Michael Bauman

The central myth of the sixties was that [its] wretched excess was really a serious quest for new values.–George Will

I. The Tragic Vision of Life

I confess to believing at one time or another nearly all the pervasive and persistent fantasies of the sixties. In the words of Joni Mitchell’s anthem for the Woodstock nation, I thought all I had to do was “get back to the land to set my soul free.” I thought that flowers had power, that love could be free, and that the system was to blame. By 1968, I had the whole world figured out. I knew the cause of every evil–America–and I knew the solution to every problem–freedom and tolerance.

If truth be told, of course, I knew nothing, at least nothing worth knowing. I knew how to posture, but not how to stand. I knew how to protest, but not how to protect. I knew how to work up an impressive case of moral outrage, but I didn’t know morality. I knew about peace, but I didn’t know enough to fight for it. I knew about self-indulgence, self-preservation, self-esteem, and self-expression, but I didn’t know about self-sacrifice and self-control.

Worse still, I didn’t even know myself. I didn’t know what Socrates knew about me–that I entered this world in a state of total and seamless ignorance, and that my ignorance could never be breached as long I remained blissfully unaware of it. I didn’t know what St. Augustine knew about me–that the well of my soul was poisoned, and that whatever was down in the well would come up in the bucket. St. Augustine also knew this about my soul: No matter how hard it tried, no matter where it looked, it could never find its rest anywhere but in God. I didn’t know what Edmund Burke knew about me–that no government could fix what ailed me, either by the things it did or by the things it did not. The most any state could do was to help protect me from myself and from others. Most importantly, however, I didn’t know that I was Everyman. When I learned that, I stopped being a liberal.

Like almost all dissidents of my generation, I was a protestor without a plan and a visionary without a vision. I had not yet learned that you see only what you are able to see, and I was able to see only the egalitarian, relativistic, self-gratifying, superstitions of the secular, wayward, left. Please do not think that this was simply a case of prelapsarian innocence. It was not. It was ignorance and it was evil, although I would have denied it at the time.

Only slowly did I come to understand that my fellow dissidents and I had taken for ourselves the easiest and least productive of all tasks, that of denigrator. And only slowly did I come to understand that to destroy is easy, that to build is hard, and that to preserve is hardest of all.

But it was worse even than that, because my fellow dissidents and I were blind to the most obvious truths, especially to what Russell Kirk and others have called the tragic vision of life–the profound realization that evil is not something “out there,” it is something “in here.” The tragic vision of life arises from the fact that we are flawed–deeply, desperately, tragically flawed–and we cannot be trusted. We are broken at the heart; our defect is life wide and soul deep. Though we are capable of reason, because of our selfish passions and our moral weaknesses we are rarely reasonable. We ourselves are what is chiefly wrong with the world. We are this planet’s most malignant and enduring ailment. We have our dignity, to be sure, but we have our horror as well. I can tell you this: I did not wake up until I met the enemy face to face. I met him in the mirror. We all do.

I had to learn to stare squarely into that face in the mirror, into the face of hard, fallen reality, and not to flinch. I did not, in fact I could not, comprehend the tragic vision of life until I learned that the problem of the human heart is at the heart of the human problem. Once I examined with care and honesty the habits of my own heart and those of my dissident friends, I learned that C.S. Lewis was right: to be one of the sons of Adam or the daughters of Eve is both glory enough to raise the head of the lowest beggar and shame enough to lower the head of the highest king. I am a human being. That is my wealth; that is my poverty.

Before that undeception, I was like all other cultural and political liberals. I had fallen prey to what Jeane Kirkpatrick identified as the error of misplaced malleability. I thought that human institutions could be reshaped at will to fit the plans already existing inside my head. It cannot be done. Human institutions arise from human action; human action arises from human nature; and human nature is notoriously intractable. Apart from the grace of God, human nature cannot be fixed, no matter how badly it needs fixing. I finally learned that my deepest need was not more freedom. I needed the grace and guidance of God. Until I understood that, I remained shamelessly superficial.

I had to put my insipid and airy romanticism where it belonged, on the burgeoning junk pile of the fatally flawed and conclusively overthrown fantasies to which the human mind seems continually to give rise. Not romanticism but religion, not Byron but the Bible, not poetry but Paul, not Voltaire but virtue, not trends but tradition, not idealism but ideas, not genius but grace, not freedom but faith could cure me. I had to exchange Wordsworth for the Word and revolution for repentance. Thus, while some of the things I valued were useful and good, they were not properly fundamental. I had to put first things first.

The tragic vision of life humbled me. From it I learned that it was not my prerogative to invent wisdom and virtue. That had already been done. My responsibility was to listen to the One who invented them and to those whom He taught. Wisdom and virtue, I had to learn, were not born with my generation, or with Rousseau’s, or Matthew Arnold’s, or even Eugene McCarthy’s. I had to learn in the last half of the twentieth century what was already old news even in the days of Jeremiah, the ancient prophet, who wrote,

Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies;
and walk in it, and find rest for your souls (Jer. 6: 16).

Wisdom is found by walking the “ancient paths.” Those “ancient paths” led through the wilderness, through the sea, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and not through Berkeley, not Columbia, not the Village, not Watts, not Haight-Ashbury, not Altamont, and not Woodstock.

