Christopher Caldwell, a writer of strong evocative prose laced with wit, is a conservative journalist of note whose copy, reflecting high intelligence and a reporter’s ability to analyze facts on the ground, is welcome at a broad ideological spectrum of publications, running from Slate and The New York Times to The Claremont Review of Books and The Wall Street Journal.
A senior editor at The Weekly Standard, he took his basic training at Bob Tyrrell’s The American Spectator, the training ground of many of today’s noted journalists and commentators, where he became assistant managing editor, working closely with Wladyslaw Pleszczynski, one of the three figures to whom Mr. Caldwell dedicates this book.
For much of the past decade, Mr. Caldwell has written from Europe, reporting on the upheavals upending politics-as-usual there, confounding globalists and end-of-history prognosticators, and resurrecting nationalism, which they assumed they’d stamped out. But as it turned out, people seemed to prefer to keep their nations’ customs and traditions as they were, rather than letting them be radically transformed to conform to some unworkable vision of the ideal society.
In Europe, encouraging increased Muslim cross-border immigration was one such vision, a crack-brained idea making no sense whatsoever (unless your end is to destroy nations), and the subject of Mr. Caldwell’s previous book, “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West,” called by The Economist “an important book as well as a provocative one: the best statement to date of the pessimist’s position on Islamic immigration in Europe.”
In ”The Age of Entitlement,” Mr. Caldwell turns his attention to his own country, beginning with 1963, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the ascension of LBJ, his totally unhinged approach to governing, escalating the war in Vietnam beyond all reason, pushing through monumental piles of legislation under the rubric of the Great Society that would never have passed except for being sold as tribute to a fallen leader, then total collapse – the war, the Great Society — LBJ was driven out of the White House by the protesters he helped create, and he fled, dumping the whole flaming mess into the lap of his successor.
But his legacy lived on. During his tenure, LBJ, possessed of a monumental ego coupled with the need to prove his superiority to the best and brightest he’d inherited from JFK, did incalculable damage for what could be justified as the best of reasons. This was especially true in the area of civil rights.
“Civil rights ideology, especially when it hardened into a body of legislation, became … the model for an entire new system of constantly churning political reform. Definitions of what was required in the name of justice and humanity broadened. Racial integration turned into the all-embracing ideology of diversity” — to be complemented by the neo-racist con called affirmative action.
“Women’s liberation moved on to a reconsideration of what it meant to be a woman (and, eventually a man). Immigration became grounds for reconsidering whether an American owed his primary allegiance to his country or whether other forms of belonging were more important.”
The reforms of the ’60s “came with costs that proved staggeringly high — in money, freedom, rights, and social stability.” In fact, legislating and enforcing civil rights reforms and their various offshoots “can fairly be described as the largest undertaking of any kind in American history.”
“Costing trillions upon trillions of dollars and spanning half a century, it rivals, In terms of energy invested, the peopling of the West, the building of transcontinental railways and highways, the maintenance of a Pax Americana for half a century after World War II, or for that matter, any of the wars the country has fought, foreign or civil.”
In addition to the cost in dollars, Mr. Caldwell believes as the civil right laws, with their legal and bureaucratic enforcers, have expanded to include people of confused sexuality and what we used to call deviance (Dr. Freud, where are you?), enforce systems of racial preference and play an increasing role at all levels of education, they have come to codify a “second constitution,” which negates many of the most important provisions of the first.
In all, a deeply felt, highly readable, and dead honest account of America since the 1960s and the terrible wrong turn we took then and continue to follow, disrupting what we used to call the American way, and leading to the increasing alienation of many of our most productive citizens, who believe they may be losing their country.
And as Mr. Caldwell demonstrates, they just may be right.
• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).
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THE AGE OF ENTITLEMENT: AMERICA SINCE THE SIXTIES
By Christopher Caldwell
Simon & Schuster, $28, 342 pages