Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I suppose the sixties are over after all

Jane Jacobs and John Kenneth Galbraith died last week. It is apropraite that they should have died so close together. They were practically of an age, as they say. Together they represented two of the the great cornerstones of liberalism, two books published almost on top of one another, that described the liberal ideal in clear, beatiful, and wrenching prose. Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" from 1961 and Galbraith's "The Afluent Society" from 1958 were, among other things, peans to an older, "Big Tent" sort of liberalism, a liberalism that existed before identity politics and various "isms" became the main focus of the liberal ideal. Their efforts to promote equality, understanding, and tollerence led liberals to embrace a "stick up for the downtrodden" ideal. Everyone who had been confined, constrained, and marginalized by the old patriarchy was suddenly an oppressed mass who had to be championed, and femenism, afirmative action, gay rights, environmentalism, the rights of the developmentally disabled, imigrant rights and old people's rights, suddenly became the focus of the liberals and of the Democratic party. Everyone not only had rights but they needed protection from the old society and their sufferings for thousands of years had to be redressed. By the way, I agree with all of that. The problem is that most people in the US didn't. Not really. They may have given lip service to it in 1972, especially after Nixon became the poster-child for every ill we liberals laid at the feet of conservativism, but they didn't care that much. And, as if 100 million little Alan Bakkes started to sprout all over America, people began to realize that more jobs for women and minorities and imigrants might mean fewer for straight white men. and Liberalism lost site of the fact (or like me, simply took it for granted that everyone understood) that we were supposed to be fightin for everybody--including straight white men.

All those straigt white men who started voting republican in droves.

And it started in California, right at the moment the 60s peaked, that brief time between the Free Speech sit in at Sprowl Plaza in Berkley (California) and the Summer of Love in San Francisco (California), when Regan was elected to restore order (in California). Soon Dirty Harry was roaming the streets of San Francisco (California). Sure, the counter-culture lived on for awhile. The As and the Raiders and the Warriors, counter-culture icons of a sort, would rule the sporting world from Oakland (California), while Gay Rights would flourish in San Francisco (California) and Hollywood (California) would swing hard to the left. Jerry Brown, for my money still the greatest policitian and statesman of my lifetime, and the one man I'd vote for or campaing for above all others, was elected governor of California. But the death-penalty backlash and the tax rebelion would both start in California and would bring him down, and off in Davis (California) Bakke's suit against the University of California was the beginning of the end for afirmative action. And before you knew it Regan was president.

And Regan and Atwatter were suddenly pitching the big tent themselves.

The same tent that Galbraith and Jacobs had helped to errect.

Galbraith argued that a rising tide does not necessarily float all boats, and that corporate America had a strangle-hold on society. A few of his obituaries--notably the LA Times--claimed he was flat out wrong about this. But I guess they've never tried to cross a street in Manhattan without tripping over a Starbucks. Galbraith predecited the post-modern Wall-Mart/Microsoft/Starbucks world back in the 50s. And he was right on.

Jacobs believed in cities--not suburbs--as the life generating machines of 20th Century living. She believed in the preservation of the diverse city block, with small buildings and big buildings, small business and real people living and talking and coexisting. To her, density and diversity were the keys to a healthy society. Her theories, still much more acceptable than Galbraiths are today, gave rise to "New Urbanism," developments menat to stress walking and public transportation, porch swings and community.

Both of them championed liberal causes.

And both of them are now dead.

We lost Betty Friedan and Revernad William Sloane Coffin this year too. Droppig like flies they are now.

Well, nothing wrong with that. Their time is past. It is time for new people to cary the torch. But I wonder--will two books (make it three: let's add Friedan's *Femenine Mystique* in their too, though that was one of the first salvos of identity politics) ever again change the world and cause such a stir as these books did?


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