Three Ways Frenetic Intemperance Marked the Sixties

In his book, Return to Order, author John Horvat described a spirit of unrestraint that dominated culture and economy, which he called frenetic intemperance. The following article is part of a series of articles written by history teacher Edwin Benson that explains some stages by which America adopted this spirit of frenetic intemperance and its consequence in society. In this article he focuses on what is sometimes called “the promise of the sixties,” particularly the ideas behind three catchphrases of the period, and the lingering effect of all those unmet expectations.

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For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed, by history, to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age. You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age. You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation. … So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say, “It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life.”

Lyndon Johnson, “Great Society” Speech
May 22, 1964

He sought a Great Society. He ushered in bitterness and resentment. …The rhetoric of LBJ was in the disastrous tradition of JFK – encouraging the popular superstition that the state could change the quality, no less, of American life. This led necessarily to disappointment, and the more presumptuous the rhetoric, the more bitter the disappointment.

William F. Buckley, Jr.
“Lyndon Johnson, R.I.P.” January 27, 1973

It is easy to see the decade after the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963 as a crescendo of frenetic intemperance. The images are vivid to those who lived through the period and well known to those born later. The mud-soaked bacchanalia of Woodstock, the anti-Vietnam War protests, or hippies driving Volkswagen vans, are images that inspire nostalgia in some. To others they represent the nadir of American civilization. All agree that it was part and parcel of a revolution.

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“the promise of the sixties”

To chronicle the events of the period would require more space than this essay affords. Rather than discussing the fast-paced music, the outlandish fashions and the peculiar politics of the period, we will focus upon what is sometimes called “the promise of the sixties” and the lingering effect of all those unmet expectations.

There is, perhaps, no better place to find the goals of that revolution than the lyrics of the song Imagine by John Lennon.[1] There the anti-religion, anti-private property, radically egalitarian ethos of the period was spelled out in twenty-six lines.

This revolution unleashed a spirit of frenetic intemperance, the desire to do everything instantly, effortless and without restraint. This essay will be confined to a brief discussion of the ideas behind three phrases one began to hear during this period—situation ethics, liberation theology, and the hedonism of “if it feels good, do it.”

The phrase, situation ethics, comes from the title of a 1966 book by Joseph Fletcher, a one-time clergyman in the Episcopal Church and later an avowed atheist. Fletcher argued that “love” was to be the basis of all ethical decisions. If a decision was made in a spirit of love for all involved, the subsequent actions, no matter what they may have been, were ethical.

Since Fletcher’s ideas bore a superficial resemblance to Christ’s teachings on the importance of love, many ill-informed Christians were deceived by them. Law, doctrine, dogma, justice, and tradition were all expected to fall before the altar of love.

Relatively few people actually read Fletcher—or even knew his name. However, his ideas sounded forth from all the media and took root in the minds of a society. Left unexplored was the fact that “love” is a very ambiguous concept. For those who lacked any sense of objective truth, it was incredibly easy to use the word to justify almost any form of conduct.

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Likewise, “liberation” movements abounded throughout the period. To most, the word meant abandoning any sort of traditional restraint in favor of the frenetic intemperance of the new times. To adhere to old morals and values was to be, in the term of the time, “square.” The newly-enlightened set new standards of dress, dance, coupling, language, art and manners. Family, patriotism, and modesty were out. Self-expression, rebellion, and free love were in.

“older people wanted to prove that they could also be ‘with it.'”

A key difference between this period and earlier times was the reaction of the (presumably) more mature. Earlier generations faced the follies of the young in the sure knowledge that, one day, the young would “grow up” when they were forced to embrace the responsibilities of job, marriage, and family. By 1970, a new phenomenon appeared in which older people wanted to prove that they could also be “with it.” The “cool mom” let her kids and their friends drink and smoke marijuana in the family home. Dad grew sideburns and abandoned his blue suits and white shirts for paisley prints and jackets with Nehru collars. Employers looked the other way—or even participated—when the office became the setting for casual sexual relationships among employees. Richard Nixon showed up on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In—one of the most popular television shows of the time—mouthing the show’s catch phrase, “Sock it to me.”



