In the 1950s the Conservative Intellectual Movement was trying to get its legs and define what it was they, as a group, believed and make those beliefs known in the public arena. To this group:
…politics was important and time was running out. It was not enough to proclaim their ideals and anathematize the forces of darkness. The defense of Western civilization required that their ideas be implemented, and the war could not be fought solely in academic journals or in National Review. Sooner of later the conservative intellectual movement, if it wanted to succeed, would have to shape political forces and prevail in the political marketplace. It would have to do more than stand athwart history, yelling “Stop.” (1)
.John Dewey and other Social Darwinists in the 1930s regarded the educational system as the way to bring about social change and set about the task of changing culture. By the 1960s most of the educators, attorneys, doctors, politicians, and Supreme Court Justices and many ministers had been trained in that system. Realistically John Dewey and his followers were every bit as anti-intellectual as the fundamentalists they so loved to attack. For nearly 30 years now their primary concern was changing society not reading, writing and arithmetic. The fruit of their labor began manifesting itself in the 1960s under Chief Justice Earl Warren.
In 1961 the Supreme Court referred to secular humanism as a religion. We would agree that it is a religion but one that is in direct conflict with the Declaration of Independence which asserted a Creator, creation and inalienable rights which come from the Creator. Up until this time the nation had lived on the borrowed capital of Christian morals which could now begin to be swept away. In 1962, after a 300-year tradition, the Supreme Court banned Bible reading and prayer from the public classroom(2) as well as a number other rulings which served to alarm the culture.
Finally, the trend toward majoritarianism was enormously stimulated by a series of Supreme Court decisions that aroused not just conservative intellectuals but broad segments of the populace which right wingers could now, a long last, cultivate. These included policemen and law enforcement officials enraged by Court decisions which protected the “rights” of criminals; millions of Americans who could not understand why the “rights” of atheists should prevent the voluntary reading of the Lord’s Prayer and the Bible in public schools; Americans angry about “permissiveness” and Court rulings on pornography; politicians astounded by the Court’s reapportionment decisions; and the anti-Communists alarmed at the Court’s continual blows at congressional investigations and cold war legislation.(3)
The Supreme Court had become an activist organization which had the virtually unchecked power to carry out the social change which they had been taught in school. The cultural battle lines were now clearly drawn for all to see. The next few decades continued to witness the meshing of the worldview indoctrination promoted by Dewey and the “self actualizing” of the baby boomers by apply the “virtue of creative rebellion” as espoused by Mazlow.
Although horrified by these developments the fundamentalist and evangelical church still remained largely uninvolved with cultural issues, viewing them as “the social gospel” which in their minds detracted from the gospel of salvation.
No Stops Signs at the Crossroads
On February 7, 1964 The Beatles arrived in America from England. After becoming the most successful rock musicians in the western world, they went east in search of spiritual enlightenment. They were quite instrumental in popularizing Hinduism and eastern thought with the current crop of college students. And there were a lot of college students—by 1967 fully one-half of the U.S. population was less than 21 years old and by 1968, it had become frighteningly obvious in the anti-war protests how much damage these youths could do! The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, as well as notorious crimes like the “hippie” Manson murders added to the social turmoil, and to the fears of traditional and law-abiding Americans. The decade of the 1960s became the crossroad intersection with no stop signs where the competing worldviews and philosophies were about to collide.
It would be unfair to caricature the whole of the ‘60s as one, long, hippie love-in. In the early ‘60s, youth rebellion had pretty much been limited to the occasional street and motorcycle gang. With a president who mirrored their own youthful idealism, this generation exchanged their Mickey Mouse ears for membership in the Peace Corps, and for them the future seemed to be full of hope. Young people believed they were able to isolate American political demons and send Freedom Riders to exorcise them. But, with the JFK assassination, youthful idealism began to fade, and with the troop buildup in Vietnam, it seemed ready to disappear altogether.
It helps to remember that the discovery of the German concentration camps and the Jewish Holocaust was only about 20 years old back then. And the post-World War II, Nuremberg, war-crimes trials had left the world to ponder the haunting refrain that was used to justify more than ten-million, savage murders: “We were only following orders.” In light of this monumental horror, it might seem only natural that the next generation should recoil from the dangers of unquestioned authority.
The fruit of the previous decades which had been cultivated in the institutions of higher learning were able to witness the maturing of their views. College students began “self-actualizing’ through “creative rebellion” in ways that would terrify their parents. By all accounts, the “Free Speech Movement” on the campus of Berkeley University in 1964 (a symbol of student protest in the ‘60s) was almost a religious experience for those in attendance. The violence that later came to characterize the ‘60s can be seen as youthful idealism turned angry.
