Christopher Hitchens reviews a series of books on the 60s, hippies, Vietnam, and the commune movement for the New York Times. Lots of good stuff came out of that era, civil rights being only the most noted and obvious. (Also, Vaclav Havel – one of my absolute favorite people – considers himself a 60s person. That doesn’t mean nothing.)
But not all was well, and much of the era’s detritus is even worse. Just as I did yesterday, he’s not afraid to use the word reactionary.
If you look back to the founding document of the 60’s left, which was the Port Huron statement (also promulgated in Michigan), you will easily see that it was in essence a conservative manifesto. It spoke in vaguely Marxist terms of alienation, true, but it was reacting to bigness and anonymity and urbanization, and it betrayed a yearning for a lost agrarian simplicity. It forgot what Marx had said, about the dynamism of capitalism and ”the idiocy of rural life.” Earlier 18th- and 19th-century American communards had often been fleeing or preparing for a coming Apocalypse, and their emulators in the 1960’s and 1970’s followed this trope as well, believing everything they read about the impending crash, or the exhaustion of the world’s resources. The crazy lean-to of the Unabomber began to take dim shape at that period, even if many of the new pioneers were more affected by the work of the pacific Tolstoy or of C. Wright Mills (who used to recommend, if memory serves, that people should build their own cars as well as their own houses).
Is there a moral to point out here? Of course there is. Maybe more than one. The first is that, as Agnew deftly notes, more of her friends ought to have read about the Joad family before setting out. The second is that not all was wasted or futile. Everybody in society now has a better idea of our relationship with the natural order and our kinship with animals, and we are no longer so casual about what once seemed the endless bounty of our environment. In some ways, we have the ”love generation” to thank for this. Meanwhile, though, the anti-globalization movement has started to reject modernity altogether, to set its sights on laboratories and on the idea of the division of labor, and to adopt symbols from Fallujah as the emblems of its resistance. Conservatism cannot and does not, despite itself, remain static. It mutates into something far more reactionary than anything from which the hippies were ever fleeing.
I don’t know what anti-globalization has to do with Fallujah, but Gene over at Harry’s Place noted the movement’s connection to Hezbollah yesterday.