Against this background, many argued that the Church needed to “get with the times” as well. As liturgical experimentation abounded, the use of Latin, praying the rosary, and many statues were discarded. The pipe organ sat unused while guitars and drums occupied a platform in the corner of the church where Our Lady’s altar had once been. “The Spirit of Vatican II” was cited to assert that the traditional Church was gone and a new one—more relevant to the changing times—was being born. From Latin America came a new phrase, “liberation theology,” which attempted to synthesize the spirit of the times with a large dose of socialism and as small an amount of Catholicism as possible. Our Precious Lord was recast as “Jesus Christ, Superstar.”

Finally, the slogan of the age became, “If it feels good, do it!” The hedonism of the outside world infected many parishes. Solemn processions and gregorian chant just didn’t have the same emotional punch as joining hands and singing “Kumbaya” at the offertory. Priests and nuns joined the rebellion against celibacy. Surely, the refrain ran, “One day those old men in Rome will allow priests to marry—they just HAVE to.” When His Holiness Pope Paul VI didn’t respond quickly enough, they simply abandoned their vocations, often with the blessings of their bishops.

Of course, the euphoria of this frenetic intemperance couldn’t last—but its siren song to a life without restraints continues to draw many. Those who lived through the sixties are growing old today, but the society that they created still excites. Because they have run television and the movies for the last fifty years, their dreams are still dreamed, their songs are still played, their social standards still prevail. We never attained Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” but its unfulfilled dreams linger. It appears that the disappointment of the never-dawning “Age of Aquarius” does not make our society repent of its hubris. Rather, the themes of the period just seem to get louder. The frenetic intemperance of the sixties still plays on.

Related Articles

American Intemperance in the Twentieth Century: Abandonment of Traditional Morality and World War I

American Intemperance in the Twentieth Century: The Installment Plan and the Making of the American Consumer

The Frenetically Intemperate Fifties: A Look at Twentieth Century America

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[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=lyrics+revolution+beatles&ie=&oe=#q=lyrics+imagine+beatles

Why We Stop for Christmas

“God manifested Himself to us in a marvelous manner.”

It is Christmas time, and the world stops for a brief moment. It does not stop long because there are too many important things to be done to waste on festive and unproductive folly. It can only be a short pause on Christmas day before the world must almost immediately return to the frenetic intemperance of the daily hustle and bustle. But this quick respite is enough to give a most necessary and calm reprieve of sanity, peace and order to our burdened souls.

Of course, the world does not stop willingly. It even tries to secure some advantage from this unnecessary break by making frantic attempts to commercialize and secularize the feast. Despite it all, the peace of Christmas somehow prevails.

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Stopping for Christmas challenges the modern world. To those enmeshed in our secular society, the birth of the Christ Child interrupts their lives with moral considerations that they would prefer not to consider. To practical atheists, Christmas is a curiosity that provokes painful memories of innocence long lost. Shallow Christians find the feast to be a sentimental time for some vague joy that they prefer not to make more profound. All these are somehow threatened by the date; yet all are forced, willing and unwilling, to stop to observe it.

However, faithful Christians everywhere are not threatened but strengthened by Christmas. We stop because Christmas reminds us that we are called to live in the presence of an Almighty God of infinite grandeur and majesty. This fact provokes in us a sense of wonder at the immense gulf between the Creator and His creatures.

Seeing our wonder and our desire to understand Him, God manifested Himself to us in a marvelous manner. He incites in us great aspirations or dreams for a better world to come. He bridged the gulf by presenting to us that which Catholic thinker Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira called the “most striking, indisputable, and audacious dream imaginable.”

That dream was the fact that the Word was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us. On Christmas night, we hear the antiphon that proclaims this daring reality: Puer natus est nobis, Et filius datus est nobis, “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us.”(Is. 9:6)

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On that ineffable night when our Savior was born to Mary Ever Virgin, an immense impossibility became possible: the God-Man was born and revealed Himself to us. On that holy and silent night, one can sense the sweetness and perfection that emanated from the Divine Infant in the manger in Bethlehem. He who seemed so inaccessible suddenly became accessible to all, kings and shepherds. He who appears so weak became powerful enough to stop the whole world for centuries to come.

To honor the grandeur of that sublime moment, we must stop not just once but every year to marvel at this fact that only increases our wonder at this good God that gave to us His only Begotten Son.



However, there is yet a greater reason for us to stop and marvel. The Birth of Christ also signaled the coming of a Redeemer who, for love of us, would reestablish the link broken by our first parents. In that marvelous and joyful Birth, we find foreshadowed the sorrows of His Passion. We stop and adore He who was born so that we might be redeemed, saved and united with Him for all eternity.

