We’re talking about yesterday in Blacksburg. Some people, it hasn't come up on this show, because this audience wouldn’t dare bring it up, but there'll be people saying, "Well, it’s a sick society. You know, it’s just a crazy, wigged out, sick society." I’ve got a book coming out today, not the best timing for a book, it's all right. It's a good book, America: The Last Best Hope, Vol. II. And at the very end of the book, I recall a speech that Ronald Reagan made in 1974 . . .
But here's what Ronald Reagan said at that time . . . "We are not a sick society. A sick society could not produce the men who set foot on the Moon, or who are now circling the Earth above us in the Skylab . . ."
It really makes one think, doesn't it? Of course, what Reagan via Bennett makes me think is that argument is the most ludicrous one for American societal health that I have ever heard.
The space program? Ignore for a moment that a couple of days after Bennett quoted this wisdom, a NASA employee took hostages and then committed murder because of a bad performance review: what other country in the fifties, sixties and seventies was shooting men, dogs and other of God's creatures into space? Why yes, it was the Soviet Union--the healthiest society ever! Reagan didn't know in 1974 about the coming ignominious end to Skylab. The infamous space station fell from space and crashed around Esperance in West Australia.
A couple of decades ago Walker Percy, apparently unmoved by the greatness of Skylab, gave a talk at Cornell; reprinted in Signposts in a Strange Land as "Diagnosing the Modern Malaise." In it, he said:
To state the matter as plainly as possible, I would echo a writer like Guardini who says simply that the modern world has ended, the world, the world, that is, of the past two or three hundred years, which we think of as having been informed by the optimism of the scientific revolution, rational humanism, and that Western cultural entity which until this century it has been more or less accurate to describe as Christendom. I am not telling you anything you don't already know when I say that the optimism of this age began to crumble with the onset of the catastrophes of the twentieth century. If one had to set a date of the beginning of the end of the modern world, 1914 would be as good as any. . .
Of course, Percy, if still alive, wouldn't dare utter such calumnies on Bill Bennett's Morning in America program.