- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

The dissed decade

"The '70s are widely and mistakenly seen as an embarrassment; portrayed in films, magazines, books and television shows as an empty-minded, tasteless decade characterized by bellbottoms, barbiturates, disco music.

"Yet the figures who defined the period, such as John Lennon, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith and Jean-Michel Basquiat, are more widely respected now than then… . Many of the most radical ideas of the '60s took root and became facts in the '70s and continue to influence the way we view and live life today… .

"The '70s was the first decade in which American men were encouraged to have emotions. 'Trust your feelings, Luke,' says Obi-Wan Kenobi at the peak of 'Star Wars' …

"The most successful TV comedy show of the decade, 'Saturday Night Live,' commenced its long, highly successful run from New York City [in 1975]… .

"The disco scene reached its zenith with the opening of Studio 54 in April 1977. Studio 54 revolutionized the concept of the club by introducing the velvet rope across its door. Nobody could enter unless chosen by the doorman.

"Although 54 was associated prominently with disco, ironically in the end it did more to kill rather than support it by taking what was essentially a lower-class urban music and turning it into a 'limited to only the best people' style."

Victor Bockris, writing on "Visions of the Seventies," in the January/February issue of Gadfly

'Critical spirit'

"[O]ne unique characteristic of the Greeks … more than anything else explains their innovative brilliance: the 'critical spirit,' the way they made everything they encountered an object of thought to be discussed and analyzed free from the constraints of religion and government.

"This self-consciousness about human life, this power of abstraction is at best only implicit elsewhere in the ancient world. Only the Greeks made rational discrimination and 'criticism' explicit… .

"Critical consciousness and its public expression were what most differentiated the Greeks from their neighbors, even when their own actual behavior was typical of other ancient peoples."

Bruce Thornton, from his new book, "Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization"

'Authoritarian idea'

"The United States is a constitutional republic, not a regime intended to embody 'the will of the people.' After a bitter and acrimonious election campaign and a crisis that threw the election of the president to the House of Representatives, Thomas Jefferson was elected president [in 1800] after 36 ballots.

"In his first inaugural address … he exhorted his fellow citizens to rededicate themselves to the principles of our government… . Jefferson rightly emphasized the republican and representative nature of American government, founded on respect for law rather than on arbitrary power, whether popular or autocratic.

"In sharp contrast, we have heard much about 'the will of the people' [since the November election]. Vice President [Al] Gore appealed to 'the will of the people' in his interview with CNN's John King on Nov. 29, 2000, and his campaign manager, William Daley, even went so far as to state on Nov. 11 that 'if the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president.' …

"Talk of the will of the people is profoundly misleading. Indeed, the idea of the will of the people is a deeply authoritarian idea completely at odds with the idea of government under law. It derives, not from the American Founders … but from the radical authoritarian and anti-liberal philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who postulated a 'general will' of the people as the foundation of the state."

John Samples, Tom G. Palmer and Patrick Basham, writing on "Lessons of Election 2000," a Cato Institute Briefing Paper


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