From The '60s to The 70s: Dissent and Discovery

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for many middle-class Americans in the '60s: "Men would suddenly realize that they have no life any more, no freedom of spirit, no freedom of will and personality, that somebody has stolen all that from them. People will become depressed and bored." Many protesters of the '60s revealed a deep-seated boredom, as was suggested by Abbie Hoffman's catch phrase, "revolution for the hell of it." Boredom, usually underrated as a force in history, is not a frivolous issue. It is the result not merely of prosperity but of spiritual emptiness. Nothing may be more boring perhaps than the absence of God, and much of the discontent among youth was basically religious, though they may not have recognized it as such. As Irving Howe, editor of Dissent, recently noted: "There is a built-in frustration in the activity of the radicals—and this may be one of the reasons for their rage, namely, that what they really want is transcendence, or a mystical experience, which is not available through either reform or revolutionary politics."

The '60s saw an almost unprecedented rise in public violence in the U.S. Romantic revolution could not be blamed for all of it; there was the violence of blacks tormented by ghetto life, the violence of officialdom overreacting to protest. Still, although Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers were gunned down by calculating killers, it is plausible to argue that the Kennedy brothers were assassinated by romantics gone awry. Many strands of the romanticism were tied together in an ugly knot in the Sharon Tate murder: victims who exemplified an affluent hedonism; alleged murderers from a mystic hippie cult. The cult of violence can be kin to romanticism, as was shown by the 19th century-bred anarchists, action poets of revolution who assassinated several European heads of state as well as President William McKinley. In the '60s, at least some youth were romantically attracted to violence; it was a persistent theme of much rock music; it was a factor in the politics of S.D.S. extremists.

Where does romanticism lead? In one of its incarnations, the romantic fascination with myth, tribe and race led, ultimately, to the barbarities of Hitler. If the "traditional checks on human nature should be removed," wrote Critic Irving Babbitt in his classic Rousseau and Romanticism, "what emerges in the real world is not the mythical will to brotherhood but the ego and its fundamental will to power." Yet romanticism also reconfirms the value of the individual. In many ways, the movement expands personal freedom, and the strength of liberal democracy owes a considerable debt to 19th century romantics, who championed civil liberties and extension of the suffrage.

The necessity of domestication

Ultimately, if romanticism is not to lose itself either in anarchy or in mere art, it must be politically tamed and domesticated. That may be a sad process, but it has proved necessary before.

If the romantic revolution continues, and it is hard to imagine that it will not, its adherents will have to confront what Raymond Aron calls the "constraints of fact—the need for organization, for a technical hierarchy, for a techno-bureaucracy." These are the "givens" of current civilization that cannot be dreamed, wished or shouted away. That civilization, in its turn, will have to

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