I dont propose to revisit the question of whether what we call the Sixties was in fact born in the Fifties, or whether it unfolded its full plumage in that low decade, the Seventies, writes George Weigel. Rather, I want to examine six crucial moments in the Sixties with an eye to how they reshaped American political culture, with effects still being felt today. What a large segment of American political culture learned from those moments constitutes the issues-beneath-the-issues in 2008¯and in that important sense, America is still fighting battles begun in the Sixties, like it or not.
Thats from The Sixties, Again and Again , Weigels essay in the new issue of First Things , which has just arrived in the mail. Are you subscribing? These articles are available online to those who do, and the physical copies are even better: a thick paper, a readable text, and an early jump on articles like this.
Or like Our Stillborn Renaissance , from the Pulitzer Prize“winning historian Walter A. McDougall, which begins:
Waldo¯as the seventeen-year-old Ralph Waldo Emerson took to calling himself¯was one of eight children raised by a stern minister given over to Unitarianism, that feather-bed to catch a falling Christian. When the pater died in 1811, the household was reduced to a genteel poverty, over which ruled the sternly devout widow and a lugubrious aunt eager to die.
Cold is the only word for it, as the nineteen-year-old Waldo confessed when he wrote, I have not the kind affections of a pigeon and There is not in the whole wide Universe of God . . . one being to whom I am attached with warm & entire devotion. Of course, he had to study divinity at Harvard and be ordained for the ministry, but doing both caused him to suffer inexplicable seizures, as if he were allergic to the cloth.
He was also penniless until, in 1828, he made the acquaintance of Ellen Tucker. She was a rich merchants daughter already dying of tuberculosis. In between pledges of his undying love, Emerson nagged her to tears over what she called the ugly subject: her will and estate. They married in 1829. She died in 1831. Her father contested the will, but Waldo prevailed to the tune of $23,000, a small fortune in those days. He promptly claimed conscience forbade him to continue as pastor of Bostons Second Church, and he sailed off to Europe. By the time he came home, Waldo had reinvented himself as a comfortable prophet disparaging the worship of money.
Even if you dont subscribe, you can read AIDS and the Churches: Getting the Story Right , a careful critique by Harvards Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark. Thats this months free article, available online to all, and it argues: If AIDS prevention is to be based on evidence rather than ideology or bias, then fidelity and abstinence programs need to be at the center of programs for general populations . . . . What the churches are inclined to do anyway turns out to be what works best in AIDS prevention.
But subscribers get much more. James K.A. Smiths Thinking in Tongues , for instance¯an account of the emergence of a distinctive and genuinely intellectual theology among the Pentecostal churches. Or the bright prose of the stylist Sally Thomas , who reviews Emily Cockaynes Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England this way:
I lived, while in England, at a confluence¯the intersection of a pedestrian lane, which led to three pubs, and a busy road, which led to practically everywhere else. We could tell the time by the street noise: At eleven, precisely, the pubs closed, the pub“goers staggered out into the lane, and suddenly the night was filled with singing, howling, laughter, clamorous arguments, and the rattle of taxis idling in the road. You know, our eldest daughter observed one night, when the noise was keeping her awake, you can tell when a person has been drinking too much, because his brain keeps telling him, Sing and be stupid! Sing and be stupid!
Or young Jordan Hylden , who opens his review of Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites by noting, In the upper reaches of Manhattans East Side, the pristine McMansions of Palo Alto, and the verdant streets of Westchester County, life has surpassed satire in the lengths undertaken by anxious parents to secure admission for Junior at Americas best colleges.
The April issue features as well R.R. Renos account of the importance of the biblical scholarship of James L. Kugel , and a review of Geoffrey Hills new volume of poetry, his best in several years, by the University of Virginias Kevin Hart .
Meanwhile, our managing editor, Anthony Sacramone, looks at Thomas Hibbs Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption , observing, Film noir has both fascinated and confounded critics and film lovers since the 1940s, when foreign cineastes began to remark on how dark and depressing American films had become. And the great historian George McKenna examines Daniel Walker Howes What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815“1848 :
This is a big, big book of more than nine hundred pages, documented with thousands of footnotes and supplemented with a bibliographical essay of twenty-two pages in small print. But Howe takes us through one of the most eventful stretches of American history with such mastery that his book reads like a breathless travelers tale. From the close of the War of 1812 to the close of the Mexican War in 1848, he marks the determined march of a people across a continent to found a sea-to-sea empire and, in clear, vivid prose, conveys to us how awed he is by it¯and how troubled.
The correspondence section contains sharp exchanges over the January articles¯Robert Georges Law and Moral Purpose , for instance, and R.R. Renos Nietzsches Deeper Truth , Jason Byassees Not Your Fathers Pornography , and Meir Soloveichiks No Friend in Jesus . The poetry in the April issues is interesting, too: new work by Deborah Warren , Samuel Menashe , Paul Lake , and Rose Kelleher .
And then, as always, theres First Things most popular feature: Richard John Neuhaus column, The Public Square . This month, Fr. Neuhaus begins with The Possibilities and Perils of Being a Really Smart Bishop , an essay on N.T. Wright, the role of bishops, and the troubles of the Anglican Church.
All this could be yours¯if only you subscribed to Americas premier journal of religion, culture, and public life.