“The state has become a substitute husband. In fact, it doesn’t replace just the husband, it replaces the entire nuclear and extended family, raises the children and cares for the elderly.”
American columnist Diana West recently released her book The Death of the Grown-up, where she traces the decline of Western civilization to the permanent youth rebellions of the past two generations. The decade from the first half of the 1960s to the first half of the 1970s was clearly a major watershed in Western history, with the start of non-Western mass immigration in the USA, the birth of Eurabia in Western Europe and the rise of Multiculturalism and radical Feminism.
The paradox is that the people who viciously attacked their own civilization had enjoyed uninterrupted economic growth for decades, yet embraced Marxist-inspired ideologies and decided to undermine the very society which had allowed them to live privileged lives. Maybe this isn’t as strange as it seems. Karl Marx himself was aided by the wealth of Friedrich Engels, the son of a successful industrialist.
This was also the age of decolonization in Western Europe and desegregation in the USA, which created an atmosphere where Western civilization was seen as evil. Whatever the cause, we have since been stuck in a pattern of eternal opposition to our own civilization. Some of these problems may well have older roots, but they became institutionalized to an unprecedented degree during the 1960s.According to Diana West, the organizing thesis of her book “is that the unprecedented transfer of cultural authority from adults to adolescents over the past half century or so has dire implications for the survival of the Western world.” Having redirected our natural development away from adulthood and maturity in order to strike the pop-influenced pose of eternally cool youth – ever-open, non-judgmental, self-absorbed, searching for (or just plain lacking) identity – we have fostered a society marked by these same traits. In short: Westerners live in a state of perpetual adolescence, but also with a corresponding perpetual identity crisis. West thinks maturity went out of style in the rebellious 1960s, “the biggest temper tantrum in the history of the world,” which flouted authority figures of any kind.
She also believes that although the most radical break with the past took place during the 60s and 70s, the roots of Western youth culture are to be found in the 1950s with the birth of rock and roll music, Elvis Presley and actors such as James Dean. Pop group The Beatles embodied this in the early 60s, but changed radically in favor of drugs and the rejection of established wisdom as they approached 1970, a shift which was reflected in the entire culture.
Personally, one of my favorite movies from the 1980s was Back to the Future. In one of the scenes, actor Michael J. Fox travels in time from 1985 to 1955. Before he leaves 1985, he hears the slogan “Re-elect Mayor….Progress is his middle name.” The same slogan is repeated in 1955, only with a different name. Politics is politics in any age. Writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale have stated that they chose the year 1955 as the setting of the movie because this was the age of the birth of teen culture: This was when the teenager started to rule, and he has ruled ever since.
As West says, many things changed in the economic boom in the decades following the Second World War: “When you talk about the postwar period, the vast new affluence is a big factor in reorienting the culture to adolescent desire. You see a shift in cultural authority going to the young. Instead of kids who might take a job to be able to help with household expenses, all of a sudden that pocket money was going into the manufacture of a massive new culture. That conferred such importance to a period of adolescence that had never been there before.” After generations of this celebration of youth, the adults have no confidence left: “Kids are planning expensive trips, going out unchaperoned, they are drinking, debauching, absolutely running amok, yet the parents say, ‘I can’t do anything about it.’ Parents have abdicated responsibilities to give in to adolescent desire.”
She believes that “Where womanhood stands today is deeply affected by the death of grown-up. I would say the sexualized female is part of the phenomenon I’m talking about, so I don’t think they’re immune to the death of the grown-up. Women are still emulating young fashion. Where sex is more available, there are no longer the same incentives building toward married life, which once was a big motivation toward the maturing process.”
Is she right? Have we become a civilization of Peter Pans refusing to grow up? Have we been cut off from the past by disparaging everything old as outmoded? I know blogger Conservative Swede, who likes Friedrich Nietzsche, thinks we suffer from “slave morality,” but I sometimes wonder whether we suffer from child morality rather than slave morality. However, there are other forces at work here as well.
The welfare state encourages an infantilization of society where people return to childhood by being provided for by others. This creates not just a culture obsessed with youth but with adolescent irresponsibility. Many people live in a constant state of rebellion against not just their parents but their nation, their culture and their civilization.