The Past Decade: A Romantic Era

This essay was originally published in the December 19, 1969 issue of Time Magazine, which can be viewed online here

From The ’60s to The 70s: Dissent and Discovery

Man tends to think of the future as if it were a distant country, across an ocean of time. From the viewpoint of the historian, each decade has a character and often even a language all its own, and the passage from one period into another is a real, if invisible border crossing in human lives. Trying to determine that language and that character ahead of time is a hazardous venture. No one in 1959 foresaw the turmoil of the ’60s, especially the rebellion of the young. Assassinations can rob a nation of its leaders, unexpected wars can desiccate the vitality of a race, the unaccountable gift of leadership can create hope where despair existed. Many of the major trends, visible and subterranean, that will shape man’s life in the future are present today. On these two pages, TIME offers an analysis of the decade just past. Beginning on page 22, TIME attempts a glimpse at the ’70s.

“Ask not what your country can do for you,” said John F. Kennedy in his inaugural speech as President. “Ask what you can do for your country.” The words were uttered less than ten years ago, yet it could have been a century. The classically balanced cadences, the summons to duty and patriotism sound incredibly nostalgic to ears grown used to a decade of shouts of raw passion, cacophonous protest and violence. The bright promise that began the ’60s turned to confusion and near despair as the decade ended. President Kennedy’s version of U.S. manifest destiny seemed to be followed by what Psychiatrist Frederick Hacker calls “a rendezvous with manifest absurdity.”

The absurdity was evident in the contrasting trends of the decade. It was an era of phenomenal prosperity, and of the discovery of poverty, hunger and social injustice at home. The most powerful military nation on earth found itself bogged down in an Asian war that seemed to defy defeat or victory. It was a war, moreover, begun with good, liberal and patriotic intentions and on a modest scale, but it led to onerous costs, both moral and material. Americans landed on the moon: back on earth, their cities festered and their atmosphere was befouled. The quiescent young people of the ’50s were succeeded by more assertive youths, who symbolically displayed their rejection of society’s established values at Woodstock. During the decade, more and more groups seemed to drop out of the national consensus, and a belligerent rhetoric of protest and revolution swept the country. Amidst the chaos, it was not easy to find a common theme. Yet the dominant events of the decade did fall into a historically recognizable pattern—a pattern of romanticism.

Rebelling against the liberal timetable, the angry black and the harassed white, the G.I. in Viet Nam and the protester at home would scarcely recognize the decade as romantic. Yet the dominant life-styles of the decade were set by middle-class white youths—along with their adult admirers and imitators—who, like the 19th century romantics, rebelled against a society they felt had become overregulated, oversystematized, overindustrialized. Like their predecessors, they railed against rationalism for destroying all spontaneity, and they urged, instead, the uninhibited release of emotion. They revived the romantic faith in human nature and blamed the institutions of society for corrupting it.

Then and now, romanticism had a special feeling against Original Sin and for Original Innocence, seeing it exemplified in youth. William Wordsworth hailed a child of six: “Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!” That sentiment was obliquely echoed last summer at the Amherst College commencement; the class valedictorian declared: “Our parents and our teachers believe in adulthood and maturity: our wish is to stay immature as little children.” It was meant metaphorically; yet it expressed a profound disillusion with the values of the “older generation”—or perhaps the lack of them. Given little to believe in or rebel against by their liberal parents, the young filled the void with their own lifestyles. The decade’s compulsive clichés—”relevant” and “meaningful”—suggested a desperate search for identity.

The intention to shock by obscenity, absurd dress and confrontation

The American romantics of the ’60s shared with their forerunners a vision of profound, if unspecific change that would regenerate mankind. In urging the abolition of the common law in England and the repudiation of the national debt, Percy Bysshe Shelley, according to Historian Crane Brinton, “saw nothing between himself and his dream.” A poetic-minded radical of the ’60s, Carl Oglesby, described the comparable Utopian stance of today’s revolutionary: “Perhaps he has no choice and he is pure fatality: perhaps there is no fatality and he is pure will. His position may be invincible, absurd, both or neither. It doesn’t matter. He is on the scene.” The new romantics scorned gradual reform; for them, it was Freedom Now, Peace Now—Utopia Now.

