The 1960s Cultural Revolution

By John C. McWilliams | Go to book overview
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I
Historical Overview

When history produces an era as momentous and as electrifying as the 1960s, we should anticipate a very durable legacy. We also can assume that such a turbulent era will foment historical repercussions for decades to follow. Progressing at a dizzying, frenetic pace, the sixties were seemingly synonymous with rebellion and conflict. If, in every century, one decade stands out from the rest as a time of challenge and trial, anguish and achievement, in the twentieth century in the United States that decade is the 1960s. No other decade, save the 1860s, when the nation was at war with itself for four years, has been so tumultuous. The 1960s was a revolution by almost any definition. Americans revolted against conventional moral conduct, civil rights violations, authoritarianism in universities, gender discrimination, the establishment, and, of course, the war in Southeast Asia. Within a generation, the national consensus forged during the nation's victorious effort in World War II had come under attack. A counterculture of hippies, or young people distressed with mainstream society, challenged widely accepted cultural practices and espoused an alternative lifestyle. Conflict and disillusionment, as expounded in Tom Hayden 1962 Port Huron Statement, a declaration of counterculture political ideology inaugurating the emergence of the New Left, abruptly shattered social harmony. Traditional conformity gave way to unprecedented individualism and a reexamination of the conventional code of conduct. Change is inevitable and seldom a graceful operation, but the cultural revolution it produced in the 1960s was as profound as it was pervasive, touching virtually every aspect of Ameri

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