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Abusing the Fifties

  • Leo P. Ribuffo


It's almost obligatory these days to interpret our national temper in 1973, particularly the alleged malaise of the young, as a resurrection of something called “the fifties.” Erstwhile radicals point to a new “silent generation” to justify a change of strategy and often a change of heart. Proponents of stability, eager to dismiss “the sixties” as one of those extremist binges which sometimes interrupt our cycles of “pragmatic” reform and retrenchment, cite the restoration of tranquility to affirm the genius of American politics. Nostalgia merchants and rock musicians find that the splendid sounds of yesteryear can be even more lucrative on eight-track stereo than they were at 45 rpm. Yet for all its commercial potential and ideological convenience, this currently fashionable historical parallel distorts both “the seventies” and “the fifties.”



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