Thanks for the excellent comments. Very insightful. Onward...
Modernism Part 9:
MODERNISM AT ITS NADIR
Oh, there are plenty of reasons for modernism to have lost its gloss. Just one piece of visual art -- the image of the atom bomb -- seared away much of the can-do aplomb from men and women on the street, warning that ambitious plans might lead us all off a precipice.
The other great 20th century work of visual art -- that Apollo 8 photo of Earth floating as a fragile oasis in the desert of space -- preached a similar message about the importance of caution and remembering what’s at risk.
Still, isn't that the point? We didn't go off the precipice of nuclear war. In many ways, the bomb -- or at least its searing image -- may have been the very thing that saved a generation from the next world war. And that picture of our oasis planet stirred environmentalism as no verbal argument ever could. Both works of visual art were sermons about maturity and responsibility.
And both sermons - deeply moral visual lessons - were created by engineers, by scientists. By modernism itself.
Above all, those sixties modernists can say this. Their mistakes were - in the long run - dwarfed by towering accomplishments. Take civil rights, womens’ rights, and the beginnings of environmentalism.
Take the quadrupling of attendance at those new universities, or the blatant success of anti-poverty programs in places like Appalachia and the New South. Or weather and communication satellites.
Both "right-handed" and "left-handed" modernists have plenty to crow about. Business innovations brought us the internet and cell phones. State endeavors spread immunization and prenatal care. Or look at examples of give-take like Los Angeles, where ten times as many cars make one tenth as much pollution -- a mixed and congested blessing but one that still attracts millions.
Take any of these things and you have proof, positive, that modernism could work, if supplemented with common sense. And proof that we're best off when BOTH "hands" are used instead of obsessing on Left vs Right, either-or dichotomies.
Now, at the very time when we are finding out what the left hand of social action and the right hand of competitive enterprise do well... NOW we should continue listening to fanatics who rail that we should amputate one hand or the other? That is exactly what romantic ideologues - socialists and market mystics - prescribe that we should do.
But that's not the way of pragmatists who still hold out hope for modernism.
... on to Part 10...
or return to Part 1: The Radical Notion of Modernism