Putting the sexual revolution genie back in the bottle — it can be done

James Taranto says that the Left has ceased to be a revolutionary movement.  Instead, it is a monolithic institution that spends its time trying to preserve the changes it has already wrought in society.  The two big changes Taranto mentions are the New Deal of the 1930s and 1940s, and the sexual revolution of the 1970s and 1980s.  With regard to the latter, he points to Ann Patchett’s defense of the modern sexual status quo in America.  Patchett contends that a revolution, once done, cannot be undone.  Says Patchett:

Here’s the thing about revolutions–there is no taking them back. . . . If you feel that the sexual revolution destroyed the American family by giving women power over their reproductive choices, and that power turned daughters and wives, by and large, into a bunch of wanton hussies, well, stew over your feelings all you want, but you might as well give up thinking that it is possible to herd us up and drive us back into the kitchen. . . .

For those who remain bitter about the revolution and wish it had never happened, join hands with the likes of me, who see the rights and freedoms of women as the only possible outcome for a thinking society.

Taranto points out the obvious fallacy in Patchett’s rather naive belief that you cannot put the genie back in the bottle (or, more prosaically, reverse historic trends):

The presumption that history inevitably moves in one ideological direction is reminiscent of Marx, just as the determination to defend decades-old revolutionary gains echoes the Brezhnev doctrine.

In one sense, of course, Patchett is right. Time moves only in one direction, and events that have happened cannot unhappen. The consequences of the sexual revolution will always be with us, just as the consequences of the Russian Revolution still are. But just as in the Soviet Union, that does not preclude the possibility of some sort of counterrevolution. The intellectual frailty of today’s defenses of the sexual revolution is one reason we think a sexual counterrevolution may be in the offing in the coming decades.

Apropos the sexual revolution, and the fact that sexual mores are anything but irrevocable, think about this:  The Victorian era, one of the most sexually staid periods in modern Western history, followed swiftly upon the heels of the extraordinary licentiousness that characterized the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  (For more on that pre-Victorian sexual revolution, check out The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution, by Faramerz Dabhiowala. I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know if I’ll agree with its ultimate conclusions, but I do know that it provides detailed evidence about the social debauchery that existed side-by-side with Jane Austen’s refined world.)

It was no coincidence that the restrained Victorians immediately followed the Georgian rakes.  The Victorian era was a direct response to the social decay and upheaval of that earlier sexual revolution.  It was, to use Taranto’s word, a Counter-Revolution, one that took place, not in the streets, but in drawing rooms, parlors, and bedrooms.  As much as anything, a social revolution can result from a sense of repugnance.  Society may feel that it has reached a point of almost no return, and withdraw, much as a snail does when it senses a killing amount of salt in its environment.

I do not believe that our society will revert to barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, just as the Victorians didn’t revert to wimples and witch-burning.  I do believe, however, that an increasing number of American people feel that they are staring into a moral abyss, and that they need to draw back before they (and their children) are pitched into the darkness below.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • jj

