Walter Russell Mead has a nice piece over at his blog criticizing the Boomers for their lack of moral acuity and political will. Accusing them of generational (and personal) narcissism, he writes:

We are the generation that accepted the behavior of the multi-millionaire CEO with the trophy wife.  We are the generation that failed to protect its children from a tide of filth and debasing popular entertainment without parallel in the history of the world.  We are a generation that deliberately and cynically passed the cost of its retirement down to its children.  We are a generation that preferred and rewarded financial engineering over business construction.  We lost control of the borders and failed to make provisions for the illegal immigrants our fecklessness allowed into the country.  We embraced a free trade agenda that accelerated the hollowing out of manufacturing and took no thought about what to build in place of the industrial economy we condemned.  We shopped until we dropped, and then we got up and shopped some more.  On a scale unprecedented in American history, we broke the most solemn vows human beings can make in order to pursue something we deemed much more important than honor and fidelity.  We chased chimeras and started at fantasies but failed to take sober measures to prevent a clearly visible and, once upon a time, easily preventable budget crunch.

Strong words, but difficult to gainsay. It’s an interesting example of form meeting content, for it seems a Boomer obsession to obsess about Boomers, whether they love themselves or hate themselves.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.


  1. Don’t worry. The boomers will all be dead soon enough, and the republic will return to it’s default virtuous keel.

  2. I’m not so sure about that, Mr. Haas–the bit about the Boomers dying so soon. Most are a few years away from retirement, let alone death. And I find it hard to believe that a group who seem to believe everyone their is entitled to a $1,000,000 401(k) and a lifetime supply of Viagara will go quietly.

    Put another way: I don’t think we, the under 40 (“the young”) have the luxury of “waiting out” all this prior bad behavior.

  3. As a Boomer (and the proverbial exception to the Rule), I take some exception to the hyperbolic over-generalisation that has been cropping up over how terribly evil we all are.

    I give you, in the order in which my mind is screaming at me in protest, the Robber Barons, Hollywood and the decadence of the “entertainment industries” of Paris and Berlin between the Wars, Victorian England (and the sexual pecadilloes which, due to discretion, most histories leave out, yet were common knowledge amongst the stiff upper- and middle class), and the so-called Silent Generation…of which Helen Gurley Brown, Hugh Heffner, Betty Friedan, and others are robust members.

    We didn’t invent The Pill, Playboy, or Cosmo Magazine, among other things associated with the Beat Generation.

    It’s not all us. Nor is it exclusively us. The materialism of which we are known is only unprecedented because of what is/was America’s prosperity…for which we can make no claim; we inherited it, thanks to the heroes who were our Parents.

    And if we have lost our moral grounding, who, truly is to blame? Where might we have learnt our social and spiritual mores? From books? School? Our Parents? Might the books have been missing some important components, such as truth versus relativism? Might schools have been vascillating between something so basic as phonics versus see-and-say? Might our Parents have been busy drinking martinis and swapping around, quietly, in the newly minted suburbs?

    “Peyton Place” and “Valley of the Dolls” weren’t Boomer novels, now, were they???

    And don’t get me started on what passes for Church any more.

    I think we need a bit of balance here. Each generation has it’s roses and it’s brickbats. Just because we live in pessimistic times doesn’t mean we are all “half-full”…or would that be “half-crocked”?

  4. I think Haas is just making sarcasm.

    And I agree with that sentiment. This is not some short term generational disaster. We had similar attitudes to those of the 1960’s widespread in the 1920’s. And both emerged in that same context of material progress coming to it’s apotheosis.

  5. The so-called Silent Generation…of which Helen Gurley Brown, Hugh Heffner, Betty Friedan, and others are robust members. We didn’t invent The Pill, Playboy, or Cosmo Magazine…It’s not all us. Nor is it exclusively us. The materialism of which we are known is only unprecedented because of what is/was America’s prosperity…for which we can make no claim; we inherited it, thanks to the heroes who were our Parents. And if we have lost our moral grounding, who, truly is to blame? Where might we have learnt our social and spiritual mores?…Might our Parents have been busy drinking martinis and swapping around, quietly, in the newly minted suburbs?

    At 43 and a proud Generation Xer whose parents were among those born before the Baby Boom began, I’ve also taken more than my fair share of pleasure bashing the Baby Boom generation over the years, but Laura’s comment here is really dead-on. Those born after WWII emerged into a world where the moral core of much of what had been achieved in American society beforehand had already been hollowed out–mostly (and here I’m going to sound like our resident isolationist curmudgeon, Bill Kauffmann, not to mention Wendell Berry) by World War II itself: its massive disruption of localities and traditions and mores as tens of millions of men and women were thrown into a collective cause, as worthy as that cause may well have been. This is a hard truth, surely, especially in the face of the idolization of the “greatest generation,” but still: how many of our grandparents, coming home from war, or making their way through a world being changed by it, could really find the ability and capacity to believe in and follow through on the patriotic, self-sacrificing platitudes which we usually associate with them, in the face of an economy and society that didn’t look at all like it did a mere generations earlier? The more I look at the arc of the 20th century, the more I think that novelists like Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller were more right than wrong in describing the consequences of “The Good War.”

