Monday, August 14, 2006

Der Untergang des Abendlandes?

I was finally able to read Ian MacDonald's exhilarating, very understandably famous essay on the 60's ("Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade"). I would largely agree with the essence of his argument of the final disintegration of the old West into consumerism. So, far from being triumphant leftist time, it was the era that logically led to Reagan and Thatcher, and onward to our empty, materialistic present. You can draw both optimistic and pessimistic conclusions on the process - the old Christian West was like any other classical civilization: narrow, paternalistic and aggressive.

Yes, there was social cohesion, high anti-materialist ideals, but at much too high cost, unimaginably high in fact. These morally corrupt structures deserved to be swept away. But of course the hope was and is that something more valuable will be built in their place. This I think remains firmly under doubt. The present climate does not incline one to much optimism. Christianity is a mere shell with largely the most shallow and unpleasant structures left (or then the bland, convictionless official fare) and Enlightenment is accepted (and never understood or adopted) only as far as it doesn't disturb our naked materialism. We go on because the profits go on and because we still half-remember the ethical and moral boundaries that once prevailed. One wonders how the vacuum will eventually be filled.


helsinkian said...

I haven't read MacDonald's essay so it's hard to comment on that one but generally I'd certainly disagree on your assessment of the 1960s.

That the sixties logically led to the eighties, no, not as I see it.

I think the 60s had many positive and many negative sides. It was a very black-and-white decade of liberation where sometimes the wrong targets were chosen and some of the change was taken for granted rather than understood that it was the result of a long process that may not be irreversible.

If we consider the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, then it's undoubtedly right to celebrate the 1960s as a new founding of America. Martin Luther King and his input to the 60s was crucial. That was about hope and about something that wasn't reversed in the 80s or at a later date.

Sure, some things are worse than they were fifty years ago. But much of what is right with the world today stems from that part of the legacy of the 1960s that wasn't wasted.

stockholm slender said...

Well, MacDonald is actually quite positive about the 60´s, especially about those things that you mentioned: it had an atmosphere of great hope and optimism. But he sees as the fundamental cultural and social change during the decade the fact that the old identities dissolved into urban consumerism - the radicals, especially their socialist goals were quite irrelevant, proved to be quite irrelevant, to this sea change. They turned out to be surface froth. MacDonald sees the 60´s as the decisive watershead which might be debatable but I do agree with him that this has been the most fundamental thing about the modern course of the Western civilization.