What if the 1960s took a Christian Course?

The 1960s were intended as a rebellion against the materialism, mindless conformity, soullessness, and general inhumanity and immorality of commercial and bureaucratic (“corporate and militaristic”) America. The answer, it was thought, could be found in freeing ourselves from a society gone wrong by rejection of social forms, pursuit of intense experience, and “doing your own thing”—making individual choice the supreme standard.

The solution made the problem worse. The ’60s turned society much more than before into a mass of contending wills with no higher standard to order them. Rebels and activists debunked what was left of traditional culture without offering anything to replace it. In the absence of a definite higher standard, or any way to determine one, people fell back on the most mundane, content-free, and soulless standards possible: money, bureaucracy, and social position, who gets hold of what and who’s in a position to do what to whom.

So the effect of the ’60s was radicalization of the soulless modernity they attacked. The resulting damage fell notably on those thought to be beneficiaries. In the period’s aftermath poor black people stopped progressing economically as crime raged and their families and communities fell apart. Non-elite women abandoned housewifery only to fall into unwed motherhood, low-paying jobs bringing neither stability nor respect, and demonstrably greater unhappiness. Homosexuals celebrated their liberation by pursuing their inclinations, resulting in shortened lives without evident benefits to other aspects of their well-being. Creative people saw the intellectual and aesthetic interest of their productions decline as their professional world became absorbed by commercialism and grant-making bureaucracies. And “the people”—those not well-positioned in the social order—found their situation becoming ever poorer, less stable, and less rewarding.

And where was the Church in the midst of this disaster? Unfortunately, her decision to open herself to the secular public world and follow its lead in hopes of transforming it from within came just as the ’60s were getting underway and sealing that world off ever more totally from any higher influence. To join the world, it turned out, was to abandon Catholic identity and with it any possibility of influencing events in a better direction.

To use the language now spoken, it’s evident that the ’60s were rushed to market based on an unproven concept that didn’t work. With that in mind, they need to be rebooted with different parameters, or more likely undergo a total rewrite.

The ’60s were right about some things. Life is not an industrial process, material advantage is not its center, and people should not be expected to give fundamental loyalty and devote their best efforts to social institutions wholly oriented toward rational pursuit of money and power. The things of everyday life, simply as they are from the standpoint of a commercial and bureaucratic society, are not enough for a life worthy of man. We need to break on through to the other side, if not in the ’60s manner.

The means chosen then, abolishing forms in favor of unconstrained choice and extreme experience, made sense to young people who knew only what they saw on TV, learned in school, and picked up from other young people. Trends like the postwar return to normalcy and the growth of TV, advertising, suburbia, large corporate employers, and universal college education for the middle class were making the American Way of Life ever more uniformly organized on wholly mundane principles. Young people were left to contemplate the value of a strictly secular middle-class existence.

That way of life had many good features, especially in comparison with what came after, but it made no provision for the highest things. The possibility of contact with something ultimate and life-changing had given way to security and comfort. Religion had become religion in general that put God in the background as a general support and validation for what was being done for other reasons. Education had been dumbed down, and had more to do with career and social expectations than introducing students to the highest human achievements. And the world seemed safe to suburban young people, so much so that it seemed they could do what they wanted without penalty. Violence, poverty, and oppression seemed like anomalies that would disappear if others stopped acting so pointlessly.

So what to do? In a commercial and bureaucratic world forms—procedural manuals, bills of sale, applications for benefits, tallies of credit hours—govern everything but are devoid of human interest. They have no space for the open-endedness of reality or possibility of transcendence, so getting rid of them seemed like the key to a better world. And if the orientation of society was wholly toward the material, then goodness, truth, and beauty became individual and subjective. Something better could come only from dropping out and looking within.

That is why people thought forms must go and subjectivity and pure experience rule. What they got though was a chaotic stream of sensation and impulse. Within that stream contact with the ultimate seemed to mean pursuit of the most intense impulses and sensations: sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, perhaps in the end violence and death. The possibility of that line of development has been with us since the Enlightenment and figures such as Sade, but in the ‘60s it went mass market.

The tendency didn’t end well. The problem is that the good, true, and beautiful, the things it makes sense to do, believe, and contemplate, are important because they put us in relation to God, the world, and each other. They can’t do that if they are formless or purely individual, or if they lack an element that transcends sensation and impulse so it can put them in their place.

But where is that transcendent element to come from? Evidently, from the presence within experience of something that points beyond it. Modernity thinks of experience as closed within itself, as a combination of pure sensation and pure quantity, so that the only exit from the everyday is novelty, death, or excess that overwhelms our sense of the normal. The possibility of a life worthy of humanity depends on there being something more than that. And it is evident there is: we know from our own lives that we can recognize the good, beautiful and true as things that expand and orient our world because they have direction and point beyond impulse and sensation.

