Thursday, March 20, 2014

By Marsden's reading, the 1960's should be understood as both an outgrowth of 1950's themes of autonomy and authenticity and, more widely, a reaction against the combination of unprincipled mushiness and clubby exclusivity that characterized consensus liberalism. The supposed end of ideology brought its opposite: a passionate decade of politics characterized by various and sometimes contradictory convictions. First came a rebellion on the Right that ranged from William F. Buckley to the John Birch Society and culminated in the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Then came the SDS, New Left, anti-war movement, Black Panthers, and street demonstrations outside the Democratic convention in 1968.

This dynamic has been ongoing. Marsden interprets the rise of the religious right in the 1970's and 1980's as a reaction against the moral relativism implicit in consensus liberalism. In his 1970 book, Dare to Discipline, James Dobson put forward a view of principled parenting, as it were, and he did so in self-conscious opposition to the open-ended, flexible, pragmatic liberal style. Francis Schaeffer made the political dimension explicit. In A Christian Manifesto, published in 1981, he issued a rallying call for Christians to fight against relativistic secular humanism and to restore America as a Christian nation.

Little has changed. As an undergraduate I remember futile arguments about racial diversity and affirmative action. For the sake of equality we were to give preferences on the basis of race. Ok, I'd ask, how much preference? For how long? How would we know when we had a truly "diverse" student body? No answers were forthcoming, or rather lots of answers, some contradictory. Beneath, behind, and above these discussions was the conviction that, justifiable or not, diversity and affirmative action were necessities. Progressive policies had to move forward one way or another, and we could and should trust the well-meaning liberals in positions of responsibility to make good, fair judgments--even though nobody could define what "fair" meant in these circumstances. Moreover, dissent was severely punished.

Read it all.

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