The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

America’s Decadent Elite

Posted on | July 22, 2012 | 27 Comments

More than 15 years have passed since Robert Bork published Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, one of the most astute analyses of its kind ever written. Bork emphasized that the 1960s were the pivotal epoch. In his introduction, however, Bork made an important point: The remarkably sudden collapse of the “Establishment” under the assault of Sixties radicalism indicated an inherent weakness within America’s elite, a vulnerability that was little suspected during the tranquil decade of the 1950s.

The Sixties, Bork observed, “brought to a crescendo developments in the Fifties and before that most of us had overlooked or misunderstood.” Citing various phenomena of the 1950s — including rock music, the radical social critique of C. Wright Mills and the so-called “Beat” culture of Kerouac and Ginsberg — Bork asserts that these were “harbingers of a new culture”:

“The Fifties were the years of Eisenhower’s presidency. Our domestic world seemed normal and, for the most part, almost placid. The signs were misleading. Politics is a lagging indicator. . . .
“[The rapid triumph of Sixties radicalism] suggests that the supposedly oppressive ‘Establishment,’ without realizing it themselves, had already been eaten hollow by the assumptions that flowered into modern liberalism. When the push came in the Sixies, an empty and guilt-ridden Establishment surrendered.”

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (1996)

Anyone who carefuly studies the era must endorse Bork’s conclusion, whether or not they share his politics. He was clearly onto something, and it is extraordinary that his insight has not been further developed. What happened in the years between triumph in World War II — the pinnacle of our national prestige in what has been called “The American Century” — and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, which proved the flashpoint of the Culture Revolution? How was the Establishment “eaten hollow” during the roughly 15 years that elapsed between Whittaker Chambers’s exposure of Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy and that November afternoon in Dallas when a Communist sympathizer aimed his rifle at the motorcade in Dealey Plaza?

It’s not as if America had no warnings of the impending storm. In 1944, Friedrich Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, which documented the inherent dangers of Western liberalism’s embrace of the Welfare State. In 1948, Richard Weaver published Ideas Have Consequences, examining the philosophical roots of modern cultural decline. And in 1951, a young man named William F. Buckley published God and Man at Yale, showing how leaders of America’s leading universities defended intellectual subversion in the name of “academic freedom.”

Taken together, those three books are now recognized as sort of an intellectual pedigree of post-war American conservatism, and constitute a fairly comprehensive critique of what Bork calls “the assumptions that flowered into modern liberalism.” Yet it is amazing in retrospect that, insofar as the Establishment’s ability to resist the subsequent radical onlaught, these prescient warnings fell on deaf ears. The Establishment either underestimated the sincerity of its radical enemies or else became “empty and guilt-ridden” because of its (perhaps not entirely conscious) sympathies with radical beliefs.

Bork’s insight has been stuck in my mind since I first encountered it in the mid-1990s, and the thought of turning it into a book, examining how we went from the Cold War liberalism of Harry Truman to the anti-American radicalism of the 1960s, has been in mind mind ever since.

What is needed, I think, is not an argumentative polemic, but rather a lively, detailed narrative history of the era, modeled somewhat on the pattern of liberal historian William Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream. The point to be demonstrated is that historical change is not a product of anonymous deterministic forces — trends that are as irresistible as they are impersonal — but rather (a) history results from the ideas and actions of individuals, and (b) the beliefs and choices of leaders have a disproportionate influence on history.

Leaders who make change happen are often not recognized as leaders until after the fact. Prior to 1948, for example, almost no one could have predicted the enormous influence of the work of an Indiana University biology professor named Alfred Kinsey. Nor, for that matter, did anyone prior to 1963 suspect what changes would result from the work of a freelance magazine writer named Betty Friedan. What I have in mind would in some ways be a countweight to the Left’s class-oriented “social history” and its mechanical, materialistic concepts of change, as well as a rebuttal to the anti-American perspectives of Howard Zinn and other academic leftists.

This is another one of those Books Nobody Will Ever Pay Me to Write, but the idea has been stuck in my brain for 15 years. I spent a few minutes turning it over in my mind while driving home from the Smart Girls Summit today. It’s still a good idea. Just sayin’ . . .



27 Responses to “America’s Decadent Elite”

  1. Adrienne
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

    Now that I’m a Twitter monster, I tweeted this.  I think you should write the book – one page at a time.  You certainly have the talent…

  2. GAHCindy
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

    Well, I won’t pay you to write it. I’m broke, but I’ll buy a copy when it’s done. 🙂

  3. Bob Belvedere
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

    I agree with Adrienne.

    If you’re not going to write that Gonzo History of this campaign, then this idea is a damn fine one.

    I think it’s needed to help people [especially those who have become involved in the political and cultural wars since 2008-2009] understand the cancers eating away at the American Body.

    We are at The Crossroads and it is imperative that we reject The Devil and head-on back down Freedom’s Road.

  4. DaveO
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

    The book you write can be either a primer or an obituary.

    Does Bork analyze that the generation that ceded power in the 1960s came of age in the late 1910-1920s – and then endured the WWI, the creation of fabulous wealth, the Great Depression, WWII, and Korea? Consider this generation’s experience with great booms under Reagan, Bush I and II, and Clinton, and GWOT.

