IN 2009 I ATTENDED two large sixtieth-birthday parties. Each celebrated a senior woman academic who had attained considerable recognition and seniority within her profession and the larger intellectual milieu. Both women spoke to mark the occasion: one, of her sense that reaching sixty was a great achievement; the other, that it marked the point to recognise that the end was in sight. Together, the two comments mark the acceptance of a significant generational shift, as the postwar baby boomers give way to a new generation with rather different memories and political influences. Those of us who are now over sixty grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, and the large shifts that make up what is now mythologised as the sixties. We were marching in anti-war protests when Kevin Rudd was starting secondary school.
Many of the same generation were serving in the war against which we were protesting; even in its halcyon days the new left and the counterculture included a minority of young people. Nonetheless, the period marked a fundamental shift in social and cultural attitudes, and its impact remains today. As the baby boomers age, the 1960s has become a major nostalgia industry, and there is a looming sense that the decade was one where the direction of modern history turned irretrievably, with legacies we are still working through today. This is taken for granted in the US: as one conservative wrote, ‘To an extent scarcely imaginable thirty years ago, we now live in that “moral and cultural universe shaped by the Sixties”.’
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