Editor’s Note: The world that you see above which is now populated by illegal aliens, fat people and blue haired gender non-conforming lesbians and is oriented around The GDP and political correctness has been handed down to us by mainstream conservatism which “won” the Cold War.
I enjoy reading about the distant past.
I spend much of my time there to escape from and gain perspective on the present.
I’ve spent the last several months bouncing across Southern and American history. I spent much of my time last year studying the Reformation and Enlightenment in Europe. None of this really tells us much about our present crisis because the causes of it lie in more recent history. We’re living through the breakdown of the world our grandparents and parents created after the Second World War.
The following excerpt comes from Simon Reid-Henry’s new book Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West Since the Cold War, 1971-2017:
“Yet religious convictions were in some ways fracturing too. As the Golden Age ran deeper into the sand, it transpired that a corresponding turn to secularization had set in as well. Religious hypocrisy may have been nothing new: Ali’s own wife challenged him to explain his multiple affairs in light of his religious convictions. But Christianity now fragmented and went into decline – the final “crisis of Christendom” – as a more secular age confronted the Church, and a more sectarian future, in turn, awaited the earthly world of politics. “The mainline churches in America,” wrote one religious scholar, “have been in a state of depression for more than a decade.” In Canada and Britain, the largest Protestant churches saw a sharp decline in their membership while the loosening of Roman Catholicism in Quebec presaged the beginning of the end of French-Catholic separatism (thereby removing a very large problem for Trudeau). In the early 1960s 80 percent of Dutch citizens claimed to belong to a church; by the mid 1970s half of them claimed they did not.
Catholicism held out for longer but there too a decline in organized religious observance set in. In Belgium, attendees at Catholic Mass declined from 43 percent in 1967 to 33 percent in 1976; Church of Scotland communicants saw a drop of 11 percent between 1966 and 1972. The number of confirmations performed likewise dropped off precipitously. In Spain more than 3,000 priests, 6,000 monks, and 10,000 nuns would opt to leave Holy Orders between 1960 and 1990. If skepticism among the clergy and religious leaders as to the new social discourse around marriage and divorce, gay rights, and abortion saw one aspect of this decline, it was equally – because of their great certainty on those same issues – the reason why a more conservative strand of Christian evangelism was also on the rise, above all in America. Interestingly this did not help Europe’s Christian democratic parties since religiosity in politics henceforth coalesced primarily around social movements, including Martin Luther King’s civil rights, rather than the Church per se. Thus the moment of a transnational loosening of religious conviction was equally the moment of a distinctively remoralized form of national politics.
If religion as one source of order and stability now began breaking up amid the wider cultural floes, the bonds of community were loosening for more prosaic reasons too. For one, citizens in the postwar democracies were moving out of the country and into the city in search of work. They were more likely to meet recently arrived immigrant workers, especially in Europe as the colonies closed shop during the 1950s and 1960s and their peoples moved to the former colonial metropole in search of work. Among those for whom this impacted most strongly was a generation of students who had been brought up in the ennui of the suburbs and who now found on their arrival in the city the face of difference that postcolonial revolutionists like Frantz Fanon warned them they would fined when Europe’s stolen “tower of opulence” came crashing down. The student-led uprisings of 1968 were the most obvious consequence of this. But the world impacted on the West no less directly as a result of the other major political “event” of the late 1960s and early 1970s: the Vietnam War. These two developments entwined not so much to overturn the old political consensus as to change the nature of political struggle itself.”
The period of Western history that stretches between 1945 and 1975 is commonly called Les Trente Glorieuses or The Glorious Thirty Years. In the broadest sense, it was characterized by the dominance of the American Empire after the Second World War, the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the creation of international institutions like the United Nations and NATO and the entrenchment of liberal capitalist democracy which became the norm in all the countries of the “Free World.” It was also generally a time of optimism, rapid economic growth and consumerism in the West.