The ability to recognize those things depends on our sense of the transcendent element within experience. That sense is elusive—it has to do with something that can’t be measured or photographed—but it is real and supremely important. To become reliably present and usable, so it can orient and sustain us, it must be made concrete through forms and limits. To that end it needs the symbols, stories, rituals, and traditions that constitute the religion and culture of a people. Without those things we are at best “spiritual but not religious,” inhabitants of a world that wants to rise beyond the mundane but never goes anywhere.

Jack Kerouac insisted that “beat” stood for “beatitude.” He had the right idea, but got lost pursuing it. With that in mind, the rebels of the ’60s would have done better attending to the individual soul rather than individual choice. Instead of denying forms they should have pursued the forms that bring life, beauty, and grace—good manners, the arts, the sacraments. And instead of the commune and tribe they should have joined communities ordered to the highest ends—parish, monastery, and Church. In short, the ’60s should have been a movement to restore Christendom. And that is what Sixties 2.0 will have to be if they ever come and if they are ever to amount to anything.

Editor’s note: Adler Alley in San Francisco was renamed Jack Kerouac Street in 1988.

James Kalb


James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command (ISI Books, 2008), and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).

  • Vinnie

    This sums up where we are today – “Modernity thinks of experience as closed within itself, as a combination of pure sensation and pure quantity, so that the only exit from the everyday is novelty, death, or excess that overwhelms our sense of the normal.” – and where we should be – “The possibility of a life worthy of humanity depends on there being something more than that. And it is evident there is: we know from our own lives that we can recognize the good, beautiful and true as things that expand and orient our world because they have direction and point beyond impulse and sensation.”

    Those in the Church in America during the ’60s twisted Vatican II into this same mess.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    It is impossible to understand the 1960s, without understanding the decade that preceded it and in which the Sixties Generation grew up. The defeat of European arms at Diên Biên Phu and the retreat from Indo-China; the Suez Crisis; the Algerian War and the support of the Communist Party for that colonial dirty war – the party of the Resistance, of the 75,000 fusillés ! – the fall of the 4th Republic; the plastiqueurs of the OAS setting off bombs in the streets of Paris and the police butchering peace demonstrators in the Charonne Metro Station Massacre, with the same enthusiasm as their commander, Maurice Pappon, had deported the Jews of Bordeaux to the death camps twenty years earlier; national life dominated by an older generation, compromised by collaboration and tainted by colonial guilt.

    There you have the roots of the Events of May (1968), when the President of the Republic reacted to protests by students and workers, none of whom fired a shot, by proclaiming Paris to be in a state of siege and suspending the constitutional guarantees. People complained that the young had no respect. Respect for what?

    I recall a slogan that appeared everywhere at that time: « Le futur n’a plus d’avenir » [(The future has no future]. That was the message of the Sixties.

    • ForChristAlone

      My guess is that few of the ’68 phenomenon had any idea about that of which you refer. It was pure hedonism unleashed. It was the Id reigning supreme. Little in the way of ego and practically no super-ego. In France, this was brewing for 150 years and finally the top of the kettle blew off and no one knows how to get it back on. My guess is that the psychic energies will have to be completely spent in order to rebuild if it’s at all going to happen. Meanwhile, ISIS waits in the wings; they, more than most, understand what opportunity lies ahead – especially in Europe.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        The history of the previous decades had left every institution of the state and of civil society utterly discredited.

        Above all, the Communist party, which alone had emerged from the war with a shred of credibility was compromised by its support of the Algerian war. People had not only lost faith in the Establishment, but in the traditional forms of opposition to that Establishment. That was the overwhelming mood of the time.

      • redfish

        Here’s the issue: Mr. Kalb says that the 60s were a revolt against materialism. I agree this is how it was framed by a lot of the public intellectuals of the time.

        But I think, in the end, most people were rebelling for pretty materialistic reasons: they didn’t want to get drafted into war, and they were interested in sex and drugs for their own sake, not any ideological reasons. And the cultural Marxism that took over academic life was also pretty materialistic: all happiness was in material things, and not principles. This is how hippies became yuppies pretty quickly and postmodernism fell in love with commercial, popular culture.

        What was appealing in anti-establishment ideology of the time was the idea that traditional values were holding the masses back from just being free to have this material happiness, instead only serving to help the people in power get more power. And none of this would have bite without real issues behind them, like civil rights, segregation, and the Vietnam War. But you have the bigger issues, and then the personal motives, and they came together.

        • DE-173

          Well said.

