“Don’t worry about when or why someone loves you. Just take the love; husband it; return it. Good arrives and we kick its tires and wonder if a better model is around the corner. Take the good whenever it comes and from any quarter. Good is in a startlingly short supply.” – Tennessee Williams
Few people have been able to understand, or to express their understanding of how love functions in the real, not idyllic, world better than Tennessee Williams, as all of his plays and other writings exhibit.
But he fell out of favor with the architects of our culture many years before he ceased being so damned creative and insightful. His masterpieces like “Glass Menagerie,” “Streetcar Named Desire,” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” put meat on the bones of America’s post-World War II renaissance of moral generosity.
By the end of the 1960s, however, it was not Williams’ whose works had lost their luster, but the culture that was receiving them. In fact, he was getting ever more creative in his work, but by the dawn of the 1960s, the mood in the land was shifting away from his compassion, and of those like him who during the last 1940s and 1950s had adopted hard-biting but passionate romanticism, the creative work of filmmaker Frank Capra, the best new musicals on Broadway and the literary and philosophical works of existentialist writers and thinkers.
They were being replaced by a new and sullen mood, a mood of cynicism and nihilistic despair. Suddenly artists whose works did not wreak of this were considered irrelevant and sadly out of season. Williams continued to exhibit his amazing compassion in his works, but now no one cared. He was carted off to the pasture, so to speak, so much so that when he choked and died in the early 1970s, some insisted he’d committed suicide, despite the fact his briefcase was filled with still new magnificent works.
This cultural shift, I have argued, led to the rise of Trumpism in our culture, a very serious threat to democracy, which to survive requires strong doses of optimism, love and compassion.
Some anti-democratic demagogues figured out along the course of the 20th century that happiness and love are prerequisites for the generous spirit that must undergird democratic institutions for them to flourish. They set about to reshape our culture by canceling such things. Authoritarianism, fascism and totalitarian spirit must be devoid of generosity and love, they rightly surmised.
These forces had hated FDR’s New Deal, which created Social Security and so much more. They sided with Hitler and Mussolini, engendering a mood of angry defiance in elements of the U.S. population to substitute for love and romance, which they insisted were remnants of a naivety. They fueled social and racial differences within the population, fueling flames of anger and hatred, using them to overwhelm sentimentality and compassion.
In the 1970s, this movement became called “postmodernism” to adapt to this end. Figures like the French philosophical fascist Michel Foucault were elevated, invited to speaking tours across the U.S. and to residence in the hotbed of the 1970s counterculture in Berkeley, Calif.
He was a major contributor to the spirit of the “God is dead” movement of that decade. He encouraged the university students that he lectured in that seminally important era to reject love as a relic of liberal sentimentality and to recognize that there are only two valid forces in culture, pleasure and power.
In the same decade came the rise of the “human potential” movement that worked to strip people of their senses of compassion and obligation for others and to replace it with a radical selfishness.
Thousands of cults arose in this period offering alternative realities altogether for their followers, all based on this notion of radical selfishness, no matter how they were packaging it as something else entirely.
“Anti-cult” so-called experts miss this core element of the brainwashed cults of that era, which was their appeal to the ego of the followers, to offer them the “special knowledge” that would elevate them above all others and by so doing use them to achieve their purposes.
(To be continued)