Written by Vladimir Moss



     The extraordinary growth in prosperity in the 1950s, unparalleled in history, could not fail to have an important and deleterious effect on the western psyche, accelerating its already pronounced turning away from religion and the spiritual life to Mammon. The American gospel of self-fulfilment played its part in this change, as depicted in so many of the Hollywood films that poured into Europe.


     1. America. Nevertheless, it took time for the corruption inevitably engendered by material prosperity to eat its way into public morals. For all its well-deserved reputation for debauchery and flashy display, Hollywood did produce Christian films both in the pre-war era (It's a Wonderful World, in which an angel plays an important role) and in the post-war era (A Matter of Life and Death (1946), the hub of which is the judgement of a soul in the life to come). In the 1950s films were still being produced that glorified innocence and a stable family life, and some were even notable for their Christian content, such as The End of the Affair (from a story by Graham Greene), The Bishop’s Wife, The Devil at 4 o’clock and The Ten Commandments (1957).In the most popular box-office hit ever, Ben Hur (1959) even Christ Himself makes an appearance (but not in front of the cameras).


     But a revolution was afoot… There was a marked change in Hollywood morality between the early 50s and the early 60s.The relative innocence of the Disney cartoons, the musicals and the Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day films was succeeded by the innovative Hitchcock thrillers Psycho and Vertigo (1958), which explored altogether darker depths of the human psyche and presaged a darker phase in the nation’s history. Again, in the early 1950s the Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman’s affair with the director Rossellini nearly cost her her career (although she had starred as the Christian heroine in Joan of Arc (1948)). But the long-running drama of the affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which began on the set of the vastly expensive film Cleopatra (1964), caught the imagination of the world’s new media, and their affairs, divorces, marriage and re-marriage and re-divorce seemed to make adultery and divorce not only permissible but even glamorous. All this was seemingly legitimised by debauched life of the American president, John F. Kennedy (although the full extent of his philandering was not known until after his death).


     In popular music the revolution began with Elvis Presley and Rock’n’Roll, which was very new (although strongly reminiscent of negro musicals), with a strong rhythm and explicit sexuality. However, the real revolution came from Britain, from the Beatles, who introduced the culture of hippiedom, drug abuse and Hindu influences. What was striking about the Beatles phenomenon was not so much the music, which, though talented, was not revolutionary, as the reaction to it from its teenage fans, especially in America: a kind of mass-hysteria that recalled similar outbreaks in the Middle Ages. This encouraged John Lennon to declare unwisely that the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus – he fell victim to a half-deranged assassin’s bullet...


     Already for some decades feminism had been gaining in strength. This movement was by no means confined to such issues as equal pay for women. Neil Rockefeller once told Aaron Russo that the women’s liberation movement was promoted and financed by his family, with two main purposes: first, that the tax base should be increased to include women, and secondly that children should go to school earlier and thereby see the state, and not their parents, as their real educators and guides…[1]


     The most revolutionary influence on 1960s culture was the contraceptive pill… In the 1930s, writes Fr. Joseph Gleason, “Anglicans were the first "church" to give approval for married couples to use contraception. They put a religious stamp of approval on seeking sexual pleasure, disconnected from procreation.


     “Over the next three decades, all the other Protestants followed. In 1965, the Supreme Court nationally legalized contraception for married couples. Seven years later the Supreme Court nationally legalized contraception for all women, whether married or not.


     “There is a direct line that connects these events with the sexual revolution in the 60s, and [the abortion judgement] Roe vs. Wade in 1973. (The judges in Roe vs. Wade explicitly cited the two contraception cases as precedent.)”[2]


     “It all began much earlier, just after the First World War. The necessities of war, and in particular the necessity of producing vast amounts of armaments at a time when most of the male factory-workers were away at the front, had thrust women forward. They took the place of their male comrades in the factories, and soon won the right to vote. Feminism was born – or rather reborn, given a new and more dangerous emphasis…


     “In New York in the summer of 1921,” writes Andrew Marr, “while Adolf Hitler was ranting in Munich, two women in their forties one day sat down and eyed one another. One was a red-haired agitator, born of working-class Irish stock in upstate New York. The other was an elegant daughter of America’s industrial aristocracy, who spent much of her time looking after her schizophrenic husband at their Californian hideaway. Margaret Sanger and Katharine Dexter McCormick were very different kinds of American, who together would do more to change women’s lives by the later part of the century than any politician, in the US or Europe. Their cause, however, was undeniably political. It was to give women control over their own fertility or, to put it more bluntly, to help them stop having babies they did not want, while continuing to have the sex they did want.”[3]


     In the 1930s there was something of a reaction against feminist attitudes, and against abortion, as many countries worried about falling birth rates; and, particularly in Fascist states, traditional attitudes towards motherhood enjoyed a revival with the renewed emphasis on the nation as a biological entity.