Finally, we stop because Christmas means much more than just our personal salvation. Christ made possible a civilization we call Christian. From the poverty of the manger in Bethlehem, an immensely rich channel of grace was opened for us. From Heaven descended torrents of blessings, which paved the way for the most audacious dreams and the immense possibilities of a world centered on the sublime principles, virtues and teachings of the Gospel. In Christendom, it became possible to practice the Commandments and evangelical counsels, inside an order that the pagan world then judged (and today’s neo-pagan nightmare still judges) impossible.

That is why everyone stops for Christmas. The powerful image of the Christ Child still has the capacity of capturing the modern imagination if only for a brief moment, amidst a world of sin and distractions. During the blessed season, the grace of God still reaches out and draws all men of good will toward Him despite so much rejection.

Others stop for the wrong reasons. Sadly, some atheists or rationalists stop merely to smirk at such considerations. They do not realize that, by limiting themselves to their sterile musings, they embrace the narrow vision of a soulless and pragmatic world, bereft of wonder.

But for those of us who celebrate a Merry Christmas (and not unhappy holidays), we stop at this time every year to recreate a marvelous wonder world visibly expressed by decorated trees, Nativity scenes and joyous caroling that reflect this joyful reality of Christ’s coming. More importantly, we gather inside our souls the peace of the Christ Child that calls us to return to order by realigning ourselves to live in function of a world created by God, turned toward God, and where God shows Himself actively intervening out of love for us.

What My Medieval Calendar Taught Me at a Modern Airport

“It is a very primitive almost medieval arrangement, but I have found it to be very flexible.”

I was sitting in the airport with plenty of time on my hands. Unlike those around me, I did not have an electronic device to entertain me. To make matters worse, I had forgotten to bring the book I was reading. And so I took out my calendar to see what needed to be done or scheduled.

As I was busy with my calendar, I was surprised by the man sitting next to me who suddenly exclaimed: “Hey, that’s a pretty nice calendar you have there!”

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My “calendar,” I should explain, is a three-ringed notebook with lined pages. I divide the pages by manually drawing vertical lines to separate the days of the week. Inside these divisions are notes of the things I need to do, boxes with agendas for meetings or just reminders that keep me on schedule. It is a very primitive almost medieval arrangement, but I have found it to be very flexible. It developed organically and allows all sorts of changes to accommodate what I need to do.

The man who had just praised my calendar was someone approaching sixty in casual business attire that gave the impression of being a professional or executive. That he would compliment my calendar was the last thing I would have expected from him.

I asked him why he liked my calendar and he replied: “Because I have one just like it. I thought I was the only one that has something like yours. Now I am happy to see that there are others like me.”

I was also surprised since I had thought the same thing, that I was the only one to do something so different. I was under the mistaken impression that anyone wanting to be part of the real world had to have some fancy scheduling program or app.

But this man obviously was part of the real world. He later explained to me that he was a fashion designer in New York City. He also had a large farm in Missouri that he had inherited and managed and thus frequently visited. He was a very busy man who had a very busy schedule…and a very primitive calendar.

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We started talking shop. I explained a few of my secrets and showed him some pages with my past weeks’ schedules. He chimed in with a few tips on how he did things. We both were commenting on how technology does not solve all scheduling problems, and sometimes even makes things worse. Much more important than the devices and programs are the scheduling habits that you develop. You don’t need to follow all the latest high-tech fads and gadgets. Sometimes all that is needed is a bit of common sense to find the system that works best for you.

At a certain point in the conversation, I decided to up the ante and see how far I might go with this train of thought.

I pulled out my ancient Samsung flip-phone that looked so twentieth century. He immediately took out his outdated and dilapidated Blackberry that he assured me was cutting-edge primitive without any bells or whistles. We both agreed that so many of the new devices can be very superfluous and time-consuming. It is easier to get by using what you truly need.



I learned two lessons from the airport conversation. The first was that not everybody follows all the latest fads. There are many like my friend who do not go along with the frenetic intemperance of buying every gadget or app that appears on the market. They use the technology they need even if it might seem outdated. They believe that we should not serve technology, but technology should serve us. I learned that we should not be afraid to resist the trends that often dictate how we should act.

