The 1960s and the destruction of British manners

When I spent a Sabbatical in Britain -- mostly in London -- in 1977, traditional English manners were still alive.  If you saw a drunk in the street, you could be reasonably certain he was Irish.  That has now changed.  On Friday and Saturday nights in the city centres you see a lot of seriously drunk young people who are English.  Why the change?

It goes back to the famous '60s.  I know.  I was there.  The contraceptive pill became widely available in the '60s and that destroyed the whole basis of sexual morality.  

Sexual instincts are exceedingly strong but throughout history, resource shortages meant that they had to be kept within strict  bounds.  Children are expensive to bring up and men have always wanted to be sure that they were incurring such expenses for THEIR child.  So there was a strong economic and social need for sexual fidelity.  You had to be sure that the woman in your life was sleeping with no-one but you. That was the ONLY way you could be certain of the paternity of your child.  

And expecting sexual fidelity in women was not a goer unless men accepted a similar code of restraint.  It takes two to tango so breaking up undesired tangos was best achieved by having neither partner interested in such tangos.  

But the interest was there -- in both men and women.  Sexual fidelity does not come easily or naturally.  Because sexual attraction is strong, it tends to be elicited by multiple persons in one's environment.  A man who finds one woman very attractive will find others attractive too.  So keeping such instincts within bounds was a big ask.  It required most severely enforced social codes and pressures.  And the codes WERE severe.  An ex-nuptial child (a "bastard") was a great disgrace.  And for a code of sexual restraint to be effective, it helped if there was a custom  of general restraint.  

And in Britain there certainly was.  Self-abnegation and restraint were once near-universal behaviour expectations in Britain.  Among the elderly (who grew up before the '60s) one still hears "Mustn't complain" as a form of self-reproof for many sorts of dissatisfaction. And great politeness still to a considerable extent survives.  People still "queue up" (line up) submissively and will apologize if you bump into them.  Both parties will normally apologize in such a situation.  Even a glare at the offending party is rare.

And a major area of restraint was in alcohol consumption.  Total abstention was rare but good discipline was common.  An Englishman could, for instance "sit on a pint" all night.  He could take a whole evening to drink one pint of beer.  There would normally be more that one pint to an evening out but the Englishman would "sit" on each for a long time.  Some still do.

There is of course still a great deal of restraint, reserve and politeness among the English. Social codes fade slowly. They do not vanish overnight and civilization generally requires certain restraints. But the vanishing of the need for sexual restraint has been seen as generally liberating. Liberation became the watchword of young people growing up in the '60s. I had a lot of fun then myself.

But if the pill disconnected sex from child-bearing, there came along something even more liberating:  A great expansion of welfare payments from governments.  England had Clement Attlee and his "welfare state" and the USA had Lyndon Johnson and his "great society".  That, basically, liberated men from supporting their own children.  So ex-nuptial births did not even need to be avoided any more.  The great expansion of prosperity that industrial capitalism had brought about had built up to the point where goods and services were now abundant enough to be substantially redistributed without imposing great hardship on anyone. It no longer required the devoted labours of a husband to support a child. There were enough resources in the community for that task to be undertaken by the taxpayer.

So a culture of self-discipline was replaced by a culture of irresponsibility.  And it shows:  In crime and elsewhere. Wise people still defer gratification but many do not.

And the decay has been greater in Britain than in the USA.  Why?  It is because religion has long been used to prop up the moral order.  An erring penis risked the immortal soul of its possessor.  But the only time when England was very religious was from the Tudors to the time of the "Glorious Revolution" (which wasn't a revolution) and the establishment of a new monarchy.  The gory excesses of the Tudor period and the severe restraint of Cromwell's Puritans did a pretty good job of discrediting religion among the English. 

The Church of England still meandered along and social custom and an appearance of respectability still mandated Sunday attendance for most -- but the sermons were drowsy and an ability to handle a teacup without spilling anything was the main expectation of the clergy. Almost the whole of English literature from the 18th to the 20th century portrayed the clergy as either dimwits or rogues. Though sometimes the cleric was a figure of fun -- as in "Tristram Shandy".  Only the humble country parson was spoken well of (e.g. in Gray's "Elegy").

In America, by contrast, the religion had always been heavily evangelical and hence had (and has) a much stronger grip on the people.  So in England, religion was hardly any reinforcement to the moral code at all while in the USA it still fulfils that  traditional role for many.  The decay of conviction in the Church of England has meant that the glorious old buildings built by believers are now temples to celebrate homosexuality, feminism and  environmentalism.  But those are secular creeds.  Redemption might get a mention at Easter but that is it.

A small anecdote from my life in Australia may help illustrate where the Church of England is these days. I am a great fan of the 39 "Articles of Religion" that to this day are supposed to define Anglicanism.  They are a marvellously vigorous statement of Protestant faith. So when I was at a dinner party that included an Anglican clergyman some years ago, I began to ask him about his view of the 39 articles, to his evident discomfort. Being merciful and not wanting to ruin the party, however, I soon said to him, "But I am an atheist, of course".  He visibly relaxed and said "Ah, I can deal with that a lot more easily".  He was comfortable with an atheist (He probably was one himself) but not with a traditional Protestant.

So social standards are visibly looser in England these days, as the change in alcohol misuse shows.  There is little of the high standards demanded of most American Christians. It would be hard to quantify the difference, however, as Britain too now has a substantial sub-population of sub-Saharan African origin -- and their level of behavioural restraint is very low  -- to their own great detriment and the detriment of others. So for a meaningful  statistical comparison of behavior standards in England and the USA, one would have to collect statistics for whites only, which would produce a disabling storm of condemnation from the faux-righteous Left.


  1. I am curious about the "excesses of the Tudor reign". I am unfamiliar about that.

    As a Roman Catholic, I see the end of Europe was caused by Protestantism. Cromwell's Levellers were quite destructive. The Puritans as well. The chialistic heresy, immanentizing the eschaton, is very much a part of Protestanism. It is Judaized Christianity. If England was still Catholic, it wouldn't be in such a mess.

  2. "Bloody Mary" and all that

  3. The current lack of individual restraint across society is also greatly exacerbated by leftist teachings that there is no truth, only individual perception, and there is no right or wrong, or good or bad, only individual, familial and social value judgements. These phony precepts are taught to primary school children by teachers and school counsellors in weekly class "circle time", to confused teenagers by school counsellors, to couples in crisis attending counselling, and even to criminals in prison "rehabilitation" programs. These leftist precepts are blatant encouragement of lying and immoral behaviour. On top of these precepts, psychologists and counsellors encourage emotion worship, inciting children, youth and adults in crisis, to follow their feelings, name and claim their feelings, honour their feelings/emotions.


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