Many adult Americans were shocked by the most obvious manifestations of the new romanticism—nudity, casual sex, obscenity, absurd dress, confrontation tactics. These were, of course, intended to shock. In describing some of his wilder contemporaries, Françoise René de Châteaubriand might have been talking about Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin when they confronted a House Un-American Activities subcommittee: “They rig themselves up as comic sketches, as grotesques, as caricatures. Some of them wear frightful mustaches; one would suppose that they are going forth to conquer the world.” The heroes upon whom the romantics model themselves, and the causes they support, are also meant to shock. In the 19th century, romantics adulated Napoleon for defying all European tradition by his bold exploits. Many of today’s young rebels glorify Che Guevara and Chairman Mao. The parallels are not exact, but in both situations it was enough that the heroes were hated by the Establishment.

A mystical search for a shortcut to Utopia or euphoria

The romantic is preoccupied with himself as a unique being, which indeed he is. He makes an adventure of exploring his own senses and extends his discoveries with the use of sex and drugs. As in his politics, he is searching for a shortcut to euphoria, to a mystical oneness with—not God perhaps, but something quite approximate. Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed his ecstatic poem Kubla Khan under the influence of opium. The rock romantics of the Dylan generation prefer pot.

Dostoevsky prophesied what would happen when the socialist dream of universal prosperity was realized, as it was for many middle-class Americans in the ’60s: “Men would suddenly realize that they have no life any more, no freedom of spirit, no freedom of will and personality, that somebody has stolen all that from them. People will become depressed and bored.” Many protesters of the ’60s revealed a deep-seated boredom, as was suggested by Abbie Hoffman’s catch phrase, “revolution for the hell of it.” Boredom, usually underrated as a force in history, is not a frivolous issue. It is the result not merely of prosperity but of spiritual emptiness. Nothing may be more boring perhaps than the absence of God, and much of the discontent among youth was basically religious, though they may not have recognized it as such. As Irving Howe, editor of Dissent, recently noted: “There is a built-in frustration in the activity of the radicals—and this may be one of the reasons for their rage, namely, that what they really want is transcendence, or a mystical experience, which is not available through either reform or revolutionary politics.”

The ’60s saw an almost unprecedented rise in public violence in the U.S. Romantic revolution could not be blamed for all of it; there was the violence of blacks tormented by ghetto life, the violence of officialdom overreacting to protest. Still, although Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers were gunned down by calculating killers, it is plausible to argue that the Kennedy brothers were assassinated by romantics gone awry. Many strands of the romanticism were tied together in an ugly knot in the Sharon Tate murder: victims who exemplified an affluent hedonism; alleged murderers from a mystic hippie cult. The cult of violence can be kin to romanticism, as was shown by the 19th century-bred anarchists, action poets of revolution who assassinated several European heads of state as well as President William McKinley. In the ’60s, at least some youth were romantically attracted to violence; it was a persistent theme of much rock music; it was a factor in the politics of S.D.S. extremists.

Where does romanticism lead? In one of its incarnations, the romantic fascination with myth, tribe and race led, ultimately, to the barbarities of Hitler. If the “traditional checks on human nature should be removed,” wrote Critic Irving Babbitt in his classic Rousseau and Romanticism, “what emerges in the real world is not the mythical will to brotherhood but the ego and its fundamental will to power.” Yet romanticism also reconfirms the value of the individual. In many ways, the movement expands personal freedom, and the strength of liberal democracy owes a considerable debt to 19th century romantics, who championed civil liberties and extension of the suffrage.

The necessity of domestication

Ultimately, if romanticism is not to lose itself either in anarchy or in mere art, it must be politically tamed and domesticated. That may be a sad process, but it has proved necessary before.