     Nevertheless, Sanger and McCormick campaigned tirelessly for birth control through contraception, and also smuggled large quantities of diaphragms from Europe, where they were legal, into America, where they were not. After the death of her husband in 1947, McCormick poured her vast wealth into scientific research into chemical forms of contraception. “The commercial struggle to test and produce a saleable product took years, but the Pill was finally unveiled on 11 May 1960 as a contraceptive. Few innovations have made as big an impact on as many people. How much more effective it was than other methods of contraception. A detailed study in 1961 found the failure rate from condoms was high, 28 percent; from diaphragms even higher, nearly 34 percent, and from vaginal suppositives 42 percent. With the Pill it was 2 percent. Women voted yes in the first year, four hundred thousand Americans took it. By 1965, it was estimated that a quarter of all married women under the age of forty-five in the US were taking it; by 1984 the worldwide estimate was up to eighty million.”[4]


     “The Pill’s effect on the relations of the sexes was, said Conrad Russell, like that of the nuclear bomb on international relations. On 1 June 1961 it came on the market in Germany (through Schering AG). It had origins going back to the early twenties, a time when ‘race improvement’ (eugenics) was fashionable, and the poor or stupid were supposed to be discouraged from procreating (in Sweden, up to the 1970s, Lapps were being sterilized on the grounds that they drank too much and were not very bright). German scientists received grants from American foundations for such research (the money was frozen in Germany under Hitler, and was used to pay for the experiments of Josef Mengele, at Auschwitz). Preventing ovulation has been done by natural methods in the past… In 1951 Carl Djerassi, of Bulgarian-Jewish and Viennese origins, working in Mexico and connected with the Swiss chemical firm Ciba, took out a patent, and experimented with the first synthetic compound in 1956 in Haiti. Germans marketed the Pill first, but it spread very rapidly. Freeing women from unwanted childbirth was equivalent to a new dimension in world history. Before 1914, in England, women doctors had not been allowed to contribute to medical journals because this was thought to be immodest, indicating an interest in the body that was improper. Fifty years later, women were establishing themselves in a man’s world – probably the single greatest change, among the very many that set in after the Second World War. In the next generation, even mothers of small children were going out to work, some of them very successful, and many others left with no choice but drudgery. Feminism became a fashionable cause…”[5]


     David F. Prentis writes: “Although there has always been contraception, its acceptance and practice by society as a whole is a relatively new phenomenon. In the first part of the 20th century barrier methods became through mass production increasingly used. However, with the advent of the hormonal contraceptive pill in the 1960s the contraceptive era, ushering in the sexual revolution, really took off.


     “The term ‘revolution’ is by no means exaggerated, for the result was a fundamental change in the understanding of human sexuality in society. With the pill, people thought, nothing can happen, i.e. no child could be conceived. Inhibitions broke down, so that there was an increase in adultery, living together before marriage and living together with no thought of marriage. Amoral sex education with the message, ‘You can do anything you like so long as your partner agrees and you use contraception. If there is an accident, have an abortion,’ promoted sexual promiscuity from puberty onwards. Sexual activity has been degraded into a form of entertainment.


     “The immediate consequences of promiscuity starting in adolescence are obvious: the rampant increase of sexually transmitted diseases, infertility and the incapability of forming long-term relationships through frequent changes of partners and repeated disappointments.


     “The assumption that ‘nothing can happen’ is erroneous, because contraceptives are by no means 100% effective. Children are conceived, and such ‘errors’ must be corrected – the child is aborted. The result has been devastating: the number of babies killed by abortion every year is about the same as the total number of deaths in the whole of World War II.


     “Apart from the carnage, enormous havoc is created in the relationship of the parents, whether married or not, very often leading to its breakdown…


     “The widespread practice of abortion leads to euthanasia. If it is acceptable to kill one category of people, then it is logically acceptable to kill others, specifically the ill, the handicapped and the old, for human life is no longer sacred. A chilling example of this kind of development can be seen in the National Socialist regime in Germany.


     “The pill ‘culture’ leads to the rejection of children, small families, and a demographic winter. In the long-term it will be impossible to pay pensions…


     “The separation of sexual activity from child-bearing leads to the acceptance of the production of children through assisted reproduction without recourse to the marital act in the case of infertility. Through IVF society is being led, inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, to the acceptance of controlled reproduction. Human beings are reduced to products. They are mass-produced, selected, rejected, frozen or used in experiments. They are treated as material goods, in short, as slaves…


     “When the practice of sterilised sexual intercourse is accepted, it leads logically to the acceptance of all practices leading to orgasm: oral, anal, homosexual acts, etc. The whole homosexual movement has become possible only through the general acceptance of contraceptive practice and the reduction of sexuality to a source of entertainment…


     “Contraception, which leads logically to other evils as described above, is destroying society. There are too few children and nations are dying out. It leads to abortion, as those who promote it concede. The combination of promoting promiscuity through Godless sex education, the long-term use of hormonal contraception with back-up abortions and the postponement of child-bearing leads to increased infertility…


     “The long-term purpose of this policy could well be the desire to subject reproduction to state control, which would allow only those children to be born who pass quality control. At present this is illusory, but the tendency can be seen. It would appear that an elite group wishes to create a society of virtual slaves obedient to their desires. A new totalitarianism is being formed.


     “To this end it is necessary to destroy or at least weaken marriage and the family. For this purpose contraception, especially the convenient hormonal forms, is eminently suitable. And those who pour their millions into the homosexual movement and the gender ideology are not concerned with helping homosexuals and those with problems of sexual identity. Rather they are using these people to extend the concept of marriage and ultimately to widen its meaning so much as to make it meaningless.”[6]




     2. Britain. Somewhat surprisingly, it was the British who led in many ways took the lead in the Sixties Cultural Revolution in the West. In the past the French or Swedes had had the reputation of being the most “liberated” nations. But now the stuffy Brits began to shed their inhibitions; and the very novelty of this in the country that invented Victorian prurience gave a certain perverse originality to its cultural expression that became popular all over the world.