As I pointed out in National Review: A Nation Without a Chest, I believe the roots of our present crisis trace back to the Great Depression, the Second World War and The Thirty Glorious Years. First and foremost, this was a time of international conflict in which the West defined itself against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. If fascism and communism were to be defeated, then liberal democracy and capitalism had to be defended and promoted at all costs. It is helpful to think of this period as a time in which the American Empire was competing with its rivals for global dominance and in which Americanism was being reconfigured and exported abroad as a universal ideology.
The result of the Second World War was that racism, nationalism and anti-Semitism became taboo in the West. The tepid barriers that had previously held Jewish power and influence in check crumbled. Jews were absorbed into the American elite where they began to displace the Yankees. In the United States, the Thirty Glorious Years were defined by desegregation and integration. In Western Europe, the Thirty Glorious Years were defined by decolonization. Both the United States and Western Europe fatefully opened their borders to Third World immigrants and millions of migrants began pouring into the West.
Internally, Americans were moving off the farm and out of their ethnic enclaves in cities and into the new cookie cutter suburbs to live the American Dream where they gradually became deracinated. The Interstate Transportation System started to be built during the Eisenhower administration and advanced with the gas stations and fast food restaurants. The GI bill allowed veterans to go to college where they were exposed to radical doctrines. Housewives had less work to do as a result of labor saving devices like washing machines and dryers. Nearly every American household soon bought a television.
“The first and most basic pillar upon which Western democracy was rebuilt after the war was the nation state, which was locked in place through a concerted focus on national economic growth. Economic development took the place of interstate rivalry as the era’s principal political obsession. The new concept of “national income,” or GDP, as it recorded that growth for public consumption, took on something of the importance once accorded the expanses of empire that could be shown in pink on some map. The task of securing what, in Europe especially, were often recently reinstalled national governments was also undertaken through the exercise of political constraint, as this was levied upon the institutions of democracy itself.”
During The Thirty Glorious Years, Americans started living in rootless suburbs, eating at McDonald’s, watching television, going to college, worshiping the GDP, etc. They dived into an orgy of sex and consumerism while the family and religion were neglected. They were being taught that the recently discovered sin of “racism” was the worst thing in the world. Blacks had failed to achieve equality because they were oppressed by segregation in the United States and colonialism in the Third World.
“The year 1968 was thus one one level a demographic event: a glorified coming of age party for the first generation of a higher-education society. And the where of 1968 is in the sense an important as the what. In France there were six times more university students in 1968 than there had been in 1945; in Italy, after a law liberalizing access in 1961, enrollment had grown from 280,000 in 1960 to 700,000 in 1970. Throughout the 1960s the number of students in higher education grew at around 8 percent per year in Europe. In America it doubled (to 8 million by 1970) as the “massification” of higher education caught on (more importantly it was also opened, for the first time, to African American students).
More and more of these students were studying the new “social sciences” too. By 1968 in Britain more students were reading sociology than law or economics. More still were using the insights of these disciplines to resist the idea that social knowledge should be “useful” to industrial society, one British student, Phil Cohen, contemplating breaking into the the LSE library so that he could glue together pages of works by the esteemed socioloist Talcott Parsons, the better to reveal the “congealment of praxis”). A large number of American students enrolled simply to avoid the draft for Vietnam. Students in the late 1960s were well educated enough, in short, and in the right disciplines, to recognize the depth of the challenges of the age but not yet of a class that could expect to avoid them.”
Simon Reid-Henry argues in Empire of Democracy that all this built up to a crisis that reshaped democracy in the West in the early 1970s. He argues that the present epoch of Western history that we are living through and which appears to be nearing its end dates to this period.
I basically agree with this division: the Great Depression and World War II can be seen as a crisis period in which the American Empire triumphed over its rivals and liberal capitalist democracy was saved. The Thirty Glorious Years can be seen as the entrenchment of this system in the “Free World.” Finally, the neoliberal era which we have been living in since the time of Reagan and Thatcher begins in the mid-1970s and has lasted down to Blompf and BREXIT. We are entering a new crisis period.