All Falling Faiths - Encounter Books

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All Falling Faiths

Reflections on the Promise and Failure of the 1960s

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Publication Details

New Hardcover/ 208
ISBN: 9781594038914
AVAILABLE: 01/31/2017

All Falling Faiths
Reflections on the Promise and Failure of the 1960s

In this warm and intimate memoir Judge Wilkinson delivers a chilling message. The 1960s inflicted enormous damage on our country; even at this very hour we see the decade’s imprint in so much of what we say and do. The chapters reveal the harm done to the true meaning of education, to our capacity for lasting personal commitments, to our respect for the rule of law, to our sense of rootedness and home, to our desire for service, to our capacity for national unity, to our need for the sustenance of faith. Judge Wilkinson does not seek to lecture but to share in the most personal sense what life was like in the 1960s, and to describe the influence of those frighteningly eventful years upon the present day.

Judge Wilkinson acknowledges the good things accomplished by the Sixties and nourishes the belief that we can learn from that decade ways to build a better future. But he asks his own generation to recognize its youthful mistakes and pleads with future generations not to repeat them. The author’s voice is one of love and hope for America. But our national prospects depend on facing honestly the full magnitude of all we lost during one momentous decade and of all we must now recover.

About the Author

J. Harvie Wilkinson III is a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Judge Wilkinson graduated from Yale University in 1967 and received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1972. In 1982, he became Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. President Reagan appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in August of 1984, and he was the Fourth Circuit’s chief judge from 1996-2003.

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They call us baby boomers. We have been misnamed. We are the Sixties Generation, who now with unaccustomed humility must beseech future generations to build back the nation we did much to tear down.

They have every right to tell us no. The world is very much a mess. Instantaneous information, immediate connectivity, often good and necessary in themselves, cloud our ability to make sense of it all. Ferguson, Baltimore; ISIS, 9/11; Aurora and Newtown; Ebola fears and rising seas cascade upon us. Our present worries foretell danger from which every human instinct is to hide; we await many an unpleasant surprise. There may be a rush to private havens, a willingness to abandon America to inevitability, a tendency to see hope and opportunity as bygone relics of a naïve age.

Two thousand sixteen became the new century’s Year of Anger. Anger at whoever is different. Anger at whatever has changed. “Anger,” write the Washington Post’s David Maraniss and Robert Samuels, “at Wall Street. Anger at Muslims. Anger at trade deals. Anger at Washington. Anger at police shootings of young black men. Anger at President Obama. Anger at Republican obstructionists. . . . Specific anger and undefined anger and even anger about anger.”

It has been building for a long time. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni notes that “for a solid decade the percentage of Americans who said that the United States was on the wrong track had exceeded the percentage who said it was on the right track,” often by astounding and increasing numbers. He “wondered about a change in the very psychology and identity of a country once famous for its sunniness about tomorrows.”

The mindset of eternal negativity is something the 1960s helped to load upon us. It is not a burden we should ever accept. The values the Sixties scorned; the chaos they engendered; the divisions they spawned—these are not our fates! Great enduring constants exist in this world that may yet guide us. From that burnt and ravaged forest of a decade may still spring the shoots of America anew.

But to overcome the Sixties, we must first understand them. One must sometimes first go back in time in order to move forward.

As a federal judge for more than thirty years and counting, I feel some days I’ve earned the right to reminisce. Maybe all my generation has.

But reminiscence is a mellow flight over a time, even a lifetime, amiably spent. No one should ever “reminisce” about the 1960s. Those years are memory’s scorched earth.

I too am almost afraid to go back. That decade spared me none of itself: its lack of humor, its self-absorption, its fear of age, its resentment of authority, its rush to confrontation, its grim, bleating fret with the Establishment.

So why not leave those years behind? Because it was there—in the Sixties—that feelings toward home, work, school, church, and flag forever changed. The 1960s did not end in 1970. They haunt us even now. Many Americans sense the world unraveling around them and wonder why. They want to know why they feel anxious about all that awaits their children and grandchildren. There are many reasons why, but one of the big reasons is the 1960s.

It is too easy to blame all that happened in the 1960s on student radicals. Certainly the mindless nihilism of the radicals was destructive, but the radicals alone could not have maimed our country. Those who were supposed to lead and guide our nation—the generation that so inspired America in the Depression and World War II—also abdicated their duty and let us down in the 1960s.

Together, those who challenged authority and those who exercised authority made the Sixties an experience in lethal blindness. No one could see. The angry left saw no good in America. The Establishment saw almost nothing bad. No one foresaw the lasting damage the Sixties would inflict. No one sensed the Sixties would shake our foundations even today.

I know many Americans believe the 1960s was one of the greatest decades ever. They believe that the decade made our country more equal and more just: that African Americans and eventually all minorities benefited more from the 1960s than from any time since the Civil War; that women became freer to make choices about home, children, husband, and career than ever before; that Americans learned from the debacle of Vietnam that the greatest power in the world could overreach. Many good people think the 1960s accomplished many good things, and I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Few decades did so much good for America as the 1960s. But no decade inflicted so much continuing harm. The Sixties gave us some wonderful things, but this very gift has caused us to downplay the decade’s darker side. Righting terrible social wrongs should never have come at such a horrible cost: so much lasting loss of faith in this great land.

In the 1960s, we lost much of the true meaning of education, much of our capacity for lasting personal commitments, much of our appreciation for the rule of law, and much of our sense of rootedness and home. We started to lose also the sense of those things that are larger than ourselves: the desire for service, the feeling for country, the need for God.

Many of those arguing about the 1960s today never lived through them. To live in the Sixties was exhilarating at best, but disturbing and harrowing most of the time. You enjoy a ride on the roller coaster at the fair because you know the ride will end. With the Sixties, we never knew. And the ride goes on.

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