     Certainly, it was a confusing and difficult time for the British. The period of Conservative governance, from 1951 to 1964, was an era of peace and prosperity; but at the same time Britain was a “land of lost content”.[7]This was also the last period – the Indian Summer, as it were – of Anglican religious dominance. The Anglicans had once been “the Tory Party at prayer”, but were becoming less and less conservative (in any sense) as they rapidly lost their faith and abandoned their churches. In politics, the people were losing their patience with their stuffy, Old Etonian rulers after two major scandals – the Suez crisis of 1956, in which the Prime Minister was caught lying, and the Profumo affair of 1961, in which the War Minister was caught both lying and cavorting with a Russian spy and a prostitute. These exposed the rotten foundations of the ruling elite. Economic decline, decolonization, the threat of nuclear war and a new spirit of irreverence in the arts and culture, all contributed to the new mood…


     After Suez, as Robert Tombs writes, the end of the British empire “came quickly. There were general causes: the economic, political and psychological effects of two world wars both in European states and in their colonies; the Cold War and Soviet-backed anti-colonialism; American ambivalence; pressure from the UN; and not least white-settler extremism, which led South Africa to leave the Commonwealth in 1961 and Southern Rhodesia to declare illegal independence in 1965. There seemed only unpalatable choices; as the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox Boyd, put it in 1957, ‘to give independence too soon and risk disintegration…; or to hang on too long, risk ill-feeling and disturbance, and eventually to leave bitterness behind.’”[8]


     At the same time that Britain’s political and military power were declining following the Suez fiasco, its cultural, “soft power”, paradoxically, was increasing. Only this increase in influence, sadly, was negative in the extreme. For it was in London in particular that the cultural revolution known as “the permissive society” and “the Swinging Sixties” began; and this was nothing less than the beginning of the final collapse of western civilization, a collapse in traditional religion and morality which, far from gradually running into the sands like the Puritan revolution of the 1650s, has continued to develop and expand well into the twenty-first century.


     This moral collapse, especially in the sexual sphere, may be linked, psychologically, with the country’s loss of confidence in itself following Suez. After all, it is commonly observed that wars and revolutions, periods of great stress and danger in a country’s life, are often accompanied by a loosening of sexual restraint. This had certainly been the case both during the First and the Second World Wars in Britain. However, these had been temporary lapses, followed by a re-tightening of morals after the return of normality.


     But Suez and decolonialisation were hardly disasters of the order of the world wars, and they were not followed by a return to normality. So we need to look for a deeper explanation…


     1953 can be seen as the year in which post-war anxieties – in relation to such things as famine and conventional warfare, if not in relation to the new threat of nuclear annihilation - were finally dispelled. This was the year in which Stalin died, the Korean War ended, the Islamic revolution began in Pakistan and Iran, and DNA was discovered. In spite of the consolidation of a state of cold war between East and West, there was a certain relaxation of tension in the political sphere as Europe, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella, entered a new era of peace and prosperity that in the following decades spread to many other parts of the world.


     Of all the important events of that year the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953 was the richest in symbolism and nostalgia, almost the last splash of monarchical splendour in a world grown richer in a material sense, but poorer in almost every other way. This new Elizabethan age has sometimes been compared to the era of Elizabeth I. But it lacked the vigour and self-confidence of that earlier age – and had no genius like Shakespeare…

“Complete with archbishop, sacred oil, orbs and sceptres,” writes Norman Stone, “it was an extraordinary spectacle, watched by tens of millions on the relatively new black-and-white television sets. A film-maker of genius, Lindsay Anderson, remarked, later on, that the monarchy was a gold filling in a mouthful of rotten teeth. That fitted the England that emerged, a generation after the coronation. However, the early fifties were a good time. Western Europe was not yet quite competitive, British exports did well, and there were good markets in the old imperial area. Decolonization during the 1950s had been, at least in comparison with French experience, a success, and the new Queen became a considerable expert in it. At home, taxes on income were absurdly high, but there was no tax on fortunes made out of equities, and the banks were generous with overdrafts, charging a low rate of interest. The old England (and Scotland) had an Indian summer, and the great Victorian cities, with Glasgow in the lead, were still the great Victorian cities of industry and empire. But the later fifties showed that this could not last…”[9]


     On the same day of the coronation, a team of British and New Zealand mountaineers put a Union Jack on the world’s highest mountain, Everest. The Evening Standard asked: “Is this achievement the product of an Empire that has seen its finest hour and can look forward only to increasing decrepitude and senility? Or is it an omen designed to show that with the Crowning of Elizabeth a new age begins?”


     As David Starkey and Katie Greening write: “Most of the great actors in the coronation ceremony – the peerage, the armed forces, the Church of England – are now pale shadows of themselves. Above all, we have lost the chief inspiration for the music of monarchy. Not, of course, the Queen, who happily is still with us. The difference is that today she is respected, rather than revered. The idea, alive and well in 1953, that monarchy has a sacred role and power, is gone...”[10]


     The Empire had indeed seen its finest hour, and we can see the coronation of 1953 as a fitting moment to look back on that old aristocratic world that was now about to vanish – probably for good.


