Nostalgia for the 1940s and 50s


For David Brooks, 1950s America remains a time of peace and civility and unity. Except it wasn't.

For David Brooks, 1940s America remains a time of peace and civility and unity. Except it wasn't.

I was making this point in class earlier today and I had missed David Brooks’ eulogy for the lost era of unity and common purpose and modesty in today’s New York Times, so it’s good to see a nice post on it. I’ve never understood how anyone can be so lacking in historical knowledge as to make any claims about the by-gone eras of the US. The only way you can make any claims about the greatness of the past is if you literally block out I’m-not-hearing-you style the history of oppression—still ongoing—in this country. (Of course, it was the bad old days of the 90% upper income tax rates, so I’m not sure how Brooks think that so-called unity came about with all that class warfare [for those who can’t read snark, like the Randians writing me from yesterday, that’s sarcasm].)


David Brooks on the decline of the West:

When you look from today back to 1945, you are looking into a different cultural epoch, across a sort of narcissism line. Humility, the sense that nobody is that different from anybody else, was a large part of the culture then.

Now Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing on the Atlantic Monthly site:

Part of this is Brooks critique of the past half-century, or rather half-critique. From Brooks’ perspective, the problem is that Sonia Sotomayor didn’t go to school in 50s or early 60s, not that her chosen school didn’t admit women in the 50s and 60s. …
That’s because the conditions are, themselves, built on American immodesty. I’m thinking of Jack Johnson winning the championship, and modest Americans launching pogroms against their fellow immodest Americans. I’m thinking about Birth of a Nation’s defense of treason, and a sitting president offering his immodest endorsement. I’m thinking about a country, circa 1850, whose politicians lorded over one of the last slave societies in the known world, and immodestly argued that it was a gift from God.

Even Brooks view of the “Greatest Generation” is myopic. In 1948 Strom Thurmond authored the segregationist Dixiecrat charter, while immodestly fathering a daughter with a black women. In 1946, Isaac Woodward, a veteran of World War II, was beaten and blinded–while in uniform–by South Carolina police. The police were prosecuted, but the jury acquitted them, and a court-room full of Americans broke out in immodest applause.

This is history through the veil, again. It’s virtually impossible to be a black person and believe that Americans were somehow more humble in the past. Our very existence springs from an act of immodesty. I can’t even begin to imagine the Native American read on this one.