Discussions of contemporary American society and politics are dominated by a sense of the overwhelming newness of it all. As a nation whose beginnings were framed by the breakdown of aristocratic norms, institutions, and social arrangements in the West, by the advent of the egalitarian, industrial, and scientific revolutions, the United States has hardly been a stranger to change. Response to massive societal transformations colors its whole existence. Both the rate and the scope of change, however, have taken on a new extended dimension in the contemporary period.
The signs are scattered everywhere. We see them in the exceptional rapidity with which assessments of directions in American life are advanced and discarded. Just a decade or so ago, serious observers perceived an "end of ideology," and believed, as S. M. Lipset put it critically, that "the growth of affluence in the Western world [was promoting] the emergence of a peaceful social Utopia. ..." 1 The fundamental problems had been resolved in advanced societies like the United States, the fundamental antagonisms were being washed away. Now in 1975, looking back upon a decade marred by political assassinations, sharp racial conflict, massive domestic protests against the longest and most unpopular war in U.S. history, by a political scandal of such proportions that it destroyed an administration elected less than two years earlier with the largest plurality ever recorded—the notion that this had become a "peaceful social Utopia" seems ludicrous.
The extent and the rapidity of the loss of confidence are____________________