     For, as A.N. Wilson writes, “Mysteriously, when all the other Continental countries, during the nineteenth century, abandoned the aristocratic principle of government, the British adapted it. Victorian society was enriched by commerce, industry, capitalism. But it always modelled itself on the old Whig agreement of 1689, that the country should be run by landed grandees. Those who enriched themselves, whether in professional or commercial life in the Victorian age, ended up, very often, joining the peerage. Everything was determined by pedigree, adopted or otherwise.


     “Such a bizarre phenomenon could hardly be expected to survive in the second half of the twentieth century, but strangely enough, in some respects, it did. Only in twenty-first century Britain did the hereditary peers cease to sit, as of right, in the second parliamentary chamber.


     “In spite of the state socialism of Attlee’s government, the House of Lords went on, the great bulk of land in Britain continued to be owned by the old landed classes, and the hereditary principle remained intact. Some people suppose that the hereditary principle is limited to the upper class. This is not true, as a visit to any part of Britain would have shown you in the years immediately after the Second World War. The local factory, unless one of the huge conglomerates such as ICI, would almost certainly be called Someone or Another and Sons. Most of the manufacturing base of Britain, until the growth of corporate and conglomerate firms in the 1960s, consisted of family businesses = the brewers, the bakers, the potters, the shoemakers were X and Sons. Most farms were handed down from father to son through the generations, and this continued well into the 1950s and beyond. Even professional firms – banks, law firms, accountants, publishers – tended to be family-run, with one or another of the sons taking over the business when father grew too old or died. The vast majority of the clergy of the Church of England, until the 1950s, were sons of the clergy. Most doctors were doctors’ children. The same was true of almost all the shops in any British high street. The hereditary principle was the basic structure of British life, and it was much more fundamental, or durable, than any political system or set of ideologies. It was, in short, what Francis Crick [one of the discoverers of DNA] called ‘the secret of life’.”[11]


     Robert Tombs points to the stable elements of 1950s society: “full employment, the Welfare State, the mass building of new family houses, the biggest increase in church-going for a century, continuing low crime, record levels of marriage, a baby boom with falling infant mortality and ‘marital stability without known historical precedent’, of which the 1945 film Brief Encounter is an icon. It was a respectful, indeed deferential time: the BBC did not permit anything ‘derogatory to political institutions,’ including impersonation of ‘leading public and political institutions’. Magistrates ordered the destruction of more than 1300 works of fiction, considered obscene, among them Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), and a bookseller was gaoled for two months for selling D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). In short, the 1950s saw the triumph of Victorian values, and finally a wider distribution of their fruits – the basis of Tory ascendancy. But those fruits contained seeds of destruction. For example, the Welfare State assumed social conformity and economic stability, but it tended to undermine them by lessening the penalties for nonconformity. Mass slum-clearance and the building of new towns and housing promised a better life – on the assumption that neighbourliness and respectability would continue, indeed increase, despite the disruption of communities and the alienating scale and uniformity of much of the architecture.


     “In the vanguard of change were the young (whose wages rose 83 percent in the 1950s) and especially educated young women, who went away from home to attend universities and art schools (on the Continent they usually lived with their parents), and who led a move away from mainstream culture and morality. The popular press, a unique element of English culture, increased its coverage of sex, ostensibly to educate, and increasingly to titillate, breaking down post-Victorian reticence and making sexual gossip and pleasure a central part of popular culture. Pop songs and new girls’ magazines reinforced the message. Sixth-form girls who believed that premarital sex was ‘always wrong’ fell from 55.8 percent in 1963 to 14.6 percent in 1970; and the percentage of girls losing their virginity before the age of sixteen rose sharply from around 5 percent in the early 1960s to over 20 percent in the early 1970s. A series of events not only symbolized, but actually created and propagated change, and to look at them chronologically shows how they cumulatively created a cultural revolution.


     “In 1953 the Kinsey Report on Women, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, received wide press coverage in its statistical analysis and open discussion of the sex lives of Americans. ‘Teddy Boys’, flamboyant and sometimes violent, appeared. From 1956, the year of Suez, all indices of religiosity – such as church attendance, religious marriages, infant baptism, Sunday school enrolments – began to decline after a postwar rise, though this was the resumption of a trend observable from the 1920s, as Victorianism slowly melted. That same year, rock n’ roll arrived with the film Rock Around the Clock, and John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger symbolized the revolt of the ‘Angry Young Men’. In 1957 the Wolfenden Report urged decriminalizing private homosexual acts between consenting adults. In 1958 the teenage playwright Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey brought the story of a working-class married mother into mainstream theatre. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, uniting veteran pacifists and young activists, staged its first proper march to the weapons laboratory at Aldermaston. Also in that year the Liberals had their first by-election success for thirty years, when Asquith’s grandson, Mark Bonham-Carter, won Torrington from the Conservatives; and there were serious race riots in Nottingham (sparked by a pub brawl) and Notting Hill. Boyfriend, a new kind of girls’ magazine, appeared in 1959, as did the most original postwar car, the Mini – designed in response to the petrol shortage caused by Suez. In 1960 the prosecution of Penguin Books under the new Obscene Publications Act for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover generated public fascination. When the prosecuting counsel asked the jury whether it was a book ‘you would… wish your wife or your servants to read’, he showed a pompous old hierarchy at bay. Penguin won the case, as famous authors, critics, politicians and, perhaps most significantly, teachers and Anglican prelates asserted the book’s moral value: ‘What Lawrence is trying to do,’ explained the Bishop of Woolwich, ‘is to portray the sex relationship as something essentially sacred… in a real sense an act of holy communion’ By the end of 1960 the book had sold 2 million copies. In 1961 ‘the Pill’ appeared, and in three years, despite restrictions, was being used by 500,000 women and talked about by many more. In 1961 the Cambridge student review Beyond the Fringe opened in London, in which Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller mocked a range of authority figures. Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene became director-general of the BBC, and turned it in a progressive direction. In 1962 it launched a late night satire, That Was the Week That Was, introduced by David Frost, which delighted and scandalized a large audience. That same year saw the last time a prisoner was flogged. Also in 1962 Dean Acheson, the former U.S. Secretary of State, caused a furore by declaring that ‘Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role’. The first James Bond film, Dr. No (based on a 1958 novel), appeared.