    • JP

      You point out political events – namely French. Something deeper was going on; otherwise, the West would have been able to withstand the social catastrophe that ensued. Perhaps the intellectual fruits of 60 years of advanced German thought (namely, the Frankfurt School) did more damage than people today realize.

      • DE-173

        “You point out political events – namely French”

        MPS suffers from accute Francophobia, but don’t expect any complaints from poster Augustine about that nationalistic fervor.

      • Kilo4/11


        “… 60 years of advanced German thought (namely, the Frankfurt School) did more damage than people today realize.”

        It is not accurate to characterize the Frankfurt School as “German”. Its membership was virtually all Jewish, (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer, Strauss, et al) and its thought was the antithesis of German authoritarianism and attacked Christianity, German and otherwise. A seminal work of that school was “The Authoritarian Personality”, which attacked what later became known as the nuclear family and parental, especially paternal, authority. Marcuse was known as the father of the New Left, and had great influence on the sexual revolution with his book Eros and Civilization, and the Black Power movement, through his mentoring of Angela Davis.

    • DE-173

      Or then again, the generation that came of age in the 1960’s was raised by parents who knew the Great Depression and Great War; they sought to protect their children fronm such privation and peril and do all too good a job at it.

      I know this will come as a surprise to you, but drugs and sex (if that’s what mud drenched orgies can be called) and the siren song of “rock nd roll” had a lot more to do with Woodstock and Haight Ashbury than the Algerian War.

      • Art Deco

        they sought to protect their children from such privation and peril and did all too good a job at it.

        What, we should have had another war or another economic catastrophe? From 1756 to the present, we’ve spent about 12% of the time in a state of general mobilization (or something similar), which means we’ve spent 88% of the time in some other state. As for what happened in 1929-33, not only historically rare in the modern period, exceptionally severe compared to what was going on in Europe.

        If you’re looking at the cohorts born from 1939 to 1954, north of 40% of the men had some sort of military service. The per capita income of the United States ca. 1958 was less than half of what it is today. The economy grew at a fairly rapid clip for most of the period running from 1938-70, and the post-war labor market was (until about 1973) fairly tight. However, there was still severe mass unemployment during the period running from 1938 to 1942, the disfigurement of war rationing from 1942 to 1946, lackluster economic performance from 1945 to 1949, 1954 to 1960, and from 1973 to 1982, as well as currency erosion from 1942 to 1952 and again from 1966 to 1982; the era was not without economic problems.

        Several things it is useful to recall: among a college age youth population north of 25 million, no more than 100,000 ever belonged to the Students for a Democratic Society at one time and its time in the sun was exceedingly brief; as late as 1966 it had a membership of 2,000 and was outnumbered by the Young Americans for Freedom 14 to 1. The Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee and SDS existed for just eight years and nine years respectively. The number of draft dodgers holed up in Canada and Sweden and pardoned by Jimmy Carter in 1977 has been put at 30,000. The number who actually served in Indo-China exceeds 2 million. About 3/4 of those born ca. 1948 never set foot on the campus of a baccalaureate granting college.

        The real and regrettable change in the behavior of those cohorts concerned amatory matters, i.e. the extraordinary prevalence of divorce among the 1950 cohort when compared to the 1930 cohort. This was followed by the explosion in the prevalence of abortion (though mostly among those born after 1954).

        • DE-173

          “What, we should have had another war or another economic catastrophe?”

          No and you know that.

          If you look at the 1960’s however, the children born in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s were remarkably insulated from the reality of conflict and the business cycle.

          Placidity and prosperity are wonderful things, until you begin to expect them as birth rights and not the amalgam of one part assiduous effort and 100 parts good fortune.

          I am reminded of the stories of my Mother’s younger cousin, whose childhood life in the 1950’s demanded that he have access to a television, wherever he was, whenever Lassie barked a warning to Timmy. He turned out OK, but I think having been a college wrestler and a Marine Corps Officer went a long way to disinfecting him of any sense of entitlement that might have percolated from the type of indulgences described above.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            Les événements de mai in 1968, perhaps the greatest expression of 1960s radicalism ,took place in a country with universal conscription that had emerged only six years earlier from a long and bloody war in Algeria, with about a million people resettling in France in the aftermath. That war had brought down the 4th Republic and very nearly led to a coup d’état and did lead to terrorism on the streets.

            Every institution of the state and of civil society was discredited in the eyes of young people.

            • DE-173

              Outside of France, where did this matter?

            • Art Deco

              Which young people?

              Tom Wicker and others fancied the youth vote and the minorities would sweep George McGovern into the Presidency. Andrew Greeley offered this post-mortem: ‘the young didn’t vote. To the extent they did, they voted for Nixon’.