If the romantic revolution continues, and it is hard to imagine that it will not, its adherents will have to confront what Raymond Aron calls the “constraints of fact—the need for organization, for a technical hierarchy, for a techno-bureaucracy.” These are the “givens” of current civilization that cannot be dreamed, wished or shouted away. That civilization, in its turn, will have to understand and to an extent gratify the romantics’ cry for meaning. How the American romantics meet their inevitable frustrations, how they channel their remarkable energy will be a crucial event of the 1970s.

The Next Decade: A Search for Goals

ON Jan. 4, 1970, the planet Neptune, which has been under the influence of Scorpio since the mid ’50s, will move into the sphere of Sagittarius, the sign of idealism and spiritual values. The result, predict astrologers, should be a profound change in the way people think and act. Just possibly, the astrologers may be proved right. In the short run, the clash between new values and old probably will produce uncertainty, confusion, frustration and dismay. In the long run, this decade and the next may well constitute an historical era of transition like that which followed the Middle Ages and preceded the Renaissance.

The way we will live

The veneration of rationality was the special myth of modern man. The world view created by the enthronement of reason included a universal belief in individualism and competition; now that myth is dying. Faith in science and technology has given way to fear of their consequences; traditional institutions and even authority itself are distrusted and often detested. The cultural revolution of the ’60s that emphasized Dionysian rather than Apollonian virtues will continue into the ’70s.

The Hashbury scene has faded into history, but it is possible that the hippie may have pioneered—in spirit, at least—the way men will live and think in the next decade. Sociologists agree that more and more people probably will share the hippie’s quest for new free-form, intimate social groups. The swinging-single apartment houses and the sedate, self-contained villages for the retired that flourished in the ’60s may prove to be the models for other communal forms. There may be such things as occupational communes, in which groups of doctors and lawyers will live together with their families, and different age groups may emulate the old in banding together in Yankee-style collectives. Individualism may continue to wane as men seek personal identity in group identity. That, of course, involves a contradiction between “doing one’s own thing” and doing it with others. Still, Marshall McLuhan predicts confidently: “We are going through a tribal cycle once again, but this time we are wide awake.”

Such tribal trends will obviously involve only a minority. A more general phenomenon will be the decline of materialistic motives, paradoxically accompanied by a growth in hedonism. Even so, asserts Princeton Sociology Professor Suzanne Keller, “We are at the end of an era when the measure of all things is a material measure. The young ones feel this deeply in their hearts.” While industrial technology will provide a dazzling variety of innovative gadgets, from phonovision to computers for the home, possession will be less of an ideal. When goods are needed, says Buckminster Fuller, more and more will be rented rather than bought. “Ownership,” says Fuller, “is obsolete. The telephone company doesn’t know it, but in the end it is going to be the progenitor of our entire economy and life-style.”

If current trends continue, the U.S. gradually will become a “late sensate society,” in the phrase of the late Harvard sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin. By this he meant the glorification of pleasure over Puritan duty, of leisure over work. The ’60s was a time of almost frantic experiment in sexual liberation; in the next decade, thanks in part to the Pill, sex will continue to be casual. But it may also be less frenetic. Divorce will be even more common, and the law may come to recognize term marriages, unions that will dissolve automatically after a certain length of time. Marijuana most likely will be either legalized or condoned.

Experiment will be the key word

There is a fifty-fifty chance, says Futurist Herman Kahn, director of the Hudson Institute, that working hours will be markedly shorter. Eventually, the American employee will have the option of deciding whether he wants his increased income in money or in greater leisure time. The goal of most Americans will be self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice. In everything, the emphasis will be on experimentation. “The idea of redesigning a way of life is going to be the dominant theme of the ’70s,” says Behaviorist B. F. Skinner. Young people will continue to fear large institutions, he believes, and will be ever more willing to “let this culture alone” and start their own institutions and communities. Education for enrichment or amusement rather than for professional skills will become a lifetime process as universities expand to provide an almost infinite variety of postgraduate courses. In fact, says Marshall McLuhan, older people will have to go back to school to learn basic skills. The young, he says, are not interested in the mundane knowledge it takes to run a technological civilization; the old will have to learn it if they are to keep their world running.

