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For Millennial Conservatives, The Enemy Is Us

Here’s an interesting thought from Micah Mattix, who offers it on his Prufrock daily e-mail newsletter, via The Weekly Standard [1]:

Sometimes reading younger writers on Twitter makes me feel like Nikolai Petrovitch in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. If you haven’t read the novel, Nikolai’s son has returned home from university for the summer—an event Nikolai had been anticipating with great excitement—only to have his son arrive with a friend, a “nihilist” named Bazarov, who knows everything and scoffs at everyone who disagrees with him (particularly at Nikolai’s brother, Pavel Petrovitch, for his outdated way of life). Nikolai’s son, Arkady, like a mindless Twitter follower, loves everything Bazarov says and does.

This leads Nikolai to a hard conclusion that he nevertheless accepts: “‘So that,’ began Pavel Petrovitch, ‘so that’s what our young men of this generation are! They are like that—our successors!’ ‘Our successors!’ repeated Nikolai Petrovitch, with a dejected smile. He had been sitting on thorns, all through the argument, and had done nothing but glance stealthily, with a sore heart, at Arkady. ‘Do you know what I was reminded of, brother? I once had a dispute with our poor mother; she stormed, and wouldn’t listen to me. At last I said to her, “Of course, you can’t understand me; we belong,” I said, “to two different generations.” She was dreadfully offended, while I thought, “There’s no help for it. It’s a bitter pill, but she has to swallow it.” You see, now, our turn has come, and our successors can say to us, “You are not of our generation; swallow your pill.”’”

It may seem that Nikolai is giving up too easily, but there’s wisdom in his resignation, and it’s this: The younger generation will replace you whether you like it or not and espouse ideas you find foolish or horrendous, and one day there will be nothing you can do about it. Yes, young people can be brash and stupidly self-confident (so self-confident, in fact, so afraid of appearing not to know something, that they don’t realize how obvious the charade is). One day, they too will be replaced. At the same time, not everything is a posture. Real differences exist and won’t always be resolved in this life. (Though, if you’ve read the novel, there’s hope.) Don’t take me to mean that older writers or thinkers should give up. Not at all. Nikolai doesn’t, but his discourse is seasoned with the salt of this reality.

(You really should subscribe to Prufrock [2]. It’s free, and there’s always something interesting to read there.)

Here’s a theory. The thought occurred to me the other day, wading through the slough of sex abuse scandal sewage, that the best hope for reforming the Catholic Church is going to come from Millennials, and with the help from some of us in Generation X. I say that even though I can’t stand the Boomer-era fetishization of youth — you know, the idea that youth is a font of wisdom.

Why do I think the younger Catholics are going to be the ones to solve this problem, if it can be solved? It has to do with the ability to perceive the nature of the crisis, and to act on it. Hear me out.

It’s a general rule of thumb that one’s view of How The World Works is formed in one’s twenties, and doesn’t usually change. I’ve told the story many times here about being at a seminar in 2014 in which most of the people present were conservative Catholic intellectuals. The topic at hand was what role do Catholics have to play in the public square today. It became apparent after some time that there was a genuine generational divide in the room.

change_me

The Boomer Catholics had been formed intellectually in a time when the Catholic tradition was more or less coherent, and had something distinct to offer to American public life. The embodiment of this attitude was the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. The Boomers in the room seemed to think that the orthodox/conservative forces had suffered some serious setbacks, but that things were still fundamentally sound, and could be improved with different tactics.

But the Gen X Catholics in the room, most of whom were professors teaching undergraduates, kept saying, one way or another, that there was no Catholic tradition left to build on, because the Catholic students that come to them are blank slates. Their parents and their parishes have utterly failed to pass along the tradition to them. You might say that in their eyes, the Boomers were trying to defend ground that had already long ago been lost. It wasn’t that the Gen Xers had any good ideas themselves. But at least they had a clearer idea of the nature of the crisis.

I noticed the same dynamic in France, when I’ve been there promoting The Benedict Option.  [3]The book’s audience is heavily among Millennials. Boomers and older Gen Xers don’t get it at all. They still believe that if only the Church tweaks this or that, it will regain its footing and have a meaningful role to play in French society. Millennials understand that this is false hope. And yet, they are not gloomy at all. In fact, having given up that false hope seems to have encouraged them in their faith.

It’s the Gen X Catholics — and Gen X Christians in general — who puzzle me, even though I’m one of them (I was born in 1967). We Xers are supposed to have seen through the hollow idealism of the Boomers, but we haven’t been able to come up with a response to it any stronger than irony. That’s the cliche, anyway, and like most cliches, there’s something to it. However, there’s more to it than that.

Many of us conservatives were formed intellectually in the era of Ronald Reagan and John Paul II. Boomer conservatives — religious and secular alike — knew how bad things had been before, and what a difference these two figures made. For us young conservative intellectuals, our hostile irony was aimed at liberal Establishment figures who set their jaws against Reagan and Wojtyla. In my years as an LSU undergraduate (1985-89), the College Republicans were a powerhouse that dwarfed the College Democrats, and the Catholic Student Center was considered to be a stronghold of dopey Boomer liberalism.

No joke, when I went there in 1991, two years out of college, to enroll in RCIA classes, I finally left after I got tired of touchy-feely guided meditation exercises. John Paul II might have been an old man by then, but his kind of vigorous Catholicism seemed so much more alive than what the Spirit Of Vatican II establishment had to offer.

For us, the battle lines were clear. The enemies were political and ecclesial liberals, with their backwards ways of thinking. Sweep them out, and the restoration would be at hand.

Well, we pretty much got what we hoped for. The 1994 GOP takeover of Congress brought a new kind of politics to Washington, and a new kind of Republican leader: Newt Gingrich. In 2000, we elected a Republican president. Meanwhile, John Paul had been pope for over 20 years, and would go on to be the second-longest serving pontiff in history. Nearly every bishop in the Catholic Church was appointed by him.

