The Death of the Grown-Up, How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization

Syndicated columnist, Diana West, has written a hard-hitting book to proclaim, and document, that Western societies are coming apart at the seams because adults have left the playground of our world and turned it over to the children. Worse yet, adults have become children and there is no one left to monitor the playground at all. She writes, “If The Death of the Grown-up tries to unravel the mysterious disappearance of adults in society, along with the manners and morals that once defined the lines and boundaries of ‘conventional’ behavior, it also examines what, over the past half century or so, has happened in their absence… we have lost our bearings (p. xi). She traces the shift not back to the Baby Boomers and the 1960s but to their parents, the so-called Greatest Generation. Before Baby Boomers had grown out of their diapers, their parents had stopped behaving as adults. Prior to WWII families in the western world were adult-centered, now, thanks to new ideologies epitomized by Dr. Benjamin Spock, it became child-centered and permissive (pp. 16, 33, 57). The concept of adolescence, which had not previously existed, emerged, along with a newly minted word, “teenager,” in 1941 (pp. xv, 1), and the first issue of Seventeen magazine focusing entirely on teenage girls in 1944 (p. 25). Adults were systematically pushed aside in the 1950s, (pp. 11, 17, 26, 88) as a new form of music, geared specifically for teens, was created. Never before did children have their own music separate from the adult genre.  Now they had Rock and Roll, their own rock stars, their own form of dress, and the peer group began to replace the family (p. 15). Parents, afraid of losing their children, stopped acting like adults, went into hiding and attempted to somehow keep their teens safe, rather than teach them morality, virtues, and how to mature to be responsible adults (pp. 23, 73-88). Worse, adults slid back into childhood so that perpetual adolescence is the way of life for many today (p. 6).

As evidence of these accusations, West points in many directions; take music, for example. Plato taught us to “mark the music” to analyze a culture; West shows how music prior to the 1950s was dominated by love songs, but with the rise of rock it is increasingly about sex (pp. 37-47). MTV is exhibit “A” with its ubiquitous references and depictions of sexual acts. Young people (and adults) mimic what they see and hear on the dance floor with little, if any, adult protest.  Extreme political correctness, disintegration of morals, and values replacing virtues have been the fallout of the absence of grown-ups in our society. “So,” West asks, “the question that defines our age becomes: when anything goes, why shouldn’t anything go?” (p. 98).

West, however, perceives the encroachment of Islam into western culture as public enemy #1 (pp. 148-217). In America this infiltration began with the new immigration laws in 1965, which favored non-Europeans and welcomed Muslims into the country (p. 128). She opens her book with a dialogue with a critic, “Are you saying that multiculturalism is juvenile?”… “Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.” (p. xi). She spends the last third of her book documenting how Islamic ideas, and the American adaption to and fear of Islam, are changing the western culture.

The Death of the Grown-Up is a disturbing book, not only because it clearly confirms West’s thesis, but also because it offers little in the way of correction. The closest West comes appears toward the end of the book when she writes, “A clear moral standard would serve to anchor its clear cultural standard as well” (p. 216). But she quickly adds that this is not a call to sainthood or religion or “turning back the clock.” “What is required, rather, is some serious contemplation of the notion that, to put it simply, virtues are for striving grown-ups and values are for perpetual adolescents” (p. 216).  This is all well and good, but what is missing is a foundation. West does not recognize that the real issue is not merely the absence of grown-ups, but the rejection and/or dismissal of God and Scripture. Our world is spiraling out of control for many reasons, but they can all be traced back to an untethering of our society from the Lord and His ways. The Death of the Grown-up does well at exposing the problems, but the solution resides not in producing more mature adults, but in calling people back to the truth of the Word, which produces biblically informed maturity.

The Death of the Grown-Up, How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization, by Diana West (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007), 256 pp, paper $12.99


Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher at Southern View Chapel

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