All this will depend on continued expansion of the U.S. economy, which virtually all experts agree will take place. The growth should be impressive, and the experts expect:

  • A gross national product of about $1.4 trillion (in 1968 dollars), compared with about $943 billion now. The growth rate should be in the range of 4.3% to 4.4% a year, compared with an average 4% for the postwar period.
  • A 40% rise in personal income.
  • A gradual rise in defense spending late in the decade, after a decline of about $8 billion in the early years. Defense expenditures in 1979 will be somewhat less than they are today ($81 billion), though they will take up much less, in percentage terms, of the national wealth.
  • Enormous gains for knowledge and information industries, recreation and entertainment companies, and home-and apartment-building corporations.

Business will be operating in a new, probably tougher atmosphere. While profit will still be the prime mover, some of the money once considered the stockholders’ will have to be sacrificed to the needs of society and to pollution control. Within business itself, the company that knows best how to use information and the new world of the computer will dominate its field—a truth only beginning to become apparent today. The knowledge industry, in fact, may grow to the point where it is the largest single segment of the economy. A new type of executive—one with great flexibility and broad powers of judgment—will replace the man who is a specialist in one field: the computer will perform many of the tasks that the specialist performs today. At the same time, talented men will demand far greater say in decision making, forcing corporations, like governments, to decentralize their operations.

Pornography may be ho-hum, and the Pope may wear a coat and tie

The changed atmosphere will affect the arts as well, which may become ephemeral, instant, faddish and ultimately disposable. There will be a veritable explosion of mixed-media experiments—conceivably to greatest effect in opera. Nudity onstage and on the screen, perhaps even outright pornography, will be taken for granted; the new frontier of shock probably will be violence and cruelty.

In spite of this, the most significant trend of the ’70s may well be a religious revival. This does not necessarily mean that there will be a massive return to existing institutional churches, although they will continue to modernize in form and structure (by the end of the decade, it is muttered in Rome, even the Pope may appear publicly in coat and tie rather than ecclesiastical garb). In reaction against the trend toward secularization, there may well be a sweeping revival of fundamentalism, particularly in its fervent, Pentecostal variety. The decade will also see the proliferation of small, home-centered worship groups with their own rituals, perhaps even their own theologies. Many people will reject traditional Western religions, finding inspiration and solace in the mystery cults of the East or in eclectic spiritual systems of their own devising. Religious impulses will find expression as well in interpersonal “T-groups,” like those spawned by California’s Esalen Institute, and in the occult. For many, astrology, numerology and phrenology will become no longer fads but ways of life.

Even as generals are better at fighting the last war than the next one, so prophets are better at extrapolating from the past than anticipating surprises. Could all these trends that seem to lead from the ’60s to the ’70s be reversed? Certainly. After all, the heady air of freedom in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I was suddenly stifled by the Puritan Revolution in England, and staid Victorian laws followed the carefree boisterous spirit of the Regency. It may be that the early ’70s will see a period of repressive reaction against the Dionysian tendencies of the young. There may also be a purely spontaneous swing back to discretion and suggestion. “Writers and film makers,” predicts Arthur Koestler, “will discover again that pubic hair is less poetic than Gretchen’s braids.” It is possible, too, that a decline in the work ethic or a weakening of demand for material goods may disrupt the foundation of a hedonist civilization—the economy.

Perhaps, eventually, people will grow tired of the “late sensate” society and once again want a hardworking, hard-value nation, an “ideational culture” (to use another of Sorokin’s terms). Pop Critic Richard Goldstein pictures a future in which college students, rebelling against the rebels of the ’60s, might be decidedly placid and prim. “What if students opt out of the scenarios we have devised?” he asks. “What if the goals of our rebellion seem suddenly uncool? After all, every movement carries its own antithesis.” What, in short, if the ’70s are not sensate but square? Possible—but not likely, for at least the greater part of the decade.

