What I find so notable in Karras's piece is not what's in it but what isn't. I read it twice, quickly, because I was sure I had missed something: where was the resolution to Karras's existential crisis? Where was the moment where she found her access to the truth that frees her from the spiritual emptiness that pure intellect had left her with? I couldn't find it, and can't. I find instead her (very understandable) sense of loss at the dissolution of real authority and real certainty, and the choice to embrace foundationalism and its political child, conservatism. Karras, of course, notes that foundationalism was part of the problem. She is bright enough to know that the studied rejection of the studied is a bridge to nowhere, and so her conversion narrative is rescued by the epiphanic.
I can only describe the moment as an epiphany, with all that that implies. “An age of prudence” was my own age of rationalism. There was no reason to exist. But I did: not because I could prove it, or because I knew, but because in that utterly human moment of terror and sacrifice that gave meaning, I recognized that it didn’t matter. I didn’t need a good reason to love. But I did.
And yet I don't think this epiphany, however profound for her, carries nearly the revelatory weight she thinks it does. It leaves her in the same uncomfortable place all postmodern conservatisms do: her changed mind is a chosen mind. Her anti-philosophical philosophy is not a rhetoric of "it is true"s but one of "it is better"s. Look at her language.
She looks to it, because she needs it. She accepts it, because it nourishes her. Her ethic is an ethic of necessity, not of truth. I'm sure she would say that the point is that she has no ethic at all. But have one she does, and the studied rejection of philosophy is of course a philosophy of its own. (Once again, forced to be free.) This is a willed belief in tradition, a knowing choice of old institutions, the inherently meta rejection of the meta. "I had been drowning, and looking back I saw how easy it would have been to latch on to something murderous to save myself." Not, "the life raft was the reality of Christ/community/tradition/etc". Instead, the pure pragmatism at grasping at whatever piece of driftwood happened to float by. This is postmodern premodernism, and it has become kind of popular.
If we cannot understand ourselves as meaningful participants in something, we regard ourselves as fundamentally other; if all we can truly establish is our own existence as “things that think,” we have nothing to do with our fellows. Language and logic are not enough to bridge those gaps: it requires something more. In opposition to that liberal, rights-based worldview, I looked to love and to tradition.
No tradition without authority, no authority without oppression. And this oppression ate the '50s, and eats away at all traditional forms, even without any of my pie-in-the-sky resistance to the meta-narratives that under gird conservative philosophy. Dreher writes
"We don’t want the 1950s back.... What we want is to edit them. We want to keep the safe streets, the friendly grocers, and the milk and cookies, while blotting out the political bosses, the tyrannical headmasters, the inflexible rules, and the lectures on 100 percent Americanism. But there is no easy way to have an orderly world without somebody making the rules by which order is preserved. Every dream we have about re-creating community in the absence of authority will turn out to be a pipe dream in the end. This is a lesson that people who call themselves conservatives seem determined not to learn."
I put it to you that the realization of the the human construction of human systems ensures the inevitability of the collapse of social systems, the social contract.
It focuses on a time when people became aware that the old social customs and forms had been hollowed out, and were on the verge of collapsing from their own dead weight. Had American culture been as solid at its core as it seemed on the outside, the Sixties’ rebellion wouldn’t have and couldn’t have happened. “Mad Men” is a chronicle of a revolution foretold.
For unreflective liberals, “Mad Men” is only temporarily tragic. It has a happy ending. Deliverance from all this sexism and repression and cigarette smoke draws nigh. It’s always darkest before the dawn, as the saying goes....Conservatives, though, appreciate the fullness of “Mad Men”’s American tragedy, because we know what’s really coming next. It’s not the promised land, but rather a wasteland, a desert of dislocation and despair in which we’ve been wandering for over 40 years.
Sadly, only God.