The standard narrative to explain post-WW2 America is that the nation enjoyed the fruits of victory in the 1950’s, but then lurched into social upheaval in the sixty’s, starting with the election of John Kennedy. As a result, the Boomers get all the blame for the social dysfunction that has been with us for more than 50 years. That is not entirely fair as much of what happened was done by their parents. The disaster of the Civil Rights Movement started in the fifty’s. The Great Society was the early and mid-60’s.
Now, to the people who lived through the fifty’s and sixty’s, it probably felt as if the youth simply went insane and tried to drag the nation with them. Just as we are seeing today, it was the ruling elite that went bonkers, abdicating their duties and letting their rotten kids go berserk in the streets. That is the important part of it though. The late 60’s and early 70’s were a multi-generational war on decency. The youth rampaging through the streets, terrifying the white middle-class, did so at the behest of their parents.
In this regard, the social upheaval we think of as “The 60’s” was a continuation of a moral evolution in the Yankee elite, which started in the prior century. In the 19th century, Yankee reformers had Christianity as a limiting principle. This was largely true into the early 20th century, but then following the Great War, the Yankee elite lost its Christianity. Politics became a religion for Yankee reformers and the nihilism of the 1960’s was the logical conclusion of it. The Boomers have always been a dead end, as a result.
That is the thing that is increasingly clear as we see the death spasms of Progressivism in our age. There is no building on Boomer culture. The 60’s are sold as the great achievement of the Baby Boom generation, but in reality, it was a memorial to the Yankee ruling class. It is why there has been no second act to the 60’s. What we see today looks like a cargo cult, played out by a handful a mentally unstable youth, rounded up from local skateboard parks and heroin dens. It is why the Millennials are just useless whiners.
It is also why Generation Z is developing into something strangely different than anyone has expected. As someone pointed out the other day, this cohort is starting out far to the right of the rest of us. It is not the vapid “muh constitution” style conservatism either. It is a radical conservatism that has not been seen in a long time. They wildly supported the two most anti-establishment candidates on offer in 2016. It is not just a revolt against their parents rules either. It is a reaction to their pseudomorphosis.
The concept of pseudomorphosis is one that Oswald Spengler developed as a way of explaining partially manifested cultures. Specifically, pseudomorphosis entails an older culture so deeply ingrained in a land that a young culture cannot find its own form and full expression of itself. This leads to the young energy and promise being channeled into the old dead cultural forms. Like the animated corpses of a zombie movie, this youth culture hates the body into which it has been forced and rages against it and what made it.
That is what happened to the Baby Boom generation. They burst into the world full of energy, only to find themselves into a fully developed and completed American civilization. The old culture that built it was dying off, but it had been so successful that the civilization it had built was immune to modification by the post-war generations. As a result, all that youthful energy went into the exercise of the power in the existing institutions, but in a self-destructive rage against everything that defined and created those institutions.
What appears to be happening with Generation Z is something quite different from the superficial posing of youth in opposition to their parents. This generation rejects the very core of what they inherited. It is why, like the punks of the late-70’s, they adopt what the existing civilization considers to be their antithesis. It is also why they reject liberal politics and the institutions that spring from it. To the young generation, egalitarianism and the universal franchise are the problem, not a means to addressing the problem.
As is always the case with the young, there is not a well developed culture at this stage, just the void that existing culture should have filled. Since the old Yankee culture has died, something new is evolving with the next generations. Out of necessity and convenience, it will borrow the language and structures of the old culture, but only as raw material for the new. The reason sites like Daily Stormer or The Right Stuff have huge audiences of young white males has little to do with ideology. It is the lack of ideology.
That is what is not so obvious about the so-called neo-Nazi and white supremacist stuff that is associated with the alt-right. These symbols and language clear the field of the old ideology and the old culture that created it. It creates a clearing into which the next generations can build their own culture and their own ideology. That may be why the dying Left has reacted so violently to these relatively tiny groups. They could have ignored the Unite the Right rally entirely and 99% of Americans would never have known about it.
No one likes to be replaced. This is true at the individual level where you see senile old geezers hang around Washington until death. It is true of civilizations. The fire that animated them, the culture that built them, may have gone out long ago, but the people living in their accomplishments will fight to the bitter end. It is why all great empires end in rubble. The old American culture, the one born after the Civil War, reaching its zenith one hundred years later, will end in rubble too, a rubble of their making.