Alan Petigny, RIP

I'm sorry to report the death of the historian Alan Petigny, author of the excellent book The Permissive Society. As I wrote in my review, Petigny made a strong case that the '40s and '50s were

A book that you should read.marked by "an unprecedented challenge to traditional moral restraints." Petigny isn't referring to a bohemian subculture or to rock 'n' roll rebellion: There are only a few scattered references to beatniks in this book, and its discussion of pop music devotes more space to Pat Boone than to Elvis Presley. Petigny is talking about the great American middle, whose values in areas ranging from child rearing to religious piety underwent a rapid and radical change long before the love-ins....

Note that this shift began before it started to be reflected in popular culture. The debut of Playboy in 1953 may have been a watershed moment in the sexual revolution, but it didn't spark that revolution. "Placing changes in sexual behavior after those in the consumer culture—or, in other words, putting Elvis or Hefner before mass changes in behavior—essentially puts the cart before the horse," Petigny writes. "The crucial distinction between the fifties and sixties lay in word, not in deed. During the 1960s, Americans were simply more willing to acknowledge the extracurricular activities of their youth than they had been during the previous decade."

I differed with the book on some points, but it is a major contribution to our understanding of recent American history. It's a shame to see its author die so young—he was born in 1965, so he didn't even make it to 50—and it's a shame to think that there won't be a follow-up.

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  • Nazdrakke||

    You know who else wrote a book reflecting on American culture?

  • Jeff||

    Sayyid Qutb.

  • Metazoan||


  • Pro Libertate||

    This is horrible news. Alan was a good friend of mine in high school and college. He and a couple of other guys from our high school were among the first I met who shared a libertarian outlook. I haven't seen him in some years, but I'm stunned by this news. He was a good man and a good friend. RIP Alan.

  • Metazoan||

    Sorry for your loss. He seems like a pretty cool guy to have known.

  • Pro Libertate||

    He'd have fit in around here--libertarian and a good sense of humor.

  • SIV||

    What about the 1920s (and early 1930s) for "an unprecedented challenge to traditional moral restraints."?

  • Jesse Walker||

    What about the 1920s (and early 1930s) for "an unprecedented challenge to traditional moral restraints."?

    He argued that there is an ongoing arc that goes back to the 19th century but intensified after World War II.

  • R C Dean||

    As something of a deep libertarian (I question whether you can have a small government without a robust civil society), I have to say it is an intriguing coincidence that the rise of the Total State coincided with these, lets be nonjudgmental, changes in civil/social mores.

    Rather than merely celebrating (rather brainlessly, IMO) these changes in civil society (woo-hoo! I can curse in public wearing shorts and flip-flops!), we might perhaps inquire as to whether there is any relationship between the changes in civil society and the growth of the Total State.

  • R C Dean||

    Perhaps its no surprise that our government and our civil society both have evolved toward treating adults the way we used to treat children?

  • Winston||

    Wasn't much of the "challenges to social mores" really complaints about Mom and Dad making them move out and get a job?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I haven't read Alan's book (just bought it, feeling guilty about not having read it while he was alive), but I doubt he was making these observations uncritically. He certainly hated the statism of modern America as much as anyone else I've known.

  • Jesse Walker||

    The book is very much an argument about what precisely happened, not about whether the things that happened were good. Indeed, I didn't even realize until he died that the author was a libertarian—his book is certainly consistent with libertarianism, but I could easily imagine a smart liberal or smart conservative penning it as well.

  • Pro Libertate||

    He certainly was when we were younger, though I'd say he was more in the RLC vein than a true-blue libertarian (no idea if that held true until recently, though I have trouble seeing him getting all soft and moderate/progressive). He was one of the first people I ran across in high school who had read Rand, too.

  • Robert||

    I see he succumbed to the greatest and most feared killer of all: natural causes. I'm always curious about the means of death, and this is especially unsatisfying.

  • N||

    Very sad to hear about this. I took a history course from him at UF many years ago. He was a super nice guy and actually encouraged critical assessment of the material, which was as vanishingly rare then as at is now.


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