Why did the radical ideas of the 60/70s die out?

The ideas espoused by the “hippies” of that era were provocative and powerful: peace, love, communal living, respect for mother earth, etc. Why did so few of these ideas get anywhere? They’re not all hare-brained. Possible theories I’ve bounced around: Ideas lost credibility because they were regarded as too intertwined with a drug culture? Ideas need money to gain real foothold in public realm? Yoko Ono just too damned annoying?

Sure, this stuff is coming back in small places. More planned communities, more organic farming, etc. But this is pretty small-scale and doesn’t seem to be any part of the original “movements.” So it still leaves the question of why the ideas and ideals of that time didn’t ever take hold.

Sarcastic answers about reality can be posted elsewhere. I’ve heard 'em all and even said them myself at times.

Cranky, I think you hit upon the main reason when you mentioned money which often equates to possessions, and for some folks, power or self-worth. The ideas espoused in the 60’s sound wonderful to some, but those ideas also require long term commitment. Of the people who follow a specific movement, many will often be following that movement due to it’s popularity or visibility. Once another movement becomes more popular or visible, many will move on to that next movement. In this case, striving after big money and security became both popular and socially acceptable on a widescale basis during the 80’s. Those who were truly committed to the ideas fostered in the 60’s most likely hold those views to this day and live their lives accordingly.

And, as you mentioned, the usage of drugs probably did not help things.

Interesting question. I look forward to more responses.

I apologize if this is a double post; I posted a reply and got a “could not connect with server” error, and upon returning to this thread, I found my post wasn’t here. So I’m trying again.
Question for you, cranky- what makes you think that those ideas haven’t taken hold?

The Democratic nominee for president has written a book calling for a greater need for ecological awareness, and stating that the internal combustion engine is the greatest existing threat to mankind. Rather than being castigated as some sort of radical, some groups are saying that he’s not doing nearly enough to protect the environment. Even the Republican candidate is, at the very least, giving lip service to the idea of protecting the environment.

Bill Clinton had an extra-marital affair, and the general public response was a shrug of “what he does on his own time is his own business”. Doesn’t that reflect a much more open and laissez-faire attitude towards sex and love than that of the '50’s?

I’m not sure that the ideals you say were lost are as far gone as you think; I think the '60’s had a great cultural effect- for good or ill- upon how we live today.

I was going to answer much as John did: they didn’t die out, they’re just no longer radical.

Not every idea, of course, and not to the extremes that were being advocated. But there was a radical shift in American thought. It’s just that now that the flower children are old and gray their “far out” ideas seem much closer to mainstream thinking.

To try to sum it up in one sentence: plenty of energy, very little direction.

A lot of the movements in the 60s started out by rejecting the idea of an organized party, considering the Stalinist model unsuitable (true) and the logical outcome of the politics and practice of the Bolsheviks in 1917 (I would argue false).

So progressive movements looked more towards individual efforts and small groups around single issues rather than mass efforts and connecting different issues. This devolved into lifestyle choices, identity politics (whites can’t fight Black oppression because they don’t suffer from it, straights can’t fight gay oppression because they don’t suffer from it) and the emergence of single-issue groups.

The ideas from the 60s and 70s haven’t died, nor has the sentiment for change. The forces behind them simply didn’t develop a binding cohesiveness and ultimately dissipated.


What was the hippie idea of peace? They seemed to think it was ok for a brutal communist regime in North Viet-Nam to exist. Who wants that kind of peace?

Hippies didn’t invent the idea of love.

Communal living just didn’t appeal to most people.

Respect for mother earth is ok I suppose. I want clean air and water just like the rest of you. But some of the more radical watermelons of the environmentalist movement see humans as cancer on the earth.


Or the hippies just grew up, got jobs, and went on with their lives.


Maybe the original movement just didn’t have a solid philosophical base.

Well, communal living and free love aren’t exactly a good idea in the days of AIDS.

And the lifestyle wasn’t exactly healthy.

As far as not condemning extra-marital affairs…no, they would NOT have done that in fifties.
However, go back a hundred years ago from that and no one would care.