The second lesson was that organic solutions that we develop ourselves are often the best ones. They stand out and are so refreshing in a world where everything is so artificially organized and pre-planned. I am sure there are many like my friend at the airport who develop imaginative solutions that would delight and surprise us. I am certain we can find examples of these organic solutions everywhere if we just take the time and trouble to look. Indeed, this is something I would like to study more in depth. I think I will put it on my “medieval” calendar.

Why the Totalitarian Temptation Lives On After the Berlin Wall

Why the Totalitarian Temptation Lives On After the Berlin Wall

“communism and liberal modernity, share in their own vastly different ways a common vision…”

“Happy the man that understands the causes of things,” wrote Virgil.

Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko, who is also a Member of the European Parliament, is one of those deep thinkers who likes to get to the root of matters. He is not content with superficial observations or political platitudes. In his new book, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, he takes on the challenges of where the post-Cold War program went wrong.

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He has all the qualifications to make such an appraisal. Having lived and suffered under communism for decades, Legutko played a major role in the movement to bring down communism in Poland. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, he joined many in thinking that it would signal the end of conflict and the triumph of freedom.

He soon found out that the new liberal Western-style order that replaced the old communist regime did not live up to these expectations. He was shocked to learn how many were hostile to his anti-communist position. He was mystified by the sympathy and favor enjoyed by so many former communists and socialists.

That is when Legutko looked at the roots of things. He began to wonder why communist persecution of the Church had failed while its later counterpart “without any effort and simply by allowing people to drift along with the flow of modernity succeeded.” He was familiar with communism’s militant anti-Catholic boot but not modernity’s strong cultural intolerance.

With penetrating analysis, he concludes that communism and liberal modernity have common philosophical roots although they follow different methods. “Modernity and anti-Christianity cannot be separated,” he affirms, “because they stem from the same root and since the beginning have been intertwined.”

What is so refreshing about Legutko’s analysis is its depth and originality. He refuses to fight on the enemy’s turf by reducing everything to just politics. He delves deeply into his subject and finds the two systems, communism and liberal modernity, share in their own vastly different ways a common vision of history, society, religion, politics, culture, and human nature.

In his analysis of what went wrong in the East, he ironically helps explain what went wrong in the West. From the very beginning, the modern experiment carried within itself the seeds of its own decadence. As it reaches its final stages, modernity has produced its neo-barbarians who are turning upon their culture and rejecting its established norms of behavior.

Modernity’s problem is that it is all so cultural and therefore so imperceptible. That is why Legutko’s focus on culture is important. He traces how what he calls liberal-democratic thought did much to change the culture, secularize the West and legitimize “a lowering of human expectations.” He notes that this current did not progress by radical outbursts but by gradually breaking down “the social hierarchies, customs, traditions, and practices that had existed prior to the emergence of the new political system.”

Over the last few decades, the West has spread this decaying process to the East. Legutko laments “a gradual sliding down from the high to the low, from the refined to the coarse,” which has brought vulgarity to language, behavior, education, and moral rules. It has given rise to an anti-culture of frenetic intemperance and instant gratification that has helped corrode and smother remnants of faith still alive.

The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies

“the merit of the book lies precisely in its unvarnished portrayal of modernity”

The author enters into other areas of concern that have an eroding effect on society. The modern sense of entertainment, for example, has led to a shallowness of life that permeates all aspects of life, “separates us from the seriousness of existence, and fills this existence with false content.”

These and other insights are so accessible because they are observable in daily life. He manages to deal with everything from political correctness to modern feminism. There is a logic to Legutko’s arguments that allows the reader to perceive not only causes but also ultimate goals. Thus, it appears that not only do the two systems have common historical and cultural roots but also a common enemy: the Catholic Church and its social structures.

Legutko affirms that “There is virtually no area in which the influence of Christianity has not been challenged. Everything that Christianity imbued with its spirit, legacy and wisdom—education, morality, sensibility, human conduct, even diet—the liberal-democratic order put to question and in many cases eliminated.”

Legutko is unduly pessimistic about the future, perhaps because he is impressed by the tragic grandeur of this struggle. He cannot see beyond the terrible totality of the liberal democratic ideal that so dominates everything around him.

Although not mentioned in the book, it would be better to see this great battle over the culture as a supercharged version of the age-old fight of Christ against the world, flesh and the devil. Perhaps the merit of The Demon in Democracy lies precisely in its unvarnished portrayal of modernity. By contrast, it becomes evident that the solution can only come from a much greater supernatural power.
 

