THE SIXTIES: CULTURAL REVOLUTION IN BRITAIN, FRANCE, ITALY, AND THE UNITED STATES
By Arthur Marwick
Oxford University Press
871 pp., $39.95.
There are critics - not all of them dyed-in-the-wool conservatives - who look upon the 1960s as the era that ushered in a deluge of corrosive values: self-indulgence, disrespect for authority, promiscuity, drug abuse, and crime.
Then, there are other critics - and not only on the extreme left - who view the upheavals of the 1960s as a lot of sound and fury that ultimately achieved almost nothing in the way of truly changing the economic and political structures of society.
The central premise of Arthur Marwick's comprehensive study, "The Sixties," is that the era marked the onset of a genuine revolution - not in politics, government, or economics, but in culture. This cultural revolution, he avers, succeeded in transforming the way most of people in the West live their daily lives. Greater personal freedom, frankness, permissiveness, the continuing reign of rock music, the growth of multiculturalism, and improvements in the outlooks of - and attitudes toward - women and minorities are some of the salient changes he cites in support of his contention.
Also central to Marwick's view of the 1960s is a concept he calls "measured judgment." This is how he characterizes the way in which many persons in positions of authority responded to - and even embraced - the demands for change. This flexible attitude, which Marwick lauds, is the same that the 1960s guru Herbert Marcuse lambasted as "repressive tolerance." Marcuse's complaint was that, by tolerating - or giving in to - protests, liberal authority figures blunted the edge of the activists' anger and zeal, thus preventing the "revolution" from occurring.
In Marwick's opinion, however, a genuine political and economic revolution was never in the cards. Therefore, credit for the cultural revolution that did happen should go to these enlightened practitioners of "measured judgment," who facilitated the diffusion of many so-called "countercultural" ideas and values into the mainstream.