The Sexual Revolution has liberated everyone from the very things that make us happy—commitment, self-sacrificial love, children, family—and it has convinced us that those very things were the source of our misery. It is gaslighting on a civilizational scale, and it cannot last.
In 1934, Oxford anthropologist J.D. Unwin published his mammoth magnum opus Sex and Culture, a study of 80 primitive tribes and six civilizations over five millennia. According to Unwin, these case studies prove that when cultures become wealthy, they correspondingly loosen their standards of sexual morality. As a result, societies lose their cohesion as well as their purpose and drive. In short—I’m currently working through his brick-sized tome now—the success of a society is, according to Unwin, directly tied to the sexual restraint they exercise. Once this is lost, Unwin writes, the die is cast—the decline is irrevocable.
Unwin’s study pre-dates the Sexual Revolution but still serves as a powerful predictor. His thesis adds insight to Ross Douthat’s in The Decadent Society, in which Douthat analyzes the interlocking layers of cultural sclerosis that have produced our political gridlock, polarization, and Weimar cosplay. The creative lethargy and cultural listlessness Douthat describes, if you believe Unwin’s theory, is at least in part a result of the immense amount of energy being expended on sexual endeavours (be they digital or physical). When sexual energy is not channelled towards marital monogamy, it is diffused uselessly outwards.
A key question, however, is whether the Sexual Revolution has run its course (as Dan Hitchens recently theorized in First Things) or whether we are about to see it advance further. The next battleground, if the revolutionaries manage to advance that far, would be the sexualization of childhood—which is in some sense underway. Pedophilia advocates have praised the concept of “drag kids,” which has children performing sexual dances for adults. The LGBT movement is pushing nonstop propaganda to children; sex education is increasingly a how-to course; mainstream media outlets insist that children seeing nude adults at Pride Parades is a good thing. But all of this is not nearly as far as Alfred Kinsey might have hoped—and not as far as we once went in the West.
That brings me to a horrifying story in The New Yorker by Rachel Aviv titled “The German Experiment That Placed Foster Children with Pedophiles.” Most of you will not want to read the whole thing—it is difficult to stomach. In summary, it details how German psychologist Helmut Kentler, working in the service of sexual liberation (which he thought essential for society to evolve), launched an experiment that placed foster children with known pedophiles. This experiment began in the 1960s and ran for decades with the knowledge and support of the German government. Aviv details one instance where a father attempted to retrieve his son; Kentler and the courts blocked him, and the boy remained with an active pedophile who sexually molested him. The outcome was as awful as it was predictable.
Ross Douthat analyzed the essay in the New York Times, noting that while it seems genuinely unbelievable that this took place, “Aviv explains with bracing clarity how the context of the 1960s and 1970s made the experiment entirely plausible. The psychological theory of the Sexual Revolution, in which strict sexual rules imposed neurosis while liberation offered wholeness, was embraced with fervor in Germany, because the old order was associated not just with prudery but with fascism and Auschwitz…If the old human nature had ended in fascism, then the answer was a new human nature—embodied, in Aviv’s account, by ‘experimental day-care centers, where children were encouraged to be naked and to explore one another’s bodies,’ or appeals from Germany’s Green Party to end the ‘oppression of children’s sexuality,’ or Kentler’s bold idea that sex with one’s foster children could be a form of love and care.”
In short, Douthat notes, all of this was part of the “wider Western mood, distilled in the slogan of May 1968: It is forbidden to forbid. In those years famous French intellectuals petitioned to decriminalize pedophilia, while America had its own squalid forms of predation, whether in rock-groupie culture or Roman Polanski’s Hollywood.”