At my age, holidays tend to be occasions for rumination rather than celebration. These days I find myself preoccupied—even obsessed—with the question of how our nation lost its way, during just my own lifetime. How did things go so badly wrong so quickly?
By going wrong, I refer to something fundamental: the loss of a conception of the common good to which most citizens, consciously or instinctively, subscribe. In the America in which I grew up, an identifiable cultural and moral consensus prevailed. Today, that consensus has disappeared, leaving in its place a void. The “mystic chords of memory” to which Lincoln referred have been stretched past the breaking point.
By no means am I suggesting that this now-shattered consensus was without defect. Its deficiencies were legion. But however flawed, the consensus was real, and provided the glue that enabled the nation to surmount its defining trials of the 20th century: the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Cold War.
Considered in retrospect, these crises defined the arc of my parents’ lives and those of their contemporaries. For members of their generation, there was no time-out between the Great Depression and America’s war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, nor was there a perceptible breather between victory in 1945 and the onset of the anticommunist crusade. In effect, these three epic events merged into a continuum of challenge and adversity stretching from the end of the 1920s to the end of the 1980s.
Read the full article in The American Conservative.