The tragic vision of life also taught me that order is the most fundamental of all political and social needs. Because it is, I learned that the police are not pigs. They never were, and are not now, an occupying army intent upon destroying my freedom. Quite the opposite; imperfect as they sometimes are, the police are the guardians of freedom and the paid protectors of life and property. In the line of duty, some of them even died for me, and for you. The tragic vision of life taught me that you cannot reject authority–whether civil, familial, cultural or divine–and yet live in an orderly world. When you “off the pigs,” (of whatever sort) you give birth to an outlaw culture, not to freedom. To live outside the rules, to live outside authority, to live without the wisdom of the ages and of God, is to court slavery and death. Enforceable law and law enforcement are requirements of the first rank. Because human nature is what it is, without great volumes of enforceable law, freedom is impossible. As Dean Clarence Manion observed in the very last line he wrote before his death in 1979, “a society that is not held together by its teaching and observance of the laws of Almighty God is unfit for human habitation and doomed to destroy itself.”

When is freedom not enough? Every time truth and righteousness are at stake. In a fallen world, that is almost always. Freedom must be exercised according to the dictates of truth and virtue, never the other way round. Freedom must be limited by the demands of justice, love and revelation. The most important consideration regarding any action is not “Is it free?” but “Is it good?” When I learned that, I stopped being a libertarian. Freedom, furthermore, is an incomplete concept. Whenever someone insists upon freedom, you must ask “Freedom to do what?” You must ask that question because freedom, like tyranny, has its unintended and unforeseen consequences, some of which are colossally vile. In passing, I name but one–abortion.

From the tragic vision of life I learned that you have to do what is right whether it suits you or not. In the sixties, we hardly did anything that did not suit us. I also learned that the enemy is not the CIA, not the FBI, and not the GOP; it’s the NEA, NOW, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, DNC, WCC and NPR, indeed the entire grab bag of alphabetized, leftist, subverters of culture, of tradition, and of revelation. I learned that those who deprive themselves of the wisdom of western tradition are no more free than a baby left alone by its parents to do as it pleases. I learned that politics is not about equality, but justice; that personal action is not about freedom, but righteousness; and that sex is not about pleasure, but love and privilege and posterity.

Those things and more I learned from the tragic vision of life. I commend them to you. They taught me that in many ways the sixties were twisted and misshapen.

The sixties are over, and it’s a good thing. The sixties were a bad idea, if for no other reason than because the sixties had no ideas, only selfish desires hiding behind the shallow slogans and freelance nihilism emblazoned on psychedelic bumper stickers, slogans like “I dissent, therefore I am.” The only things about which we were intellectually modest in the sixties were the claims of objective truth. We seemed unable to wrap our minds around even the most obvious ideas. We seemed unable to realize, for example, that you cannot raise your consciousness until you have one. The sixties were perhaps the most unconscious decade in centuries. It was a time of suffocating intellectual mediocrity, from which our nation has not yet recovered.

II. Sixties Redivivus

I can imagine a student reading these remarks and wondering, “This all might be well and good, but what does it have to do with me? I wasn’t even alive in the sixties.”

My answer is simply this: While the sixties are over, they are not dead, not by a long shot. They live, indeed they thrive, not only in the White House juvenocracy (which is tragic enough), but in the faculty lounges and endowed chairs of nearly every college and university in the United States. Tenured faculty members everywhere have traded their tie-dyed T-shirts and their bell bottom jeans for a cap and gown, if not a cap and bells. Those faculty members are the entrenched purveyors of an unexamined and indefensible hand-me-down Marxism, and of what Allan Bloom called nihilism with a happy ending. They have become paid agents of the very colleges and universities they once tried to burn to the ground, and not because they gave up on the dreams of the sixties. What they failed to do as protesters they have succeeded in doing as professors. Quite possibly they have done it to you, because the entire teaching profession, from the pre-kindergarten level to the post-graduate, has become a political captive of the cultural left. Like roving street gangs prowling the halls of academe, power hungry bands of leftist professors everywhere have instigated countless institutional turf wars, most of which they won. They succeeded in burying the accumulated wisdom of the ages in the name of learning; in overthrowing academic freedom in the name of tolerance; in stifling debate in the name of openness; in exalting egalitarianism above all other ideas in the name of equality; and in segregating and tribalizing the university, the nation, and the culture by gender, by age, by religion, by race, and by sexual preference, all in the name of unity. The schools and colleges that hire and then tenure them commit academic treason. I simply remind you that any intellectual community that is unwilling or unable to identify its enemies cannot defend itself. David Horowitz was exactly right: Those who cherish free institutions, and the culture of wisdom and virtue that sustains them, must stand up boldly against the barbarians already inside the gates.

Because the sixties live, this decade has become irrational, ignorant, and morally illiterate. If the sixties were majestically self-indulgent, this decade is perhaps the most self-congratulatory decade our nation has ever seen, and not because we have succeeded where all other generations have failed, but in spite of the fact that we have failed where all other American generations have succeeded–in learning to learn, in learning to work, in learning to listen, and in learning to worship. This is a decade determined to ignore, if not belittle and malign, beauty, truth and goodness, three things most moderns foolishly believe are in the eye of the beholder. Our decade is the sworn enemy of revelation and of righteousness. If the threefold mantra of the sixties was “tune in, turn on and drop out,” that of today is comprised of that earlier mantra’s four silly children, four sentences that no thinking man ever permits himself or herself to utter in the face of a moral challenge, sentences like: “Everything is relative,” “There is no right or wrong,” “There are no absolutes,” and “Who’s to say?”