But that’s the kind of peace we’ve had with Vietnam now for the past 25 years. Should the Vietnam War ought to still be going? The Vietnam War was a situation where the cure was worse than the disease and the patient died anyway. The domino theory turned to be false, but the anti-war movement knew that from the outset.

So what? They emphasized it at a time when there was precious little in America, especially in the South.

True enough.

Such as who? Is this an accurate portrayal of the environmentalist movement, then or now?


But some of the more radical watermelons of the environmentalist movement see humans as cancer on the earth.

Squeels, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce puts out a publication called The Environmentalists Little Green Book. You should track it down - it’s full of quotes from so-called radical environmentalists about the worth of human life, technology, use of violence, incompatibility of environmentalism with Judeo-Christian tradition. Mostly stuff taken out of context from writings & speeches of environmental leaders such as Gore, heads of Greenpeace, PETA, etc. I believe there is one direct quote about human beings being a cancer on the earth. It’s not online, as far as I know. They were selling it at Earth Day on the Mall in D.C.

I think the purpose of the little green book was to get average people to question the more extreme views of certain environmental organizations like Greenpeace - most people agree that protecting the environment is important, but not all people agree with methods & extremes proposed.

Here’s a link to a story. (Scroll down - it’s the second item).

      • Because the kids who thought this was such a grand concept were being supported financially by their parents. After the kids all got kicked out, after not too long they decided they’d rather be rich, and they became lawyers, dentists and CPAs. - The same types of ideas still persist, mostly in youngsters and the not-young-but-well-coddled (IE,-wealty rock stars who have gotten rich off of the same capitalistic system they advocate destroying). - MC

I’m always amused at the way that phenomena such “the hippies” are perceived to be a monolithic structured movement with clear goals and established doctrine.

There were people who espoused “free love” and the “age of Aquarius” and “back to the Earth” and similar ideas. A very few of them actually gave though to the ideas and published philosophical musings on the subject. There were other people who simply opposed the Vietnam War or who opposed the legal racism of Jim Crow or the de facto racism entrenched in law in northern states. Rather more of them were likely to publish their thoughts. Still others (but not really very many) thought that society was so corrupt, that the whole structure needed to be torn down. Several of them also published their views. It is possible to find individuals that might be called hippies in each of those groups. However, while there was some mingling among the groups, there was never a cohesive force that said “this is the way” that found a major following among the masses.

Most hippies were simply kids who saw an opportunity to try new things and did. I would be willing to bet that far more guys from that period served in the military than actually lived in a self-sustaining commune. Even if you throw in the urban or college “communes,” you are not going to find that they come anywhere near a majority of the population of teens and twenty-somethings from that era.

The voices that were raised the loudest (and were given the most media attention) were the voices of those who were farthest out in their ideas. There is no point in Walter Cronkite trying to tell a story about a group of kids who wanted to modify a local curfew that was too restrictive when there might be a kid out there calling for the local resevoir to be spiked with LSD. The immediate predecessors to Falwell and Robertson wouldn’t whip their congregations into foaming-at-the-mouth-mobs by pointing at the kid who asked whether Catholics and Baptists could live side by side when they could more easily quote John Lennon out of context that he was more popular than Jesus.

Some of the really far out ideas have fallen by the wayside simply because they were weird. On the other hand, with the excesses came the more considered thoughts in the same direction that have not fallen away.

None of the following have come to pass because of the hippies, but all were ideas that were carried forward to a great many people during the hippie era:

  • More concern for the environment
  • more acceptance of non-traditional arrangements in families
  • women’s rights
  • gay rights
  • a reluctance to simply accept everything handed out from Washington as “true” or “good”.

Have these changes been unalloyed good? Probably not. Did they all spring from the hippies? Certainly not.

However, the great unwashed mass of kids who wandered around and bumped into each other and learned new ideas from people with whom they would not normally have ever spoken introduced a certain acceptance of people into society.

Of the three groups that I mentioned earlier, the group that has had the most “defectors”–guys who grew up, got a haircut, and turned themselves into businessmen or politicians–has been the group that called for the destruction of society. My guess would be that they were always interested in power and they finally realized that there was more power to be had within the system than from trying to replace it.

