Jampacked survey of the social movements since the 1960s that compelled America to become a more inclusive society—and created a potent conservative backlash.
Self (History/Brown Univ.; American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, 2003) dives into the maelstrom of social revolution in the mid-1960s, which exploded assumptions about manhood, womanhood, sex, race and family. Those leading the revolution had to grapple with high unemployment and disenfranchisement of black males in the poor urban communities, and the bemoaning of the “psychological castration” of the black male and “victimization” of the working-class white male was promoted by voices as different as Malcolm X, Sen. Patrick Moynihan, Stokely Carmichael and Pete Hamill. Norms of manhood such as soldiering and patriotism were shaken by anti-war activists and draft resisters, while homosexuals demanded equal rights and an end to forced secrecy. The ideal of female domesticity fractured as women pressed for economic equality, child care, access to reproductive services and safe abortion. Yet as the counterculture, feminist and gay movements began to find their political footing, the conservative right wing galvanized its forces in the form of Nixon’s “silent majority,” middle Americans, anti-feminists, right-to-life advocates and evangelicals who all decried the breakdown of the nuclear family, boosting the Republican Party and giving rise to the Reagan Revolution of 1980. Conservatives successfully recast counterculture liberalism as damaging to the nation and the welfare-entitlement state as anathema to natural laissez-faire market principles. In a too-brief epilogue to his exhaustive study, Self sums up how this state of affairs prevailed at least through the “culture wars” of the 1990s.
A sweeping, busy examination of the necessary, however fraught rewriting of America’s social contract.