Cultural Conservation

A few years back, when the air was fresh and the world was new, some of us thought that the election of Ronald Reagan was only the beginning of the beginning of "morning in America." It is a common mistake. Some decades have an identity for those who set their mark upon them. In periods like the 1890's, the 1920's, and the 1960's, while most people went about their business of working, living, and dying, if you were a decadent poet in London, a stockbroker or novelist in New York, a student at Berkeley, Madison, or Columbia, it was an age of gold. Some true believers manage to keep the faith right up till the end: The best social critic of the counterculture, Philip Slater, published his New Age prophecy—The Pursuit of Loneliness—in 1970, and there are conservatives who, at this very minute, are planning the last phase of their coup d'etat.

It is hardly likely. For all the great successes of the administration, the important fact remains that the enemy is still in undisputed possession of the major institutions that control the formation of attitudes and the building of character: churches, schools, "the arts," the press are all enemy territory. Students may rebel, for a time, as students do; they may vote Republican or support the draft to spite their graybeard professors; but in the end most will be reabsorbed into the radicalized mainstream of American culture.


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