The 2002 sex abuse scandal revealed how poorly John Paul had governed the Church. The Iraq War was the GOP’s Waterloo, in terms of its credibility. I don’t know how general this feeling is among other Gen X conservatives, but that was a very hard decade for me, given that I had been shaped by confidence in political and religious conservatism, and by the institutions (and personalities) that advanced them.

I don’t know enough about Evangelical religious life to say, but it’s clear to me that conservative Catholicism, as well as political conservatism, has been drifting along without purpose or leadership since the implosions of the last decade. Is there anything more dead than a Boomer GOP politician who invokes Reagan these days? Or a Boomer Catholic who hearkens back to the glory days of JP2?

My view is that neither Boomers nor Gen Xers, as a general rule, really have the imaginative capacity to think beyond the boundaries set by the world we have lost. It will take conservatives who were formed by the shatterings of the last decade to discern a way out of the ruins. I too find the callow posturing of some of the younger writers on social media to be both amusing and annoying, but the truth is, the most serious of them are living in the real world in the way many of us older conservatives are not. This First Things essay this morning by Catholic philosopher John Schwenkler, a Millennial, gets to my point. [4]Excerpt:

I need to think about my children. We want to raise them in the faith—yet not without telling them of the abuse that children have suffered at the hands of Catholic priests or how our bishops have tried to cover up those crimes. Bishops are supposed to be the successors of Jesus’s apostles, who were commissioned by Christ to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” But their contemporary successors often behave as though they were running a corporation, minimizing liability and keeping the shareholders happy with legalistic statements and polished publicity campaigns to help them combat bad press.

Yet if the Catholic Church were a corporation, the leaders of its American branch would surely have been fired long ago for incompetence—even if the corporate mission didn’t include the salvation of souls. …

What to do? Where to turn? Having long been convinced of the Church’s claim to truth, lately I have been recalling Peter’s words to Christ: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I understand that the demand for morally perfect leadership cannot be satisfied by any institution staffed with fallen human beings. But I can no longer comfort myself with an argument I used to find convincing: that the Church has always been filled with sin, even at the highest ranks; and that since I knew this before, my faith should not be shaken by these revelations now. However dark the past may have been, I am not sure it was much worse than this. It looks as if the gates of Hell have prevailed.

Emphasis above mine. Schwenkler, who used to blog for TAC, finished his undergraduate degree a decade after I did, and technically may be in the youngest Gen X cohort. It doesn’t matter. The point is that he, and those his age and younger, have been formed much more by a world of disappointment and disillusion than we older conservatives. That line of his that I boldfaced suggests to me that he has the youthful capacity to cope with the loss of the old verities, and to forge forward in the face of that catastrophe, unburdened by the illusions that many of us older conservatives can’t quite rid ourselves of, because they are knitted into our bones.

Let me put it like this: for us Boomer and Gen X conservatives (religious and secular), we knew who the enemy was, and where the battle lines were drawn. Millennials, though, have to live with the knowledge that the enemy of our ideals and interests is often … us. That’s the chief difference.

Thoughts on my theory? I know the same thing is happening on the left. I am interested to hear from the left-liberal readers of this blog, as to how they see this dynamic playing out on their side.

UPDATE: Alan Jacobs doesn’t agree with the generational divide concept. [5]Excerpt:

  1. I believe that thinking in terms of generations is far more likely to lead us astray than to help us understand. It encourages us to ignore a whole series of factors (class, region, religious belief or unbelief, level and kind of education, etc.) that are at least as important as date of birth.

  2. If you must think in generation terms, then use Joshua Glenn’s more fine-grained and thoughtful scheme [6]. Otherwise you’ll use absurd categories like “Boomer,” which has Donald Trump and Barack Obama in the same generation, which is manifestly absurd.

Fair enough. I just got back from lunch with an old friend. She’s a middle-class Catholic, and we got to talking about the scandal. She told me that three of the priests who were closest to her family in her youth were all eventually revealed to have been abusers. Plus, in a previous job, she had done some investigative work on clerical sexual abuse, and discovered first-hand how easily chanceries lied about this stuff. She said that her children, all of whom are college age, are far more devout than she is — so much so that she worries that in their sincerity, they’ll be taken advantage of by dishonest priests. So, right there my theory is blown: my friend is far more skeptical of the Church, but her Millennial (post-Millennial?) kids are idealists eager to believe the very best, because (in her view) they love the community they’ve found in church.

Like I said in my initial post, it’s impossible to do anything more than generalize about this topic. My mom graduated from high school in 1961, but she was a working-class white Southern woman in a small town. “The Sixties” didn’t arrive in our town until the 1970s, and certainly passed her by. She had far more in common with my father, who came of age in the 1950s, than with what popular culture associates with her generational cohort. So it’s tricky.

I still think that some useful things can be said, though, about how experiences of people in their teens and twenties give them a baseline for judging what is “normal.” For example, there’s a significant overall difference between the attitudes towards homosexuality of my generation, and the generations on either side of us. This is measurable.

UPDATE.2: Reader Walker:

I work in a Manhattan financial consulting firm. I hate it and will hopefully quit soon,, but, all things considered, it’s a decent company that cares about serving its clients well and providing stable, long-term employment to those that serve it. This is the first job I have had out of college, but I am reasonably sure that it is much better than most of its type. Coming here, I was a good liberal who loved Obama, disliked Hillary but supported her over Bernie and never considered voting Republican no matter how much I disliked her and Bill. (One of my formative political memories was how terribly she and Bill and their people treated Obama in the 2008 primary. Indeed, their treatment of Obama was far, far worse than Bernie treated her.)

