Freedom of Disassembly
In the course of an otherwise interesting article on the overseas growth of American service organizations — think Rotary — Washington Monthly editor John Gravois lets slip the following:
And while the decline of these groups domestically is certainly not a good thing for America, their growth abroad is hardly unwelcome.
Certainly not. That’s a staggering presumption. A more reasonable assertion might be that service groups, like Playboy Clubs, had their day, and that day ended more than a generation ago. Times change.
Times were changing as we were growing up, forty years ago. Eugene had its share of service and fraternal clubs, but they were nothing for us or our friends to aspire to. Yes, our father was an Elk, but he was only an Elk because the Elks lodge was across the street from Autzen Stadium, and offered convenient parking for Duck football games. Our enduring image of such groups was the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, and we were definitely — certainly — too cool for that school. They’re so Nixon, y’know?
But while we were never a joiner, at least we were around for the end of their heyday, which meant that we knew them not for their idealized form, but for their depressing reality. “Conformist” wasn’t part of our vocabulary, but the word was still around, and it fit.
We say all this merely to set up our gut reaction upon reading that line: How old is John Gravois?
Because we suspect that only someone too young to know the reality can harbor a false nostalgia for the idea, an idea that may be traceable back to Tocqueville, but itself came of age in Coolidge’s 1920s, just in time for Mencken to skewer it, and barely lasted two generations — a moment in America, not a Grand Age.
And while we cannot be certain when John Gravois dropped into This Fallen World, it seems he graduated from Harvard in 2001 — putting him in his early thirties, with even Saint Ronnie and Bush I the distant memories of childhood, and so unknowing of the America he pines for that we’d almost mistake him for a Republican.