If you cannot now figure out why belief in those four sentences is the death of learning and of virtue, then perhaps for that very reason you can understand why I spend nearly all my time and energy as a professor and as a writer defending the ancient liturgy of the enlightened mind–that right and wrong are matters of fact, not matters of feeling; that without God there is no good; that justice is not equality; that new is not necessarily better; and that relativism, secularism, and pragmatism are not the friends of truth and goodness. The denizens of modernity probably do not realize and probably do not care that they are the befuddled and bedeviled lackeys of designer truth, of made-to-order reality, and of ad hoc morals making. If you follow them, you walk into the night without a light and into the woods without a compass. I want to tell you as plainly as I can that their vision of academic tolerance lacks intellectual virtue. It dilutes the high cultural inheritance of the past with the petty and insupportable leftisms of the present.

A moment ago, I imagined a student that might be wondering about the relevance of my semi-autobiographical musings. I also can imagine someone thinking that all I’ve done since the sixties is simply to change sides in the culture war that rages around us. To think so, however, is to assume that flower power and Christianity are morally equivalent and that hippies rank equally with saints, two false assumptions that, if you make them, show just how much a child of the sixties you really are.

I have often wondered why today feels like a sixties renaissance. I discovered the answer to that question in a college cafeteria and in conversations with some of my students’ parents.

First, the parents: I have often noticed my students saying and thinking the same sorts of things their parents say and think when I speak with them. Such things happen because the acorn seldom falls far from the oak tree. That fact is more than a little significant because the parents of today’s college students were probably the young men and women of the sixties. Many of the responses my students learned to give to life are responses they learned from their parents. More often than not, those responses are the stock responses of the sixties. In one way, of course, that is good; I want my students to learn all the truth they can from their parents. But insofar as my students’ responses mimic the responses of the sixties, they too must learn the lessons I had to learn. They must come to understand, with all the clarity and courage they can muster, the truth of the tragic vision of life: We are, every one of us, morally defective, ethically twisted, and spiritually broken. If my students fail to come to that realization and to act upon it, both they and their world shall suffer.

Second, the cafeteria: I often notice my students echoing some of the things they hear their teachers say. When talking with students in the cafeteria, for example, I sometimes have the eerie feeling that I’m not in the cafeteria at all; I’m in a faculty meeting. I say so because I frequently hear the clear and unmistakable intonations of my colleagues’ voices, but coming from other people. Sometimes I even hear my own voice. Again, that’s good; I want college students to learn all the truth they can from their professors. But here’s the rub: Like me, many of their teachers were children of the sixties; and like me, many of those professors have made only an incomplete break with the mistakes of that era. From their other professors and from me, my students have gotten many of their ideas. Like my students themselves, their ideas have parents. Worldviews and attitudes, just like the people who have them, show marked family resemblances. For that very reason, I often want to ask my students this question: From where do you imagine your rampant relativism and your not-very-carefully-hidden contempt for authority arise? In most cases, when I consider asking such a question, I already know the answer–from the sixties and from the people (like me) who reached their emotional and intellectual maturity at that time.

III. Undeception Redivivus?

Here’s my point: If you believe in the sixties, or if you believe in today, you believe a lie. As I did, you need an undeception. In order to get it, you need to go back well beyond the sixties, back to a wisdom that is older than time. You need to go back to God and to the wisdom that spoke this universe into existence. You need to go back to the God who made you and redeemed you. Real answers are found nowhere else.

It should not surprise you when I tell you that, if you do what I suggest, you shall meet energetic and determined opposition, sometimes even from those who call themselves the friends of God and of tradition. As Socrates observed long centuries ago, most men do not take kindly to the preacher of moral reform, to the pursuer of the good. There is no telling, he said in the Gorgias, what might happen to such a man. But do not let that stop you. Do it anyway. Do it because you need it; do it because it is right; and do it because it ought to be done. Your task will be difficult. It’s always easy to be a modernist; it’s always easy to go with the spirit of the age. But in the face of the world’s downward slide you must be vigilant, strong, perceptive, and courageous. The world needs people like that, people unafraid to turn around and walk back into the light. Our world needs people like that more now than perhaps it ever has because everywhere you look the adversary culture of the sixties has become the dominant culture of today.

Our cultural patrimony is being embezzled from under our very noses. If you think of yourself as a Christian, or as a conservative, or as both, the view from here is haunting: We don’t own the public square; we don’t own the media; we don’t own the arts; we don’t own the sciences; we don’t own the arena; we don’t own the marketplace; we don’t own the academy; we don’t own anything. We don’t even own the Church. It’s all owned by the sixties.

Therefore, if, as I did, you find yourself an unwilling or unwitting child of the sixties, I invite you, I exhort you, to turn with an open mind and an open heart to the prophets and apostles in Scripture and to the great poets and sages outside Scripture. They are your only liberation from modernist thralldom and from slavery to your own fallen desires. (Did you know that you can be a slave to your own will?) Put yourself on a quest for eternal truth, and never give up until you find Him.