However, in the three years I’ve worked here I’ve moved much further left to the point where I now call myself a Democratic Socialist and rue supporting Hillary over Bernie in the 2016 primary. Although I believe in the mild version of the Dem Socialist platform – far higher taxes, universal healthcare, cooperative/collectively owned housing for the poor and working classes, New Deal for green jobs/energy, more worker input into corporate boards a la the recent Elizabeth Warren proposal, partial or complete nationalization of Facebook/Google/tech in general, etc. – these positions have largely followed, rather than led my movement left.

What has led my movement left is my bosses. There is, obviously, a healthy contingent of conservatives here – including Trump voters but mostly Romney-style Reaganites – but, the directors and upper management of the firm are mostly liberal. These are the kinds of liberals who see no contradiction in the financial activities that led to the crises and their politics. These are the kinds of liberals who think it’s OK that a massive percentage of the country lives paycheck to paycheck because it helps financiers like them get rich. These liberals worry about the costs of college and healthcare and housing but are fundamentally secure. They are comfortable with bureaucracy, for reasons unimaginable to me, because they cannot see how things that seem annoying but relatively simple to them – e.g., health insurance forms, school-choice forms – wreck havoc on working people who simply do not understand the absurd hoops of modern life and do not have time or energy to learn them if they weren’t taught by their parents.

I could go on and on and on, but, in sum, these folks have absolutely no idea what life is like out there. (I’m from the Midwest, my mom is from the South and a first-generation college grad so I have lots of memories visiting the poor, rural South.) They have no understanding of what gutting the industrial base did to people, how many fundamental and systemic aspects of modern life are destroying the planet (they believe in global warming but, because they are rich, are mostly insulated from the dire consequences that await), and of how bewildering the constant changes capitalism – combined with the incredible pace of social changes – are for so many.

Again, these people have no clue. They are not fit to lead us. Much of me regrets how extreme the Dem Socialists are, but unfortunately I don’t see another choice. I refuse to support Trump or anyone/anything like him for a million reasons (primarily because I will not abide mothers being separated from their children by the government), but blame Clinton-ism and the failures of Obama almost as much as the Republicans for doing this to us.

There’s a cliche story of two fish swimming. Another fish swims by and asks “how’s the water?” After he’s gone, the two others look at each other and one asks “what the heck is water?”

It’s kind of a stupid story I know, but the point is that liberal leaders have lost the ability to know what water is. They have no idea how to stop Trump and still have the gall to tell us to sit down and shut up. No more.

It strikes me as similar to the Baby Boomer and some Gen-X Catholics you describe, who simply have no understanding of how the culture of faith has deteriorated in this country and how that loss negates so many assumptions they didn’t even know could be altered.

Reader Spencer:

As a 25 yr. old Montanan who was raised in the Roman Catholic Dioscese of Helena, MT I can absolutely sympathize with your views on the generational divide currently happening in the faith. Our own family has shown itself to be a classic example unfolding across rural MT.

Each generation has gotten more-progressive and less-religious in their values. Now, pretty much none of us kids attend church outside of christmas and easter mass, and nobody certainly has a close connection with any organized religion. Attendance and participation is done merely to appease the elder generations during family gatherings.

My mother believes that our current generation is simply “lost”, and will come back to the faith eventually. Her faith is so entrenched that the mere thought of clergy abuse has really been challenging to discuss. How does one deal with the fact that some of the leaders in your religion have committed horrible crimes? I try and comfort her feelings as best I can, but the writing has clearly been on the wall for some time.

In way it sucks for our generation to realize that the traditional religions have become compromised by their own actions and sheer size. They’ve corporatized themselves, and it’s easy to see how similar their PR is from an oil company like British Petroleum. It devalues the church and disillusions the young. It was especially acute in my case where I was raised in a small, yet close catholic community.

Organized religion works best when it’s on a local-level, because it allows people the opportunity to feel more valued when they participate in the faith. I had already been struggling with my relationship with Catholicism in high school, and seeing how a region can so easily be wrecked by scandals in such a small state diminished what belief I had left in organized religion.(the Helena Dioceses finally reached a $20 million settlement in May 2018 for abuse going back as far as the 1950’s).

There’s simply no trust these days for an organization that claims moral authority over your soul. Faith is personal, and any religion that views itself as infallible should be shunned.

The only way I’d ever consider raising my future kids Catholic would be if I could find a local community of faith that espouses “local” and “community”, much like the one I grew up in. But recent events have made it clear that my trust is too shaken to even have the willingness to look.

UPDATE.3: Reader RDB:

Rod, as a Gen X priest/seminary professor who has spent considerable time in ministry to higher education at a public university, I want to reaffirm your point and thank you for reaffirming what I have been teaching to my seminary students (mostly Millennials) for the last few years – that we have moved beyond modern problems, questions, and debates and are now in an emerging post-modern world.

Many Millennials find modern solutions deeply unsatisfying.

As I like to tell the aging boomers in the Church – your problems are not my problems. And if they aren’t my problems, then they certainly are not a younger generation’s problems. We are no longer modern, the modern questions are no longer interesting and the modern answers are no longer satisfying.

In the context of the Catholic Church in the US, a Millennial is only offered three alternatives – conservative(Weigel, St. Pope John Paul II, CL), traditional (SSPX, FSSP) or liberal (Bergoglio, Cupich, James Martin). All the debates and battles waged in the Church are written along these battle-lines yet not one of these positions can adequately respond to the reality the Church finds herself in today.

Conservative: I love (love, love,) St. Pope John Paul II. In the 1990s and 2000s, I devoured Weigel and First Things. But while much of what St. PJP II wrote and taught remains valid (he taught within the tradition, so it will always be valid), his pastoral mission was to speak to modern men and women. We can take St. PJP II as a model of engagement with young adults but we cannot simply parrot his pastoral talks the way an aging conservative today seeks to parrot Ronald Reagan. The conservative temptation is to take the Church back to 1993. *I do think RR Reno is trying to move First Things in the right direction and still offers very relevant and helpful articles.

