Copyright © Jeff Riggenbach. All rights reserved.
This book takes a fresh, iconoclastic look at the sweeping changes that have transformed American culture over the past three decades. I argue that these changes originated in two revolutions launched by young people back in the fabled 1960s. The first was a political revolution - but the campus radicals who fomented it were not members of the New Left; they were libertarians. In the years since, to a steadily growing extent, it has been libertarians (along with the conservatives who have played up or misrepresented their libertarian leanings in order to garner popular support) who have set the terms of our national political dialogue. If, today, there is general agreement about the benefits of free trade and the hazards of government interference in the economy, if respected scholars, journalists, and government officials are working to undo affirmative action and considering the legalization of drugs, these are but a few reminders of the profound impact the libertarian revolution of the Sixties has had on American politics.The second revolution of the Sixties was a cultural revolution. The young people who stirred it up were called "hippies," and the impact they have had on the American culture has been immeasurable. They helped usher in an era of true cultural decadence - a period in which it has become acceptable to deviate, to go one's own way, do one's own thing, irrespective of what tradition and the established authorities in whatever field - science, medicine, education, business, literature, the other arts - say ought to be done. It is in such periods as this, when the influence of authority is in decay, that most of the genuinely new ideas that actually advance our civilization are produced. I discuss two of these periods - the 1890s and the 1920s - in In Praise of Decadence and compare them to our own epoch, the period that began in the 1960s and has not ended yet.We see the changes set in motion by the political and cultural revolutions of the Sixties all around us - in the ways our cities are growing, declining, and changing; in the ways our family life has evolved over the past three decades; in the transformation that has taken place in less than a generation in standards of public deportment. Anyone interested, as I am, in where this all may lead and how it all may end will enjoy In Praise of Decadence . The book is based in part on a series of articles I wrote during the 1980s for two magazines, Reason and The Libertarian Review . I have revised and updated this material and written a good deal of brand new material to go with it. About fifty percent of the book has never been published before