     “The year of sensations was 1963. The Telstar satellite made world television news possible. The Beatles became famous, screamed at by crowds of teenage girls. The MI6 and Foreign Office insider ‘Kim’ Philby (Westminster and Cambridge) was exposed as a Russian agent – one of several traitors whose Establishment connections had averted suspicion. The Tory war minister John Profumo resigned in June after lying about his affair with a call girl, Christine Keeler, soon one of the most famous women in Britain: the scandal exposed sex, drugs, hypocrisy and espionage in high places, and received titillating mass press coverage – ‘Last Week the Upper Classes passed unquietly away,’ declared one journalist. Oh What a Lovely War opened, as did a sexy film version of Tom Jones. The Bishop of Woolwich (now famous as a Chatterley witness) published Honest to God, criticizing traditional religion and morality: ‘Nothing can of itself always be labelled as ‘wrong’… the only intrinsic evil is lack of love.’ Dr. Alex Comfort, poet and former conscientious objector, appeared in a BBC series advocating sexual freedom and the following year published the best-selling The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet’s Guide to Lovemaking, which presented sex not as holy communion but as healthy recreation. The miniskirt was christened by Mary Quant.”[12]


     The pace of change noticeably accelerated in October, 1964, when the Socialists under Harold Wilson came to power. The Socialists, not surprisingly, lacked both the snobbery and the reverence for the old ways of their Tory predecessors.


     “The government, with the key role played by the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, backed an unparalleled series of reforms, some through private members’ bills. In 1965 hanging was abolished. Anthony Crosland, Minister of Education and Science, ‘requested’ Local Education Authorities to adopt comprehensive education, telling his wife that ‘if it’s the last thing I do I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England’: within ten years 90 percent of secondary schools were comprehensive. The Sexual Offences Act (1966) decriminalized homosexuality. Theatre censorship by the Lord Chamberlain – dating back to Sir Robert Walpole – was abolished in 1968. The divorce laws were relaxed (1969). There were Acts on Family Planning. Abortion (1967), Race Relations (1965 and 1968) and Equal Pay (1970). This was ‘the beginning of the end for the era of class and party. The mould in which popular policies had been set since the First World War began to crack as class divisions blurred and the major parties struggled to maintain the loyalty of voters…


     “Similar changes were happening in other countries of north-western Europe, and in this broad context England’s experience was unexceptional. In the long run – still unfolding in the twenty-first century – all this amounted to a cultural, social and intellectual transformation of profound importance, creating a gulf separating modern experience of life from that of previous centuries. Secularization, in the broadest sense, was at the heart of it. First and most affected were predominantly Protestant countries whose churches in modern times permitted a more individualistic and critical approach to religion, and where religion was no longer a focus of national identity or indeed of social life. What seems characteristic of England was that the transformation took place, not without pain and controversy – far from it – but with the active encouragement of much of what the historian A.J.P. Taylor in 1953 first christened ‘the Establishment: the metropolitan political class, the BBC, the education system, the Church of England, ‘the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised’. There ceased to be a consensus among authorities, and no moral code was any longer seen as upheld by society as a whole. This explains why there were marked differences from other English-speaking countries, notably Ireland and the United States. The Established Church, and its educated, middle-class clergy (and the BBC, its secular equivalent), played their traditional conciliatory role; they were not, and did not wish to be, a bulwark of cultural conservatism. They themselves first proclaimed that England had become ‘a secularized society’ – even thought most of its people considered themselves believers – and indeed radical theologians, impatient with ‘institutionalized religion’, believed that this was God’s will. The Bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson, the most famous radical, was not a maverick outsider, but the son and grandson of canons of Canterbury, with six ordained uncles. His Honest to God  sold a million copies, and was read twice by the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. In Ireland and the United States it was the most conservative groups, Catholic and Evangelical, that dominated and constituted an effective traditionalist front, whereas cultural and moral counter-revolutionaries in England, most famously the campaigner for television respectability, Mary Whitehouse, were outsiders, figures of fun.