Protest and Politics

With surprising unanimity, sociologists and political scientists agree that the spirit of dissent that animated and fractured the ’60s is unlikely to be contained during most of the ’70s. Quite the contrary; it is more likely to expand than contract. In the U.S., blacks will probably be joined by other ethnic groups—Chicanos, Indians, Chinese Americans—in seeking equality and identity. High schools, perhaps even more than colleges, will be torn by unrest. New minorities will make themselves heard: women, old people, even homosexuals. “Gay Power,” “Senior Power” and “Woman Power” may not be jokes but battle cries that society will have to reckon with.

The major institutions of post-industrial society—corporations, unions and governments—will probably not escape the virus of what Herbert Marcuse calls “the absolute refusal.” Eventually, the nation may find civil service bureaucrats ignoring policy decisions they disagree with; reporters and editors may seek veto power over editorial decisions, as has happened in Europe; factory workers will reject the monotony of the assembly line. Employees at all levels will demand that corporate goals mesh with their personal goals, and socially irresponsible companies will not be able to attract talent. “People will have to be recognized as individuals,” says French Futurist Bertrand de Jouvenel. “You have to acknowledge man as a human being. If you forget this, you lose everything.”

The young are the natives; the old are the immigrants

The expectation that protest will continue into the ’70s is supported by several facts. For one thing, today’s student rebels are tomorrow’s executives, workers and voters. Obviously, many of these rebels will turn conservative with age and the assumption of responsibility. But probably enough of them will carry enough of their youthful ideas into later years to change the political climate. Moreover, youth itself will continue to grow as a force. By the end of the decade, there will be 11 million more young Americans in the 25-to-34 age group, a rise of 44% over the ’60s. (At the same time, there will be 3,000,000 more citizens over the age of 65, a 15% increase.) Never again, insists Anthropologist Margaret Mead, will adults feel entirely at home in a world that is increasingly being shaped by the values and opinions of youth. Today’s generation gap, she says, is wider and deeper than any other recorded in history. “They are the natives. We are the immigrants.”

In the long sweep of U.S. history, it is dissent—from the Whiskey Rebellion and the Civil War to the women’s suffrage movement—and not conformity that has characterized most decades. The Depression, World War II and the cold war were all shattering crises that temporarily created a spirit of national consensus and obscured the tensions within the society. “Now,” says Sociologist Daniel Bell, “the historic tendency of the culture is reasserting itself.” Adds Susan Sontag, the radical critic and novelist: “It is a kind of false nostalgia to look upon consensus as being normative.” For much of the next decade, the U.S. is likely to be an increasingly fractious, and perhaps an increasingly violent and polarized society.

Politics will be more confusing

In a series of reports this fall, the National Commission on Violence (see THE LAW) raised the possibility of a nation torn by assassinations and terrorism, of cities turned into hostile armed camps. On the one hand, unsatisfied minorities might raise their protests to ever higher levels of violence. On the other hand, the majority might feel increasingly justified in hitting back, through the police or through personal action. While there is a good chance that the black revolt will turn to peaceful outlets—so long as white society responds to its legitimate demands—it is certainly possible that militant blacks will turn to small-scale terrorism and urban warfare. In fact, the outcome of America’s most pressing problem—the future of the blacks—is the biggest puzzle of all. The central problem, of course, will be how to improve the lot of the blacks quickly, without imposing sacrifices on the white lower and lower-middle classes that will not totally embitter them. One intriguing possibility is that the blacks and low-income whites will actually join together in a common political cause. Economic necessity might partially erase the color line. If that should happen, the black-white problem could be on the way to resolution in the ’70s.

Most futurists believe that, in any event, the more dire prophecies of repression are false, that reaction and repression will be limited and temporary. Even so, the ’70s are likely to be a time of chaotic and confused politics. The decade, thinks Management Consultant Peter Drucker, will see a slowdown in the growth of big government, which is unable, he maintains, to deal with modern problems. The solution is smaller, more effective bureaucratic units. At the same time there will be a revamping of outmoded political geography: the uniting of cities and their suburbs, for example, into rational metropolitan governments, as in Indianapolis and Toronto. Population trends will continue to shift west and southwest and to the cities. As blacks move to the suburbs, many middle-class whites may return to the city. More and more, professional politicians will lose power to part-time activists as “participatory democracy” comes closer to reality. Candidates will bypass political organizations even more than they do today and reach directly to the people, with the help of TV and enthusiastic volunteers. Two-way cable TV may also make instant referendums possible (not to mention shopping from home).

