Markets Triumphant, 1980-2000
Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 marked the beginning of a new conservative era in the United States. In 2000, the end of this era was not yet in sight. In some ways, the Reagan Right attempted to restrain boundless consumption. Like their Prohibitionist forbears, this new generation of conservatives saw the danger of addictive desire in kicks-seeking drug users and sex-obsessed youths; the 1960s had unleashed a self-destructive indulgence, symbolized by the murderous cult of Charles Manson and the anarchic Altamont rock festival. The liberation of the libido from work and family responsibility, as preached by countercultural radicals, seemed to upset the critical balance of discipline and freedom that made capitalism succeed. The Right accused liberals of promising access to the American bounty to people who had contributed too little to prosperity and blamed the Left for raising impossible expectations of a bottomless cornucopia. These new conservatives saw the need to preserve family from the panderers of pleasure, yet they also encouraged materialism by denying the collective rights of consumers and tearing down the walls that held back the market from seeping into every corner of the American psyche and society. The result was a consumerism that moved even farther away from social cohesion and reality and toward an enveloping personal fantasy. If the culture of the 1960s generation contributed to a new, fragmenting, individualistic consumption, the unfettered market ideology of the Reagan generation only furthered that trend.
The New Right attempted to rein in consumerist desire, but only when it had to be satisfied by an “entitlement” or was expressed outside