22.2.18

SOCIAL ORDERS ARE EMERGENT.

Any saecular order emerges as a consequence of collective actions, organized or otherwise, to deal with the most pressing challenges of particularly hard times.  Eventually, though, what worked, more or less, to settle those challenges, proves untenable to a new set of challenges, even challenges not particularly pressing.

Thus, first, it might be with the late Billy Graham.  There will never be another Billy Graham, because the world that made him possible is gone.
The cultural context in which Graham became one of the most important religious figures in American history was radically different than the one that exists today.

“The America that emerged from World War II and the Great Depression was exceptionally unified and cohesive, and possessed of an unusual confidence in large institutions,” Yuval Levin wrote in his 2016 book, “The Fractured Republic.”

“But almost immediately after the war, [America] began a long process of unwinding and fragmenting,” Levin wrote.

And so, the fact that American Christianity hasn’t given rise to a leader like Graham over the last two or three decades isn’t just a result of the fracturing of evangelicalism into different factions — the slick prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen, the strident right-wing triumphalism of Graham’s son Franklin and the theologically precise new Calvinists, to name just a few.

And so, the fact that American Christianity hasn’t given rise to a leader like Graham over the last two or three decades isn’t just a result of the fracturing of evangelicalism into different factions — the slick prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen, the strident right-wing triumphalism of Graham’s son Franklin and the theologically precise new Calvinists, to name just a few.

It’s also a story about the fragmentation of American life — arguably a reversion to the norm in American history rather than a departure from it.

The culture of mid-20th-century America was unusually cohesive and uniform. The mindset of most Americans was oriented toward joining groups and being part of something bigger.
Fragmentation is not a bad thing per se. How else get the mutation, adaptation, and selection by which tentative steps toward a new social order possibly better suited to objective conditions emerge?

That uniformity of the mid-century America that Worked(TM) might have been in part a response to perceived urgency (Defeat the Axis!  House, feed and clothe a third of the Nation!) and in part an extension of the advances in modern living (Mass-produced automobiles! Standard shoe sizes!  Uniformly delicious hamburgers!).  Cohesion and uniformity appeared to confer evolutionary advantage in ordinary life, and how else deal with regimented brown-shirts, and later, red cadres?

The down-side, dear reader, is that such a mass mobilization, permitting regime change in Rome, then in Berlin, then in Tokyo, and in a different form in Moscow, also gave the Powers that Be a tool not necessarily suited to more mundane challenges.  "It is difficult, sometimes, to wrap one’s mind around the extent of the savagery Uncle Sam has unleashed on the world to advance and maintain its global supremacy."  Thus, to one commentator of the left, perhaps there are upsides to America First.
I recently reviewed a manuscript on the rise of Trump written by a left-liberal American sociologist. Near the end of this forthcoming and mostly excellent and instructive volume, the author finds it “worrisome” that other nations see the U.S. “abdicating its role as the world’s leading policeman” under Trump—and that, “given what we have seen so far from the [Trump] administration, U.S. hegemony appears to be on shakier ground than it has been in a long time.”

For the purposes of this report, I’ll leave aside the matter of whether Trump is, in fact, speeding the decline of U.S. global power (he undoubtedly is) and how he’s doing that to focus instead on a very different question: What would be so awful about the end of “the American Era”—the seven-plus decades of U.S. global economic and related military supremacy between 1945 and the present? Why should the world mourn the “premature” end of the “American Century”?
On the lighter side ... this is not topic drift, I promise ... composers are rediscovering the value of structure in music.  Start in the composition schools.
Real requirements for composition faculty at universities and conservatories. If I took over, I’d demand first a simple 32 bar tune in AABA form with eight bar phrases. Just harmony and melody. If they couldn’t pass that test, bye. Then, if they want to head the department, they better be able to compose a four voice fugue, otherwise, hit the road, Jack.
Amusingly, composer George Pepper suggests there's no real reason to issue another recording of Beethoven's Choral Symphony, which happens to be what Music Channel is playing as I type.  But the simple structure of many of Beethoven's symphonies might be just the thing that students trained first in harmony and melody, then in form and counterpoint would write.  Not tenure music that nobody listens to.  "Nobody wants to listen to the meandering, atonal noise offered up as a substitute for the thrilling beauty of great music."

Now, to pull the threads together.  The rediscovery of form in music is one sort of green shoot.  "Remodernism is rising to take the place of crumbling Postmodernism."  We'll see.

Reduced international adventurism by the United States, particularly in the regime-changing form might be another.  "The U.S. is not just the top menace only to peace on Earth."  Or perhaps, that will mean a new set of menaces to peace on Earth, to which a future alliance involving the United States will have to emerge.

Finally, a new preacher with the appeal and gravitas of a Billy Graham?  "America is now the land of endless options. But perhaps the introduction of infinite variety has reduced the possibility for greatness."

The new greatness will have to emerge, in response to a constellation of objective conditions different from those coming after the War.

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