Partly as a result, the one-term President may be the pattern of the future even as the one-term mayor is almost that now. Political labels will become less important than they are even today, and it is likely that third and fourth parties—one of Wallaceite right-wingers, the other of left-of-center liberals—will be forces to reckon with in the elections of the ’70s. The older parties may polarize along ideological, educational, or age lines. Simply because young people will constitute the largest single voting bloc in the nation, they may force a lowering of the voting age and a reduction in the required age of office holders. By the end of the decade, the average age of Senators and Governors may drop by five years.

Perhaps the most encouraging fact, in the long run, is that the American political system has always proved remarkably adaptive. What has seemed radical to one generation has been mulled over and adopted, at least in part, by its successor. Novel ideas are taken up by liberals, conservatives react in horror—and inch to the left. Today’s Great Silent Majority is certainly more liberal than its predecessor of 20 years ago. The radicals disapprovingly call this process “corporation.” The ungainly word sums up the best political hope for the decade: that the broad middle of American society will adopt the legitimate ideas of the radicals (as it has come close to adopting the idea of a guaranteed annual wage) while discarding the excesses. Finally, it seems inconceivable that strife can go on indefinitely through the ’70s without a profound longing for civil peace reasserting itself. This should be a cue not for repression but for imaginative, inspirational leadership.

Man and Environment

Politically as well as philosophically, the dominant question of the ’70s will be the quality of human life. The prospect is that man in the next decade will not be crowded into marginal existence by famine. Yet his ability to control depredation of the earth’s shrinking resources will remain uncertain, even as it is today.

One dire prediction of the early ’60s was that the world, within a generation, would starve itself to death. Happily, that is not likely to come true. One of the unexpected and unheralded developments of the decade past was what agriculturists call “the green revolution”—the development of new, inexpensive high-yield wheat and rice grains. In the next ten years, the experts predict an extraordinary rise in farm productivity; even India, with its hundreds of millions, may become self-supporting in its food supply. Coupled with the gains from the land, man will have the technical ability to farm the sea instead of simply harvesting it; scientists believe that they will soon be able to breed and control fish and shellfish in large quantities and to cultivate underwater plants.

Certain staples of civilized life in the Western world—butter, for instance—may be in short supply simply because they will become too expensive to produce in volume. Otherwise, though, the ’70s will be a decade with a food surplus, perhaps even a grain glut, that could lead to agricultural depression. Whether hunger is eliminated, however, depends upon the mechanics of distribution—a problem for politicians and economists, not for agricultural technicians.

Paradox: There may be too much food and too many people

Still, “the population explosion” is and will remain more than a cant phrase. The U.S. now has 204 million people (a 14% growth during the past decade). By 1980, the Census Bureau estimates, it will have at least 225 million (and perhaps as many as 250 million). If present trends continue, the world population will grow from an estimated 3.6 billion today to at least 4.3 billion ten years from now. Compulsory birth control will not be a political issue for America in the ’70s, but it may well be in other lands. The governments of India and perhaps China and Pakistan, for example, will be under continual pressure to try to change traditional social attitudes that favor large families and stigmatize the single. It is unlikely that man’s Biblical life-span of threescore years and ten, the average in the Western world, will be extended by more than a month or so during the next decade. Nonetheless, expectable developments in geriatrics, in improved hospital care, in partial conquest of such killers as cancer and heart disease, will make life better for the old and will undoubtedly add to population pressures.

