Notes on the sexual revolution

-First of all, it’s happening. It’s not a bunch of hippies dancing on the Berkeley college lawn in the summer of ’68.

-Forty years later, still going strong. Considering the number of people still wedded to various parts of the ancien régime, like spousal fidelity, anti-pederasty, the exclusion of sexual cruelty from the public sphere, age of consent rules, taboos on molestation, the unwillingness to let violence express itself in gladiatorial combat, etc. there is still a great deal left to the logical progression.

-(Like all revolutions?), it is both utterly predictable and yet takes everyone by surprise (the moral life is rigorously logical within indefinite possibilities).

-That various events are not announced as “victories in the sexual revolution” is propaganda, sc. a propaganda of silence – it’s understandable that the winning side would not want to raise the question: “which side are you on?”

So where is it all going? 

Robin Lane Fox’s Pagans and Christians paints the picture of a pagan sexual ethic that was in some ways very stern (condemning uxorial adultery and passive homosexuality, for example) but it was always extrinsic. No sexual activity that was wrong as such, it was only wrong when it distracted someone from something they should be doing, harmed his reputation in the community, or depleted his finances. Parents would critique the sexual actions of their children only in the way that modern parents might critique gambling.

Theory on cause. 

The causes most immediately at hand are material and even hedonistic: we got the pill, penicillin etc.. This is to see the revolution as an outgrowth of technological power. But there is another cause that is both more causative and more sympathetic.

Start from the consensus that the public mood/philosophy that served as the engine of the revolution was principally informed by the atrocities of the two wars, holocaust, atomic bomb, etc. and that the consensus was/is that these were caused by the folly of certain absolute ideals (utopian ideologies, racial purity schemes, commitment to the Enlightenment value of rational control through science, etc.) This gave rise to a post modern age that views all these things with irony, and advocates not universal unity but plurality and diversity.

But the most manifest expression and consequence of this rejection of absolute ideals is the refusal to sublimate erotic desire to anything. It thus now exists wholly for itself. The mass outpouring and release of sexual energy is the creative destruction of the old structures and conduits for erotic desire. The “cult of the self” is fundamentally a critique of the “cult of the state” or the cult of ideolology/personality. Who couldn’t sympathize with that?

-The only effective roll-back to the sexual revolution would be a common good that people would be willing to sublimate erotic desire to. Seen from this angle, its progression seems as inevitable as a syllogism. At the same time, though the revolution is fundamentally a critique of the horrors of the cult of state and personality, it is not yet obvious that it will be any better at avoiding its own horrors. Seen from this angle, a backlash and reversal seems just as inevitable, though we can only see it on the far side of a sea of blood.


  1. Pete said,

    June 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    What about the fact that many of the guru types who championed and led (insofar as it was led by anyone) the revolution were often aligned with the cult of the state in some of its forms? I’m thinking here of a Sartre type character who lived the revolution personally, gave it some philosophical support (denying any sort of human nature) and then became a communist. Was this last act unserious in his case? Or what of a Hemingway? Pretty darn hedonistic, though I’m sure he felt he was pushing against some faulty “system”, but again was sadly sympathetic to communism. I know these are only two examples, but even in the more popular realm, you have lists of musicians, actors etc. giving various levels of support for totalitarian regimes of various stripes. Are they just mistaken, or unserious?

    • June 28, 2013 at 9:01 am

      A friend of mine who specializes in 20th century history made what amounted to a similar critique of the same point, and said that post modernism was more a rejection of nationalism (i.e. the right) than a rejection of states as such. I see the point, but I disagree at least in the case of the most extreme doctrine of the Left, since the Marxist rejects all states. He rejects every stat-us, every stable, finite entity that is defined by relations of powers among citizens, which is characterized by a connection to the past and a body of truths handed down through generations. Marxism is only the collective expression of a continual revolution. By design, it dissolves states (polities or nations) and strives to make a one world, stateless utopia where all essential orders between citizens and persons (such as are found in religions or families) are unthinkable. It unites not by a single political order but a single consciousness universally spread throughout diverse persons.

%d bloggers like this: