wants little to do with anyone who wants to discuss the role of government or whether the modern corporatist state is morally justifiable or not. In fact, as Phillips' points out, talking politics is a distinctly uncool activity. This would be excellent if the disconnection from politics meant that young Americans were forming associations within communities and civil society that offered a counter balance to the modern administrative state, but they are not. Most young New Class types openly declare family obligations to be tiresome and have little patience for serious religious involvement. The new anti-politicism is little more than a conspiracy of consent for the materially prosperous status quo. Phillips' assertions that our generation is now filled with a zeal for volunteerism and church-going piety is overstated to say the least. As those of us involved in the non-profit sector know, volunteerism is virtually nothing among any group other than aging boomers, and religion as a part of daily life is at an all time low and is likely to stay there.
The so-called "libertarian" distrust of government allegedly exhibited by modern young professionals is without meaning. There is no real opposition to the current strain of public administration ideology prevalent among both the young and the old members of the managerial elites today. While the new generation may disapprove of some of the more radical and costly programs spawned by the 1960's that is a long way from actually supporting a dismantling of the corporatist machine of the New Deal and the Great Society. The attitude of our generation is more accurately described as "skeptical complacency" since we might not agree with all the grandiose plans of government, but we're not about to do anything about it.
What the new generation is really rejecting is the style of politics employed by the Left during the sixties. It is far too coarse and unsophisticated for the affluent youth of today. Rather than fight the system, today's young professionals simply elect to become part of the system and to work for government funded non-profits, for government subsidized corporations, or to be the public administrators themselves. Any revolution enacted by the new generation is to come from within the system itself where legions of M.PA.'s can direct public policy after consulting their Excel spreadsheets for the most "impartial" and "scientific" solutions.
Sure, the excesses of the 60's generation have been rejected by their children, but not on moral grounds. Drug use and promiscuous sex have been rejected because they have been determined by many to be injurious to the utilitarian improvement of the public. (Thus the distinction between safe and unsafe sex.) Any appeal to moral standards is accompanied by lots of eye-rolling and disdainful remarks about "dogma."
Let us not mistake the current moralism for anything resembling a return to the value systems of genuine bourgeois liberalism. The modern morality is of a John Dewey style pragmatic variety that looks upon moral standards as just another matter for public administration and not as anything to be determined and enforced by various religious or civic communities. Most middle class Americans of my generation are still repulsed by appeals to religious standards, to the dismantling of the welfare state, or to anything that suggests that equality is not the highest value.
Unless some major change takes place, the new members of the managerial elite will not be rejecting the state centered, egalitarian legacy of the sixties, and they most certainly will not "repeal the 20th century" as Murray Rothbard had hoped. The dominant philosophy of modern youth is that of skilled managers who are quite comfortable entrenched within a modern system of state-sponsored corporatism and state directed social change. In spite of what certain optimistic conservatives may think, such a state of affairs is a truly successful legacy of the sixties.
1. For good critiques of post-industrial elites from both the Right and the Left, see Christopher Lasch's Revolt of the Elites, Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind and David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise.
September 10, 2001
Copyright 2001 LewRockwell.com