When the Left reemerged in the 1960s, moderate-to-conservative programs to instill patriotism and citizenship faced a rising cynicism about the beneficence of American institutions and values. A mood of obstreperous dissent prompted by discontent with limited progress toward racial equality, by the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, and by other fracture lines in American society crowded out the civic lessons which once so weighted public discourse.
Yet the decline of cold-war patriotic and civic pageantry resulted from more than simply the advent of the oppositional politics of the 1960s. The political culture of the 1950s carried several elements of its own self- destruction. Their defenders hoped that the virtues of the American way of life might help subvert the Soviet system. In the end, so they did, but they also had an ironic subverting effect upon the American system too. Many of the blessings of American life tolled off by their celebrants gradually, cumulatively, made celebration harder to achieve. Even in the amenable 1950s, patriotic and civic activists encountered and complained about obstacles to their work. Their labors came to seem Sisyphian. Barely did they conclude a project--even a successful one--before they discovered a pressing need to renew their efforts.