     “’Swinging London’ and Liverpool became the world capitals of youth culture, and in this area England gained a lasting pre-eminence little noticed (or disapproved of) by adults, but recognized by adolescents the world over. For the first time since the fifteenth century, England was leading the world in musical fashion. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and their contemporaries were followed by rock, heavy metal, punk rock, new wave, and later Britpop, disseminating lasting and inventive European sub-cultures.”[13]


     Revolutions usually begin from below, and are resisted by the Establishment, especially the Church, the keeper of the nation’s conscience. But then the pressure from below becomes too strong and the Establishment is either destroyed or reasons: “If you can’t beat them, join them”. The English revolution of the 1960s was notable because it came from the top, and that it came about in spite of the fact that the Establishment had been famously conservative; political leaders, Church leaders and social leaders were all, until the mid-1950s, old-fashioned and “fuddy-duddy” to a degree; while the working classes, too, remained remarkably conservative in their religion, in their sexual morality, in their sturdy individual independence, which manifested itself in an aversion to living on State hand-outs. But then a remarkable collapse in self-confidence and in belief in their own core values enveloped the upper classes, drawing the lower classes after them. Moreover, nearly seventy years later, there is still no significant sign of counter-revolution; the English revolution has become seemingly permanent. Moreover, it is now global, in that if the revolution in England cannot be said to have started the global revolution, it nevertheless influenced it greatly...   


     Peter Hitchens, writing in 2008, has analyzed how the revolution began in the key sphere of religion and the Church in England: “Hell was abolished around the same time that abortion was legalized and the death penalty was done away with… Like so many similar reforms, making Satan redundant was or appeared to be a change whose time had come. After all, nobody went to Hell any more, did they? For by the 1960s, eternal damnation, like most of the more worrying aspects of the Christian religion, had apparently fallen into disuse. Bishops, notably the ‘South Bank’ group headed by John Robinson of Woolwich, had begun to admit, rather coyly to start with, that they were not sure about the existence of God or the truth of their religion’s central beliefs.


     “It would take some years before the Bishop of Durham, Dr. David Jenkins, would speak of the resurrection as ‘conjuring tricks with bones’, but by the time he said these words few Anglican clergy found them shocking. The idea that one had to believe to be a parson or even a bishop was by then all but dead, and there was a group of Anglican clergy, known perhaps humorously as the ‘Sea of Faith’, who appeared to all intents and purposes to be atheists. The South Bank Bishops had done the necessary pioneering for all this, and it was only the poor believers, huddling together for warmth in the near-empty pews, who were distressed…


     “Two world wars had done terrible things to English Christianity. The established church was part of the old order, rural, aristocratic, hierarchical, which was smashed to pieces at the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. With some brave exceptions it had not had much to say to the common soldiers as they fought and died. Many of them would not have listened with any great enthusiasm anyway. The industrial revolution had already taken most people away from the country parishes where the Church’s ancient roots were strong. The Church had never really succeeded in planting itself in the giant new cities, or in the suburbs. Its most reliable urban supporters, the educated middle class, were assailed by doubt. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had provided a popular scientific theory which allowed millions to expel God from the universe.


     “A world without God meant no punishment for sin, and therefore no sin. This was an attractive idea to many, in an age where man appeared to be able to do everything and overcome anything. If the physical world had limitless possibilities, whey should human behaviour be limited to dusty and unwelcome prescriptions from ancient times?..


     “… The Second World War – by splitting so many working-class and middle-class couples for good – had democratized divorce, previously a mainly middle- and upper-class habit. Those six years undid all the good achieved by the great struggle to prevent King Edward VIII from marrying the divorced Wallis Simpson, a struggle which had ended with the apparent victory of tradition, loyalty and constancy. When the tragedy came to be repeated, and Princess Margaret nobly chose duty instead of self by deciding not to marry the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend, her gesture was too late. The fortress she sacrificed herself to defend had already fallen. In time, she would find that the rest of the country laughed at her rather than followed her good example, and her life since then is a sad example of the moral and marital confusion of the British people. ”[14]




     3. Europe. In Europe no less than in America or Britain, faith and morals went into a steep decline from the late fifties. European social democracy assumed that society could be good without God, and that the only ultimately important thing was Mammon – provided it was distributed relatively equitably and there was a safety net for the poor. Not that religion was persecuted – outwardly, at any rate. But it was treated with condescension, as a relic of outdated modes of thought that would inevitably wither away in time. Even supposedly Christian political parties such as the Christian Democrats of Germany and Italy put much more emphasis on the “Democrat” than the “Christian” part of their name, and put up minimal opposition to the anti-Christian Zeitgeist. As Mark Mazower writes, “Christian Democrats may have varied in the closeness of their attachment to the Church; often, it seems hard to find what was distinctively religious about their policies.”[15]


     However, Roman Catholicism was a harder nut for the secularist Weltanschauung to crack. And in the Latin countries of Italy, Spain and Portugal, Romanism maintained its grip on the hearts and minds – and voting patterns - of their flock throughout the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-58). But Pius was the last of the really papist popes. His successor, John XXIII, declared his desire “to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in”; and the Council that he convened, which came to be called “Vatican II”, certainly let people see into the soul of the Vatican hierarchy, causing many crises of faith among the laity.


     The crisis for Catholics was both of faith and of morals. On the one hand, they were told that it was possible to be saved outside the Catholic Church, and the Protestant and non-Christian worlds were no longer taboo. And on the other hand, various previously forbidden sexual practices were increasingly tolerated by the priests, many of whom were later revealed to be child-abusers.


