Thankfully, we are within sight of the end of the fiftieth anniversaries of things that happened in the nineteen-sixties. What’s left is mostly stuff that no one wants to remember: the Days of Rage, Nixon’s Silent Majority speech, the death of Jack Kerouac, and Altamont—although these will probably not pass entirely without mention.
One reason to feel glad to be nearly done with this round of fiftieths is that we will no longer be subjected, constantly, to generalizations about the baby-boom generation. There are many canards about that generation, but the most persistent is that the boomers were central to the social and cultural events of the nineteen-sixties. Apart from being alive, baby boomers had almost nothing to do with the nineteen-sixties.
The math is not that hard. The boom began in July, 1946, when live births in the United States jumped to two hundred and eighty-six thousand, and it did not end until December, 1964, when three hundred and thirty-one thousand babies were born. That’s eighteen years and approximately seventy-six million people. It does not make a lot of sense to try to generalize about seventy-six million people. The expectations and potential life paths of Americans born in 1946 were completely different from the expectations and life paths of Americans born in 1964. One cohort
- entered the workforce in a growing economy, the other in a recession. One cohort
- had Elvis Presley to look forward to; the other had him to look back on.
- Male forty-sixers had to register for the draft, something people born in 1964 never had to worry about.
The boomers get tied to the sixties because they are assumed to have created a culture of liberal permissiveness, and because they were utopians—political idealists, social activists, counterculturalists. In fact, it is almost impossible to name a single person born after 1945 who played any kind of role in
- the civil-rights movement,
- Students for a Democratic Society,
- the New Left,
- the antiwar movement, or
- the Black Panthers during the nineteen-sixties.
Those movements were all started by older, usually much older, people.
The baby boomers obviously played no substantive role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, or in the decisions of the Warren Court, which are the most important political accomplishments of the decade. Nor were they responsible for the women’s movement or gay liberation. Betty Friedan was born in 1921, Gloria Steinem in 1934. The person conventionally credited with setting off the Stonewall riots, Stormé DeLarverie, was born in 1920.
Even the younger activists in the civil-rights movement were not boomers. John Lewis was born in 1940, Diane Nash in 1938, Bob Moses in 1935. The three activists who were killed during Freedom Summer in Mississippi, in 1964, were all born before 1945. Stokely Carmichael was born in 1941 (in Trinidad and Tobago), Bobby Seale in 1936, Huey Newton in 1942. Malcolm X was born in 1925, four years before Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mario Savio, the de-facto leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, was born before 1945. Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, and Abbie Hoffman were all born before 1940. Dennis Hopper, who directed “Easy Rider,” was born in 1936; Mike Nichols, who directed “The Graduate,” was born in 1931 (in Berlin); and Arthur Penn, who directed “Bonnie and Clyde,” was born in 1922.
Virtually every prominent writer and artist in the nineteen-sixties was born before 1940. Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Norman Mailer, and Andy Warhol were born in the nineteen-twenties, Carolee Schneemann, Yvonne Rainer, Sylvia Plath, Philip Roth, Amiri Baraka, Ken Kesey, Donald Barthelme, and Tom Wolfe in the nineteen-thirties, as were James Rado and Gerome Ragni, co-authors of the musical “Hair.” The chief promoter of rock and roll, Bill Graham, was born in 1931 (in Berlin). The chief proselytizer for psychedelic drugs, Timothy Leary, was born in 1920. Even Michael Lang, the original Woodstock promoter who can’t seem to quit, was born in 1944. Dr. Seuss was born in 1904.
A leading candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri recently blamed the problem of human trafficking on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s during remarks he gave at a religious conference.
Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general and the Trump-endorsed candidate as the party tries to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill
.. one of his opponents for the Republican nomination, Courtland Sykes, who criticized feminists and career-focused women as “nail-biting manophobic hellbent feminist she-devils” and said he expected his fiancee to make dinner for him every night.
.. The sexual liberation of the 1960s was part of a cultural upheaval that included the growth of the feminist and gay rights movements. It was not clear how exactly Hawley connected the sexual openness of the decade to human trafficking.
.. She said that sex trafficking has been
She said that sex trafficking has been an issue in the United States as long as the country has been around and added that it drew attention after the Civil War.
“There are quite a few politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who try to use the issue to help themselves get elected without doing much research,” Mehlman-Orozco said. “It’s a bipartisan issue that most people can come behind.”
.. Another man seeking the state’s Republican nomination, Austin Peterson, compared Hawley’s statements to those made by another candidate who had tried unsuccessfully to unseat McCaskill during a previous election cycle. Former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R)
.. “It would also be great if GOP Senate candidates could stop writing Claire’s attack ads and fundraising emails for her,” Peterson said, according to the Star. “These comments do nothing but foster a Todd Akin-style culture war that the GOP will lose to a formidable female incumbent.”
Beyond partisanship, the feminist record is unhelpful. From the inception of “second wave” feminism in the 1960s, the movement embraced sexual “liberation” as part of women’s liberation. Feminists weren’t so much upset that some men behaved like pigs as they were that women couldn’t do the same without loss of reputation. It was the “double standard” they took aim at, not sexual license itself.
.. Womanizers used to at least make an effort at seduction. Now they seem to act out repellent narratives from porn movies.
For all the understandable talk about the crisis of Western liberalism, the political chaos of the last few years has also demonstrated that many supposed agents of post-liberalism are unready to really push the liberal order to the breaking point.
President Trump is a political weakling, not a Caesar; Marine Le Pen can’t break 35 percent of France’s presidential vote; the Islamic State has all-but-fallen.
.. Dougherty has been circulating in high-level confabs since Trump’s election and reports a persistent mood of entitlement and ’90s nostalgia — a refusal to take responsibility for foreign policy failures, to admit that post-national utopianism was oversold, to reckon with the social decay and spiritual crisis shadowing the cosmopolitan dream.
.. Indeed, all the high-level agita surrounding Germany’s political crisis — good heavens, not a minority government! — suggests a basic deficiency of elite imagination that will be one of the things that brings down the liberal order if it does eventually fall.
.. Better that kind of crisis-generating move by far, in fact, than a grand coalition of parties united only in their anti-populism, and perfectly designed to ratify the populist critique that all the elites are in cahoots.
What will save the liberal order, if it is to be saved, will be the successful integration of concerns that its leaders have dismissed or ignored back into normal political debate, an end to what Josh Barro of Business Insider has called “no-choice politics,” in which genuine ideological pluralism is something to be smothered with a pillow.
.. In Angela Merkel’s Europe right now, that should mean making peace with Brexit, ceasing to pursue ever further political centralization by undemocratic means, breaking up the ’60s-era intellectual cartels that control the commanding heights of culture, creating space for religious resistance to the lure of nihilism and suicide — and accepting that the days of immigration open doors are over, and the careful management of migrant flows is a central challenge for statesmen going forward.