Traditional: Traditional orders and groups are able to reach a certain segment of millennials because they are anti-modern. The Traditional Latin Mass provides them with what they cannot find in the banal Ordinary Form Masses found in most parishes. Yet, the traditional will only reach a small segment of the population. The temptation of the traditionalists is to take the Church back to the 1940s.

Liberal: Since they are enjoying power right now, they are the most hopeless and problematic. Pope Francis and those who have risen in power along with him, want to return to the battles of modernity. Their vision of the Church is completely modern. For Millennials (and many Gen-Xers) the liberals’ questions are not interesting and their answers are not satisfying. This is one reason why the upcoming Synod on Youth will be a disaster. It will be boomer bishops led by a Pope who wants to fight the modern battles (and eliminate the magisterium of PJP II)who will produce an unhelpful and uninteresting post-synodal document. The temptation of the liberal is to keep the Church in 1983, which is where most American parishes have remained.

As nebulous as this term is, we are now in a period best described as “emerging post-modernism.” Modern questions and modern answers are no longer sufficient. The Church has to stop fighting the battles of modernity, both outside and inside the Church). The world has moved on and could not care less what the Church has to say. And the same is true of millennials in the Church. The debates and answers of the conservatives, traditionalists and especially the liberals, is no longer interesting or sufficient to address a post-modern world.

UPDATE.4: Reader Axxr:

Katharine D. above says:

“Trust that belief- spirituality- is not the problem. The least religious young people are inevitably the most superstitious.”

I cannot echo this enough as someone that taught undergrads for years and that remains in touch with many of them now in their twenties or early thirties. They are fundamentally deeply, deeply religious. Uncritical and deeply convicted in the extreme. Far more religious than my generation was. It’s just that their religions are not Christianity, nor any of the other traditional faiths.

In addition to the New Age, Eastern Spiritualism, Wiccan/ Earth Magic/ Environmentalism/ Gaiaist/ Vegan groups that Katharine alludes to above, let’s not forget wokeism/ progressivism/ etc. What does everyone think this incredible absorption with LGBTQ, BLM, AntiFa, democratic socialism, etc. is? It’s religion; the behavior, feelings, and ultimate aim (salvation in one guise or another, of individual or of society, and resulting heaven/utopia, along with explanations for the fallenness of society on earth) are eminently religious according to any major sociological definition.

Yes, the young people are far more deeply religious today than they were throughout the second half of the 20th century. They are dying to die for a cause, and picking them essentially at random. They just don’t happen to believe that any of the religions of the book are populated with anything other than self-interested hypocrites and schemers.

I tend to agree that this is at the feet of the boomers. The implicit belief that “I ruthlessly can cast off any and all limits to my getting ahead, getting rich, and getting laid and at the same time *still* be a fundamentally good, spiritual, and uncompromised person”—that naive belief that runs through the boomer generation—is seen by the young as a pose and a scheme, not as a naive-but-honest belief. They simply don’t buy that the boomers ever really believed anything so obviously self-serving; it was all just to hide gluttony and vice, a way to lie to everyone to get away with things and steal as much as they could for as long as they could get away with it.

As a result, young people will happily spend thousands on trinkets designed to channel energy and help chakras and tell fortunes, and will happily spend thousands touring the country on pointless protests or going to weeks-long, full-silence “deep healing reiki retreats,” all while snickering at anyone that puts dollars on the donation plate or goes to church. Because those people—the “believers”—have, of course, been had by authority figures-cum-swindlers.

Not like the ones spending hundreds of dollars per pound for just the right species of matcha because it carries with it “vibrations” of ancient wisdom and extends life into the hundreds of years, there’s tons of scientific evidence for this online but the elites that came before us worked hard to suppress the knowledge… … …etc.

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127 Comments (Open | Close)

127 Comments To "For Millennial Conservatives, The Enemy Is Us"

#1 Comment By TR On August 22, 2018 @ 11:12 am

VikingLS has some rather common-sense observations above. Some of his observations I should not have needed him to remind me of.

#2 Comment By RDB On August 22, 2018 @ 11:40 am

Reader Peter K wrote: “I suspect that RDB has not visited any Latin Mass parishes. The one I belong to continues to grow with many Gen X, and Millenials joining. We are getting ready to start the design and construction of a new Church so that we can move out of the former Protestant building we currently occupy.”

I actually offer the Extraordinary Form on a regular basis, am friends with priests in the Fraternity of St Peter as well as the monks at Clear Creek and in Norcia. I am also impressed by the young adults who do attend the TLM.
When I say that something is a temptation, I don’t mean that everyone who considers themselves a traditionalist is wanting to re-create a Church of the 1940s. But the reality is that the TLM, even if it was granted all the freedom in the world from the bishops and pastors, would still not draw more than a small percentage of Catholics.

The EF Mass is an essential part to moving the Church out of modernity because it was the main form of worship for the Church when it fought against modernity (Protestantism, modern philosophy and liberalism). The Mass of Vatican II was created as a Mass that would appeal to “Modern Man.”
Pope Benedict XVI was the first post-modern pope. He is also the only post-modern Pope. Pope Francis has spent quite a bit of energy trying to drag the Church back to the beliefs and battles of the 1970s, clearly supporting the liberals. This is one reason why conservatives and traditionalist both struggle so much with him.
I see Pope Benedict’s Motuproprio, not as an attempt to return the Church to an earlier time, but rather, as an opportunity to let post-moderns experience this beautiful and powerful liturgy so that the Ordinary Form can be re-formed (or abolished and a more transcendent rich one take its place).

