“This is the edge of insanity / I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t want to be here.” So Ray Davies of The Kinks crooned (or in some instances shouted) in the classic 1971 rock ballad “20th Century Man.” It’s really worth hearing—and seeing if you check out a video of the song that uses footage from the silent classics “Metropolis” (1927) and “Safety Last” (1923) on YouTube:
(Disclaimer: I played a minor part in the video’s production although it was my older daughter who did the real work.) Of course, the twentieth century is past, but for those of us between the ages of twenty-five and, just to pick a ceiling, one hundred and five, it’s only natural to speak and think of ourselves as still being in the twentieth century.
Was it “the age of insanity”? Certainly, it felt that way from time to time: Vietnam, Watergate, creeping totalitarianism (over there), creeping bureaucracy (over here), inflation, drug addiction, the sexual revolution, and the inevitable cynicism that these “developments” so sadly yielded. Plenty of people didn’t want to “be here,” as The Kinks observed, but give Ray Davies credit: if he’d really despaired that something could be done, he probably wouldn’t have written the song. And, indeed, by 1985—fourteen years after “20th Century Man” hit the airwaves—inflation was gone, bureaucratic creep was stalled, and, though few of us saw it coming, the Soviet Union, the greatest totalitarian state of the century, was about to implode, generally due to its own inner contradictions but with a little help from Reaganite foreign policy.
All of this is another way of saying that however mad things seemed they weren’t hopeless. Men and women somehow carried on much as they had from the Fall with the conviction that they really could address, albeit imperfectly, the various crises confronting them with reason, courage, and a quirky but never quixotic belief that good would triumph over evil.
Old habits of mind notwithstanding—I mean the optimistic turn of mind—those of us who spent the greater part of our lives in the previous century may be forgiven for believing the current scene less than rosy. Bureaucracy, like the “news” in “Citizen Kane,” is on the march again and less accountable to the electorate than ever; inflation may be near zero, but debt—chiefly Washington’s debt—has reached levels that a good twentieth-century man rightly would have considered ruinous or laughable; withdrawal from the quagmire of Afghanistan, even with our tail between our legs, has, like the full implementation of Obamacare, been postponed again and again; racism, this time around in the form of “Black Live Matter,” is on the rise, as is anti-Semitism; and a new totalitarian power, Islam, threatens the West with a strategy of terror that older, historically-minded Americans associated with Sinn Fein and the Black Hand.
Sane men know they cannot spend what they don’t have without a reckoning; if they’ve cultivated the habits of freedom, they smell the dry rot of a bureaucracy run amok, much as men of the previous century sensed it in the old Soviet Union. Sane men don’t try to train mad dogs; they shoot them. But nowadays sanity is an increasingly rare commodity. Deficit spending is the key to prosperity (ask Paul Krugman); free speech is not the linchpin but the blight of a free society; freedom of religion goes only as far as the LGBT lobby allows; Islam is a religion of peace.
In the aftermath of the terrorist killings in Orlando, Barrack Obama, Loretta Lynch, and the New York Times told us first that we couldn’t know for certain what motivated Omar Mateen to shoot forty-nine people and wound fifty more, even though they had access to the infamous 9-1-1 calls in which Mateen declared in Arabic his allegiance to Allah and ISIS. But never fear. Our leftist government has a plan for limiting future terrorist attacks: scrub Mateen’s audio clips of references to Islam, abolish the Second Amendment, and declare the murders a result of LGBT bigotry—American bigotry, that is, not Muslim. After all, as the president says, ISIS is not an “existential threat” to the United States; it’s Christians, conservatives, and, God knows, hunters we have to be wary of. Framing the case against everybody but the real Mateen is just one more s handy means of furthering “fundamental change” in our time.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff, famously said. If we can say one thing for sure about politics in the Age of Obama, it’s that the minions of the left are consistent in following that twisted dictum—boy, and how! Thirteen dead and thirty wounded at Fort Hood? Chalk that up to “workplace violence.” Three dead and one hundred eighty wounded at the Boston Marathon? An avoidable “tragedy”—if we hard-hearted Americans will let peaceful Muslim boys assimilate. San Bernardino? An occasion to fret over, in Loretta Lynch’s words, the “incredibly disturbing rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric . . . my greatest fear.” Mateen’s Orlando killing spree? Again, take it from Loretta Lynch: “Our most effective response to hatred and terror is compassion, it’s unity, and it’s love.”
This is the age of insanity.