  6. Mr. Fox is entirely correct. As for the war itself, I believe I’ve recommended before Michael C.C. Adams’ “The Best War Ever: America and World War II,” which deals with some of these issues, as well as others. And, truth be told, you can push this back as far as you’d like. Where’s your virtuous republic? The Gilded Age? Southern plantations? The Lowell Mills? How about all those Americans looting and burning in Canada in 1812–where, in fact, they were joined by Canadians from the farms themselves as they looted the townsfolk? Or what about the Americans trading with the British during the Revolution.

    Maybe it’s only among the pre-modern and the oppressed where virtue remained? Those Cherokees on the Trail of Tears–surely there a kind of adversity tempered honor must have existed.

    Of course, those Cherokees had assimilated into Georgian society, and were slaveholders. They took their slaves with them to the territory, and later fought for the Confederates. “My family, red and black.”

    Of course, of late, the Cherokees have expelled their African-American members. Something to do with proceeds from casinos, perhaps . . . ?

  7. Also, and btw, Professor Walter McDougall has a two-part essay which touches on issues of comparative moral-cultural necrosis, elsewhere on this blog. Folk should read it.

  8. I don’t consider all “Boomers” to be fungible, nor do I consider them indisrciminately “rotten.” To do so would be lazy, at best, and arrogant, at worst. And I certainly don’t find them to be members of a radical departure from an unbroken paragon of American virtue. But I do find it useful to consider them within a particular historical context, similar to studying the Renaissance–regardless of whether it represented a “rebirth.”

    The Boomers represent, in many ways, the fruition of what Americans had been “building” toward for centuries: wealth, power, and “equality.” Those characteristics were exacerbated by the boom in births, (combined with the advances in medical care which prolonged lifespans), so the number of Americans grew sharply. More Americans, feeling better about themselves, and having more money to spend unsurprisingly leads to increased consumerism–and any number of other consequences.

    So while it may be unfair to blame the Boomers for their excesses, it is very easy to resent them for it. Maybe it’s their parents’ fault; maybe it’s the Founders fault; maybe it’s no one’s “fault.”

    But those of us under 35–even if we’re not “occupying” any place (seriously, OWS, get over yourselves and take a temp office job; you’ll be OK)–are mad, scared, and confused. Is this is “end” of “American greatness?” Is it no longer reasonable to assume that our children will grow up more prosperous than we did? Has the day of reckoning come for our nation’s collective sins? Honestly, I have no idea; I just hope and pray for the best.

    All children rebel against authority as they grow up. Will my generation be the first to “rebel” by being more conservative? I sure hope so.

  9. Laura above mentions, “And don’t get me started about what passes for Church anymore.” I notice the capital “C” in Church which usually means “Catholic.” So why not get started on “what passes for Church anymore?” As a pre-boomer (1944) and Catholic convert, I couldn’t recognize my country when I returned from a year as a Marine in Vietnam in the early ’60’s. Sometime back, I began to suspect that everything behind the strip mining of our culture and clear cutting of our economy is somehow directly related to our Faith: the loss thereof – “what passes for Church.” Especially “what has passed for Church” in the last 45 years.

  10. First, Vatican II, then, mortgage-backed securities. That’s awesome. But, wait, could we have had Vatican II without Vatican I? Isn’t that the real culprit–introducing the very notion that humans can tamper with that which is eternal?

  11. Gee, where would the academics be without the perfidious Baby boomer paying inflated tuition for their children to sit and listen to yammering academics?

    Fortunately, some were well worth the money but most were not.

    Some kids went into permanent hock for the charade and I therefor give them a lot of leeway for their “anarchistic ” tendencies.

  12. I’ve read some things by WRM that I liked, but this strikes me as rather lame. Of all the ways to categorize people, the year of their birth is one of the least useful. Yes, I’m a baby-boomer. Yes, I was a friggin idiot for a few years in the late ’60s, and didn’t fully recover till the early ’70s. But: sentence after sentence in that piece says “we” did this or failed to do that for the past 40-plus years. What do you mean “we”, kemosabe? I’ve been working full-time and raising a family for most of the years since 1970. My mortgage is almost paid off, and I’ve never been out of the state of Alabama for more than a year or so, and I’m a practicing Catholic. Don’t blame me for the crimes of New York financiers or Hollywood sleazeballs–especially the latter, which I tried desperately and hopelessly to insulate my children from. I am a mild-mannered person, but I would be tempted to slug someone who blamed me to my face for the tide of pornography and near-pornography.

    Aside from the logical sloppiness of these arguments, they’re frequently factually wrong. Very few of the figures from the ’60s generally held up as the initiators of boomer corruption are actually boomers. Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Hendrix, Joplin, Bernardine Dorn, Bill Ayers…all born before 1946. If people who go on these anti-boomer tirades would bother to do the math, they would notice that most boomers were still in, or barely out of, their teens when the counter-culture exploded. Moreover, as the excellent first comment on Mead’s piece says, hippies were a very small minority. Who portrayed them as the face of a generation? Older liberals, that’s who.

    That a cultural decline has been going on for some time I don’t dispute. But blaming it on the boomers is simplistic at very best. One last note and I’ll end my rant: the first issue of Playboy hit the stands in 1953.

  13. Another good post refuting this obsession with the baby boom.

    I don’t think any of us should shirk responsibility fro the current situation, but that is precisely the issue: the youth of today are just as adventurous in their love for fornication and secularism as previous generations have been. And the drive towards post modernity began long before 1945.

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