              • fredx2

                I remember that election. People talked about how pathetic it was that McGovern was promising everyone a thousand dollars from the government if they voted for him.
                They didn’t.

            • fredx2

              In the eyes of a small proportion of young people.

            • Kilo4/11


              For a much needed corrective to your infatuation with “Les événements de mai in 1968, perhaps the greatest expression of 1960s radicalism”, see Taki’s article on his personal experience of that time.

          • Art Deco

            If you look at the 1960’s however, the children born in the late 1940’s
            and early 1950’s were remarkably insulated from the reality of conflict
            and the business cycle.

            There was a large economic contraction in the 18 months after the war. After that there were business recessions in 1949, 1954, 1957-58, and 1960. The period running from 1954 to 1957 was one of slow growth, with at least one quarter of contraction. The country suffered some serious peacetime currency erosion from 1945 to 1951, a regional war in 1950 to 1953, and had peacetime draft calls of a dimension not seen before or since. The ratio of military spending to domestic product in 1956 (>11%) was twice what it has been in any year since the end of the Cold War and more than 6x what it was during the inter-war period. That ratio actually declined during the VietNam War. Military service was not as common with the post 1938 cohorts as it had been previously, but it was still very common.

            You’re taking a slice of the haut bourgeois population and speaking as if that were the mode. Even in that nexus, how common was a history of political protest and countercultural affiliations against military service? To take one set of examples, you’d be hard put to find a consequential presidential candidate born during the years running from 1939 to 1954 who had any counter-cultural affiliations and only one (John Kerry) with a history as an exhibitionistic political protester. On the other hand, you find one career soldier (Wesley Clark), one semi-career airman (Tom Harkin), two combat veterans (R. Kerrey and J. Kerry), and a mess of others who did ordinary common-and-garden military service (Richard Gephardt, Albert Gore, Dan Quayle, Steve Forbes, George W. Bush).

            • fredx2

              As far as I am concerned, TV was the major influence. Rather than strings of independent newspapers located around the nation, we centralized all news power in two liberal cities of the Northeast – NY and Washington DC. What was selected to be on the news was selected by big city liberals who slanted things their way. Everyone was watching, and they took full advantage of the new centralized news group think. Same with our main source of entertainment – it became centralized in NY and LA.
              TV enjoyed pimping small odd trends as if they were major social moviements. So the odd little group of hippies in Haight Ashbury became national news, and littel hippy wanabees appeared throughout the nation. Now, if those same wanabees would have had to read a newspaper or magazine rather than turn on the TV, they would never have existed. TV began to flex its powers once it realized people would still watch, even if it spit in their face night after night. We have been going downhill ever since.

              • Old Man Gary

                That party was over long ago. Why do so many pompous asses blame their miseries on a forty-five year old hangover. People just wanted war and racism and poverty to end. But when the draft ended in ’73, white asses were no longer in danger of V’nam, so maybe racism and poverty were somebody else’s problem. There’s beer in the cooler!
                Sorry man; lockstep acceptance of absolute institutional or theological truth ended long before Ken Kesey painted his bus all psychedelic and whatnot. Ask Tolstoy, or Nietzsche, or Voltaire, or Luther. I guess most little girls don’t wear pretty dress and white gloves to church anymore. Sorry.

              • Kilo4/11

                T V was a major influence, not surprisingly, on those aspects of ’60s life which had a major, dramatic visual component, such as the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement and its spinoff, the urban riots. People formed much of their opinions on these topics/events based on what the tube portrayed as “reality”.

                The rise of the counterculture, however, had much more to do with the written word, as in Kerouac’s “On The Road”; Ginsburg’s “Howl”; Tom Wolf’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby; Richard Brautigan’s “Trout Fishing In America”; and Hugh Hefner’s “The Playboy Philosophy”. (Yes, I did too read the articles in Playboy, much the worse for me. I’d have been far better off just concentrating on the pictures and letting nature take over, rather than engaging my brain with Hefner’s evil thinking.) I learned all about acid, hippies, and the “Summer Of Love” from an article in Life, for example. And of course, there was the music.

            • DE-173

              “After that there were business recessions in 1949, 1954, 1957-58, and 1960. The period running from 1954 to 1957 was one of slow growth, with at least one quarter of contraction. The country suffered some serious peacetime currency erosion from 1945 to 1951, a regional war in 1950 to 1953, and had peacetime draft calls of a dimension not seen before or since.”

              None of those events compare with the Panic of 1873, let alone with the Great Depression. Employment practices were also somewhat different then, there was a certain reluctance to discharge people, even when an enterprise wanted to reduce employment, the answer tended to be a temporary furlough, rather than termination.

