In the previous article, I briefly mentioned how the Great Depression and World War II were a gigantic detour from the logic of the new Modern values which supplanted Victorianism and put down their roots in the Roaring Twenties. The country had to unify, confront and overcome a major economic and international crisis before domestic life could return to normal in the postwar era.
The Lost Generation, GI Generation and Silent Generation lived through the Great Depression and World War II in middle age, young adulthood and childhood respectively and led America through the Cold War. The shared memory and experience of those hard times gave the country a false sense of stability and seriousness which wasn’t passed on to the Baby Boomers, Generation X or the Millennials. As a result, American culture was far more cohesive in the early postwar era when the Silents were growing up in the 1950s and the Boomers were being born than it had been in the 1910s and 1920s.
In a sense, the Thirties and Forties put the Roaring Twenties on ice until the economic expansion of the Thirty Glorious Years. The American liberal intelligentsia became more liberal, modernist, antiracist and cosmopolitan in this decade, but as a practical matter the ordinary American was now too broke to live out the new values. The federal government couldn’t afford to wrangle over civil rights because of the economy and international situation. Even the writers of the Lost Generation who had been living it up in Paris and the South of France had to come home when the economy collapsed.
Conservatism was hurled into the dustbin of American politics for causing the Great Depression. It wouldn’t begin to crawl back out of it until the 1970s.