We will certainly disagree, but in spite of my love for the traditional Latin Mass and how it has helped me better understand my Priesthood, it cannot be the way forward. My overall point remains – the Church is only offering three alternatives, conservative, traditional and liberal. While liberal Catholicism is an exhausted (and now we know a corrupt) project, neither conservative Catholicism nor traditional Catholicism has what it takes to keep the Church as anything more than an isolated clique in the post-modern world.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 22, 2018 @ 11:52 am

Hmm. “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

I don’t trust anyone now, and realize I shouldn’t have trusted those under 30 either!

#4 Comment By swb On August 22, 2018 @ 12:57 pm

I used to be a conservative and a republican and came from a family of them, and I have not changed my beliefs. I have changed my voting since Regan to be “liberal” due to the increasingly unhinged belief systems of conservatives and their religious allies. I regret the democrats move to the right, though they pretty much had to adjust to try to attract swing voters as conservative voters blindly followed a series of conservative leaders that lied to them about how reality actually worked and were too gullible to learn from their mistakes. Their gullibility (or ignorance) is at the heart of conservative success. In religion or politics, gullibility is fatal. You get a Trump or an abusing priest. Since I work with a lot of folks in their 20s and 30s and socialize with a number of them, it is pretty clear that religion is dead, so dead that it is not even a point to be discussed. Conservative politics is just something old angry racist whites do, many of my friends and co-workers are minorities, immigrants, or gays and they see the red states as places that pretty much deserve the failures they have brought upon themselves. Most of them have better things to do than politics. Those that are involved call themselves socialist simply because they despise your existing parties and all the baggage they carry. They seem more like new deal democrats to me. Even my parents (in their 80s) have given up on conservatives and their organizations. I hope that Trump and the various priestly scandals will accelerate the decline of your institutions. The traditional democrats will become the new conservatives and the “socialists” will become the new liberals and the conservatives will become the fringe right. We might then start dealing with reality instead of ignorance. I am under no illusions that ignorance will go quietly.

#5 Comment By Jesse On August 22, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

It’s a good reminder that this set of youth are the first set of youths to be as liberal as old people always assume young people are.

The youth were the most hawkish during the Vietnam war, voted for Reagan & Bush, and were even split 50/50 in 2000. It’s only with Obama’s election and forward there has been the massive age split and honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the Internet. When even kids in rural Nebraska or where ever can interact with people unlike them and figure out they’re just normal people, that makes various specifically American conservative issues difficult to agree with.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 22, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

Keynesian politics: c. 1933-1976
Neoliberal politics: c. 1977-today

Until George W. Bush announced “We are all Keynesians now” because he didn’t have a clue how else to deal with a massive recession.

#7 Comment By Rob G On August 22, 2018 @ 2:32 pm

“I think a lot of it has to do with the Internet. When even kids in rural Nebraska or where ever can interact with people unlike them and figure out they’re just normal people, that makes various specifically American conservative issues difficult to agree with.”

So the Internet frees people up to think for themselves? Why then are the millenial SJW types in such bloody lockstep on everything?

~~I hope that Trump and the various priestly scandals will accelerate the decline of your institutions. The traditional democrats will become the new conservatives and the “socialists” will become the new liberals and the conservatives will become the fringe right. We might then start dealing with reality instead of ignorance.~~

Oy vey! Where does one begin?

#8 Comment By redbrick On August 22, 2018 @ 3:43 pm

“You might say that in their eyes, the Boomers were trying to defend ground that had already long ago been lost. It wasn’t that the Gen Xers had any good ideas themselves. But at least they had a clearer idea of the nature of the crisis.”

This is about the best statement I have seen if you were to related it to say the alt right movement and race in America today….and the crisis of national identity.

The boomers are living in a dream world that everyone of ever race will eventually become a country club milk toast republican on the race issue….aka MLK as the god of friendly racial love.

The young 20-30 somethings are far more radical about the issue….they see that something has drastically changed. Not that they have any good ideas themselves….heck some of it is just re-microwaved Nazism.

But they can at least see whats happen on the ground in terms of issues like immigration, race, identity politics.

#9 Comment By redbrick On August 22, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

swb: “I regret the democrats move to the right”

come on now….we can argue on almost all the rest of your post…some might be right some wrong.

But no one real thinks the Democrats of 2018 are somehow to the right of where they were in say 1980.

On gay marriage and immigration alone they are far more liberal….heck no 1980s democrat politician would have ever publicly said a positive thing about homosexuals or gone against the labor unions and called for total open borders for unskilled 3rd world labor.

#10 Comment By AnthonyinHouston On August 22, 2018 @ 4:25 pm

Rod,

This is a brilliant post. Thank you so much for your thoughts and constant reflections.

I am a leftist long-time reader of TAC and I am convinced that our nation would be a much better place if we had more voices like those you find here in TAC in the halls of power.

Anyway, I have struggled mightily with this divide. I firmly believe that boomers especially are behaving as if their maker will never come calling. They’re running our planet into the ground and holding so tightly to the reins of power that all other voices are marginalized and unheard over the din of the 60+.

I am especially hit by this because of my own experience. I have grown up a Mexican-American in the suburbs of Houston. It was a white world and i knew from the beginning that I didn’t fit there. Not only have I seen this generational divide but the racial divide has been even more stark.

As a young millennial, I have followed the same path as the the commenter above, the Manhattan financier. I stared as a good Obama liberal, I turned against Clinton in 2008 and I was appalled at the re-run that 2016 became, which was another reminder that the boomers refuse to acknowledge their mortality.

I have little to say about X’ers. They seem to have gotten lost in the fold.

I think that your other commenter is spot-on. The world has changed and the youth are looking for new answers to the questions that we all face. We’re being hamstrung every step of the way but we’re still fighting.

#11 Comment By JonF On August 22, 2018 @ 4:34 pm

Re: There is nobody on the political scene these days whom I would describe as a liberal. Barack Obama was bad on free speech, freedom of religion, and government by consent of the governed.

