Monday, February 10, 2014

Hollow men

Randall Jarrell once observed that “The people who live in a Golden Age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks.” The same could be said of intellectuals in the United States in the 1950s. Liberal intellectuals in that era criticized the American people for their bovine conformity, gross materialism (all the tail-fins and chrome on those wastefully big cars!), and lack of appetite for thoroughgoing social transformation. ....

...[A]lthough Marsden credits the intellectual elites of the ’50s for their perceptiveness in realizing that American culture was in crisis, he rebukes them for lacking any adequate remedies for the coming upheaval, and indeed for having done much to bring it on.

More particularly, Marsden declares that the characteristic outlook of 1950s moderate-to-liberal intellectuals can be understood as “latter-day efforts to sustain the ends of the American enlightenment, but without that enlightenment’s intellectual means.” ....

The 1950s intellectuals shared the founders’ reverence for science and the individual, but not their belief in natural laws, established by a Creator, that constituted self-evident principles apprehensible through reason. The liberal culture of the 1950s therefore had no adequate criteria for determining “the good,” and so in Marsden’s view its efforts to sustain a humane, progressive public consensus were bound to fail. ....

Marsden perceptively observes that Martin Luther King Jr., unlike most liberal proponents of civil rights, did believe in a God-given order and moral laws that could be comprehended by all men and women. .... [more]

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