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‘Ye Gods’: Taking on Modernity’s Pantheon

ye-gods-bookcover

“Today, everyone worships at at least one or a good number of these false altars.”

Occasionally one comes upon a book that presents simple truths in a plain and delightful way. Such books are commentaries based on the experience of life that ring true to the reader. One such book is a slim collection of essays titled simply Ye gods. Originally written and illustrated by Ed Willock in 1948, the book was republished by Catholic Authors Press in 2006.

The central thesis of the book is that so many of the attitudes and beliefs of modernity actually serve as America’s “household gods” with their accompanying mysticisms. The author illustrates his articles with drawings of typical Americans engaged in the “worship” of these false gods. He points out the contradiction of those who reject the one true God and the practice of the Faith yet readily embrace a pantheon of pagan idols and the empty frustration of living a life without God.

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Although written many decades ago, most of the modern neo-pagan idols he mentions are still adored. Indeed, the strange “liturgies” surrounding these gods has only accelerated with the introduction of social media and the frenetic intemperance of the times. Today, everyone worships at at least one or a good number of these false altars.



Some of the idols are actually an adoration of the individual and are hardly modern. These include the quest for success, money, health, luck and romance. Other gods are more recent additions brought about by modern lifestyles such as glamour, advertising, novelty, sports and popularity. Yet other gods are supported by the advance of technology such as progress, bigness, “omni-science,” speed and efficiency. Today, new postmodern gods more suited to the times, could probably be added to this tragic pantheon such as instant connectivity, extreme individualism or incivility.

The underlining philosophy behind the worship of neo-pagan idols is the illusion that spiritual desires can be satisfied with the follies of life. Willock explains how modern man “tries to assuage the hunger of his soul with material food.” The tendency of the global masses who worship the multiple modern idols is to unify this worship in the super-god of the omnipotent state, thus finding their “beatitude in the mass, rather than in the Mass.”

Ye gods is a succinct commentary that clearly indicates where modernity has gone wrong. Best of all, the author points in the direction of the Church and the worship of the one, true God as the only real solution to society’s ills.

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The Robo-Bar: Automating Your Drinking Experience

Ipourit

“part of the public drinking experience has been the banter of the bartender”

For centuries, part of the public drinking experience has been the banter of the bartender with the customers. Such conversation can have a relaxing and therapeutic effect on the person. In the new cyber-bar, however, the bartender is no longer needed. The customer assumes the function.

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There is a new self-serve beverage system called IPourIt in which bar customers dispense their own beer, wine, or any other drink from taps and pay by the ounce.

The person presents a state-issued ID, and then receives a radio-frequency-encoded wristband. This device records the volume of any drink taken from any of the taps on the wall. The drinker can sample (and pay for) the options before pouring a full glass. The bar actually saves money since the customer pays for the overflow that frequently happens in busy bars.

Even sobriety is monitored. The system can limit the customer’s consumption based on height and weight, worked out in conjunction with the alcohol content of beverages sampled.Subscription13

(As described by Craig Lambert, Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs that Fill Your Day, Berkeley, Calif., Counterpoint Press, 2015, p. 151.)

Cobbler Shop Economics

cobblersI had just bought a pair of shoes at a large shoe outlet and within six months the heels were completely worn down. I lost the receipt and probably would have had a little trouble getting a new pair. So I decided to visit the local cobbler with the shoes and a piece of leather carry-on luggage with a broken latch. I only expected him to fix my things but I also came out with a lesson in economy.

The cobbler shop is just off the main street in a small Pennsylvania town nearby. It is an unassuming building where you can walk in from the sidewalk and the bells on the doors announce your arrival. The cobbler lives in semi-retirement upstairs. He is open on afternoons to any who need his services and to all his friends who just want to come around and talk.

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Upon entering, the first thing you see is a counter with an old-fashioned cash register and all sorts of leather products with an order known only to the cobbler himself. There is something warm and familiar about the whole scene, which is permeated by the smell of leather. On one side there are some shelves where you can buy a strange array of unclaimed items. Visible in the back is the workshop and stitching machines where the actual cobbling is done.

cobblerThe cobbler is an older gentleman with a round face who greets me with ease. We exchange some small talk and then enter into the business at hand. I present my shoes and he looks at them and delivers his diagnosis.

