Today’s culture wars can be directly traced to the cultural transformations of the 1960’s. As a matter of fact, that critical decade represented nothing less than a cultural revolution of sorts–a revolution Stanley Kurtz describes as “both a fulfillment and a repudiation of the vision of America’s founders.”

Kurtz makes his case in “Culture and Values in the 1960’s,” a fascinating essay published in Never a Matter of Indifference: Sustaining Virtue in a Free Republic, recently released by the Hoover Institution Press. Edited by Peter Berkowitz, Never a Matter of Indifference is a thought-provoking collection of essays on moral character and democratic responsibility. Kurtz’s essay adds historical context to the book’s central thesis–that moral virtue is an absolute necessity in order for political liberty to flourish.

When Kurtz argues that the 1960’s represented “both a fulfillment and a repudiation” of America’s founding vision, he offers an important corrective both to those who would celebrate the 1960’s as a time of unfettered liberation and to those who would curse the same decade as a time of absolute moral collapse. Kurtz, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, points to the Civil Rights Movement and the end of legal segregation as great gains for the society. The impetus toward racial equality was an example of what Kurtz labels “classic liberalism,” based in respect for both human dignity and moral structure.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the 1960’s is mixed precisely because “classic liberalism” devolved into something very different–an ideology that celebrates liberty without an accompanying respect for moral character. Kurtz wants to understand this exchange of classical liberalism for something far more radical. “If the movements that began in the 1960’s have in some significant measure departed from classic liberalism, how are we to understand their inner rationale?,” Kurtz asks. “What connects the ecology movement, for example, with movements for Civil Rights? And if classic liberalism suffices for many Americans, what has prompted them to set it aside?”….

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