The back-to-the-earth people have not produced a large number of open-pit-mine owners or clear-cut timber barons. The anti-militarist and pro-racial-equality groups have not produced any notable police chiefs or generals or race-baiters (Gingerich, notwithstanding–but then he was a power-tripper).

However, you can find a lot of the more outspoken members of those groups quietly working on neighborhood or city-wide conservation groups or neighborhood outreach programs. Quite a few of them went on to become lawyers who take those sorts of cases, now.

As with any “movement,” of course, the vast majority were simply kids who participated while it seemed interesting and then grew out of it. There is no harm there.

The only seriously distressing legacy of the period is the way in which so many people bought into the idea that they could not effect change in government, and so dropped out of the political process. Too many kids believed the leaders who thought that marches and demonstrations would change the world. They never noticed that however loud they were, they were never in a majority and so had no real hope of changing the world at that time. As the era wound down with Nixon’s dirty tricks, far too many of them simply gave up on politics and they now stay away from the election process in the millions.

*Originally posted by MGibson *

Maybe it’s because of all the people now being killed because they stepped on land mines that WE planted during that fucking war. Which we should have stayed out of:
Read: In Retrospect-Robert S. McNamara-even he thinks he fucked up.

tom said

A minor dissenting opionion. Your total post was, as usual, masterful.

I marched on Washington 1n 1970. I felt very strongly against the War. Combined with all the other events of that year(Kent State, Jackson State, and others) I think that a vocal minority of people in this country, with the aid of television, caused a change in the average American’s perception of the War at that time. I don’t mean that it changed the week after we marched. But, rather, that peoples minds may have been changed by the events. I know that my conservative, non-political mom told me years afterwards, that the events of that year changed her mind about our involvement in VietNam. I know that anecdotes aren’t proof, but mom needed the publicity. I think that the US sought peace much sooner than if the anti-war movement had never existed. So they did have an effect in that general time frame.

Many of the people called hippies were just college kids who were opposed to the war and liked Jimmy Hendrix Janice Joplin and Bob Dylan and maybe,OK probably, did a little experimenting with drugs.The pill had recently come into use making a new freer sex lifestyle.

samclem, I don’t disagree with your point, at all (which is why I also italicized at that time in my post). I think that the demonstrations (augmented by seven years of televised flag-draped coffins) did have an effect on the way the war was perceived and did eventually lead to a consensus that we should get out. By the time that happened, though, a substantial number of kids had already decided that politics was a mockery of participation in the face of (what they perceived to be) a plutocratic, or at least oligarchic, government.

Here’s an idea…

I’m aware that a lot of blame can be placed on the media. I wonder if the popularity of the Anti-war movement, coupled with the Media’s natural ability to report on hot topics to increase ratings and sell papers, lead to the decline in interest? I mean, if you keep seeing yourself and ideals being used to sell more Fords or whatnot, wouldn’t that discourage you? What if all the higher ideals of the movement (anti-war, equality for all, don’t trust the government) being warped by the media caused people to lose interest?

What was the reaction to all that? The Disco era. :slight_smile:

I’m at least thirty years younger than Samclem, but I may have a different perspective on things.

I think the efforts of the 60’s have had a significant influence on the present. I’ll cite just a couple of examples, which should echo tomndebb’s post nicely:

Environmental Sanity: We’ve come a long day from when the catfishers congregated around the Kodak plant in the wintertime due to ethelyne glycol dumping. Littering is now an almost shunned practice. Its last bastion is rebellious kids–and the Ku Klux Klan cleans up after them. Okay, things still aren’t great, but it is a step forward.

Freedom of information: I think that someday, the FOIA might prove to be the lead in America’s waterpipes. In the meantime, it is manifested in the the government’s commitment to freely give all information possible, upon request, to any citizen who asks. And they can’t say no if it’s not classified. That’s pretty cool.

Acceptance: It probably hasn’t helped the military at all, but I’m willing to bet that most folks out there have met an openly gay, black or insane individual. Hey, that never happened on Leave it to Beaver. So we’re getting somewhere.

