" Not an Impressive Period "

interview with a scholar

Prof. Robert N. Bellah

Elliot Chair of Sociology
University of California, Berkeley

How would you characterize the decades of 1970s in terms of heroes and heroism?

My initial reaction is the skepticism that there were not any heroes at all in that decade of 70s. I mean I think of the whole period of 60s was an enormous left out. The beginning of 70s was a major reverse course of American life, particularly bringing the whole segment of population that was previously pretty much left out into the society.

It was an enormous victory that took down the legal discrimination barrier. At the same time, there was an enormous inclusion of wide working class. All the classes started thinking another, as we know.

In the beginning of 70s, many of us saw the loss of any civic vision, a return to primarily self-interested politics. People were looking out what they have or trying to protect themselves from losing what they have. There was a loss of any strong identification of the country. Just in general, the period that is not very impressive.

Last 30 years are pretty depressing period. There was no Martin Luther King. Nobody tried to change the consciousness of the society. Someone did something in the corner and the others found it is wonderful and we remember that. But, there was no FDR, no Martin Luther King. It's just not a period anything very positive happened. Most of us were stepping back instead of looking ahead.

How do you think the void of heroes in 1970s affected the generation X who were born in that period?

(Laughter)Of course, I have to make a leap of the imagination that take a life to be born. To me, recently, it is that I feel sorry for you frankly. It is kind of hard to identify the main message of a large society when the main message is the only important thing is to get rich. However rich you are, who cares about that?

From the beginning of Dutch settlement in New York, the only great thing is the money and a place to get rich. They were only interested in money. The national capital moved from New York and Jefferson swamped the institutions on the Potomac. So New York didn't have the sense of a political center but only of an economic center. And they were celebrating it. It was wonderful. Everybody came to New York to make money. Isn't that great, huh? It is the greatest thing in the world, isn't it? I don't think it is so wonderful. Just I am glad not to be in New York. (Laughter.)

So many things began around the period like the divorce rate in America rose very high. In economic terms, there was a reduction. As a matter of fact, in the first 25 years after the WWII, the U.S. was virtually alone as the richest country in the world. There were no rivals. But at the end of 60s, Europe and Eastern Asia were beginning to become significant economic powers and giving the U.S. a kind of competition that it haven't had before. The world became competitive. That's the part of shifting economic situation.

The Vietnam War was other catastrophe that battered everyone from far left to far right. To make any notion of patriotism was very difficult. We were hurt by the Watergate. There was a combination of political and economic factor that undermined the morality side of the national life.