Third Great Awakening, First Published Research Proposal

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This third wave has built up from more diverse and exotic sources than the first two, from therapeutic movements as well as overtly religious movements, from hippies and students of "psi phenomena" and Flying Saucerites as well as charismatic Christians. But other than that, what will historians say about it?" (p. 17)

Wolfe was certain historians could not possibly find anything positive to say about this trend. He cited some studies that had described the first two awakenings in positive terms but became even more certain that the third awakening is nothing but a seriously damaging movement.

The description of third awakening given by the author is seriously though provoking as well. It mockingly refers to the birth of a new quasi-religious worship of the self in the Me Decade of the 1960s that parallels in intensity Jonathan Edwards's era in the 1740s and what historians call the Second Great Awakening of religious enthusiasm in many sectors of American life from about 1825 to 1850.

Wolfe hilariously explains how the third awakening broke out. He feels that this was the result of focusing enormous energy on "the most fascinating subject on earth: Me.... Just imagine... my life becoming a drama with universal significance... analyzed, like Hamlet's, for what it signifies for the rest of mankind." He argues that this movement was not only vulgar egoism but actually sprang from the need to be somebody. Wolfe writes: "[Tocqueville's idea of the modern individual] lost 'in the solitude of his own heart' has been brought forward into our time in such terminology as alienation (Marx), anomie (Durkheim), the mass man (Ortega y Gasset), and the lonely crowd (Riesman). The picture is always of a creature uprooted by industrialism, packed together in cities with people he doesn't know, helpless against massive economic and political shifts -- in short, a creature like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, a helpless, bewildered, and dispirited slave of the machinery.
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This "victim of modern times," as Wolfe calls it had always been "a most appealing figure to intellectuals, artists, and architects." However there came a time when these victims "started getting money in the 1940s, they did an astonishing thing -- they took their money and ran! They did something only aristocrats (and intellectuals and artists) were supposed to do -- they discovered and started doting on Me! They've created the greatest age of individualism in American history!" (p. 18).

Wolfe's mockery of the third awakening was however fairly studied in historical light when he argued that most people "have not lived their lives as if thinking, 'I have only one life to live.'" Rather, they have wasted their own lives to live "as if they are living their ancestors' lives and their off-springs' lives and perhaps their neighbors' lives as well." Whether or not they believed in personal survival after death, they have embraced some version of "serial immortality." They have viewed themselves as "inseparable from the great tide of chromosomes of which they are created and which they pass on." They did not feel that the "mere fact that you were only going to be here for a short time" gave one "the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things" (p.18).

In this conclusion, we may find a positive comment on the hippie generation and individualistic culture. The real concern of the author is not individualism per se but that this need to recognize "Me" may have gone too far. The desire to be somebody in itself cannot be considered dangerous but it results in serious isolation and unproductive activities some of which are actually anti-social, that is when this desire has gone too far and gives birth to serious of dangerous trends that simply erode the family and social….....

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