“Worn heels, I guess I could put a pair on for you,” he says. He takes out a small square of paper and writes my phone number on it, makes a hole in the paper and threads one of the shoe laces through it. He gives me no receipt to show that he has my shoes. I must trust him, and I do.

He looks at my carry-on with the broken latch. That proves a bit more difficult. He opens up a little cabinet and pulls out some latches. None of them will work. And so he ponders the situation for a while looking at it this way and that.

“Snaps,” he says pensively. “I could put on some snaps.” He shows me how he would attach them to the bag to make it easy to open. We discuss the matter and come to an agreement. I must return some time next week.

Leaving the cobbler shop, I thought a bit about what had just happened not from the point of view of foot ware but from the perspective of the economic studies I have long pursued.

Here was an example of economy without that frenetic intemperance that you find in so many parts of modern markets. There was nothing of that frenzied sense of immediacy where you must have everything right away, regardless of the consequence. I did not sense that machine-like treatment that makes so much of modern economy cold and impersonal, fast and frantic.

Instead, my visit had that human element that made the experience warm and personal. I was a valued customer not a number. He became my cobbler. I appreciated the trust that was the basis of our transaction, and which is so essential for any free market. Above all, there was a notion of honor. You could feel the sense of craftsmanship, quality and pride in his work. He would stand behind his work as he has for decades. He does not need to advertise since he lives off his good reputation.

Some might object that the cobbler is a figure from the past that has no role in modern economy. Today’s markets with their cheap goods have eliminated the need for such professions. When something breaks, just buy another one. There is no demand for cobblers anymore.

And yet I would disagree. At least in my area, people are looking for them. The old cobblers are dying off in the region and the unemployed new generations (anxious perhaps for more exciting careers) no longer want to commit to such a profession. I was told that my cobbler laments the fact that he can find no one to take his place in the face of obvious demand.

I am not suggesting that everyone should run their business like my cobbler. However, I am suggesting that we should return to an order where trust, honor and temperance can once again prevail.

In this sense, I cannot help but think of the economic good my cobbler has done by plying his trade. Without the cobbler, I would have been forced to buy another cheap seventy-dollar pair of shoes made in India and an expensive carry-on leather portfolio from who knows where. Instead, I spent some twenty dollars for the repairs…and the human experience. The whole affair had a calming effect upon me and the economy since it tempers that frenetic desire of buying without restraint or reflection that sooner or later leads to frenzied and failed markets.

That is what I learned from a visit to my cobbler and my accidental lesson in economy. If Subscription13there were more cobblers and fewer derivative traders, I believe the world would be a calmer and richer place.

 

The Frenetically Intemperate Fifties: A Look at Twentieth Century America

In his book, Return to Order, author John Horvat described a spirit of unrestraint that dominated culture and economy, which he called frenetic intemperance. The following article is part of a series of articles written by history teacher Edwin Benson that explains some stages by which America adopted this spirit of frenetic intemperance and its consequence in society. This article shows how two very different intemperate viewpoints led nevertheless to the same outcome during the fifties, and the effects it had on the children of this era.

The Frenetically Intemperate Fifties: A Look at Twentieth Century America

“Two world views vied for dominance during the fifties,”

The fifties actually lasted longer than a decade. What Americans think of as “the fifties” started with victory in World War II and ended with the Kennedy Assassination and large scale involvement in Vietnam.

Two world views vied for dominance during the fifties, both intemperate in very different ways. The first, very cautious in outlook, was expressed by those who had been permanently scarred by the Great Depression. The other was held by the economic optimists.

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Those whose psyches were dominated by the horrors of the Great Depression worried about their security for the rest of their lives. Fearful of change, they tended to cling to their jobs. They also tended to live well within their means. They never took the risk of borrowing money that they might not be able to repay. They would appear to be unlikely to contribute to an intemperate society. However, that assumption would be incorrect. First, their actions and thoughts were often ruled by an inordinate concern about money. Second, they favored keeping the New Deal programs that they credited with ending the Depression. This encouraged continuing high government spending and taxation.

The second brand of frenetic intemperance involved the optimism of the fifties. This outlook became so popular that it is a point of nostalgia for many Americans and recalled in films and television shows. In some respects, this brand closely resembled that of the twenties. In both periods, credit-fueled spending helped the standard of living to increase significantly.

There were, however, many differences.