              A child of the 1930’s was conscious of the difficulties of life then and had memories of deprivation and uncertainty. Unemployment was a constant fear, and children were engaged in such things as picking berries, scrap and coal that fell from railroad cars to make ends meet.

              The vast majority of people growing up in the 1950’s had no experience anywhere near that. There’s certainly no collective memory of soup lines among the 1950’s set.

              • Art Deco

                I am aware that none of these compare to the Great Depression. You said ‘insulated from the reality of the business cycle’, and, no they were not.

                Business recessions prior to 1929 had different properties than those subsequent. They tended to be brief and sharp and have more of an effect on incomes than employment levels (to the extent that these can be reconstructed from historical statistics).

                Calling attention to the economic aspects of the 1950s does not explain the difference in dispositions manifested by certain collegiate types ca. 1966 as compared to their counterparts 20 years later. There were snags in economic life in both periods, the young of the latter period were more affluent than those of the former period, and those of the latter period did not have the general expectation of military service that those of the former period did. One major difference was domestic security. It was unusual for married couples with children to divorce in 1958, often those who did did not have children actually in residence, and those who did did not do so for esoteric reasons. The situation as it stood twenty years later was dramatically different in these respects.

                • DE-173

                  You said ‘insulated from the reality of the business cycle’, and, no they were not.

                  Yes they were. Their memories are remarkably different from their predecessors who were born twenty years earlier. No child of the 1950’s had any notion of 1949, 1954, 1957-58, even if adults noticed those events.

                  The events you cited were largely noticeable only to the NBER, Labor Department statisticians and the writers at Fortune and the Wall Street Journal.

                  When you talk to children of the 1930’s (or talked, since they are now octogenerians) and the the chidren of the 1950’s, it’s a completely different world view.

                  “Assured abundance” first appeared in the 1950’s, prior to that there good periods, marked by frequent interruptions from economic and natural perils.

                  • Art Deco

                    No, I do not like to quibble. You made a false statement derived from your contempt for people you fancy are not as able as yourself.

                    Life is too bloody short to waste one moment of it continuing to interact with you.

                    • John200

                      You are quibbling up a (minor) storm. Why not admit it? It does not tarnish your character, it is just a way of pushing forward a discussion.

    • Art Deco

      It is impossible to understand the 1960s, without understanding the
      decade that preceded it and in which the Sixties Generation grew up.

      The laundry list you supply is pretty irrelevant to social life in the United States, then or now.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        I imagine the contempt of the young for their parents -for the generation that had colluded with Fascism – was pretty well universal, throughout the West, as was post-colonial contrition and a loss of faith in the Old Left.

        • Art Deco

          That’s Germany, that’s Italy, and that’s France in a more circumscribed way.

  • ForChristAlone

    You write: “The answer, it was thought, could be found in freeing ourselves from a society gone wrong”

    Unfortunately, this premise is baseless. As part of that generation who came of age in the 60’s, there was NO THOUGHT attached to what was unleashed and that’s why it all went haywire.

  • To little, too late, rhetoric destruction is done. The slippery slope has only one direction; down.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    This is from Roger Ebert’s review of The Ice Storm and its portrait of 1973 suburban Connecticut:

    “What we sense after the film is that the natural sources of pleasure have been replaced with higher-octane substitutes, which have burnt out the ability to feel joy. Going through the motions of what once gave them escape, they feel curiously trapped.” Yes, yes, yes.

  • Rusty

    There is no project that can be conceived or formulated to reform society along Christian lines, as it falls into the same trap of viewing society as a malleable object for the interventions of a technocratic, state-centred bureaucracy. Just as there is no New Soviet Man, the so-called Social Gospel that looked to government to provide for human needs was a failure – look at the failure of the so-called Quebec “Quiet Revolution”, where the nationalist impulse of the 1960’s generation replaced the Church as the organizing principle of society in favour of Maitres Chez Nous. The last Quebec election saw the ugliness of a nationalist secular “solution” soundly defeated, but that does not imply an openness to God and the Church in what has become a materialistic, globalized, North Americanized society that has attempted to legalize euthanasia by couching it as a form of health care. No wonder language is the defining characteristic for nationalists there, who can’t find a deeper meaning for what it means to be different, but that is another issue altogether.

    My point is that souls are won or lost one at a time, and this is solely due to God’s grace. We continue to despair at our society, but it is our responsibility as Christians to quietly (or not so quietly) bear witness to truth, beauty and goodness in our parishes, neighbourhoods, workplaces etc. Our first object of “business” is to seek God and His Eternal Life, and then to help others along that same journey. Society will be whatever it will be.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Language is the embodiment of the common consciousness and shared experience of its speakers and is necessarily the defining characteristic of a nation, both inclusively and exclusively.

