America is living in the anti-‘60s. The anti-establishment left of five decades ago is now America’s cultural establishment. Over their cultural empire, the left exercise a dictatorial control far stronger than the forces they once protested, and even more at odds with principles they once professed and hypocritically still claim to hold.
In many ways, “the ‘60s” never left. Their music still sells us products. Their images still serve as contemporary icons. Their protests continue to justify today’s.
If the ‘60s still own today, the left still seek to own the ‘60s. They do, because the left both desperately want and need them.
The left want the ‘60s, because they have mythologized them into a glorious, uninterrupted struggle. They then seek to liken all their current actions to it, and justify them by it. To paraphrase Shakespeare: The left want the ‘60s to not be simply past and protest, but prologue.
The left need the ‘60s because doing so allows them to place their origins here, rather than in their more uncomfortable ideological roots. Better to be seen to have sprung fully formed – like Athena from the head of Zeus – from social justice antecedents, than from their real socialist ones.
Despite the left’s contemporary revisionist history, five decades ago the left sought to make the ‘60s about themselves. The left sought to co-opt all battles into their overarching war to overturn the status quo. For the left, the ‘60s were a rebellion against the established order – the establishment, for short.
If the ‘60s had any coherence, it was their contrariness to what prevailed. “Never trust anyone over 30.” “Power to the people.” “Tune in, turn on, drop out.” The ‘60s’ causes aimed to overturn targets in the status quo, but the left’s overarching goal was the status quo itself. Winning any one of the battles was never going to stop their larger war.
Leap forward 50 years and the left have gone from assailing the establishment to being it. The left’s counterculture of the ‘60s has become “the culture that counts” today. In media, literature, movies, music, theater, art, and of course many college campuses, the left dominates.
The irony of the left’s ascendancy is that it in no way resembles the left’s popularized perception of the ‘60s they claim to venerate. The greater the left’s cultural dominance progresses, the further it drifts from its self-professed ideal.
The left’s ‘60s claimed to be about freedom in every conceivable instance – breaking the fetters of the establishment. The left’s aim to today is to forge their fetters ever stronger and wrap them ever tighter. The left’s ‘60s claimed to be socially laissez faire. The left’s current cultural establishment is anything but.
The left’s current cultural establishment is far less tolerant than the establishment it once opposed. To every question the left poses, we know the politically correct answers that must be given. And we know equally well the price to be paid for failing to do so.
Dissent is not an option in the left’s cultural empire. There is no forum there for debating any of the left’s tenets, let alone questioning or refuting the left’s overall cultural dominance. In their cultural establishment, dissent is still contrived to mean attacking the vestiges of cultural standards largely expunged from their empire.
The closest the left allows dissent’s encroachment in their cultural empire is an occasional ignoring of its cultural dominance. However, even such welcome respites cannot last long before being labeled “irrelevant” and “lacking social consciousness.”
With the irony of the left’s current cultural dominance comes clarity. Real rebellion today comes from the right. For all the left’s ‘60s idolatry and condemnation of the right, the right is today’s real protest movement.
The contrast between what the left declaimed against the establishment half a century ago and what they have delivered in their own establishment today reveals all we need to know about the left.
Taking the ‘60s at their word, rebellion was good in itself. Taking today at its reality, there is no greater sin in the left’s cultural establishment than rejecting their norms.
Despite harkening to its past of self-seen heroic struggle against the establishment, the left’s intention is to keep us in an even more restrictive present, by means of their even more controlling cultural establishment. Marx once proclaimed the left would vanquish history. Apparently they are quite content to replace it with hypocrisy.
The author served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000