The vast majority of these young people of the 60’s were among “the best and brightest” of their time and would have been so in any generation before or since. But, their parents reasoned, if tomorrow’s leaders were brawling with the local “fuzz” in Chicago, blowing up college buildings, burning draft cards, inciting to riot, taking drugs, challenging traditional sexual morality, listening to raucous music, and making a general nuisance of themselves, what hope was there for the future? Shaking off the vestiges of society’s “Christian hangover,” all traditional moral values were questioned by the young and summarily discarded, in favor of the new moral values spurred on by youthful idealism, Marxist philosophy and human centered psychology. While the WW2 generation was thrown completely off guard and didn’t know what to think about their offspring’s radical bent, the younger generation judged the older generation’s “morality” by their new “enlightened” moral system. How could “the older generation” make a claim to morality, the thinking went, when they allowed materialism, racism, sexism, and all those other evil “isms” to flourish without protest under their watch? New “sins” rapidly replaced the old. Sex before marriage, for example, couldn’t be a sin, since it “didn’t hurt anybody.” But war, for whatever “good” reason—was obviously a SIN!
The older generation’s problem in defending their culture was similar to the churches’ problem of the past century, when their Christian faith began to be challenged by emerging philosophies. Even though the Bible commands believers to be prepared to give a reasoned defense for their faith, they had no idea of how to defend it, because never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that they would have to. The walls were high, the fortress impenetrable. In the same way, the WW2 generation felt that American culture and values were safe and in fact, had experienced resurgence in religious interest since they had only recently rescued the world from Nazi Germany, and life was good. In their minds, the superiority of American culture, morals, and worldview was self-evident. Certainly they never expected to have been confronted and condemned by their own children, for whom they had sacrificed and to whom they had handed the world on a platter.
In 1964 the Conservative Intellectual Movement shifted from talking about conservatism and jumped into the middle of the election process backing an Arizona Senator by the name of Barry Goldwater that did not go well:
The crusade of 1964 ended, of course, in overwhelming electoral defeat. Nevertheless, for conservative intellectuals it was an intensely educational experience. One lesson drawn by many of them was that the campaign revealed the immense power and blatant bias of the news media and the utter unscrupulousness of their presumably responsible liberal foes. It was, said Buckley, a “vile campaign,” and conservatives were deeply stung and embittered by it. “Goldwater Republicanism is the closest thing in American politics to an equivalent of Russian Stalinism,” said Senator Fulbright. “We see dangerous signs of Hitlerism in the Goldwater campaign,” said Martin Luther King. “All we needed to hear [at the Republican convention] was ‘Heil Hitler,’” commented Governor Brown of California. “[The Republicans] had Mein Kampf as their political bible,” charged the mayor of San Francisco. “Goldwater is mentally unbalanced – he needs a psychiatrist,” said Walter Reuther. These and other statements by responsible liberals had a searing and lasting impact on the intellectual Right.(4)
Not only were fundamentalist and Evangelicals concerned about where they thought society was heading but the conservative intellectual movement in 1964 was voicing the same concerns:
Radicalism was “the logical conclusion” of the inherent egalitarianism and relativism of the liberals. What was the hippie counterculture, with its call to “do your own thing,” but “an extreme extension” of liberalism’s relativist assault on the verities of the West?
One alarming and saddening aspect of the crisis, for conservatives, was that at times it seemed so inevitable. For years they had inveighed against pernicious doctrines espoused by entrenched elites in the universities. Now, they charged, the chickens were coming home to roost. In the early 1960s, well before the decay had become outwardly visible, Richard Weaver trenchantly exposed the intellectual heresy that was allegedly sapping the foundations of our culture. For fifty years American education had been controlled by “revolutionaries” whose “grand pundit” was John Dewey. For fifty years America had been the victim of an unprecedented and
Systematic attempt to undermine a society’s traditions and beliefs through the educational establishment which is usually employed to maintain them…. The result has been an educational system not only intrinsically bad but increasingly at war with the aims of the community which authorizes it…
Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and intellectual conservatives saw a crisis coming and it seemed little could be done to prevent it.
1 George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) 238
2 The Supreme Court overturned a Maryland law (specifically, Art. 77, Sec. 202 of the Annotated Code of Maryland). According to the text: “The rule provided for the holding of opening exercises in the schools of the city, consisting primarily of the ‘reading, without comment, of a chapter in the Holy Bible and/or the use of the Lord’s Prayer.’”
3 George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) 234
4 George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) 274
5 George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) 282-283
Author: Don Veinot (189 Articles)