The caricature of the emotionally fragile millennial is a powerful and pervasive one in our culture today.
Theories abound offering explanations as to why many members of this younger generation seems less equipped to deal with conflict and are so easily “offended.” There is the coddling parents hypothesis. The social isolation hypothesis. The Machiavellian hypothesis. And the triumph of feelings hypothesis, to name a few.
In a recent op-ed for Detroit News, millennial Kaylee McGhee offered an insightful explanation of her own:
“Millennials are in a constant contest to one-up each other in showing tolerance, and when anyone or anything stands in their way, they collapse into temper tantrums.
And the truth is, none of us should be surprised. My generation is a symptom of the society past generations have built — one characterized by immediate gratification, the breakdown of a moral code and the victim mentality. It’s the wreckage of past generations’ experiments with post-modern liberalism, and millennials are trying to wade through it.
Millennials are desperately searching for answers to questions they’re afraid to ask. And because our predecessors failed to defend the moral code that once provided clarity, my generation replaced it with the morality of political correctness. The result is the snowflake-ification of a generation.” (emphasis mine)
This is a sophisticated response, and it relates to the thesis of Alasdair MacIntyre’s seminal philosophical work After Virtue. In the book, the Notre Dame professor posits the theory that the Aristotelian moral framework that had existed in the West for over two thousand years was essentially destroyed during the Enlightenment, and efforts to unify it with a coherent Enlightenment philosophy failed, though philosophers failed to realize this.
The result was that man still largely practiced and observed traditional moral values for generations, but did so largely lacking any understanding of the ideas that underpinned these values.
MacIntyre, whose book was published in 1981 (the dawn of the Millennial Generation), concluded with an argument suggesting that man, almost entirely unbeknownst to him, had entered a dark age in which moral clarity and consensus were virtually impossible:
“If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too [like Ancient Rome] have reached [a] turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”
Alas, St. Benedict has not yet appeared. The result is that possibly a majority of an entire generation, with the help of the state, is embracing a new system of values built on an entirely different, and very shaky, moral and philosophical foundation.
Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has appeared in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Washington Times.