While you are on this quest, you must always remember that most of the powers that be are of no help to you. Those who loved the sixties own today. The left still hates America, and it still hates what made America possible: faith in God, the sacredness and inviolability of the family and of life, individual responsibility, local and limited government, and traditional morality. The leftists of today are the enemies of heartland values. They want you to keep quiet. They want you to sit meekly in the corner of the room, hands folded and mouth shut. They want you to be nice. They want the friends of beauty, truth, and goodness to speak only when spoken to and, when they do speak, to speak only those things that offend no one. That they have offended you seems not to matter. They want you to stick to the script. They want you to keep your views to yourself and to act as if your views were not true, indeed as if there were no truth. That’s what political correctness–Or should I say political cleansing?–is all about.

Consider it for just a moment: What kind of man or woman would you be if you let yourself be controlled by the empty criticisms of the rootless left, and what kind of world would you be creating for those who came after you if you neglected to restore realism to human thought and turned your back on the only thing that can make you content even in dungeons, even in slums, even in the face of death?

My desire for you is that you throw off the vestiges of leftist cultural subversion, that you make yourself a devotee and guardian of the wisdom of the ages, that you become the sworn enemy of nonsense in all its forms, and, most importantly, that you become the faithful and ardent friend of God. Then, and only then, can you be free.

What has been given you as a heritage you must now accept as your quest. If you wish to be wise, you must learn to learn from your ancestors. You must learn to make peace with the wisdom of the ages and with those who gave it, regardless of their sex, their race, or their ethnic background. You must do so because wisdom and truth are not gender based, race based, or nation based. They are thought based, and thinking is very hard work. Knowledge is not parochial. It is not the private property of any race, any gender, any era, or any ethnic group. It belongs to those determined to get it, to those who seek it resolutely and who will not be denied, no matter how difficult the circumstances arrayed against them.

In that light, I invite you today to make one of the most important choices of your entire life: Which will you have, truth or rest?

You cannot have both.

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29 replies to this post
  1. Am largely in sympathy with the gist of this article, but I don’t understand the unconservative disparagement of great poetry. To consign all romantic poetry to the box where we “put away childish things” seems a drastic self-impoverishment, to this observer. Did Byron and Wordsworth write nothing of merit, from which a lover of tradition might profit?

    But a hearty amen to Dr Bauman’s condemnation of the “White House juvenocracy” and of the alphabet soup (CNN, NPR, DNC) of cultural subverters.

  2. I don’t think “law” or “order” is the “moral way” to attain human flourishing in an absolute sense, as tyrannical governments whether Statist or Religious have done harm in the past to “diversity”. Human personalities are different and how they frame, address, approach and understand human problems will be different. You speak of “cultural crisis”, when a ‘new order” is being implemented. I agree that revolution is not to be the way to change our nation’s Constitutional government, as our Government does allow for protests. “Ordered institutions” can make for tyrannical domination when implemented without granting consent, free association and civil liberties/rights! Protest and grievance is of value in any “free society”, just as law is equally protective of “private property” from the State or a criminal! Yet, the State today seems to have full reign, just as the Catholic Church in the past. Isn’t this what causes oppression when the State does not allow for individuality, self determination of choice, self responsibility? Society cannot be oppressed and over burdened by Government without limiting the personal.

    • LOL, “anti-Catholic” is your issue. I do not even bother to argumentative ratiocinate at this point. Catholicism is the West, or the West is dead, naive conservatives or lite-conservatives: face the harsh truth and adapt. Kirk realized this at the end of his journey. So many other truth-questing adventuring souls arrived in the same place. Despite the indelicate and inordinate aspects, Catholicism or nothing at this point.

      In case you have not noticed, your Western “juridical” class is a set of malfeasance-stinking, misprision-euphoric “black nights” of steeled nihilist bronze hearts, deaf to the LEX KARDIA implanted in God into our deiform nature by masked occult tyrannical oppression.

      The time of “majestic negations” is nigh. No Millennial hysteria do I preach, only cyclic realism.

      The eon of the KATECHON is upon us, pleasantly delectable to bourgeois intellectualizing sensibility or not…

      My proposal: The time is for RE-FORMING in an ever higher, sublime with tension of metaphysical righteousness, the Constitution itself – the document, AS IS, you all know in your hearts, is death. I am not proposing seditious overthrow but the crafting and elevation to the higher level of those “KIRKEAN” transcend goods of the spirit and soul, our Framers, limited men, were able to then even grasp at – and then re-systematically, methodically composing a Constitution that shall fulfill the dream of Dante and Aquinas without succumbing to so-called “illiberality”…

  3. Dr. Bauman: You say you learned that evil, and thus the enemy, is not “out there” but rather “in here,” but then you go on to indict a whole bunch of people and ideas “out there” as being the enemy. As far as I can tell, your worldview hasn’t changed a bit; you’ve just traded old enemies for new, the CIA/FBI/GOP for the DNC/EPA/NEA. Your reductionist caricature of “the left” is no more accurate that the old caricature of police as “pigs”; I know plenty of people on the political left, and not one of them fits your description. In fact, I don’t know anyone, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, who hates America.

    You say that the Sixties were “twisted and misshapen,” but the “tragic view of life” you claim to have acquired (and to which I subscribe) should lead you to understand that all times, everywhere, are twisted and misshapen. The Sixties had no monopoly on vice, ignorance, folly, and narcissism; the Baby Boomers didn’t invent sin or, for that matter, the denial of sin. Antinomianism and Gnosticism have long and distinguished histories, and it’s my sense that every generation lives out its own version of them. I find it an interesting coincidence that all the people who insist on the existence of “absolute Truth” just happen to believe they are in possession of it.