      As Wittgenstein pointed out, “Thinking is not an incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking, and which it would be possible to detach from speaking, rather as the Devil took the shadow of Schlemihl from the ground.”

      • Rusty

        While I agree that language is often the defining characteristic of a nation, I would not give it exclusive credit. The tribe has the power of life and death over its members, whose individuality is subsumed by the collective – that is why a sentence of exile is experienced as worse than death.

        In Quebec, the tribe no longer holds its Catholic birthright as anything more than a sentimental totem to a shared history. The tribe has transferred its collective orientation towards the nanny state, with perceived threats to cultural survival (i.e. threats to the French language) reinforcing this tendency.

    • I agree that projects of social reform generally run into problems and they have to be radically subordinate to a more basic reorientation that can’t be forced. People affect each other though. Jesus compared his followers to leaven, to the salt of the world, to a light that illuminates things, etc. So to my mind it really would be an answer to someone who says he wants a better world to tell him that it would be a good start to turn himself around and get pointed in the right direction.

  • Fred

    I’ve had those thoughts, and also others wondering what God’s plans are for us. It’s relevant to us of course because that mayhem gave way to our societal problems we live with today and so it is the burden of our times. Thankfully we aren’t suffering the persecution yet that were experienced during earlier periods of upheaval so we can just read about them as quaint history in books, though Islamists are presenting a rude full frontal re-awakening. Maybe these periods are part of God’s plans to re-awaken our faith as a calling bigger than just private prayer and practice within the comfort of our parish communities. I don’t know if it is, but I know my sensibilities are offended, and so now what to do about it.

  • DE-173

    “The 1960s were intended as a rebellion against the materialism, mindless conformity, soullessness, and general inhumanity and immorality of commercial and bureaucratic (“corporate and militaristic”) America. ”

    So that’s what motivated the dope smoking self indulgence by those stupid hippies. This might be the silliest thing ever written by this author. It was a rebellion against maturity, responsibility, authority, restraint. The 1960’s couldn’t have taken a “Christian course”, because it was a decade that was profoundly anti-Christian.

    Interestingly, now that the generation that didn’t trust anybody over 30 is now well over 60, and they have the means and position to advance their agenda, we see the intellectual disorder and seething hatred that really motivated them. Hence we have an icon of that generation (Meathead Rob Reiner, now bald, aged and bloated, whose shallow speeches in “All In The Family, weren’t acting) compare the Tea Party to Hamas and call for its elimination. Reiner is nothing more than a garden variety fascist.

    • Fred

      Me thinks you give Rob (and his ilk) too much credit for being able to identify with any cause other than self-absorption. There must be something to the claim about the evil 0.1% crowd that he and his cronies pal around in while bankrolling perpetual misery for the rest. Wasn’t particularly funny in his prime, and age has not brought him any wisdom either.

      • DE-173

        Me thinks you give Rob (and his ilk) too much credit for being able to identify with any cause other than self-absorption.

        What gave you that idea? Certainly not this sentence, right? “It was a rebellion against maturity, responsibility, authority, restraint.”

        And no he wasn’t funny in his prime. Shallow speeches rarely are funny.

        • Fred

          I know you weren’t giving him any undo credit – I was referring to your identification of him as a garden variety facist which I doubt he even understands. You should have added to your list … rebellion against God.

          • DE-173

            You should have added to your list … rebellion against God.

            The Supreme Authority falls under authority. Of course rebelling against God is nothing new.

            Why should the Almighty be exempt from a collective tantrum?

            • John200

              Rob Reiner had a career because his father was Carl Reiner (the period on the end of that sentence means something). It was not talent, not wisdom, not comic timing, certainly not attractiveness to the ladies, not anything but papa’s influence.

              Between the two main possibilities, I opt for both self-absorption and rebellion against God.

              Not that there’s anything wrong with that deadly combination.

              • Art Deco

                Reiner’s list of credits is so long and variegated that the notion that he’s been on the patronage of his father (who is still working though past 90 but who was most prominent 60 years ago) is flabbergasting. Some of his work is quite good (e.g. directing Stand By Me.

                The man’s politics are of negligible value. Does not mean he has not had his achievements.

                • DE-173

                  “The man’s politics are of negligible value. ”

                  And the value is as an exhibition of their inherent degeneracy.

                  He may not hold office or have an explicit public following, but he and his ilk use the cinematic arts to advance the acceptance of deviance (following a familiar tract: opprobrium to oddity, oddity to option, option to obligation) and serve as a rich source of the mother’s milk of politics-money. There’s a reason Obama made so many fundraisers in Hollywood mansions and why Joe Biden paid tribute to “Will and Grace”.

