December 26, 2004

NYT's David Brooks...

...calls this one of 2004's best essays. The essayist argues that, of the last five decades, the high point of U.S. culture came ever so briefly: in 1960, 1961 and 1962. The claim he makes is those were years of orthodoxy without rigidness, openness without a caustic irreverence:
To read through the bound volumes of the newsmagazines Time and Newsweek, issue by issue, from the late ’50s onward, is to be struck, sometime around the beginning of the 1960s, by the sudden proliferation of the word new. Society was newly open, popular culture newly experimental, religious institutions (in the words of one contemporary observer) “newly irenic.” There was even talk among Vatican II-influenced, reform-minded Catholics of a “New Church.” A new national order was under construction: After three centuries, it appeared that America was at last beginning to confront its racial divisions and inequities and move toward greater unity and fairness...

Though the naiveté of the early 1960s is not something to which we should wish to return, much about the times remains highly appealing. The period seems in many ways to represent a congenial balance between highbrow and middlebrow, between seriousness and frivolity, and between ideas and values that we now associate with the political Left and Right.

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