     Stone writes: ”The fifties ended with optimism and in retrospect seem to have been the last gasp of the old world. Families stayed together, women in the home or aiming to be, and the laws governing divorce or contraception were sometimes ridiculously difficult. A Catholic hierarch in Paris remarked that it was all very well to say that an extra child might break the family’s budget and starve; it would die surrounded by love.”[16]


     Now one thing on which the whole world, East and West, capitalist and communist, young and old, could unite on was, supposedly, the utter evil of Nazism. Everything to do with it was abhorred and banned. But there was one important exception: eugenics. And here the Europeans led the way…


     Eugenics, writes Jonathan Freedland, is “the belief that society's fate rested on its ability to breed more of the strong and fewer of the weak. So-called positive eugenics meant encouraging those of greater intellectual ability and "moral worth" to have more children, while negative eugenics sought to urge, or even force, those deemed inferior to reproduce less often or not at all. The aim was to increase the overall quality of the national herd, multiplying the thoroughbreds and weeding out the runts.


     “Such talk repels us now, but in the prewar era it was the common sense of the age. Most alarming, many of its leading advocates were found among the luminaries of the Fabian and socialist left, men and women revered to this day. Thus George Bernard Shaw could insist that ‘the only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialisation of the selective breeding of man’, even suggesting, in a phrase that chills the blood, that defectives be dealt with by means of a ‘lethal chamber’.


     “Such thinking was not alien to the great Liberal titan and mastermind of the welfare state, William Beveridge, who argued that those with ‘general defects’ should be denied not only the vote, but ‘civil freedom and fatherhood’. Indeed, a desire to limit the numbers of the inferior was written into modern notions of birth control from the start. That great pioneer of contraception, Marie Stope – honoured with a postage stamp in 2008 – was a hardline eugenicist, determined that the ‘hordes of defectives’ be reduced in number, thereby placing less of a burden on ‘the fit’. Stopes later disinherited her son because he had married a short-sighted woman, thereby risking a less-than-perfect grandchild.


     “Yet what looks kooky or sinister in 2012 struck the prewar British left as solid and sensible. Harold Laski, stellar LSE professor, co-founder of the Left Book Club and one-time chairman of the Labour party, cautioned that: ‘The time is surely coming … when society will look upon the production of a weakling as a crime against itself.’ Meanwhile, JBS Haldane, admired scientist and socialist, warned that: ‘Civilisation stands in real danger from over-production of “undermen”.’ That's Untermenschen in German.


     “I'm afraid even the Manchester Guardian was not immune. When a parliamentary report in 1934 backed voluntary sterilisation of the unfit, a Guardian editorial offered warm support, endorsing the sterilisation campaign ‘the eugenists soundly urge’. If it's any comfort, the New Statesman was in the same camp.


     “According to Dennis Sewell, whose book The Political Gene charts the impact of Darwinian ideas on politics, the eugenics movement's definition of ‘unfit’ was not limited to the physically or mentally impaired. It held, he writes, ‘that most of the behavioural traits that led to poverty were inherited. In short, that the poor were genetically inferior to the educated middle class.’ It was not poverty that had to be reduced or even eliminated: it was the poor.


     “Hence the enthusiasm of John Maynard Keynes, director of the Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944, for contraception, essential because the working class was too ‘drunken and ignorant’ to keep its numbers down.


     “We could respond to all this… by saying it was all a long time ago, when different norms applied. That is a common response when today's left-liberals are confronted by the eugenicist record of their forebears, reacting as if it were all an accident of time, a slip-up by creatures of their era who should not be judged by today's standards.


     “Except this was no accident. The Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their ilk were not attracted to eugenics because they briefly forgot their leftwing principles. The harder truth is that they were drawn to eugenics for what were then good, leftwing reasons.


     “They believed in science and progress, and nothing was more cutting edge and modern than social Darwinism. Man now had the ability to intervene in his own evolution. Instead of natural selection and the law of the jungle, there would be planned selection. And what could be more socialist than planning, the Fabian faith that the gentlemen in Whitehall really did know best? If the state was going to plan the production of motor cars in the national interest, why should it not do the same for the production of babies? The aim was to do what was best for society, and society would clearly be better off if there were more of the strong to carry fewer of the weak.


     “What was missing was any value placed on individual freedom, even the most basic freedom of a human being to have a child. The middle class and privileged felt quite ready to remove that right from those they deemed unworthy of it.


     “Eugenics went into steep decline after 1945. Most recoiled from it once they saw where it led – to the gates of Auschwitz. The infatuation with an idea horribly close to nazism was steadily forgotten…”[17]


     Except that in the Protestant countries of Northern Europe eugenics was neither forgotten nor abandoned, revealing a darker side of the all-embracing state. This was particularly true of that paragon of Social Democracy, Scandinavia. As Judt writes, “Early twentieth-century confidence in the capacity of the state to make a better society had taken many forms: Scandinavian Social Democracy – like the Fabian reformism of Britain’s welfare state – was born of a widespread fascination with social engineering of all kinds. And just a little beyond the use of the state to adjust incomes, expenditures, employment and information there lurked the temptation to tinker with individuals themselves.


     “Eugenics – the ‘science’ of racial improvement – was more than an Edwardian-era fad, like vegetarianism or rambling (though it often appealed to the same constituencies). Taken by thinkers of all political shades, it dovetailed especially well with the ambitions of well-meaning social reformers. If one’s social goal was to improve the human condition wholesale, why pass up the opportunities afforded by modern science to add retail amelioration along the way? Why should the prevention or abolition of imperfections in the human condition not extend to the prevention (or abolition) of imperfect human beings? In the early decades of the twentieth century the appeal of scientifically manipulated social or genetic planning was widespread and thoroughly respectable; it was only thanks to the Nazis, whose ‘hygienic’ ambitions began with ersatz anthropometrics and ended in the gas chamber, that it was comprehensively discredited in post-war Europe. Or so it was widely supposed.


