1967-1997

By Bethell, Tom | The American Spectator, December 1997 | Go to article overview

1967-1997


Bethell, Tom, The American Spectator


Thirty years.. .I still have my 7th (1967) edition of Paul Samuelson's Economics, the best-selling textbook of its day. The Nobel Prize-winner had a section comparing the economic performance of the Soviet Union and the United States. All experts "seem to agree," he wrote, that the Soviet Union's "postWorld War II growth rates have been considerably greater than ours." A chart showed the growth of the two economies, extrapolated into the future. They appeared to intersect around 1991, the year the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The Soviet GNP had all along been grossly exaggerated, and the experts were almost unanimously wrong. Socialism was not a viable system after all.

In the recent "whither conservatism" discussions, the end of Communism is often cited as a reason for us to celebrate, not grumble. But the triumph of welfare state liberalism is less than inspiring. And the recent flurry about the end of the welfare entitlement should be viewed much more skeptically than it has been. The U.S. welfare system will no doubt turn out to be as impervious to change as it has been in Western Europe.

The Soviet government collapsed because Communism impoverished the country. In contrast, free-market welfare states appear unreformable. The recipient classes have the votes to protect their benefits. Military spending has fallen to between one-half and one-third its level in 1967, as a percentage of the budget. Yet the federal government consumes as large a share of the GNP as ever. Which means that social spending has soared. Social programs will continue to flourish.

The great goal of socialism, whether in the Soviet Union, East Germany, or elsewhere, has always been the re-making of human nature. The most avid pursuers of that goal today are to be found in the United States. Thirty years ago the great task that the intelligentsia was still pursuing was the creation of New Soviet Man. Today, it is New Sensitive Male-and the elimination of gender differences to the maximum extent possible.

If that sounds like fanaticism, well, new creeds do tend to breed it. The U.S. military is the laboratory of choice. Conveniently for the social engineers, it is a place where experimental subjects are obliged to obey orders. The experiment will fail, of course, just as the Soviet version did, but it could ruin the military in the process. I suspect that it is already doing so. The 3year path from Khe Sanh to Tailhook has been very much downhill.

Nineteen sixty-seven famously saw the counter-culture emerge from its chrysalis, with the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco as the emblematic center. Since then? It has become institutionalized in the universities. Its attitudes have become so embedded that conservatives realized a few years ago they were in a Culture War. It's all a part of the aggressive war on normality waged by the intelligentsia in their drive to divide and rule the country. David Gelernter's new book Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber has some interesting reflections on this. On the offensive as always, leftist intellectuals immediately accused conservatives who had merely noticed we were in a war of declaring that war.

There has also been an attempt to inculcate these attitudes irreversibly with campus thought control, speech codes, sensitivity-training reeducation centers, and a criminal code of hate crimes. There are more than a few similarities to the Soviet system; not surprisingly, because that, too, was the brain-child of the intellectuals. It's true that the anti-culture of the intelligentsia has an increasing number of critics. A few academics are beginning to concede that traditional mores had endured for a reason. "Dan Quayle was right," said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. Children are much better off with two parents. But the illegitimacy rate and single-parent households have soared since the Summer of Love. The social outcome continues to unravel in the direction launched in the 196o's. …

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