The Upbeat Generation has arrived and its conflict with the old ways, the old traditions and taboos is evident all around us. After 20 years of Depression-bred and war-nurtured conformity, and compulsive concern with security and the common man, the Uncommon Man has at last come back into his own, along with a renewed respect for the uncommon mind, the uncommon act and the uncommon accomplishment.
A great many Americans now recognize that the de-emphasis of both initiative and education along with our lack of growth in the arts and sciences cost us the position of undisputed world leadership we once took for granted. Another country, hardly as high as our belt buckle three decades ago, is now reaching for the stars ahead of us. We've learned a bitter lesson, but if we've learned it well, it may well have been worth it.
By subverting our faith in ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation, by shaking our faith in the superiority of the free enterprise system, we managed to bring the greatest country in the world to a near standstill. By again stressing many of the basic tenets upon which this nation was founded, we have begun forcefully to move ahead once more.
If any of us were ever in serious doubt about the relative merits of group-oriented, collectivist socialism or communism versus self-oriented, individual initiative, free enterprise capitalism, we've witnessed irrefutable evidence of the strengths and weaknesses of both over the last generation. Setting aside the social significance of a free society for the moment—and the fact that no government that places its emphasis on the importance of group good over individual good can long remain free—capitalism has proven itself the superior economic system in country after country since the war.
It is not because of any inherent flaw in American capitalism that Russia has been able to catch up to us in many areas over the past 20 years—quite the opposite: It is because this country drifted dangerously in the direction of socialism during the Thirties and Forties that we began to falter and fall behind. Several nations in postwar Europe have found a new economic strength through capitalism, and much of Western Europe is enjoying an unparalleled prosperity because of having taken the free enterprise system to the international level with the Common Market. America, on the other hand, has stifled her natural growth through initiative-inhibiting taxes and restrictive legislation regarding the roles of labor and management in business. Now there is a promise of change, however, as both political parties recognize that this country's economic health is intimately tied to the profit an individual or a company can hope to turn, after taxes, for additional effort or for risk capital invested in a new product, a new idea or a new enterprise. Last fall Congress gave the President sweeping powers over restrictive import and export tariff, so that the U.S. might successfully compete with the Common Market; this year and next, we are promised major tax reforms and reductions aimed at putting more enterprise back in our free enterprise system.
Truly dramatic evidence of the relative strengths in the two economic systems can be seen in East and West Berlin today. The contrast between the two halves of this once whole city—one rebuilding since war's end under a democratic free economy and the other under a totalitarian Communist regime—says more than any economic theorist or political philosopher ever could. And the Wall, with East Berliners risking death to scramble over and under it to West Berlin and freedom, says more about the social worth of the two systems than any words could, too.
Fidel Castro has all but destroyed the Cuban economy with his brand of Communist socialism. And while Red China falters and fails in its attempt to duplicate with communism what America achieved through capitalism, Japan has moved ahead to unprecedented wealth since the end of the Second World War by patterning its economy directly after the United States. As the limitations of communism become clearer, Russia has been subtly changing her own economic system, supplying capitalist incentives as required. But Russia remains a totalitarian state and suffers the inherent weakness of all dictatorships: No nation can enjoy the full benefits of a free economy and the free enterprise system, if the nation's people are themselves not truly free. Thus freedom itself is the spark that a free competitive society requires to drive it at peak efficiency and that is why America can regain its position of world prominence and leadership if it never again loses sight, as a nation, of the fundamental faith in itself, belief in its uncommon citizens and in freedom and the free enterprise system that made it great in the beginning.
The entire world is presently benefiting from the competition between the U.S. and Russia in our "race for space," each country spurred on by the accomplishments of the other. Without this international competitive enterprise, man might well be waiting another generation or more to reach the moon and begin his exploration of the stars. If the same competitive spirit were brought to the research of the world's half-dozen most deadly diseases, the resultant money and man-hours expended would in all probability produce cures for all of them in our lifetime and the next generation could look forward to a life expectancy of 100 years and more. A properly controlled competitive society works with nations as well as individuals, supplying the maximum motivation and thus benefiting everyone in the society with the resulting maximum accomplishment or progress.
The mood is optimistic. In the Atomic Age, with the continuing threat of world conflict, no tomorrow can ever be a certainty, but certainty is a security the new generation does not require. There is, in its place, a new satisfaction in accomplishment—a new savoring of life and all that it offers. The possibility of imminent extinction has given life a new significance. Too often in the past, man has lived almost entirely for tomorrow—thereby living less, enjoying less and doing less. Many of the new generation are discovering that the ultimate satisfaction comes from living for both today and tomorrow.
What we have termed the Upbeat Generation (sharing the spirit of rebellion with that sliver of it called beat, but differing radically because of the far more positive, upbeat attitude about life and itself) bears little resemblance to the generation that preceded it. Yet some are still unaware of the change that has taken place and many do not realize the size of the gap that exists between two generations that followed one immediately upon the other. The great difference in feeling about Playboy and its editorial point of view is but one example of the gap: Playboy expresses itself in terms a great many members of the new generation understand, but that are incomprehensible to others only a single generation older.