     “But, as it emerged many years later, Scandinavian authorities at least had not abandoned an interest in the theory – and practice – of ‘racial hygiene’. Between 1934 and 1976 sterilization programmes were pursued in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, in each case under the auspices and with the knowledge of Social Democratic governments. In these years some 6,000 Danes, 40,000 Norwegians and 60,000 Swedes (90 percent of them women) were sterilized for ‘hygienic’ purposes ‘to improve the population’. The intellectual driving force behind these programmes – the Institute of Racial Biology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden – had been set up in 1921, at the peak of the fashion for the subject. It was not dismantled until fifty-five years later…”[18]


     Closely related to eugenics is the euthanasia movement. In 2002 assisted suicide and euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands. A few years later, it was found that more and more people were asking for euthanasia even when they did not have life-threatening diseases. The reason might be that their children did not visit them, or that they felt they would become a burden on their family. Most recently, cases of euthanasia against the will of the patients have been recorded…[19]


     Still more recently, eugenics has enjoyed a boost from Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft Systems, who openly declares his intention to reduce the world’s population by various technological means (especially vaccination) by 15 per cent… Slowly, the old idea is creeping back: the idea of a super-race that is worthy to live, and for whose sake the older and sicker must die…




     In his book The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966) the sociologist Philip Rieff analysed “what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. Nearly everyone recognizes that this process has been under way since the Enlightenment, but Rieff showed that it had reached a more advanced stage than most people — least of all Christians — recognized.


     “Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the Sexual Revolution — though he did not use that term — as a leading indicator of Christianity’s demise. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, ‘the rejection of sexual individualism’ was ‘very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.’ He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture and redirecting the erotic instinct was intrinsic to Christian culture. Without Christianity, the West was reverting to its former state…”[20]


     It was reverting to paganism, and in particular to the idea that the expression of unbridled sexuality is natural and good. Milotkessem writes: “Published in a highly underrated 1934 book called Sex and Culture, the anthropologist J.D. Unwin found a universal correlation between monogamy and a civilization's ‘expansive energy.’ His aim in the book was to test the Freudian thesis that advanced civilizations were founded upon repression of sexual desire, and a re-channeling of this energy through a defense mechanism Freud called ‘sublimation.’ 

    “A non-Christian, and as relativistic as any modern anthropologist, he insisted that he offered ‘no opinion about rightness or wrongness’ concerning sexual norms. Nevertheless, among the 86 different societies he studied, he not only found monogamy to be correlated with a society's strength, but came to the sobering conclusion that ‘In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.’

     “In other words, once a society loosened its sexual mores and abandoned monogamy, it began to degenerate and would eventually dissipate away. So much for 'permissive' sexual attitudes being ‘progressive’; the complete opposite of the sexual regression described by Unwin in his research on his study of a society's regression.

     “In his own words:  ‘These societies lived in different geographical environments; they belonged to different racial stocks; but the history of their marriage customs is the same. In the beginning each society had the same ideas in regard to sexual regulations. Then the same struggles took place; the same sentiments were expressed; the same changes were made; the same results ensued. Each society reduced its sexual opportunity to a minimum and displaying great social energy, flourished greatly. Then it extended its sexual opportunity; its energy decreased, and faded away. The one outstanding feature of the whole story is its unrelieved monotony…

     “’Sumerian, Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Moorish, Anglo-Saxon, and many other societies, all fell shortly after they abandoned sexual chastity. Sexual permissiveness would cause societies to decline unless and until their sexual mores became more rigid.’"[21]


October 3/16, 2020.

St. Dionysius the Areopagite.





[2] Gleason, Facebook, July 16, 2020.

[3] Marr, A History of the World, London: Pan, 2012, pp. 486-487.

[4] Marr, op. cit., pp. 492-493.

[5] Stone, op. cit., p. 174-175.

[6] Prentis, “Contraception gave us divorce and gay ‘marriage’ and will destroy us: here’s how”, LifeSiteNews, March 4, 2015,

[7] The phrase belongs to Andrew Marr in his BBC documentary, “History of Britain”.

[8] Tombs, The English and their History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, p. 781.

[9] Stone, The Atlantic and its Enemies, London: Penguin, 2011, p. 309.

[10] Starkey and Greening, Music & Monarchy, London: BBC Books, 2013, p. 352.

[11] Wilson, After the Victorians, London: Hutchinson, 2005, p. 518.

[12] Tombs, op. cit., pp. 793-795.

[13] Tombs, op. cit., pp. 795-796, 797-798.

[14] Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, London: Continuum, 2008, pp. 105-107.

[15] Mazower, Dark Continent. Europe’s Twentieth Century, London: Penguin, 1999,  p. 340.

[16] Stone, op. cit., pp. 175.

[17] Freedland, “Eugenics: the skeleton that rattles loudest in the Left’s closet”, The Manchester Guardian, February 17, 2012.

[18] Judt, Postwar, London: Pimlico, 2007, p. 368.

[19] Cassy Fiono-Chesser, “1 in 20 deaths in the Netherlands is now due to euthanasia”, Live Action, August 7, 2017.

[20] Rod Dreher, “Cheap Sex = Dying Christianity”, The American Conservative, September 5, 2017.


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