Government and business will be forced to spend ever increasing sums—possibly $10 billion to $20 billion a year, in Herman Kahn’s estimate—to control pollution of air and water and to prevent the destruction of natural beauty. Already, the young seem to be turning their protest to problems of the environment, organizing demonstrations against irresponsible corporations and municipalities. In the next few years, increasing attention will be paid to shoddy development and the infamous urban sprawl; it will be widely recognized that like most forms of pollution, defiling of the landscape, whether it be with shopping centers or expressways, is hard to reverse. In the interests of preserving their open spaces—not to mention domestic tranquility—some nations may bar or limit tourism. International relations will certainly be affected by the cause of conservation, since neither air nor water pollution observes frontiers. Nations will discover that sovereignty can be threatened by pollutants just as much as by invasion. The wars of the future may be not over ground, but dirt.

Much more is involved than putting filters on chimneys and car exhausts and building new sewage plants. As the decade advances, it will become clear that if the ecological effort is to succeed, much of today’s existing technology will have to be scrapped and something new developed in its place. The gasoline-powered automobile, at present the chief polluter of the air, will be made clean or it will be banned from many urban areas—a threat that some carmakers already recognize (see ENVIRONMENT). Alternatives are electric or gas-turbine-powered autos. Increasingly, it will be seen that any kind of mass transportation, however powered, is more efficient than the family car. The Rand Corp.’s Stanley Greenfield, however, cynically argues that the revolt against the car may not take place until a thermal inversion, combined with a traffic jam out of Godard’s Weekend, asphyxiates thousands on a freeway to nowhere. In addition, factories will have to be built as “closed systems,” operated so that there is no waste; everything, in effect, that goes in one end must come out the other as a usable, non-polluting product. Man’s own body wastes will have to find use as fertilizer—the cheapest and most efficient means of disposal. Planning will have to be a much greater concern.

Popular though the cause is, it is by no means clear that the struggle to save the environment will be won. The attitude, central to the modern mind, that all technology is good technology will have to be changed radically. “Our society is trained to accept all new technology as progress, or to look upon it as an aspect of fate,” says George Wald, Harvard’s Nobel-laureate biologist. “Should one do everything one can? The usual answer is ‘Of course’; but the right answer is ‘Of course not.’ “

Some despair, and predict man will go on saying “Of course” forever—or as long as he can breathe his dirty air. French Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss believes that pollution will grow worse, and that man will proceed with the wanton destruction of other living beings. Bertrand de Jouvenel adds: “Western man has not lived with his natural environment. He has merely conquered it.” Others suggest that the struggle will be won once the public realizes the danger inherent in man’s Faustian lust to overwhelm and use the world.

The World Arena

In addition to the changes in lifestyles and domestic politics, the ’70s will see dramatically different patterns governing international affairs. Since World War II, the great questions of world politics have depended largely on solutions proposed in Washington or Moscow. This polarization of power is coming to an end. In 1979, the U.S. and the Soviet Union will still be the most important nations in the world. But they will no longer remain, as they have for most of the postwar era, virtually alone on the pinnacle of power. The possibility of war between America and the Soviet Union obviously will persist, but armed conflict is a very distant possibility in the ’70s. Since the Cuban missile crisis, both nations have slowly arrived at the tacit but wary understanding that dropping the bomb would mean global disaster, and the balance of nuclear terror has proved to be exactly that—a durable and war-deterring balance. A reactionary, repressive Government in the U.S., with a rigidly anti-Communist foreign policy, could upset the scales; so could the rise to power in Moscow of an adventurous, Stalin-like dictator. Total disarmament is and will remain an illusion, but some kind of bilateral agreement to limit arms expenditures is highly probable. Though many nations even now have the capacity to produce atomic weapons, it is probable that few, if any, will find the effort worthwhile. As the French and the British have discovered, possession of the bomb does not automatically bring power.

Japan will dominate Asia, and the U.S. and China may become friends

One arena where the U.S. and Russia will have less influence is Asia. Thanks to a phenomenal growth rate, Japan has already become the world’s third-ranking economic power; by 1980, its gross national product will have exceeded that of all the other nations in Asia combined. Japan will certainly continue to resist the impulse to become a military power once again. But its industrial and economic strength will give Japan growing influence over its Asian neighbors, and economic aid plus a regional military role will probably become inevitable toward the end of the decade.

