Monday, September 17, 2007

"Cultural history is written by dissenters"

Rod Dreher calls attention to Alan Ehrenhalt's 1995 book "The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America," (PDF version here):
While it is often said that history is written by the winners, the truth is that the cultural images that come down to us as history are written, in large part, by the dissenters -- by those whose strong feelings against life in a particular generation motivate them to become the novelists, playwrights, and social critics of the next, drawing inspiration from the injustices and hypocrisies of the time in which they grew up....The social critics of the past two decades have forced on our attention the inconsistencies and absurdities of life a generation ago: the pious skirt-chasing husbands, the martini-sneaking ministers, the sadistic gym teachers.

I am not arguing with the accuracy of any of those individual memories. But our collective indignation makes little room for the millions of people who took the rules seriously and tried to live up to them, within the profound limits of human weakness. They are still around, the true believers of the 1950s, in small towns and suburbs and big-city neighborhoods all over the country, reading the papers, watching television, and wondering in old age what has happened to America in the last thirty years. If you visit middle-class American suburbs today, and talk to the elderly women who have lived out their adult years in these places, they do not tell you how constricted and demeaning their lives in the 1950s were. They tell you those were the best years they can remember. And if you visit a working-class Catholic parish in a big city, and ask the older parishioners what they think of the church in the days before Vatican II, they don't tell you that it was tyrannical or that it destroyed their individuality. They tell you they wish they cold have it back. For them, the erosion of both community and authority in the last generation is not a matter of intellectual debate. It is something they can feel in their bones, and the feeling makes them shiver.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Marc,

Interesting post. After reading your description of the American Civic Literacy test, I couldn't resist taking it myself. I appreciate the work of this organization to return American higher education to its former rigorous standards.

Thanks in large part to the dedicated homeschooling efforts of my parents, I managed to attain a score of 88.33% (53 of 60 correct) on this test. Economics is a bit of a weak point for me as well, since most of the questions I got wrong dealt with that subject (2 of first 30 wrong, 5 of last 30 wrong).

P.S. My name is Justin, and I am the guy who queried you a few months ago regarding some of my articles. Did you gat a chance to read any of the pieces I have posted on the Internet? I would be grateful if you could link to one or two of them, but if not, I at least look forward to hearing your comments at