Perhaps the most important of those differences was the baby boom. The prosperity of the twenties saw the birth rate decrease, while the period from 1946-1964 occasioned two decades of high fertility and birthrates.
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During the twenties, many were attracted to the high salaries and bright lights of the big cities, whereas the baby boom encouraged movement away from the cities. By the fifties, many wanted the economic advantages of the city while raising their children in fresh air and sunshine outside of town. After the war, this lifestyle was available to almost anyone with a steady income.

Accelerating this trend was the Veteran’s Administration (VA) mortgage. World War II veterans, a group that comprised of over fifteen million Americans in 1950, could purchase a home with no down payment. However, that home had to be in an area that the VA considered a safe investment. Their definition left out most older homes in urban areas, but new houses in the suburbs were very welcome indeed.

This move to the suburbs spawned other major changes. Families needed two cars so that Dad could drive one to work while Mom did the shopping and ran the children back and forth to school and other activities. It appeared to make little sense to put old furniture and appliances into a new house. Unlike the impromptu athletic contests of the city streets and playgrounds, suburban children needed uniforms and the correct equipment. Often, these items were purchased on credit. The stores that provided them moved out of town, too.


Perhaps, though, the biggest harbinger of frenetic intemperance was the introduction of television. In it, advertisers discovered a highly successful selling machine. It brought dozens of hours of constantly changing passive entertainment—as well as hundreds of sixty-second commercials—directly into the home every day. Politics and current events could be observed from the comfort of the sofa. Family-based situation comedies like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, and many others presented the prosperous life as the only normal and ideal way to live. The radio of the twenties never could be as effective as the hypnotizing light in the corner of the living room.

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“The teens were seen as a time of carefree fun (funded by Dad), rather than the beginning of adult responsibility.”

Another expensive element entered the lives of most Americans—the vacation. The idea that the American worker deserved a couple weeks off each year became all but universal. Many chose to build a smaller and more rustic version of suburbia in a forest or next to a lake. Others hit the road in search of new sights, spending the night at Holiday Inns or Howard Johnson’s. Those of more limited means bought camping equipment to “rough it” in a rapidly expanding network of state parks within a few minutes of the new interstate highways.

Connected with all of this spending was the concept often expressed as “keeping up with the Joneses.” There was massive pressure to live up to the expectations of one’s neighbors and colleagues. Not purchasing the latest stove, refrigerator or washing machine was a sign that a man did not care much about his wife. To drive a car that was more than five years old was tantamount to an admission that one could not feed one’s children. Children without enough spending money risked rejection by their peers.

The fifties saw an explosion of what came to be called the youth culture. In fact, it can be argued that the period saw the birth of the teenager—a group who had some of the economic power of adults without the responsibilities that traditionally went along with it. In 1944, about 43% of 17-18-year-olds graduated from high school. By 1948 that number was 54%, increasing to 62% in 1956 and 76% by 1964.[1] If one factors in the increasing numbers going to college, it becomes obvious that many American young adults could delay entering the workforce for years. The teens were seen as a time of carefree fun (funded by Dad), rather than the beginning of adult responsibility.

Subscription8.1This trend was also pushed by many parents who had suffered through the Great Depression and resolved to give their children advantages that they had been denied. This attitude created a group with money to spend, but no responsibility to earn it. Sellers, especially in music, fashion, and the movies, leapt to scoop up the dollars that teenagers were spreading around.

All of these elements, and several others, contributed to a common obsession about money and the things that money could buy. The drive to raise one’s standard of living required advancement at work, and careerism became almost an article of faith in “the American way of life.”

Curiously, it was many of those same children of the fifties that would spend the late sixties as foot soldiers in a highly intemperate rebellion against the prosperity that their parents had labored so hard to provide.

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[1] Kenneth A. Simon and W. Vance Grant, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Digest of Educational Statistics, 1969 Edition, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969) p. 47, Table 64. Available online at http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED035996.pdf.

Return to Order: ‘Not Just Another Conservative Book’

Return to Order: ‘Not Just Another Conservative Book’

Col. John Eidsmoe

I began to read Mr. Horvat’s treatise expecting to find just another conservative book, this one from a Roman Catholic perspective. Return to Order is all of that, but it is much, much more.