    I’ll also note in passing that many people–you may or may not be among them–who become apoplectic when Barack Obama reminds them that he inherited a crashing economy from George Bush, nonetheless blame everything wrong with America today on the Sixties. That strikes me as a double standard. It’s funny that, even with the years of Reagan and then the two Bush presidencies, America just hasn’t been able to shake that Sixties virus. I thought the Gipper was just the medicine we needed!

    Finally–if you really believe that “the Sixties” now owns America, then you lived through a much different Sixties than I did. I don’t recall demonstrating back then on behalf of a bloated military budget, drone warfare, endless occupations of foreign countries, domestic surveillance, torture and rendition, an imperial Presidency, a war on drugs, federally-mandated education standards, rising inequality of wealth, outsourcing of jobs, decimation of unions, squeezing the middle class–shall I go on? I did demonstrate, however naively, on behalf of peace and love, and as far as I can tell, those values, alas, have not won out. I’m older now, of course, and I realize they never will; I’m just saying, that’s what the Sixties were all about to me.

    • I agree and disagree with your statement that people of the Left hate America. Some DO, as they view the nation-state and Constitutional Government as limiting to “multi-cultural” values.
      Multi-cultural values are about “collectives”, and “authority”, not individuals and individuation and that IS a problem, I believe. Individuals do exist within cultures, but society/culture exists only becasue of individuals. Society is a “construct”.
      Is human experience ALWAYS conditioned by Tradition? if so, how has tradition helped or hindered in making children into prospering adults,? Social conditioning is primary for religious cultures or in religious families, but how does social conditioning in the larger society impact the children?
      Religions, for the most part, seek to define, limit and frame their subjects. While parenting can use religion, is religion necessary to produce their child’s potential? I don’t think so. Children differ in their abilities, but as these abilities are innate, do religious cultures allow for that development?. And as children grow, religion/tradition might limit them in their interests or choices as to vocation. Asher Lev is a great book that illustrates such dilemmas for the young adult.
      Whatever is useful to and in society, it should not limit the child’s potential. Too often, religious framing is too prone to “criticize and correct” out of fear of “sin” or “God”. That is not the height of moral, intellectual or faith development.

      • Multi-culturalism denies our nation’s values for diversity, which complicates issue about tolerance. America cannot afford to be tolerant to the intolerant. If we do, our society will change to the “lowest common denominator” of intolerant dictatorship. And we cannot continue to placate those that won’t compromise or be placated by compromises, otherwise, we give up ground that cannot be taken back and empower those that won’t be tolerant or liberal in their attitude or governing principles.

        • Governing principles are laws that were to protect from domination in our society, as laws were to limit government, as well as define boundaries of respect for another’s property rights and grant liberty as to conscience. A society that was ruled in liberty, while respecting law/boundary was to be the central value, as we were not about protecting a particular class (ruling or otherwise), or identity (race, gender, or religion), as justice was about protecting the individual from intrusion and invasion of private arenas; body, property and “person” (thinking and being; consent, voluntary association and choice). Morality is respecting another’s right to his person and property. The liberty to act and be, as long as it does not harm is the principle America is to live by. We believe that we are not a collective whole, except by the ideal of liberty, which is protected in our Constitutional Government.

    • Jack,
      Traditional family roles, the sanctity of life, the immorality of sodomy, the claims of God upon us arising from His proper role as Lord of all things, all are things that the left hates and works tirelessly to oppose. The things they oppose are part of America as she was founded and has conducted her business for decades, even centuries. Those are things the present regime wants to change fundamentally and that we, as voters, approved twice. Hatred for America most often masquerades as Europe-envy and as multi-culturalism — in other words, Obama and leftism.

      We elected a man who is willing to let doctors kill those who survived abortion and who are separated from the mother — not a traditional view of motherhood or humanity. We live in a country where Obama is electable and Alan Keyes is not. Given Keyes’ traditional understanding of the Declaration and Constitution, his unelectability is staggering and shameful . We’ll see if Ben Carson is electable . We have seen now that Cain probably is not. The left hates them and what they represent. The left attacks them mercilessly as not authentic blacks. Robert Griffen III, given his Christianity and conservatism, to the left is no better than a “cornball brother.” Haters gonna hate, and those folks who hate traditional America (and the blacks who support it) are leftist.

      And yes, Obama is a product of the sixties. He’s a drug addled ex-doper whose policies undermine American strength, whether military or financial. Our friends would never turn NASA into a Muslim-relations agency or decline to deploy an aircraft carrier to perhaps the most explosive point on the planet because we (allegedly) couldn’t pay for fuel. He gives jets to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and repeatedly and pubicly insults the leader of our oldest and best friend in that region. I fail to see any remarkable difference between his polices and those of 60s relics like Jane Fonda. He is his father’s and his mother’s son. They reproduced ideologically after their own kind, and that kind is 60s kind. On that point, I think Dinesh D’Souza is quite right. Obama is a Columbia man, and Columbia was a 60s hotbed that has not moved ideologically much since that day. Obama drank deeply from that fountain. His college and grad school era friends described him as a Marxist in those days. Marxists do not love traditional America.

