Allan Carlson at Imaginative Conservative reviews a 2009 book by historian Alan Pertigny, The Permissive Society: America, 1941-1965 . The title pretty much says it! Pertigny argues that the sexual revolution, and many related trends, were already well underway prior to the advent of the Pill and the Summer of Love. And he argues that the “return to religion” of the 50s has been quite exaggerated. Carlson provides some useful push-back here and there, including a vivid picture of the how the 50s saw a temporary reverse of certain earlier trends:

For the one hundred years prior to 1941, the American marriage rate was in decline. The proportion of the adult population that was married also fell steadily, while the divorce rate began a seemingly inexorable rise; by 1910 (and thanks largely to Nevada), the United States was the divorce capital of the world.

But he ultimately seems to buy Pertigny’s thesis:

. . . Petigny’s analysis leaves social conservatives facing a fairly large dilemma. The Fifties seemed to be the one clear example in modern American history of social, cultural, and moral renewal. Families appeared to be growing stronger. Burgeoning church construction and swelling Sunday schools betokened a measurable form of religious revival. The suburban revolution seemed to restore America as a land of property owners, with adult consumption patterns focused on family life and children. In essence, Petigny’s argument is that these were all ephemeral developments, almost illusions, and the strongest evidence in support of his view is the rapidity with which these signs of social health evaporated . . .

I lack time today to consider how Pertigny’s argument fits or doesn’t with one of my more grandiose blog-essays, the one describing a socio-cultural stage of American life I tagged Intermediate Modernity , approximately 1919-1965.  Certainly one can see how it fits with the numerous early signs of the late 60s Sexual-Bohemian Revolution in a sense “reported” in Walker Percy’s 1962 novel The Moviegoer .

Articles by Carl Scott

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