Unless all actuarial laws are repealed by the Cultural Revolution, China’s Mao Tse-tung, who is now 75, will most likely die within the decade and be replaced, probably by a committee of leaders. Barring large-scale anarchy—a not impossible prospect—China will be ruled by a less ideological and more bureaucratic generation of Communist bosses. Economic necessity, if nothing else, should make China’s foreign policy more flexible, and the U.S., with its former ties of friendship to that country, may come to see China as a useful counter against the Russians. The result might well be an exchange of ambassadors between Washington and Peking before 1980.

War between Russia and China cannot be ruled out, and a pre-emptive Soviet air strike against the Chinese is and will remain a possibility. Fantastic though it may be, some observers predict the breakup of the Soviet Union as a result of a Russo-Chinese war (see THE WORLD). In attempting to maintain their hold over Eastern Europe, the Soviets might eventually repeat the Czechoslovak pattern and invade other countries in the area, notably Rumania. Still, Communism is dead as a unifying ideology. In the ’70s, the splintering trend will intensify; there may be four or five—or more—Communist movements, with headquarters in Moscow, Peking, Havana, Belgrade and possibly Bucharest.

By the mid-’70s, political power in Europe will be in the hands of a generation that remembers World War II and even the cold war as passages of history rather than living events. Thus many accepted postwar ideals, like the goal of “Atlantic Community,” will become sharply scrutinized clichés—some of them, indeed, already are. In politics, West Germany during the ’70s will gain the same kind of pre-eminence in Europe that Japan will have in Asia, and for much the same reason: economic prowess. It is not inconceivable that Bonn would opt for a neutral status between East and West if the Soviet Union offered reunification of the two Germanys. Some 30 years after they landed, most American troops will probably have been withdrawn from Europe. Almost as an afterthought, Great Britain will finally be admitted to the Common Market.

The Third World faces tribalism

“Brazil is the country of the future,” say Rio wits, “and always will be.” Sadly enough, the prospect for Brazil and most other underdeveloped nations of the Third World during the ’70s could scarcely be gloomier. The prognosis is for a decade of anarchy and political instability, of coups and countercoups, and of widespread suffering. Historian Arnold Toynbee predicts that “the present worldwide discontent and unrest will become more acute, and will express itself in worse and worse outbreaks of violence. In fact, I expect to see local civil wars take the place of a third international war.”

In a sense quite different from McLuhan’s, tribalism will be a more “pervasive danger to the political stability than nationalism. In the wake of economic disasters, India might break apart, splintered by its divergent peoples. Indeed, so powerful is the attraction of regional autonomy that even the advanced countries may be shaken. Britain may have to grant quasi-independence to the Welsh and the Scots, and Canada could still founder on antagonisms between its French-and English-speaking halves.

The Arab-Israeli conflict may turn into a new Hundred Years’ War

Political pessimists conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict will eventually result in the destruction of one side or the other. Ironically, optimists predict that it will carry on as mankind’s modern equivalent of the Hundred Years’ War. In a way, this prognosis may prove to be an accurate description of world politics in the ’70s—a time that is not quite what the world regards as peace, and not quite armed conflict.

The most widely heard prediction about the 1970s is that the U.S. will turn isolationist after the Viet Nam experience and shy away from all but the most crucial foreign involvements directly affecting its own security. Chances are that this isolationism will not turn out to be as severe as it is sometimes feared and will not really result in a widespread abdication of American responsibilities around the world. What it should mean is a much subtler, more sophisticated and selective form of exerting American influence. One of the dominant clichés of the late ’60s—about America not being the policeman of the world—will have proved highly useful if U.S. goals abroad become more realistic. Moreover, an American inward-turning to urgent domestic problems could be entirely healthy for U.S. foreign policy. Only by drastically improving its own society will the U.S. be able to maintain its position and power in the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.