For now, we are presented with the paradox of Victor Davis Hanson, not exactly the sort of fellow that Leary was talking to, who has in fact dropped out of a culture he sees as severely psychologically damaged and perhaps even destructively decadent. The counterpoint to this is James Lileks, who hasn't completely turned his back on modern American culture, but isn't happy about a lot of it. Ironically, I see both gentlemen as the heirs of Pat Buchanan, who back in the days of Reagan declared that we were in the midst of a culture war, the corrupt, atheistic and decadent Hollywood/New York/Washington Axis versus the clean, wholesome church-going folks of Middle America. Buchanan, a product of pre-Vatican II ghetto Catholicism, was echoed by others on the social conservative Right who encouraged their followers to tune in to the corruption of pop culture, turn on to the alternatives, and drop out into home-schooling and, so to speak, a new ghetto Christianity that turned its back on the larger culture while providing a cadre for the reconstruction of a better America. Of course, Buchanan would probably have an aneurysm if this parallel was pointed out, but then again if G. Gordon Liddy could go on tour with his former Valjean (Leary) for fun and profit, perhaps Pat might get a giggle out of the irony.
Yet Buchanan's call to arms, widely reviled then and since as "divisive" and to a certain extent "racist", has actually been somewhat effective, thanks to that sink of pr0n and other iniquity, the Internet. Modern technology has allowed folks to edit R and PG-13 movies down to a family-friendly G rating, which has enraged directors who claim their artistic intent has been tampered with. Movie and music companies have brought their back lists into production again, since internet downloads and CD/DVD technology have made maintaining the Long Tail ridiculously easy. Home-schoolers can hook up through the internet, form cooperatives, and otherwise exchange information to their mutual benefit. So can political reformers & revolutionaries, who now have a varied arsenal of social networking systems with which to organize and win. The big difference between all this and what Buchanan was calling for is that instead of a mass movement, we have an Army of Davids fighting a guerrilla war against media corporations and government bureaucracies. Not only that, but they're winning. The 912 Project and other populist movements are posing a real threat to the political establishment and its decades-long concentration of power in Washington's unelected bureaucracies and corrupt Congressional staffs. It's possible that the 2008 election will be seen in retrospect as the high-water mark of the Democratic Party in its socialist Chicago Machine incarnation, but it's early innings for the new populism. We'll see how this all plays out as the different subcultures of America redefine themselves and recombine into new, quasi-tribal organizations. I think it's going to be an interesting time, and not just in the Chinese sense.