      • Dr. Bauman: thank you for taking time to reply. With all due respect, I repeat my previous point–I am on “the left,” as are pretty much all my friends, and not one of us hates the things you mention, much less do we hate this country. We love (not always well) our families, our friends, our neighbors, our communities, our state–and yes, our nation, and beyond. Some of us even make the effort to love our enemies. We do, of course, have different opinions about a host of issues than you do, but such opinions are not motivated by hate–they are motivated by concern for things like freedom, justice, and equality, and while our concerns may be misplaced and we may be wrong on the issues (I’m always willing to concede that), our motivations are not inferior to your own.

        I’m in favor of gay marriage (a position I didn’t hold thirty years ago), but I don’t hate “traditional families”: I’m a father of four, Dr. Bauman, and a grandfather of seven–why in the world would I hate families? I can’t speak for “the left” per se–not that there is any such thing–but if they “hate” anything, I’d guess they hate being so rudely caricatured and being cast as “haters’. Frankly, judging from your tone, I think it’s more accurate to say that you hate “contemporary America”–of course, I’m sure you feel perfectly justified in doing so.

        Finally: your characterization of the President as a “drug addled ex-doper” is beneath you. Where in the world is your Christian charity, Dr. Bauman?

        • I would be curious to discover why you are in favor of “gay marriage”, because I suspect your support may be based on a misunderstanding of the whole issue. So many people see the matter as having to do with equality under the law and freedom of choice for adults, but it actually does not.

          Allow me to elaborate a bit: marriage is not the same thing as a fling nor is it a tax haven. Politicaly, it is the social institution that fosters love and happiness between men and women and incubates basic human principles to children. For an excellent analysis of this process I highly recommend the psychologist Eric Fromm’s Art of Love.

          From a religious perspective, marriage is also a sacrament that makes a holy unity of two people.

          Now you might contend that others are free to have different definitions of marriage, but the marriage laws in our country do not allow for this freedom. Case in point: divorce is perfectly achievable, and there is no earthly punishment for breaking marriage vows, which the law treats as symbolic.

          This is because the civil law, animated by relativism, has been watered down to the point where civil marriage has become a business partnership aimed at saving money on taxes and making visitation etc. easier. Viewed as such, I can understand liberals wondering why in the world conservatives would want to deny gays these simple rights?

          However, if anything I think we should be heading the opposite direction and reform marriage laws to reflect a higher and better understanding of humanity, and if the moral consensus in society necessary to do that is not possible, then we should get the government out of marriage altogether, as I wrote about here (

          The “gay marriage” movement is blind to all of the above considerations because they see the matter as a simple issue of equality under the law, rather than question the purpose and validity of those laws.

          Individual adults are free, and if for reasons of biology they are predisposed to homosexuality, people are free to love and be with other consenting adults. But this is not marriage, unless we relativize all language and say a man should have legal protection for calling his cat a dog (we in fact are sanctioning such things as evidenced by the right of parents to claim their boys are transgendered girls etc).

          The ultimate result of denying our nature will be denying our happiness and freedom. Dr. Bauman is right to note Alan Keyes in this context. In his senate debate with Obama, he gave an excellent philosophical exposition on this subject which went right ovet the heads of the mass of ignorant Americans who have no philosophical comprehension and, I am afraid, even less common sense. In any event, I assure you it is not simple bigotry which animated conservative views on this issue.

          • Mr. Rieth: I changed my mind about gay marriage after hearing much criticism–this is back in the late 1980’s or so–of the “gay lifestyle,” said to be (among other things) compulsively promiscuous and inherently “risky”. My understanding of marriage had by then deepened to where I understood it as a social institution with social purposes and social consequences, not just a “right” to be asserted by individuals. It occurred to me that the social seal and sanction that we give to heterosexual couples via marriage might provide gay individuals with a positive alternative to what even some of my gay friends admitted was a sad, lonely existence. Increasingly, it felt hypocritical for me to condemn gays’ rootless sexual questing while refusing them the same roots that I was blessed with in marriage. At no time then or since have I understood how allowing gays to marry lessens my marriage in any way, or changes the nature or the importance of procreative partnerships. That’s my story, and I thank you for being interested in it.

            By the way: having withdrawn my previous charge that you were being “condescending,” I’ll note that your remark about “ignorant Americans who have no philosophical comprehension and…even less common sense” tempts me to reinstate it. Again, I don’t believe it’s necessary to demean people with whom we disagree; and I do hope you will call me out on it if I indulge in that sort of thing myself.

  4. Thomas, I’m not against great poetry. I am against what the preface to the Lyrical Ballads did to poetry. There’s a reason why there has been no great epic poetry since the Romantic revolution, and it’s the Romantic revolution itself. Milton thought he’d write an epic poem that justified the ways of God to man. Wordsworth thought he’d write an pic poem about the growth of his own mind, which Milton, rightly, would have considered disgusting and indulgent. But, Wordsworth won the popular argument and, as a result, poetry and criticism have degenerated immeasurably. Did Wordsworth write great poetry? Yes, a very little.