If I squint with Fax News goggles on I suppose I can see the first two, but how was Obama bad on “consent of the governed”? It seems to be a shibboleth of the Right that there is some vast “silent majority” out there that really agrees with them hands down on everything, and any and all liberal policy is therefore tyranical and illegitimate.

#12 Comment By Jesse On August 22, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

@JonF, you have to remember to a certain kind of conservative, Democrat’s are only allowed to push for their policies if they get supermajority support from all Republican’s, but Republican’s should be able to pass anything they want with a bare majority, or even less.

“But no one real thinks the Democrats of 2018 are somehow to the right of where they were in say 1980.”

On social issues, yes, they’ve moved to the left, but on economic issues, both ACO and Bernie Sanders whose economic plans are basically the same as Hubert Humphrey are treated like extremists.

A matter of fact, the main reason why I question Bernie’s political acumen is when he declared himself to be a democratic socialist instead of what he actually is – a New Deal Democrat.

“So the Internet frees people up to think for themselves? Why then are the millenial SJW types in such bloody lockstep on everything?”

Except they aren’t. I know SJW’s who are neoliberals, social democrats, socialists, Marxist-Lenninists, and anarchists. Now, none of them are social conservatives, but they’re not that for the same reason nobody is calling for a return to feudalism outside of some reactionary Catholic men in their 20’s on Twitter who are upset they can’t get dates and like tweed too much – because to them, it’s a dead ideology.

In a world more racially and sexually diverse than ever, 2018 Republicanism is going to be a dead letter to a supermajority of people under 30.

That’s not a statement that the GOP is dead, but if the GOP doesn’t move on things like gay marriage, immigration, etc., they’re going to have a hard time winning soon enough when all the people afraid of MS-13 drop dead as they watch Fox News.

#13 Comment By James The Late Gen-Xer On August 22, 2018 @ 9:38 pm

I am late Gen-X or early Millennial, depending on who you ask.

What I see, at least from young, white American Catholics, is that those who are serious about their faith are quite serious about it. But their faith is personal, not institutional. They might, for example, have lots of children, homeschool them all, go to a Latin Mass, and wear a mantilla, but this comes from a personal motivation, not an institutional direction. Religion is their way of “geeking out”.

Institutions are not to be trusted, so they are irrelevant. The older generations raised on “pray, pay, and obey” don’t get this. Liberals assume they are being directed by some Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, while conservatives think they are their young protegés (they aren’t).

The dark side of such “geeking out” is that it leaves little room for the less devout. If the geeked out lifestyle doesn’t appeal to you, then why bother? You’ll always feel like a second-class Catholic in a way that would make you excluded, not in a way that would make you feel inspired. So although the young who go to mass are very devout, not many of them go.

[NFR: I had to give you a different name since there are so many Jameses commenting here. — RD]

#14 Comment By grin without a cat On August 23, 2018 @ 1:45 am

@JonF:

but how was Obama bad on “consent of the governed”?

His enthusiastic support of the decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. This is the sort of thing that should have been decided as a policy matter by the voters and their elected representatives. The decision, which legalized same-sex marriage, was not based on the Constitution; if you went back in a time machine and told the drafters of the 14th Amendment that what they would doing would mean that a man could marry a man or a woman a woman, they would have laughed in your face.

There are plausible arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, and even some good liberal arguments. It’s likely that if the democratic institutions were allowed to run their course, the law would have been changed in most of the country.

If I squint with Fax News goggles on I suppose I can see the first two,

Mr. Obama was the first sitting president to endorse a constitutional amendment that would restrict political speech. This would have been one that would have reversed the decision of Citizens United v. FEC. He was on the anti-free-speech side.

Put simply, the decision said that independent corporations could pay money on TV ads that expressed their political opinions. In my view this is the sort of thing that the First Amendment was meant to protect. This was also the view of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Those are two examples of where Mr. Obama, and I think pretty much all the Democrats these days, are adopting positions that are hostile to what I think of as traditional liberal values. I know a lot of people who call themselves liberals were supporters of Obama, of Obergefell, and the proposed Democracy for All Amendment.

I understand that not everybody has the same understanding of liberal. I’m 61 years old, by the way, so some of my views might seem old-fashioned.

#15 Comment By Pat On August 23, 2018 @ 2:44 am

James, the Late Gen-Xer,

If the devoutness of another makes a person feel second-class, then they have 3 options.

1. Take the faith more seriously and become devout, oneself.

2. Leave the faith entirely.

3. Be lukewarm in one’s spiritual life and don’t let the lives of other people be your compass.

Here is what they CANNOT do:

Stop the devout from being devout. And if they even tried to do that, then they are doing the exact same thing that the biblical Satan tried to do, so they probably should just focus on themselves, and perhaps ask themselves why their spiritual life is not worth fully practicing instead of blaming it on people who actually ARE taking their spiritual life seriously.

This logic applies to any pursuit. Do kids who work hard in school to maintain honors bear the blame for students who drop out of school because they don’t want to do the hard work, yet feel entitled to honors anyway?

This sort of logic pervades society, which explains the mediocre, lukewarm measurements of so many institutions and facets of life.

If other people are more devout than you, and it sincerely MUST be a pissing contest for you, then why don’t you simply try to become holier than thou? Can’t hurt.

Following that logic, I would quit church the second I realized that Jesus was always going to be holier than me. Or is it just peers who leave the spiritually entitled running from the pews?

#16 Comment By xav On August 23, 2018 @ 3:25 am

Siarlys Jenkins says:
August 22, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Huh? Here’s the wiki on that phrase “We’re all Keynesians now,” sans any W. Bush quote.

[7]

#17 Comment By Rob G On August 23, 2018 @ 7:16 am

“Except they aren’t. I know SJW’s who are neoliberals, social democrats, socialists, Marxist-Lenninists, and anarchists.”