    Taking back revolutions is probably trickier than it looks, I’m afraid.  You can adjust your behavior, and take back the actions perhaps, but resetting the world as though it never happened – well.  The Russian revolution has been taken back and repudiated, certainly; and though I don’t know whether Czar Vladimir is a better option than Czar Nicholas, I am pretty sure that, at least to the nation writ large, he’s better than Lenin, Stalin, and the rest of the sewer-rats that followed in their wake.  So far.  Maybe.  But nobody’s going to forget Russia’s post-revolutionary these days.
    The big thing about the Victorian era was that it coincided with the rise of the middle class, as an alternative to both wealth and abject poverty.  That’s the basis of the real change.  The middle class were the purveyors of what Alfie Doolittle liked to refer to as “middle class morality,” and there’s your reaction to more libertine times – but it was because of a new societal majority, not because of any revulsion-driven response to the libertine times themselves.  The upper classes continued to be the roaring old rips they always were, but they were a bit less visible, drowned out by the rising tide of the new – and entirely stuffy – middle class.  The middle class had this wonderful view of what it was to be both respectable and respected, and it was a level of propriety, and a new definition of “proper,” to which hardly anyone had theretofore aspired.  The middle class emulated their view of the morals of the upper class; the upper class was astonished that anyone would think their morals were worth emulating.  (The revolutionaries, sexual and otherwise, have always been bored rich kids.)  All the Victorian era did was add a certain fillip to the usual licentiousness, and put it a bit out of the mainstream – but don’t be thinking it went anywhere.  The Victorian era was restrained for public consumption, but below the surface, down there with Victoria’s male kids and grand-kids, the party went on.  Nobody was bawdier than the good old po-faced Victorians.
    Those who feel they’re staring into a moral abyss will have to change direction, certainly, and look away now and again – but nobody’s going to forget, and they probably aren’t going to be able to convince their kids that ore-revolutionary times were swell – because they weren’t.  You can put behavior back in the bottle, but knowledge is far trickier to hide away, and even children will have noticed before they get very old that it’s fun. You can’t pretend it’s not, or try to convince them it’s not – they know better.  Hard to say Patchett’s completely wrong.  (I mean, her reasoning’s the usual liberal BS, and she immediately goers straight to the old “barefoot-and-pregnant-and-in-the-kitchen” trope, the usual witlessness, but she’s not wrong to say it’s hard to become pre-revolutionary again.  People know that masturbation doesn’t make you blind, and sodomy is not a principle cause of earthquakes – (which is why it was banned in Justinian’s Rome.)
    Maybe society will draw back a little, and maybe that’ll be good.  We’ll see when we get there, I guess. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    “but you might as well give up thinking that it is possible to herd us up and drive us back into the kitchen. . . .”
    This line is so stupid in so many ways.
    Counter-revolutions work very well. Otherwise Iran and Mao would never have killed so many people ‘countering’ the counter-revolutionaries. Once a revolution begins and is successful, this paves the way for every revolutionary in existence to say “why not my movement too”.
    It is precisely because of the rights and freedoms of women that will initiate and power the new revolution to destroy the sexual status quo of female sexual serfdom. Female sexual serfdom is in fact one of the modern status quo goals of the Leftist alliance and is the direct byproduct of the sexual revolution of the 60s.

  • Charles Martel

    Nothing is going to alter people’s basic attraction to sex and desire to engage in it. That’s just simple human nature.
    But just as you can’t alter the basic nature of water (it has to contain a certain configuration of atoms), you certainly can channel it in desired ways. Out of towners may laugh when they first see the great concrete channels that lace the Los Angeles basin where rivers once ran, but they tend to stop laughing when they see those conduits corralling  flood waters from the San Gabriel Mountains and forcing them to run straight to the sea. The water hasn’t changed, but where it can go has.
    The “undoing” of the sexual revolution will involve building our own channels:
    —Defund sexual predators like Planned Parenthood. Let them peddle their salaciousness on their own dime.
    —Remove “sex education” classes from the government schools. The government should not stick its nose into pre-teen and teen bedrooms.
    —Legally establish marriage as the union of a man and a woman, with the state’s openly stated desire to promote the institution in its primary role as the generator and protector of children.
    —Restore the sense of shame that should accompany single motherhood and mock celebrities who show their contempt for men by having children out of wedlock. 
    —Endure the charges of racism and mock the ghetto and barrio subcultures where women willingly identify as ho’s.
    —End welfare. No more enabling bastardy.
    —Reverse Roe v. Wade and return the matter of abortion to the states—as a properly functioning federal system would have done in the first place.
    —Mock “alternative” lifestyles, such as the gay bathhouse subculture, or so-called “gay marriage,” or the tiresome proliferation of lithping, shallow stereotypical characters in the media (is there anything more one-dimensional or boring than a gay TV or movie character?). The whole gay scene has corrupted our sexual culture by normalizing debased behavior—both carnal and psychological.

  • Michael Adams

    Victorian morality was very much a women’s movement.  Read about Josephine Butler’s crusade to end regulated prostitution, and men’s very vocal resistance to her efforts.
    Further, idiots who decry the  “patriarchal bourgeoisie,” display an abysmal ignorance of pre-bourgeois societies, and the absolute subservience of women in such societies. e.g. Islam, or Latin America.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The Left is allied with islam. Both the Left and Islam want to make serfs out of women. They have already done so. That is why they are allies.

  • Pingback: Bookworm Room » Moderating the sexual revolution()

  • rwturney

    “I do not believe that our society will revert to barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, just as the Victorians didn’t revert to wimples and witch-burning. ”

    Nor do I. The biggest lie in the sexual revolution is its bizarre conflation with women’s rights.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The Left has achieved a lot of its power by saying that it is Constitutional. It is no more bizzare than conflating women’s rights with women’s slavery.