From The '60s to The 70s: Dissent and Discovery

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The Past Decade: A Romantic Era

Man tends to think of the future as if it were a distant country, across an ocean of time. From the viewpoint of the historian, each decade has a character and often even a language all its own, and the passage from one period into another is a real, if invisible border crossing in human lives. Trying to determine that language and that character ahead of time is a hazardous venture. No one in 1959 foresaw the turmoil of the '60s, especially the rebellion of the young. Assassinations can rob a nation of its leaders, unexpected wars can desiccate the vitality of a race, the unaccountable gift of leadership can create hope where despair existed. Many of the major trends, visible and subterranean, that will shape man's life in the future are present today. On these two pages, TIME offers an analysis of the decade just past. Beginning on page 22, TIME attempts a glimpse at the '70s.

"Ask not what your country can do for you," said John F. Kennedy in his inaugural speech as President. "Ask what you can do for your country." The words were uttered less than ten years ago, yet it could have been a century. The classically balanced cadences, the summons to duty and patriotism sound incredibly nostalgic to ears grown used to a decade of shouts of raw passion, cacophonous protest and violence. The bright promise that began the '60s turned to confusion and near despair as the decade ended. President Kennedy's version of U.S. manifest destiny seemed to be followed by what Psychiatrist Frederick Hacker calls "a rendezvous with manifest absurdity."

The absurdity was evident in the contrasting trends of the decade. It was an era of phenomenal prosperity, and of the discovery of poverty, hunger and social injustice at home. The most powerful military nation on earth found itself bogged down in an Asian war that seemed to defy defeat or victory. It was a war, moreover, begun with good, liberal and patriotic intentions and on a modest scale, but it led to onerous costs, both moral and material. Americans landed on the moon: back on earth, their cities festered and their atmosphere was befouled. The quiescent young people of the '50s were succeeded by more assertive youths, who symbolically displayed their rejection of society's established values at Woodstock. During the decade, more and more groups seemed to drop out of the national consensus, and a belligerent rhetoric of protest and revolution swept the country. Amidst the chaos, it was not easy to find a common theme. Yet the dominant events of the decade did fall into a historically recognizable pattern—a pattern of romanticism.

Rebelling against the liberal timetable, the angry black and the harassed white, the G.I. in Viet Nam and the protester at home would scarcely recognize the decade as romantic. Yet the dominant life-styles of the decade were set by middle-class white youths—along with their adult admirers and imitators—who, like the 19th century romantics, rebelled against a society they felt had become overregulated, oversystematized, overindustrialized. Like their predecessors, they railed against rationalism for destroying all spontaneity, and they urged, instead, the uninhibited release of emotion. They revived the romantic faith in human nature and blamed the institutions of society for corrupting it.

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