Politically, perhaps, but not culturally. You can practically go down the list and tick the box on where they stand on abortion, gay rights, the death penalty, environmental issues, BLM, the GOP, etc., etc. I’m not even saying they’re wrong on everything. But for supposed free-thinkers there’s a hell of a lot of socio-cultural predictability.

#18 Comment By Jesse On August 23, 2018 @ 12:43 pm

“But for supposed free-thinkers there’s a hell of a lot of socio-cultural predictability.”

Probably for the same reason that among free thinking liberals in the 60’s, nobody said, “actually, Jim Crow is good and we need to defend it.”

Being against police form, for limiting the right to choose, against gay civil rights, for our current totally broken death penalty system, for further degradation of the environment for economic gain, etc. is basiclally the same as showing up to a sit-in at Columbia University in 1965 and saying, “actually, we should nuke Vietnam, Strom Thurmond has the right idea when it comes to Jim Crow, and all you women should find a nice husband and start popping out some babies.

The only difference is that as opposed to 1965, the protestors are actually the strong majority of the kids.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 23, 2018 @ 2:03 pm

You can practically go down the list and tick the box on where they stand on abortion, gay rights, the death penalty, environmental issues, BLM, the GOP, etc., etc. I’m not even saying they’re wrong on everything. But for supposed free-thinkers there’s a hell of a lot of socio-cultural predictability.

As real Bolsheviks used to say about this brand of social-democracy, “you individuals are all alike.” But this “progressive package” is NOT socialist or communist or anarchist or even entirely liberal in character… as a package it is a kitchen sink all on its own. The first five issues on the above list, I can cite different political ideologies or parties taking stands pro and con at various times and places. They just aren’t ideologically definitional. Jessica Mitford’s A Fine Old Conflict includes an entertaining interlude where her daughter age 10 or so brightly asks at a dinner with Hungarian party leaders circa 1950 whether they have a campaign to abolish the death penalty…

I agree with grin/cat that President Obama should have kept hands off on marriage. That is simply not within the jurisdiction of the President, and both parties have gone way overboard using the White House as a bully pulpit to expound on every public controversy under the sun. The workload that IS within the president’s jurisdiction is quite enough to occupy his (or her, sooner or later) time.

I do favor two constitutional amendments which would overturn Citizens United. One would definitively restrict the term “person” in the Fourteenth Amendment to live human beings — but as Franklin Evans and I discovered in another forum some years ago, it will take some careful working not to, e.g., accidentally erase freedom of the press applying to incorporated news venues. The other would provide that, in order to preserve the integrity of the electoral process, congress and the states may regulate campaign finance expenditures, so long as any laws and regulations are viewpoint-neutral, and apply equally to all parties and to all advocacy groups spending money to influence an election. I don’t think that would do violence to freedom of speech. For most citizens, it would enhance our speech, by curbing those who want to drown us out with their capacity to blanket the airwaves.

But no one real thinks the Democrats of 2018 are somehow to the right of where they were in say 1980.

No, they were always to the right, and they’ve stayed there, doing GOP lite with a few daring culture war fetishes thrown in to make them feel progressive.

#20 Comment By Elijah On August 23, 2018 @ 4:13 pm

“Trust that belief- spirituality- is not the problem. The least religious young people are inevitably the most superstitious.”

Boy is this ever true. Witness the interest in astrology, crystals, tarot, etc.

Ask a devotee of one of these methodologies where they think the healing power comes from. You’ll get some interesting answers. I know a woman who does tarot and crystals and reiki who is a monotheist, and she has told me some crazy stories about what people are looking for and what they believe in.

Little of it makes sense.

#21 Comment By cka2nd On August 24, 2018 @ 4:21 am

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are the villains of my young adulthood. I spent an entire decade in the 1980’s seeing one union after another broken, one striking local after another betrayed by their national/international leadership. Livelihoods destroyed. Standards of living destroyed. Local communities destroyed. Add to that the murderous foreign policy in Central America. The lies and deceit from Cambodia to Afghanistan to KAL 007. Missile defense in the sky and cruise missiles in Europe. An utterly unnecessary military build-up. Deregulation rampant and triumphant.

I still hate Reagan and Thatcher with every fiber of my being, but as my education has increased, Jimmy Carter has found a place on my roll call of shame, too. Kronsteen1963 may be unaware of this, but Zbigniew Brzezinski revealed in the 1990’s that the Carter Administration was funneling money to the mujahideen in Afghanistan before the Soviet “invasion,” precisely to provoke the Soviets to “invade” and thereby trap them in their own “Vietnam.” And then the sanctimonious SOB went and boycotted the Olympics! Carter is also the true father of federal deregulation, and has been retrospectively honored for the breadth and depth of his deregulatory efforts by a number of libertarian writers.

The crisis that I see across the board today is the lack of a grand narrative that actually makes sense. The Left desperately needs to be reintroduced to not just Marxism but Trotskyism, simply because it best explains how the real world works, and that includes some of he post-Trotsky Trostkyist theorists’ ideas on race and nationalism (“revolutionary integration” and the theory of “inter-penetrated peoples” to name two). It’s remarkable to me to read lines from Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky that sound as if they were written last Tuesday.

For the Right, while I wish you nothing but political confusion and disunity, and I can’t recommend religion as I reject the core beliefs out of hand, I would prefer to see an outright rejection of libertarianism in macroeconomic matters combined with a libertarian respect for individual liberty in social and criminal ones but, But, BUT, also an embrace of community and mutual responsibility. Broad-based social insurance is a perfectly acceptable conservative idea, if you ask me. And as much as I personally reject religion, the grace that the truly devout and good bring to the lives of others can be a wonderful and beautiful thing.

For the Center, the middle-of-the-roaders, the trimmers and the compromisers, the Liberals and the Moderates, I wish that even a few of them could approach the Tom Wickers and Sydney Schanbergs of my youth.