    • Dear Dr Bauman — That is a valid point. So many poems today, whether they be long poems or shorter lyrics, are solipsistic “songs of myself” (to borrow Whitman’s phrase). And I was just reading an interview in a prominent quarterly where an elegant formalist poet deplores the lack of “grandeur” in contemporary poetry — and it is quite possible that the secularism of the age has much to do with that lack of grandeur. However (and you may call me culpably “inclusive”) there is room in my pantheon for both Milton and Wordsworth. I would add, too, that while I believe in God and value the traditions that you, sir, value, I’d hate to see poetry confine itself to an arid didacticism or an inflexible moralism. (Not that Milton is guilty of either!) But you’re certainly right in your main point: Suffice it to say that I don’t see another Dante Alighieri emerging from the ephemeral pages of the American Poetry Review.

  5. I think you’re misunderstanding Dr. Bauman’s points. It’s not a matter of questioning intentions, but rather of questioning the notion that intention is more important than action. Protest itself, whether the intention is “peace and love” or something more insidious is harmful because it comes at the cost of peaceful and loving action. Running round yelling for peace and love is easy; building peaceful and loving families and communities is not. It is the distinct tragedy of our times, CS Lewis noted, that people are more concerned with holding the right opinion or harboring the correct emotion rather than doing the right thing, acting rightly.

    It boggles my mind why anyone would want to go out and vandalize their town or shut down their university when so many means of freely expressing grievances existed. It also strikes me as particulalry typical of hubristic affluence that a generation of young men and women who inherited a great country would willingly set it ablaze and reject normal living in favor of insanity. I understand that Vietnam and the draft certainly did their part to drive the young into a state of rebellion, but Dr. Bauman was not criticizing the anti-war movement, so the issue seems immaterial (unless we assume that to be antiwar you must also be a hippie).

    In terms of practical politics, America did shake the hippie virus immediately: that was the whole origin of Nixon’s new majorities and the demise of American liberalism. Read Woodrow Wilson, or listen to the nominating address by Adlai Stevenson and you will find that the cultural roots of progressive liberalism were firmly within the Christian tradition. The New Left changed all that and continue to propagate a very alien ideology where ever they are to be found. It only has traction due to moral confusion amongst the people. Reagan, in retrospect, was the last of the American gentlemen as they were stereotyped the world over: a stickler for business and the work ethic, with a basic sense of justice and fair play. The type of man Bogart portrayed in Key Largo, who wanted to mind his own business, but couldn’t help fighting the just cause.

    The present generation of Americans wouldn’t know the just cause, which is why America is an economic failure right now. So long as everything is about “our gay brothers and sisters” and not applying sound economic policy and raising education standards somewhere above the level of teaching kids to use condoms, China will continue to be the light of the world in the 21st century.

    • Mr. Rieth: Assuming that your comments are directed to me, I’ll point out that it’s Dr. Bauman and not me who raises the issue of intention when he asserts that “the left still hates America, and it hates what made America possible…” As for your claim that “Running round yelling for peace and love is easy,” please note that I used the word “naively” to characterize my own “running round” in the Sixties–I get it; change is hard, and it isn’t usually accomplished by parading in the streets with banners. You may be right when you say Dr. Bauman wasn’t “criticizing the anti-war movement,” but it certainly seems implicated in his verdict that the Sixties were “twisted and misshapen”. Maybe he means they were twisted and misshapen by an evil unjust war, racial strife, and a series of assassinations? I kind of doubt it, but since Dr. Bauman never refers to a single actual event of the Sixties, only to his own state of mind circa 1968, who’s to say? Finally, there’s not much I can say about your closing pessimistic and condescending comments regarding “the present generation of Americans,” “our gay brothers and sisters,” “teaching kids to use condoms,” and China being the “light of the world”: as Bob Dylan once said, “you go your way and I’ll go mine.” But I’m sure Dr. Bauman appreciates your attempt to set me straight (so to speak).

      • I apologize if I sounded condescending, I was just trying to convey the point Dr. Bauman made here:

        “this decade is perhaps the most self-congratulatory decade our nation has ever seen, and not because we have succeeded where all other generations have failed, but in spite of the fact that we have failed where all other American generations have succeeded — in learning to learn, in learning to work, in learning to listen, and in learning to worship.”

        It is embarrassing that America cannot succeed at business of all things, and it is embarrassing that the country preoccupied itself with “gender” issues rather than making it a priority to fix the economy, yet people have the temmerity to compare their President to Lincoln and suggest that something amazing and World Historical is going on, when a President makes legal sanction of sodomy his grand domestic priority in a country that has been practically tolerant of gays since its inception.

        It takes the kind of historical ignorance fostered by the 60s counterculture and rampant in pop culture to actually believe this, to be so self congratulatory. America doesn’t even have a working space shuttle program – but CNN calmed us down because we have Mow Hawk guy, the cool and hip NASA controler who is modern, unilike those stuffy old fellows from the 60s who had no fashion sense because they were preoccupied with getting us to the moon.

        If this is condescending of Americans, it is not out of spite, it just seems to me that if even the communists understood that market economies work and reformed accordingly, you’d think America would get it too. The crisis will not pass until we realize that our “best and brightest” are as patently ignorant as the legions of erudite communist professors who for so long thought that they could make socialism work

        • Mr. Rieth: I’ll withdraw my charge of “condescension” on your part. You and I just see things very differently, and sometimes we don’t even see the same things at all. That is one of the more worrisome developments in America over the past two or three decades: there is an increasing dichotomy of worldviews which leads to perceptions and conclusions so wildly variant, partisans may as well be living on two different planets. You and Dr. Bauman are both intelligent and decent people; so, I like to think, am I. Dr. Bauman sincerely believes that President Obama is a “drug addled ex-doper” who hates America, and you sincerely believe that Obama has made “legal sanction of sodomy his grand domestic priority”; both you and Dr. Bauman are living in a world I don’t recognize, but it’s clear that world is real to you, and nothing I say is likely to change that. Still, I appreciate the continued dialogue here; we have nothing to lose, so far as I can tell, by talking to each other across the divide, and who knows? We might even learn something from each other.

