JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 7, 2003 – For decades, John Leo has encouraged Americans to think more analytically about the direction of culture through his writing in U. S. News & World Report, Time, and the New York Times. At the Feb. 7 Union Forum, he delivered a speech titled “Cultural Decline and What We Can Do About It” which outlined the current condition of American culture and what can be expected in coming years.
As a nationally distributed columnist, Leo receives a substantial amount of mail from readers. “I’ve been struck by how mournful so much of it has been lately,” he said. “They wind up saying, ‘What’s happened to the country?’ I feel the same way.” He cited extreme violence in popular music and drama as occurrences which would have been unthinkable in years past but have become common practice today.
Leo traced these trends to the sixties. “The mainstream was under assault,” he said. “Anybody who was not in the mainstream looked really good.” This led to a celebration of every outsider, he believes, regardless of merit.
This continues in the current push for diversity from the left which, according to Leo, is negated by a double standard. “Where are the fundamentalist Christians? Where are the Turkish immigrants? Where are the conservative Jews? That’s not the kind of diversity they want,” he said.
The sixties counter-culture also derided the notion of objective truth, Leo said. He related his experience when speaking on journalistic objectivity to an audience of journalists. They reacted with sighs of disdain. “We have just graduated another generation of journalists that doesn’t believe in objectivity,” he said.
Leo believes that the pendulum is swinging back toward traditional values, however. Recent poll numbers reflect that generation X is rejecting the relativism of the baby boomers. “Young people are tired of the instability,” said Leo. “A conservative ethic is actually taking hold.”
The boomer generation is also becoming more conservative, Leo said. He believes they are experiencing regret regarding the impact their actions have had on the culture and their own children.
The tragedy of Sept. 11 is also having an effect, lessening the focus on identity politics and increasing national unity. It also drives the culture toward more traditional values such as heroism, patriotism and valor.
Leo believes that a return to more traditional, conservative values is not just possible, but likely. It could, however, take as many decades to recover as it has to decline. Leo encourages conservatives to be as aggressive and consistent in working to shape the culture as those of the counter-culture did. “There’s no easy way out of this,” he said.