#22 Comment By Rob G On August 24, 2018 @ 7:13 am

~~Probably for the same reason that among free thinking liberals in the 60’s, nobody said, “actually, Jim Crow is good and we need to defend it.”~~

In other words, “We hold these (Progressive) truths to be self-evident…”

I rest my case.

#23 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 24, 2018 @ 2:12 pm

In other words, RobG thinks Jim Crow IS good and we DO need to defend it?

Probably not what he meant to say, but the logic and quality of his lame repartee strongly suggests it.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are the villains of my young adulthood. I spent an entire decade in the 1980’s seeing one union after another broken, one striking local after another betrayed by their national/international leadership. Livelihoods destroyed. Standards of living destroyed. Local communities destroyed.

Absolutely. I hadn’t heard before about Brzezinksi and Carter funneling money to the terrorists in Afghanistan, but it just means that George Bush’s terrorists were Ronald Regan’s AND Jimmy Carter’s freedom fighters.

#24 Comment By Rob G On August 26, 2018 @ 3:36 pm

“Probably not what he meant to say, but the logic and quality of his lame repartee strongly suggests it.”

I believe that Jim Crow was exceedingly bad policy, but it was not self-evidently so. I don’t trust anyone, left or right, who thinks their policy positions are self-evident. This is precisely the sort of thinking that leads to the demonization of the opposition, as implied the rest of Jesse’s comment above, the upshot of which is, “If you oppose progressive liberal causes you are immoral.”

As an ideologue yourself you may be peachy-keen with that sort of politico-moral calculus. Thanks but no thanks.

#25 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 26, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

I believe that Jim Crow was exceedingly bad policy, but it was not self-evidently so. I don’t trust anyone, left or right, who thinks their policy positions are self-evident.

A lot, of course, depends on your underlying moral framework.

If your moral framework includes the axiom that all persons are entitled to basic human dignity and equality before law (both things well-enshrined in American civic culture, even if often observed in the breach), then Jim Crow is pretty hard to justify. And it was arguments of this sort (including many arguments grounded in Christianity) that led to its eventual defeat.

If, on the other hand, you view cutthroat competition between interest groups to be normal and natural, and that ideas such as “human dignity” and “equality” are so much enlightenment foolishness, then Jim Crow or similar policy choices become morally licit. Many of the white nationalists here argue precisely from this ground–they think that whites are perfectly entitled to use their political power to mistreat nonwhites, and frequently assert that if they do not do this, sooner or later the nonwhites will outbreed them and do it to them (or to their children). And such beliefs, too, are often grounded in Christianity (though in my view this is far harder to reconcile with the Gospels; Christ was very much a universalist, after all).

Modern white supremacists, and Nazis and klukkers and slavers before them, generally don’t care about universal concepts such as human dignity, and are pretty explicit about this. They prioritize group survival highest, defining “group” along racial or (in some cases) national lines (often conflating the two–asserting, for instance, that there’s no such thing as a black Briton, and that any black British subject, even if born there and speaking with perfect received pronunciation, is not a true Brit)–and from that moral framework, it’s not surprising to see universalists being denounced as “race traitors” or even accused of “genocide”. Because in their moral framework, to resist a pogrom is a more severe offense than to participate in one, so long as its the Other whose windows are being smashed.

#26 Comment By Rob G On August 27, 2018 @ 8:08 am

“A lot, of course, depends on your underlying moral framework.”

Absolutely. Which was sort of my point to begin with. If you take your moral framework to be unquestionable, or if you don’t feel the need occasionally to be self-critical and stop to do the odd reality check, you will tend towards the tyrannical. Today’s progressivism, with its checklist of “correct” moral positions does exactly that. It cannot tolerate disagreement, and thus would just as soon silence opposition than debate with it. Though constantly pontificating about “diversity and tolerance” it fails to recognize its own deeply intolerant nature.

#27 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 27, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

Absolutely. Which was sort of my point to begin with. If you take your moral framework to be unquestionable, or if you don’t feel the need occasionally to be self-critical and stop to do the odd reality check, you will tend towards the tyrannical. Today’s progressivism, with its checklist of “correct” moral positions does exactly that. It cannot tolerate disagreement, and thus would just as soon silence opposition than debate with it. Though constantly pontificating about “diversity and tolerance” it fails to recognize its own deeply intolerant nature.

First, go read this:

[8]

Then know: I’m married to a non-white woman. Many of my friend and family are not white. Some are additionally Muslim. My children are generally not considered “white” by society, even though they have a white father.

A lot of political conservative thought I’m more than willing to tolerate, even if it is disagreeable to me. But the opinions espoused by some people here–I view as a mortal threat to my friends, my family, my community. I’m not talking about debates over #BLM or affirmative action, BTW–I’m talking about the suggestions that come from some quarters in this combox that certain minority groups ought to be frog-marched to the border and evicted from their current country of residence, including persons who presently have every legal right to be there, on the grounds that they are the wrong race or religion, and thus their legal claim to residence is null and void.

Now, I understand full well that some of the people who make these sorts of arguments, feel equally under threat (or claim to)–that they think if nonwhites or non-Christians ever achieve majority status, that we’ll become Rhodesia or some other atrocity. (They don’t seem to mind the prospect of the US becoming Serbia–as long as they’re not the ones being loaded into the trucks, they don’t seem to mind this sort of racial violence one teeny bit).

But “we need to kill (or exile) them before they do it to us” has seldom been a morally useful proposition. After all, the Holocaust was justified in large part on the horrible things that Jews had allegedly done in the past (most of which were outrageous slanders, and even if certain claims were true, no license for genocide), or were allegedly plotting to do in the future. Such claims are nowadays considered to be morally outrageous–the same standard ought to be applied to any modern claims that current minority groups are plotting to kill us all, so we need to strike first.