Was the sixties the start of a slide into nihilism or a flawed but authentic progressive convulsion? The brothers Hitchens debateby Christopher Hitchens / March 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
2nd February 1998
If there is anything worse than a young conservative, it is an old revolutionary. Young Tories are now practically extinct, but the western world is infested with paunchy radicals. My own path-a silly flirtation with revolution in my teens and 20s followed by a comfortable return to Tory certainties in middle age-used to be a cliche. Now I am an exception-asked, in wondering tones, how I come to be a reactionary. The disturbing thing about the late 1960s is that they are still going on; and we have not had to grow up.
The 1960s were not the emotional spasm they appeared to be, but a genuine upheaval with permanent effects. The year 1968 was not the beginning of this, but it was the moment when all its strands-political, moral, sexual and artistic-were woven most closely together. This was a cultural revolution far more destructive and iconoclastic than the Reformation-and lacking any true liberation. It reduced beloved institutions to rubble, while elevating musical, artistic and literary garbage. It introduced dope into western daily life. Its corrosive effects on language, manners, true human kindness, the education and upbringing of children, have been a disaster to anyone who has the slightest tenderness for the next generation. I regret that I was involved in it at all, and squirm with embarrassment when I recall most of what I said and did. I recognise my responsibility for the loss of things which I should have been cherishing and defending, while I was helping to knock them down.
You ought to agree with me. You went deeper into this than I ever did and understood it better than I. You cannot be pleased by the nurseries of ignorance we call schools and universities. You cannot be glad that heroin is sold openly in pit villages such as Grimethorpe. You cannot be happy that rock music is the nearest most people now get to poetry, or that faith, class and deference have been replaced-not, as you might have hoped, by rational self-confidence, but by the syrupy celebrity worship epitomised in the recent festival of the Goddess Diana.
Nor can you be delighted by the achievements of the political…