Published October 17, 2021
John Lennon laid down a famous dictum: “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” Darkness was upon the face of the deep. Elvis Presley was the big bang. The new universe of rock ’n’ roll emerged ex nihilo. Elvis’s music brought forth a new culture. Before you knew it a vast young audience was rocking to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. The rest is history. The poet Philip Larkin satirized the moment: “Sexual intercourse began in 1963.”
The cosmology of 21st-century wokeness is similar to that of the freshly formed counterculture in the 1960s. Wokeness, however, doesn’t assert that there was nothing prior to the current great awakening. Instead, it claims there was nothing good—merely the wickedness of the American past and Western civilization, which has “got to go,” Mozart and all.
I propose that the country’s periodic Great Awakenings should be referred to as “Elvises.” Each such epoch represents an intense wave of religious emotion passing through American democracy.
Mr. Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His latest book is “God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money.”
Lance Morrow is the Henry Grunwald Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His work focuses on the moral and ethical dimensions of public events, including developments in regard to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and political correctness on American campuses, with a view to the future consequences of such suppressions.