Philip Larkin famously said:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Well, the Sixties were about sex, which allows me a sloppy segue to: blogging about his review of Charles Murray’s new book — review exclusively available to TAC subscribers — Steve Sailer poses an interesting question:
As Murray’s subtitle suggests, he uses the 1960 Census as his anchor point for many of his graphs. But, as his chapter on 11/21/1963 demonstrates, the whole Kennedy era makes a good baseline, not radically different from the preceding decade.
But that raises a question that Murray doesn’t particularly try to answer that I’ve been thinking about again. I believe I may have a fairly unusual answer to the old question: Why, in the popular imagination, did The Sixties not start until JFK’s assassination? Why does 11/22/1963 show up around a lot of inflection points in a lot of trends? Why do the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras seem more of one piece than do the Kennedy and Johnson eras?
Please go to Steve’s site and give him your advice. My snap response is that the Kennedy assassination blew away the sense of order, rationality, and bourgeois optimism that had characterized the postwar era of American life. The shot in Dallas was the dynamite stick going off in the crack in the dam. It made people aware of the power of irrationality and violence to alter all our expectations from life, and made people more open to the possibility of radical change, and in some cases more convinced of its necessity.
I know, that’s not a very insightful or original point. But I think it’s what happened. When did the Sixties end? I can’t decide if they ended with Nixon’s first inagural, in 1969, or his second, in 1973, with his landslide defeat of George McGovern. I know the Seventies ended with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan on the same day the US hostages flew home from Iran. That whole period from 11/22/63 to 1/20/81 is of a piece, though: turmoil, decadence, deceit, the collapse of institutional authority, defeat, failed idealism.
So: Why did the 1960s begin with the Kennedy assassination?