Does our political life tend toward sophistication? It's a question that's rarely addressed objectively. One of the cliches of sociological study in the last 75 years has been the preoccupation with how modern techno-culture tends to break down the links and connections between people, creating various forms of apathy, disengagement, isolation, and the psychological conditions which follow: Alienation, suspicion, boredom, intolerance. But the degree to which people involve themselves in our political life, and the degree to which they make themselves aware of what is happening, as responsible citizens of a representative democracy, are questions which have been usually considered apart from the context within which it counts. In the Sixties, after a decade and a half of post-war "anomie", the first wave of the "baby-boom" generation (the children of the Depression, and WWII generation), reacted against the stifling conformity and presumption of the 1950's--expressed as America's global military adventures, the "organization" men of industry and the corporate culture--by challenging modes of dress, behavior, and openly questioning the available life-style roles.
Rejecting the prosperity offered to them by a new economic affluence--the suburban "revolution" of sanitized, dehumanized "community" and a righteous world-view about America's predominant "place" and role in world affairs--American youth, coming of age in the Sixties, sought new radical paradigms to redefine its social conscience, and explore new ways of living and thinking, against the inertia of political stagnation.
In the immediate post-war period (1945-1970), investment in public education was on a steep rise. Rapid expansions of the public state college and university systems across the nation, encouraged people to believe in the ideal of educational advancement as a right, not a privilege, of growing up in a democratic society. The prosperity which drove this phenomenon, however, was based on an industrial model which would not endure the global capital expansion which began in the 1980's, and has progressed with unprecedented speed around the world. In just a single generation, America went from being the de-facto industrial engine of the earth, to being a nation of credit consumerism.
Those of us who grew up in the 1950's and 1960's didn't see this coming at all, and even if we had, it's unlikely we would have seen the consequences of the proliferation of the factory model into the Third World. The computer revolution, and the over-heated market and real estate speculations of the 1990's and early 2000's, masked the coming rapid decline in America's economic prosperity.
Would the social consciousness and political liberalism of the 1960's have been as emphatic as it was, had we understood then how fragile and temporary our hold on prosperity (including our ability to study, expand liberty, and experience more of life) was? Were the Sixties, in effect, a social phenomenon fueled by a false sense of security and bounty, which was unsustainable, and therefore indulgent and naive?