                  He may be negligible as an individual, but only in the way a fire ant is negligible a colony of tens of thousands.

                • John200

                  Don’t be flabbergasted. My original point was that Rob Reiner would not have gotten a second look without his daddy.

                  As for his politics, I derive good value from the pretentious Hollywood liberal. These adepts exist to be contradicted and then left behind.

                  Sometimes I leave them behind and forget about contradicting them (I am subject to liberal fatigue). There is room for choice among possible approaches.

    • Some people say that God is the fulfillment of all human longing. Others say that man is fallen but not wholly corrupt, so that almost everyone has a mixture of good and bad motives. Are you saying that none of that applies to hippies, so it would be stupid to try to appeal to them based on what’s noble in their aspirations?

      • DE-173

        “so that almost everyone has a mixture of good and bad motives. ”

        Of course every person is a mixture of good and evil.

        However, your statement wasn’t about the complexity of any individual human soul. It was a description of the spirit of times. It’s one thing to appeal to nobility, it’s another thing to impute it.


        • But a huge utopian social movement is always going to have
          ideal elements that are necessary to what the movement is. Why not sometimes talk about the movement from the standpoint of those elements?

          What I say is that the 60s responded to real deficiencies in postwar America but immediately went wrong and radicalized the deficiencies. I go into detail why everything actually done was a bad idea from the standpoint of the worthwhile concerns involved. I don’t see why it would be advantageous or illuminating to deny there were worthwhile concerns.

          • DE-173

            A huge utopian social movement is always going to rest upon two fallacious notions: The malleability and perfectibility of humanity and the omniscience and benevolence of the architects. The “ideal elements” are advertising for the unaware.

            The “real deficiencies” you cite weren’t deficiencies at all. The warts of the 1950’s were things like segregation, not “general inhumanity and immorality of commercial and bureaucratic (“corporate and militaristic”) America. ”
            That phrase is vacant left-wing pablum of the oikophobes.
            You assume that the “utopian social movement” had some redeeming social merit because of some imputed noble motives, but those noble motives are largely fictional romanticizing.
            I assume any “utopian social movement” is inherently evil.

            • nasicacato

              Well DE,

              You simply prove Mr. Kalb’s point. Why did the discontented have to no other recourse than “left-wing pablum”? Why did they reject “placidity and prosperity” why were they bored and why did they choose debauchery rather than Christianity (which had been the traditional choice for the discontented in the old world and the new for centuries)? BECAUSE MAINSTREAM AMERICAN SOCIETY HAD ALREADY SUBTLY DISMISSED THE CHRISTIAN OPTION. Go ahead and check this documentary out if you really want to understand the sixties:


              And I’m far from a hippy.

              • ForChristAlone


                We have seen the fruits of their utopia: Rampant selfishness and hedonism. They rejected Christianity as an option at their own peril and the culture in which they tried to work out their utopia.

              • DE-173

                I’m not sure what your are reading or how, but my point was that Mr. Kalb seems to think that the 1960’s had some noble underpinnings and therefore it’s some sort of tragedy that the decade went horribly wrong.

                I disagree with two contentions. First that there was some noble underpinnings. The florid description he applies can best be described as unrestrained romanticizing,

                Second, it was not a tragedy that the 1960’s went horribly wrong, it was an inevitability, since mass movements that seek to remake society are the equivalent of bulls in a china shop.

                As for your contention that the mainstream of “MAINSTREAM AMERICAN SOCIETY HAD ALREADY SUBTLY DISMISSED THE CHRISTIAN OPTION”

                Compare things like:

                Church Attendance
                Divorce Rates
                Illegitimacy Rates
                Family Size
                Drug Usage
                Movie Content
                Television Content

                The 1960’s were the equivalent of saying that the house of society was drafty, the kitchen needed a new floor and the furnishings were getting old, so let’s burn it down.

                Mission accomplished.

  • montanajack1948

    I find this article a sympathetic and intelligent critique of the era in which I grew up (or attempted to do so). In particular, I appreciate Mr. Kalb’s acknowledgement that the Sixties didn’t come out of nowhere; they were an outgrowth of, and a reaction to, the world in which we were raised. And however misguided “we” were (not that I’m a spokesperson) or we became, we were honestly attempting to make the world better and to regain something–soul? spirit?–that we found lacking in the society around us. From Paul Goodman’s “Growing Up Absurd” to Theodore Roszak’s “The Making of a Counterculture” (a copy of which, by incredible coincidence, I purchased at a used-book store approximately an hour before reading Mr. Kalb’s article), the message at the heart of Sixties’ rebellion–or at least the message I remember getting–was “Man does not live by bread alone”. Come to think of it, I remember hearing that message elsewhere as well. In any case, count me in for Mr. Kalb’s proposed “Sixties 2.0”.

