This, so I have argued, is the primary project of our counter culture: to proclaim a new heaven and a new earth
. (Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, 1969, p. 240)
You will not certainly die, the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3: 4-5)
When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11: 3)
The Countercultural Revolution of the 1960s Lives on
Dont you have the feeling some times that we live in a world that has gone mad? Who can make sense out of all the conflicting messages that bombard us every day. A lot of the news is about human ignorance, corruption, incompetence and creeping lawlessness in the Western democracies. Farther out in the rest of the world, dozens of minor and major wars are being fought, bringing with it bloodshed, starvation and soul-destroying deprivation. North Korea, where the people are living under one of the most cruel and murderous dictatorships, has managed to become a nuclear armed state. Meanwhile, radical Islamists have declared war on the free West, and Islamic Iran is moving closer to obtaining nuclear weapons while threatening to destroy the state of Israel.
Not a few people have told me that they no longer want to listen to or read the news because they find it too depressing. I think that most of us can empathize with such a feeling. But should we withdraw from society and live in our own small world that for most of us in the free West is often still quite comfortable and pleasant especially compared to the rest of the world? I do not think so.
In this article I want to deal with the movement that has had a revolutionary effect on the Western world, especially the United States. We are facing radical changes in the way people believe and behave. From a Christian point of view, that is most visible in the way our culture has become de-Christianized. The whole world of values and habits has been turned on its head. I think that the term revolution is in order, because it involves a determined rejection of long-standing traditions, beliefs and habits.
The Seeds of Destruction
To understand what is happening in our time, we need to go back and take a careful look at the happenings in the U.S. during the wild and woolly 1960s. The Sixties was the decade when the seeds for radical change were sown with far-reaching repercussions for decades to come. That was the time when the existing culture (the Establishment) was declared to be oppressive and antihuman, in need of being thrown on the graveyard of history.
Whoever lived through that decade will still have vivid memories of the pictures displaying huge protest marches in the major cities and other public demonstrations. Some of those were peaceful in calling for an end to the injustice suffered by black Americans. Martin Luther King, a clergyman and leader in the African- American Civil Rights Movement, insisted that protests be peaceful. His fearless and eloquent leadership did much to end racial segregation, at least in law if not always in practice. He became famous for his 1963 speech I have a Dream, which was a riveting plea for justice and brotherhood.
Other leaders in the 1960s revolution took a different tack and chose the way of violence and intimidation. The Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Weather Underground were violent and criminal organizations. A short list of the upheavals and calls for radical change included many student protests involving strikes and occupation of university buildings; the sexual revolution, with its devastating impact on the family; increasing drug use; anti-Vietnam war protests; riots, lootings and burning cities; the Woodstock youth festival in the summer of 1969.
The Beatles, a four-man rock band burst on to the world stage in the early 1960s, benefiting from and contributing to the cultural revolution then underway. They became an international sensation, attracting huge, adoring crowds to their many performances. One of the band members, John Lennon, boasted to a British reporter: Christianity will go
.It will vanish and shrink
.Were more popular than Jesus now; I dont know which will go first, rock n roll or Christianity.
Three of the most terrifying and unforgettable crimes were the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and that of his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King in 1968.
It seemed to many that the curse of chaos and lawlessness would never end. But gradually life settled into a less chaotic routine, and the revolution seemed to have spent all its energy. But it hadnt. It merely went underground where the foundation blocks of society were replaced with inferior sandy imitations. That was accomplished by many rebels of the 1960s who ended up as university professors, leaders in education, the arts, the media and entertainment. (Thats the story for my next instalment.)
The 1960s call to revolution was not superficial but affected the very foundations of society, that is, religion, morality and the many social institutions. The late Irving Kristol (1920-2009) in 1994 wrote an essay entitled Countercultures in which he stated that the 1960s counterculture was certainly one of the most significant events in the last half century of Western civilization. It is reshaping our educational systems, our arts, our forms of entertainment, our sexual conventions, our moral codes.
Kristol pointed out that this movement is against culture; not one that wants to reform and renew the culture but one that comes with an avowed hostility to culture itself in the minds of intellectuals, professors, and artists. Kristol suggested that culture and art are merged into a new self-consciousness, and a new sense of mission that was secular, humanistic, and redemptory. He continued: All traditional ties with religion were severed. The sacred was now to be found in culture and art where creative geniuses
were in the future to give meaning to our lives and sustenance to our aspirations.
In other words, there is no transcendent order or purpose for human life. Its up to us to create that for ourselves. This is an old story that never ends well. In the following I will deal with some more details of The Sixties revolution, as analyzed in Roger Kimballs The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (2000). This book helps us understand the profound significance of Kristols definition.
