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The Lost City

The Lost City research paper due and don’t know how to start it? How about like this?

There is an almost inherent sense within human societies that the present generation is one of stink and corruption, and that the past was a time of moral virtue, simplicity and a general better life.  We call this nostalgia, and label the past “the good old days.”  Of course, history is there to remind us that, as the cliché reminds us: “The good old days, they were terrible.”  It is easy to look back in the past and see a simpler time, a time when people did not have to lock their doors, when divorce and crime and social ill was rare, and our childhoods were idyllic.

The Lost City

Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City: Discovering the Forgotten Virtues of Community in America is a blending of history and nostalgia that advances the central thesis that the culture of the 1950s were somehow the high water mark in American virtue.  This was the world in which the Baby Boomers were raised, but somehow that generation took the qualities that their parents instilled in them during the 1950s, took them to their excess, and mutated them into the social nightmare that America has become.

For Ehrenhalt, the three founding virtues are choice, authority and the social nature of sin.  Somehow all three of these have been forgotten by Baby Boomers.

Ehrenhalt believes that the stability of community was based on a “bargain.”  Without explicitly defining this bargain, it tenets are as simple as the communal virtues of the 1950s: citizens must willingly accept limits on their freedom in order to live in a civil society.  The endless pursuit of individual freedom has eroded this bargain between people, leading to the Jerry Springer culture we have in place today.

Ehrenhalt maintains that his portrayal of the 1950s is not an attempt to whitewash the decade in an Edenic glow.  “Nobody…can entertain for long the notion that it was a time in which people were insulated from market forces”.  But to ascribe the society of the 1950s as replete with social institutions that insulated people from the effects of market forces is to descend into the type of nostalgia that Ehrenhalt attempts to steer away from.  “The difference between the 1950s and the 1990s is to a large extent the difference between a society in which market forces challenged traditional values and a society in which they have triumphed over them”.

People during the 1950s felt themselves to be insulated from many of the social problems of the world.  It is not necessarily that they were insulated, but this was the cultural perception of the time.  It is the same feeling that convinces people who remember the 1950s (older Americans now) that something fundamentally wrong has happened in America.

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