“All revolutions devour their own children,” or so said Hitler, quoting someone else. But some of the children inevitably survive. Just look at the Volkswagen and Apple marketing departments.


There are many answers to your question. If you make your question more specific, we can answer it better. Which radical ideas of the '60’s/'70’s are you talking about? Who was advocating them back then? More importantly, what percentage of the population was advocating them then, and how is this any different from now? What would you consider to be a “victory” by the advocates of these ideas, and why are you so sure that it didn’t occur?

First, there were many groups advocating many ideas during the '60’s, and not all of them were liberals. The notion that there was anything like a general trend toward liberal ideas in the '60’s is, at best, a huge overgeneralization. There have been a couple of history books written lately that have attempted to show that there were conservative movements that started during the '60’s that were ultimately more successful than the liberal movements of the '60’s.

Second, many of the radical ideas of the '60’s were hardly original. Minor example: There was a trend toward establishing communes in the '60’s, but there were also a number of communes (some of which also advocated free love) established in the U.S. in the '40’s. Not the 1940’s. The 1840’s. Really. Read a history of communes and find out about this. All of the 1840’s communes eventually folded, just like the 1960’s ones. They all essentially ended in the same way. At some point people started to argue about who should take out the garbage and who should do the dishes. Sometimes this could be sidestepped by a de facto authoritarian leader taking over the commune, but eventually the commune would die anyway. I don’t want to be excessively critical towards the idea of a commune. It’s an interesting idea, and it’s worth it to have people try it every few decades just to see if it will work this time. Who knows? Perhaps it can be made to work with the right tweaking of the idea.

What other radical ideas are you talking about then? Peace? Anti-war feelings were hardly specific to the Vietnam War. There were pacifists opposed to most of the wars in American history, and in some cases they were at least as visible as during the Vietnam War. In any cases, most of the opposition to the Vietnam War came from different groups than you might think. Until 1968, poor and working-class Americans were clearly more likely to oppose the Vietnam War than middle-class and rich ones. After all, they were the ones who were being used as cannon fodder. It wasn’t until after college deferments were dropped that there began to be substantial middle-class opposition to the war. It’s also arguable that the trendy anti-war protesters of the late '60’s and the early '70’s actually hurt their own cause.

Are you talking about civil rights/women’s rights/gay rights? Those are long-term movements that began before the '60’s and continued after the '60’s. The same is true for environmentalism. It went under different names, but the '60’s were only part of the story.

(Why do we tend to think that all these movements were invented in the '60’s? Mostly because we baby boomers are so self-centered that we think we invented everything. We think we invented sex, of all things.)

To some extent, civil rights/women’s rights/gay rights/environmentalism did succeed. Not in everything, of course, but substantial changes were made. Even the basic underlying working-class opposition to the Vietnam War succeeded to some extent. It’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever again getting into a war that lasts as long and kills as many people as the Vietnam War does (unless it were actually on American soil). Even one as short and with as few Americans killed as the Gulf War can barely be sustained.

A few photos of the turn of the century “hippie” commune near where I live. (note: the commune started in California, but then moved to Louisiana. I’m in Louisiana.)

A PBS series on 19th century communes.

And communes today.

Rome was not built in a day. Changes in society take time, and given the generally conservative nature of American society it may take longer than in more progressive ones. That being said, I believe that the “radical ideas of the 60s/70s” didn’t die out - they’ve just taken longer to come to fruition.

Someone here has already said that some of the radicals of the period became lawyers and policy makers of today. Some have taken a less formal path and are average joes who happen to participate in civic discussions, vote, volunteer, and have come to the conclusion that you do, indeed, have to “think globally, act locally.” Of course, there are still the radical radicals - witness the demonstrations in Seattle (even though I suspect alot of those folks were just bored kids who figured that they’d participate in a riot).

Unfortunately, with age comes a tendency toward cynicism. You see enough of the world and you figure “Screw it, things won’t ever change. I’m not even going to participate in the discussion.” I suspect that this has also happened to a few of the young Turks of the 60s.

In short, perhaps we should strive to make the world better not for ourselves, but our descendants. Give them the gift. Give them reason to look back and say “My, what an enlightened group of people.”