Mr. Horvat’s central thesis is that the current American economic and moral crisis is caused by “frenetic intemperance,” an obsessive desire to satisfy our needs by ever-increasing material consumption. This leads to mass production of standardized goods that are devoid of personal differentiation and that shape consumer demand so that people want only what is produced but lose interest in the sublime which alone can bring true happiness, well-being, and satisfaction.

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Mr. Horvat presents an enlightened perspective on the Middle Ages. Far from a “Dark Age” ruled by Church dogma and ignorant superstition, the Middle Ages were a period of incubation which gave birth to modern concepts such as government by consent of the governed, human rights, decentralized government (subsidiarity, to use the Roman Catholic term), the university, true science, the organic Christian community, and dedication to the common good. People worked for profit, but they valued other things more than money, and the craftsman took pride in his work, seeing his work as creating sublime beauty that imparts a foretaste of the Divine.

In the face of America’s imminent crisis, Mr. Horvat calls for a return to these ideals: examining and eliminating frenetic intemperance from our lives, adopting a lifestyle of reflection and introspection, engaging and combating the frenetic culture, and sacrificing for the common good, the family, the community, and the Church.


As a traditional Roman Catholic, Mr. Horvat appears to hold the Thomist concept that the Fall marred the imagio dei but did not utterly destroy it, and that grace does not obliterate nature but rather perfects nature. Lutherans and Calvinists are more likely to embrace the Augustinian view that the Fall obliterated the image of God and that man is therefore totally depraved apart from the grace of God. Accordingly, Protestants might be more skeptical than Thomists about man’s ability to pursue virtue, set aside self-interest, and work for the common good. Protestants might therefore see more merit in Adam Smith’s view of the “Invisible Hand” by which economic laws work so that each individual, while advancing his own selfish interest, ultimately benefits the entire community. But the Protestant concept of civil righteousness (natural grace for Lutherans, common grace for Calvinists) may provide a common ground for Protestants and Catholics to advance the common good.

Mr. Horvat’s treatise is clear (especially with his glossary), scholarly, thorough, well-documented and beautifully illustrated. Catholic conservatives will find in Return to Order an inspiring call to arms and an eloquent restatement of traditional Catholic political philosophy applied to the current crisis. Protestant conservatives and secular conservatives will find in Mr. Horvat’s book a balanced addition to their traditional references, a resource to broaden their perspective, and a stimulus to further thought.

John Eidsmoe is a constitutional attorney and law professor, holding five degrees in law, theology, and political science. In twenty years of teaching at law schools, including the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, Faulkner University, Montgomery, Alabama, the O. W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University, and Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, he has been awarded Outstanding Professor Award or Professor of the Year Award five times. A frequent lecturer and debater at colleges, universities, churches, and civics groups, he has authored more than a dozen books. He currently serves as Senior Counsel and Resident Scholar at the Foundation for Moral Law, Montgomery, Alabama. He is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He and his wife have been married over 40 years, have three children: David, Kirsten and Justin). He lives in rural Pike Road, Alabama.

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The Contradiction of Our Frenzied Lifestyles

contradicton of lifestylesIn a world where everything is so rationalistic and well-organized, it seems a contradiction that people would seek after things like drugs, alcohol abuse, promiscuity, violence, extreme sports, intense music, violent video games and other such pursuits that border on the irrational.

Yet, as sociologist Richard Strivers notes, such behavior is actually a consequence of overly rationalistic institutions. As bureaucratic and technical structures proliferate, he claims people sense that they have lost control over their lives. Their reaction is to escape into a realm of ecstasy that seems to rebel against this too orderly existence.

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The paradox is that technology becomes both a supreme organizing and disorganizing force. The more rational and technological that society becomes, the more it manifests irrational actions and attitude. People feel the need to escape into irrational pursuits if only to enjoy temporary amnesia or pleasure. Technology directly produces a kind of ecstasy by imposing a frenzied tempo upon society that works as a type of compensation for regimentation.

Humans cannot stand to have their lives fully rational, subject to timetables, lists and rules,” Stivers concludes. “Their instincts require an outlet that produces an altered state of consciousness – mysticism or ecstasy.”1

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What has been lost is the balance that once characterized an organic Christian society that was able to reconcile orderly development and progress with calm spiritual pursuits. The material and spiritual orders used to work together to favor the general well-being of society. Today, one works with the other to favor behavior that is self-destructive.

1 Richard Stivers, Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a Technological Society, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Md., 2004, p. 70.