It’s a good thing I have read Christina Hoff Sommers — at least one book and numerous articles — because her recent tweeting about generational politics seems… completely off.
To begin with, how Boomer do you have to be to be infuriated by these dang Millennials and not consider that perhaps they are rebelling against the establishment that Boomers largely built?
Second, how Boomer do you have to be to be to think Boomer “rebels” did not engage in moral panics, workshops, and grievance circles? Does the phrase “Don’t trust anyone under 30” ring a bell? It originated as a response to the establishment’s moral panic about the possible manipulation of youth movements (e.g., by Communists), but quickly became an expression of the youth movement’s own moral panics.
Indeed, the counterculture was a seething mass of moral panics — some justified, others not — against a multitude of manifestations of The Man. That so many of the leaders of the counterculture seamlessly transitioned into Masters of the Universe in the 1980s — a phenomenon nicely mocked in The Big Chill — is an indication of how weak The Man really was and how comfortably the counterculture would embrace the materialism they once considered the root of all evil.
The New Left was not obsessed with organizing and grievances? This would be news to any number of 60s-era college administrators. As Ross Douthat wrote a few years back:
“The radicals moved quickly to dismantle the vestiges of moral conservatism on campus — the in loco parentis rules that still governed undergraduate life, for instance. But their real mission was actually a kind of remoralization, a renewal of the university as a place of almost-religious purpose, where students would be educated about certain great truths and then sent forth to live them out.”
Indeed, the counterculture continued in these sort of behaviors well after they became the culture. The “sex, drugs, and ‘rock & roll” crowd wound up with Al & Tipper Gore crusading against the “rock & roll” part (at least until they realized they would need showbiz support for a presidential run). And that was one of the more benign examples. On the scale of scary moral panics and witch hunts, the Satanic daycare child abuse delusion — which sent many innocent people to prison — ranks pretty highly (or lowly).
The idea that most branches of Boomer politics in the 70s were lacking in workshops and grievance circles is amusing. Progressive Boomer politics of the era often seemed like an endless procession of workshops and conventions, of internecine factional battles, of the endless issuance of declarations and proclamations by self-appointed authorities.
Sommers comes closest to being correct when you consider that today’s campus radicalism resembles another iteration of what Boomer elites did. In that sense, it is less rebellious, though the people whose careers have been destroyed by immature identity politics and another generation of cowardly administrators might disagree.
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