  • GaudeteMan

    What if the Society of Jesus had taken Humanae Vitae as its marching orders? What if pop psychology hadn’t replaced spiritual formation in the houses of religious orders? What if smoke hadn’t entered the sanctuary?…What Iffy is a fun game to play. But how does it help the average soldier on the front lines?

  • fredx2

    I remember reading an analysis of the major figures in the counterculture of the 60’s. It turns out that almost all of them came from divorced homes. So all of that rebellion was simply disquiet due to a broken home.

    • Art Deco

      Which figures?

  • polistra24

    Kalb correctly diagnoses what happened ‘on the ground’ but misses the high-level purpose. The leaders of the hippie movement and the Black Power movement were Leninists who knew how to make a revolution.

    Chaos and poverty are a fully intended and planned stage in the process, but not the final stage. Chaos and poverty lead to a totalitarian regime, which most people accept with gratitude as the ‘cure’ for chaos and poverty.

    • Old Man Gary

      Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep…

      • Catholicon

        You have merely demonstrated your naivety

  • Papa Mincho

    You know what makes the GOP look really current? Using poorly sourced (two links to anti-science pro-life sites AND a Doors video?!? NEAT!) articles to complain about stuff that happened almost sixty years ago. You know what really hacks me off? The New Deal and getting off the gold standard!

    Looking forward to the GOP complaining about things they can’t change as I, too, become a wizened old man. Can’t say I hope that their plans to ‘correct’ homosexuals and get women back in the kitchen come to fruition, but it’ll be really funny to hear their excuses for why Christian fascism should replace representative government.

  • David Naas

    Now that the comment storm has abated, with the proper personalities demonized and annihilated by rhetorical grenades, and the spleen vented and bile assuaged, may one return to Mister Kalb’s basic idea.

    Forget all the quibbling over who did what to who 50 years hence, do any of you cultural masterminds have a single positive prescription, a lonely action, (I don’t ask for a complete programe, merely one small thing to do) to make the world, and especially the USA better?

    Whether the ’60’s insanity was the result of a thwarted spiritual impulse or of raw hedonism is IRRELEVANT!!!! Fighting old battles does no good. Today’s culture is MY concern. I think it is possible to make the world better. And I must begin with myself. (“Dear Mr. Chesterton, what is wrong with the world?” — “Dear Sir, I am.”)

    First, I can improve my morals and ethics. Going to Confession helps.

    Second, I can change who I am (you are what you eat), by assisting at Mass. (Vernacular or Latin is irrelevant, it’s still the Mass If you don’t think so, please check yourself for heresy.)

    Third, I can pray (more than, “God, smite my enemies.”). For this the Liturgy of the Hours, full blown or abbreviated as in Christian Prayer works.

    Fourth, I can share my faith in ways which heal, and not hurt the sinner, ever remembering that I cannot be forgiven unless I forgive. (And if one does not know the difference, refer to the First point.)

    Fifth, I must remember I do not have all the answers, I do not even have most of the answers, and I am lucky that I even have ONE answer. (Growing up in the Bible-Belt, everywhere were signs, “Jesus Is The Answer.”)

    There are other things, like recalling I am Catholic and not a Liturgical Protestant, honoring the hierarchy even (especially) when it does something foolish. But, one gets the idea.

    Not to be snarky, but What’s in YOUR Wallet? I would love to hear.

  • brucesat

    My first impression was to notice whose perspective was represented, namely that of middle class whites, whose perspective always seems to reign when speculating about the impact of the 60’s.

    So we spin a tale about how the good kids went astray? Were they seduced by an ideology or were they simply spooked by the prospect of being sent to war?

    I assume the latter. Once the thin veil of authority’s legitimacy was lifted to show the naked power hiding underneath, all the walls came tumbling down. Privileged kids now got to see the world as others always had, from the wrong end of the barrel. The traditional forms were seen for what they always were/are, mechanisms of social control, designed to enforce a particular social order. Of course, once the party was over the good kids were allowed back into the fold, handed the levers of power and they realized how effective those traditional social forms were for keeping the “riff-raff” at bay. The 60’s thus became a moment of indulgence shared among those now in power. Now they take to the internet to lament that their own attacks against the social forms of control ruined their effectiveness.

    • brucesat

      Of course we’ve fixed our error. We now make sure that the good kids never have to come up against the politics of power as they climb through the ranks to take their place in the preferred social order.

      • Catholicon

        Which certainly explains all the heretics and Antichrists that rule over you…….

    • Catholicon

      truly you are a publican, all over again……

  • Catholicon