WASHINGTON — As ventilated in this space last week, recently I encountered another of the 1960s’ many failed prophets while attending a university reunion, Prof. Charles Reich. He had become very famous for being very foolish, and he still apparently is famous and foolish. In his foolish book, The Greening of America, he predicted that 1960s youth culture — abundant as it was with licentiousness and loutishness — would conquer the world. That would surely have made things easier three decades later for the Rev. Osama bin Laden to work his will on us, but Reich was wrong.
Last weekend I visited Chicago, and was reminded yet again of how wrong Reich’s vaticinations were. On Chicago’s with-it Near North Side I found myself at a Sunday afternoon mass in a grand old gothic church, listening to a perfectly traditional Roman Catholic service. There under the vaulted ceiling and within the old wooden pews I was surrounded by, well, by what Prof. Reich would call “youth.” Most were denim-clad. Some had beards (I am referring to the men), and all were dressed, as urban youth usually do, in a mélange of bohemian quaintness and chic casual. Yet all were devout. On a splendid Sunday afternoon with parks and cafes open and welcoming these young people chose to go to church. For them God was not dead. He was not even sick.
The prophets of the 1960s told us America’s future was socialistic, agnostic, and sympathetic to eclectic eastern mysticism. Not even many undergraduates live that way now. Polls show that college students are far to the right of their glassy-eyed profs, and next year large numbers of young adults will vote for our suave President. The young adults I encountered in Chicago live what can loosely be described as traditional lifestyles. They get jobs, marry and have children. They do some things that earlier generations might consider bizarre, for instance, date on the Internet and jog madly. But the fundamentals of their lives are not much different from those of past generations. A large number of them pray.
Prayer is one of the characteristics separating America from all other modern societies. Prayer is not universal in America, and much of it might appear to rigorists to be shockingly casual — “Christianity without tears,” is how the late friend of Mother Teresa, Malcolm Muggeridge, put it.
Still even the casual prayer of average Americans is an acknowledgment of a higher power and of our debt to that higher power. It is also a mark of a serious, resolute people — not the kind of flabby hedonistic people that the Islamofascists have made us out to be and that the 1960s prophets claimed we would be. The theme of American exceptionalism has characterized America since the time of John Winthrop and his “city upon a hill.” This sense that Americans play a unique role in history is something any enemy contemplating an attack on America ought to take into account before killing 3,000 of us on a peaceful autumn day or 2,390 of us on a December day in 1941 while the nation was at peace.
On my flight back from Chicago I was reading Conrad Black’s absorbing biography, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which has just been released. In his chronicle of the American entry into World War II, I read with special attentiveness the low opinion in which the American people were held by our enemies, the fascists, Nazis, and the Japanese militarists. Particularly bracing were the late Herr Hitler’s insane diatribes against FDR, some being quite reminiscent of slurs now cast President Bush’s way. True, Bush has yet to be called a Jew but as with FDR in the 1940s GWB is now being described by the lunatics as a tool of the Jews.
Walking the streets of vigorous Chicago a few days ago, watching so many Americans engaged in the gamut of constructive activities from commerce to socializing to prayer, I could not help but reflect on how wrong the naysayers and the utopians have been. Reflecting too on the vitriol an earlier president endured from tyrants for defending freedom despite heavy costs, I was reminded that the brutes often sound the same. The case they make against American vigilance usually balances on a nonsense. Domestic critics hoping to win favor and perhaps even the presidency might note the futility of the 1960s prophets and the political dead-end of the 1930s isolationists. Socially, economically, and in foreign policy, America’s present course is sound.