    Would these, essentially shocks to the system be enough to generate a realignment – now from Progressive to republican (not GOP big R Republican)?

  5. Dai Alanye
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

    A minor comment: Whenever the name Alfred Kinsey is mentioned, the word “pervert” should be part of the context.

  6. Adobe_Walls
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

    Don’t write the “book” write a series of  “pamphlets” as chapters of a book.

  7. Mike G.
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

    I’d buy the book, too. But I reckon you need about 50,000 of us to say we’ll buy it before you’d consider writing it, eh?

  8. Beeblebrocs
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

    I’d buy it too as long as you don’t end any chapters with the words, “just sayin'”. That phrase should be banned from the forums of the Internet.

  9. PatriotGal2257
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

    If this idea has been stuck in your head for the past 15 years, then you should definitely do it. Just reading your ideas here sounds fascinating; I’ve always loved books that talk about political and cultural trends and how they illustrate the larger meaning of certain periods of our nation’s history. There are too few books around that do, particularly those *without* a Leftist slant.

    C’mon, you can do it — one page at a time, then one chapter at a time, and before you know it, it will be done. And it will be a great addition to the Conservative Canon.

  10. JeffS
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

    In this tired old world, man’s gotta have a trademark for his name.

    Just sayin’.

  11. Wombat_socho
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 10:35 pm

    Reading this comment reminded me of an author friend of mine who has written (and is writing) novels this way; if the Loyal Readers ante up enough dough, then the next chapter appears, and the next, and…as PatriotGal says, “before you know it, it’ll be done”.

  12. john cunningham
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 10:55 pm

    I would buy this book in a jiffy!!  I have not read Bork’s book, will have to seek it out.

  13. PaulLemmen
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

    Robert, how inappropriate it would be that my book were to go on sale before yours … get to writing, I’ve already got over 200 pages done on mine …

  14. Adjoran
    July 22nd, 2012 @ 11:55 pm

     If it’s like most similar projects, Stacy should take the number who say they will buy it and divide by 20 to get actual sales.  Of course now with self-publishing, he could write to the Kindle and other e-platforms and bypass the publishers altogether.  It would be worthwhile just not having to deal with the cretins, thieves, and megalomaniacs in that industry.

  15. Adjoran
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 12:04 am

    Bork’s book was both accurate in what had occurred and in the course it was heading. 

    According to Hayek, he had even finally convinced Keynes in their ongoing debate that the “Keynesian” spending model could not work in the postwar economy, but Keynes double-crossed him and the world and died.  

    Apparently Keynes had also confided this change of heart to Henry Clay, an economic adviser to the Bank of England and an econ professor, but the word never seemed to get out. 

    Just think of the lives lost or ruined, the lost wealth which was never created, the vast avoidable suffering sustained just because the world never realized Keynes had seen the light.

  16. ThePaganTemple
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 12:17 am

    It’s hard as hell to write a book. It’s easy to write the first draft, the real hell is in the editing process. And there are very few if any writers who can shoot out an acceptable book in the first draft, damn sure not a great one.

  17. Roderic Deane
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 12:24 am

    The radical Left fanned the flames of discontent during the 60’s in the same way that Barack Obama is doing today. Sadly, many of our youth succumb to such trends, thinking it’s hip.

    There’s plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that the 60’s was the rise of modern socialism. What I find interesting was the rise of Reagan in spite of the trends at the time. Moreover, what I thought was a harbinger of a march to conservative thought in Washington disappointed me by becoming a mere footnote in only 12 years!

    What is the attraction to modern liberalism when we have such a strong history of conservative accomplishments? It astounds me to think that people have forgotten the Reagan era and all the good that it generated.

    Why does our population insist on learning the same, disastrous lessons of liberalism over and over and over again?

    Yeah, I think it’s time for a book, or something like a good, old-fashioned electoral whooping, courtesy of the Tea Party! 

  18. Gary Rosen
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 3:06 am

    I’m not sure it would have made much difference.  Keynesian policies are pursued because of the politics of giving away free stuff, not because politicians are thoughtfully trying to do the best thing for the economy.  If he had a publicized deathbed “conversion” they would write it off to dementia and go on spending.

  19. K-Bob
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 4:38 am

    Trademarks have to be slightly more unique-ish, I’d think.

    (And no, Glenn Reynolds didn’t come up with “Heh.” It was already common as dirt on the bulletin boards and in newsgroups.)

  20. K-Bob
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 4:50 am

    Go for it.  Just learn to say “no.”  A lot.

  21. Quartermaster
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 7:57 am

    Indeed. That’s exactly what he was. I would add “lying pervert” myself, but could live with pervert alone.

  22. JeffWeimer
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    One word, Stacy: Kickstarter.

  23. richard mcenroe
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 8:10 pm


  24. richard mcenroe
    July 23rd, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

    For a somewhat longer view, consider Jaques Barzun’s “From Dawn to Decadence.”

  25. AHLondon
    July 24th, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    Exactly. All he has to do is write it. Self publishing lacks editors, but I’m sure he can find some editor talent from his readers. He could publish a few weeks after he writes it. We all buy it and spread the word… Just sayin’. Heh.

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