  6. Yes, right enough, good Dr Bauman, and (as my mother predicted in 1968) all that the rebellious riffraff would learn is the utility of authoritarianism. It is indeed all that they learnt, most of them. But rebelliousness and disrespect for authority is Ouroboros, the worm that eats its own tail. Seemingly-arcane movements for magic and mystery, true faith and tradition and symbolism have their attractions, especially when one’s professorial dullards are no more than materialists and the proponents of unfettered appetite. We are made to crave more, and that may lead us to medieval libraries and hidden modern masters such as Kirk and Dawson, Lewis and Tolkien.

    You, dare I say it, are part of that healthful underground cult, and you have the advantage of being right as well as subversive. Russell Kirk, in person especially, embodied a most attractive sense of Higher Mischief. Ever polite in public, he still regarded the Enemy with mockery and conveyed that subversiveness to we lucky students. I suppose this was possible because Dr Kirk knew down to his very marrow that the things which we supported were indeed Permanent Things.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and supportive words, which I value.

      Your comment about Russell Kirk brings to mind something he said to an abortionist (Bernard Nathanson?) in my presence just after the two were introduced to each other: “You, sir, are a murderer.”

  7. Obviously, any opinion can be argued, but which is the best for government and society? Since government is to protect all citizens and grant the broadest affirmation of choices. Shouldn’t we affirm same sex marriage as a civil union. And since we are a religious nation, the Church can differ in their opinions about same sex marriage and what their particular denomination will affirm. It seems the best solution to me.

    Our collective identity is not a “collective” except as a nation that values liberty, which is hard to define., as that is the point. Choice is of ultimate value in framing “liberty”. Civility is the ability for a society to talk about their differences without animosity and respect. We have almost lost the ability in today’s culture wars.

  8. Dr. Bauman, excellent, insightful, and thought-provoking as always. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

  9. Beautiful essay Sir.

    When is freedom not enough? When there is no truth….to guide the expression. Freedom is nothing unless defined. Freedom without truth to guide is like a rudderless boat or a ship with no sails, its just open wild sea and you are the boat being pushed around. A boat lost at sea is not free it is lost and tossed and turned. Freedom according to todays popular understanding is a misnomer for destruction, anarchy, inconsistency, contradiction, illogic, and even slavery. One may think no one can confuse freedom with slavery but isn’t slavery the real definition of today’s cultural depravity, immorality, obsessions and addictions. A drug addict wants freedom to do drugs isn’t that an example of freedom abused and misused to be a slave. Only the Son of God Jesus Christ sets us free guided in truth of our nature. He sets us free by rightly guiding us so that through our use of freedom we are not captured and confused into a snare. Sets us free from our sins by overthrowing our sinful natures and making us truly free to do what is right. First is a recognition of sin and thus our enslavement to its impulses. If the Son hasn’t set you free yet you are still a slave. Turn to Jesus. For everyone who calls upon his name can be saved and be set free to do what is right.
    For those of you who will take offence at my exhortation to Jesus Christ please forgive my trespass upon your sensibilities. It is something I consider both true and my duty to do. Thank you. Perhaps you will consider it and value the insight it provides which is unique to Biblical Christianity in the manner which I intend it and not according to prejudice. In any case I am in no way ashamed of my confidence in it.

  10. When is freedom not enough? When there is no truth….to guide the expression. Freedom is nothing unless defined. Freedom without truth to guide is like a rudderless boat or a ship with no sails, its just open wild sea and you are the boat being pushed around. A boat lost at sea is not free it is lost and tossed and turned. Freedom according to todays popular understanding is a misnomer for destruction, anarchy, inconsistency, contradiction, illogic, and even slavery. One may think no one can confuse freedom with slavery but isn’t slavery the real definition of today’s cultural depravity, immorality, obsessions and addictions. A drug addict wants freedom to do drugs isn’t that an example of freedom abused and misused to be a slave. Only the Son of God Jesus Christ sets us free. He sets us free by rightly guiding us so that through our use of freedom we are not captured and confused into a snare. Sets us free from our sins by overthrowing our sinful natures and making us truly free to do what is right. First is a recognition of sin and thus our enslavement to its impulses. If the Son hasn’t set you free yet you are still a slave. Turn to Jesus. For everyone who calls upon his name can be saved and be set free to do what is right.
    For those of you who are offended by my exhortation unto Jesus the Christ and Savior I ask your forgiveness for transgressing upon your sensibilities.I’m bound to speak what I consider the truth and also my duty to do as a believer. Perhaps you will be able to accept in a new light the unique insight that biblical wisdom gives and receive it in the spirit in which it is given without prejudice.

  11. I read Anti Nihil’s comments three times trying to discern what the point of his comments were. He or she is againt something; I suspect it is clear writing. The comments would be an excellent example for William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.

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