A Damage Report
Kimball writes that in pondering the state of American cultural life he concludes that it has suffered some ghastly accident that has left it afloat but rudderless, physically intact, its moral center a shambles. He goes on to say that the cause of this disaster is like a protracted and spiritually convulsive detonation one that trembled with gathering force through North America and Western Europe from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s and tore apart, perhaps irrevocably, the moral and intellectual fabric of our society. 4
The author explains that his purpose in writing The Long March is to explore the effects of the cultural revolution, which he calls part cultural history, part spiritual damage report. Above all, he stresses that the impact of the Sixties revolution is not only a passing event easily forgotten, but it continues to reverberate throughout our culture. He writes:
It lives on in our values and habits, in our tastes, pleasures, and aspirations. It lives on especially in our educational and cultural institutions, and in the degraded pop culture that permeates our lives like a corrosive fog. Looking afresh at the architects of Americas cultural revolution, The Long March provides a series of cautionary tales, an annotated guidebook of wrong turns, dead ends, and unacknowledged spiritual hazards. (5)
Although the 1960s revolution in America was accompanied by plenty of violence and destruction, Kimball thinks that the kind of radical upheaval of the French and Russian revolutions is almost unthinkable in America. Here the efforts to transform society have been channeled into cultural and moral life. Thus the success of the cultural revolution is not in the destruction of buildings and toppled governments but in shattered values and in what the author calls the spiritual deformations that affect every aspect of life. 7,8
I am not assured that the likes of the French and Russian revolutions will not occur in America, for the efforts to radically transform society may well lead to the chaos and hatreds of civil war. It has happened before. Here I am thinking of President Abraham Lincolns warning he issued in 1838:
At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all times, or die by suicide.)
Perhaps the most destructive feature of the revolution is the movement for sexual liberation, which often transmigrated into outright debauchery, closely allied to the mainstreeting of the drug culture and its attendant pathologies. Kimball argues that the two are related because both are expressions of the narcissistic hedonism that was an important ingredient of the counterculture that had its origin in the 1950s. 8
The idealization of youth played a major role in the counterculture. This has not only led to the spread of the adolescent values and passions, but to the eclipse of adult virtues like circumspection, responsibility, and restraint. Kimball asserts that the most far-reaching and destructive effect has been the simultaneous glorifications and degradation of popular culture. 10,11 Even the most vacuous products of that culture are included in the subjects for the college curriculum, as the character of popular culture itself becomes ever more vulgar, vicious and degrading.11
In addition to the general coarsening effect of life, Kimball writes that this triumph of vulgarity has helped to create the twin banes of political correctness and radical multiculturalism. Abandoning the intrinsic standards of achievement has created a value vacuum in which everything is sucked through the sieve of politics and the ideology of victimhood. 13
Another feature of the counterculture is its ideological commitment to the radical Left. Thats why its proponents believe that the existing society is corrupt and must be destroyed so that a new one can be built on the ruins of the old. Hence the call for the long march through the institutions so that society is reduced to a mass of individuals beholden to the all-powerful state. In other words, the so-called intermediate institutions, which in a free society serve as a bulwark of freedom independent of the state, must be eliminated.
A Marxist Voice
The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) became a prominent leader of the cultural revolution. His books Eros and Civilization (1955), a book that became a bible of the counterculture, and One-Dimensional Man (1964) became popular in the countercultural ranks. He wrote that the march through the institutions would be accomplished not by direct confrontation but by working against the established institutions while working in them. This tactic has been an overwhelming success, especially in the university, the media, and government. Kimball writes that these tactics of insinuation and infiltration are the primary means by which the countercultural dreams of radicals like Marcuse have triumphed. 15
Is it not ironic that this Marxist philosopher - who represents and advocates a philosophy that everywhere it is applied brings nothing but slavery - pontificates about the abolition of repression in all personal relations including (especially) the man-woman relationship. Kimball writes that Marcuse blends Marx and Freud to produce an emancipatory vision based on polymorphous, narcissistic sexuality.
In other words, the old-fashioned notion of faithfulness in marriage and the biblical instruction to help raise the next generation must be discarded. Here is his reasoning in his own words, reported by Kimball: Marcuse speaks glowingly of a resurgence of pregenital polymorphous sexuality that protests against the repressive order of procreative sexuality. He recommends returning to a state of primary narcissism, that is, the Nirvana principle not as death but as life
. This change in the value and scope of libidinal relations
would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family.168
If you had to fit this convoluted argument into one sentence, you could say: We want freedom from the institution of the family because it is a cage of imprisonment.
Kimball summarizes the purpose of this book as follows: The aim of The Long March is to show how many of the ideals of the counterculture have quietly triumphed in the afterlife of the Sixties and what that triumph has meant for Americas cultural and intellectual life. 26
In my view he has been amazingly successful, and for that he deserves our gratitude- as well as many thousands of readers.