The Rise and Fall of Love in the Sixties

Topping the Charts: On June 25, 1967, a television audience of over 400 million in 25 countries heard the Beatles declare All You Need Is Love. The song was part of Britain’s contribution to Our World, the first live global television link, and was broadcast direct from EMI/Abbey Road Studios in London. The piece was written by John Lennon and its lyrics were kept simple to cater for the programme’s international audience. Nevertheless, it captured the uncompromising utopian sentiments of the Summer of Love (“All you need is love/Love is all you need”), and became a leading anthem for the Counter-Culture, topping the sales charts in Britain, America, Europe, Australia and many other countries.

Love vs Power: The song highlighted a central concern of the Sixties about the nature of love and the role it played in interpersonal relationships and society. This debate excited the Baby Boomer generation because it addressed two imperatives: the desire for utopian alternatives to the status quo; and the need to make sense of radical new sexual freedoms that were opening up. The debate ranged from the most cosmic to the most carnal conceptions of love, from the transcendent to the immanent, until the idealism of Love was pushed aside and faded from memory, to be replaced by the paranoia of Power, as we will see.

Participation: For the performance of All You Need Is Love the Beatles were backed by a studio orchestra and surrounded by friends and fellow celebrities, including Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Keith Moon and Graham Nash. The band and their audience were dressed in psychedelic clothes and scarves, emphasizing their affinity with the ideals and values of the nascent Hippie movement. Balloons, flowers, streamers, sandwich boards and graffiti declaring the importance of ‘Love’ added to the festive atmosphere. The song ended in a cacophony of musical quotations and quasi-dionysian chaos.

Significance All You Need Is Love was applauded as “the anthem of Flower Power”. Commentators variously observed how the “genuinely moving song” confirmed “the Beatles’ evangelical role” at a time when “the whole world was waiting for something new, and the power of music was beyond doubt”; As “the whole human race was becoming unified under the shadow of death” brought by war, “the Beatles gave expression to a shared global sensibility” that a way to peace and love must be found. Consequently, the performance “captured [the idealism of] Flower Power at its zenith”; it was “one of the strongest visual impressions of the Summer of Love”; “Flower Power’s finest moment”; and it formally announced the arrival of Flower Power ideology as a mainstream concept.”

Exalted Concept: Central to this utopian ideology was an exalted concept of love. This emerged in the context of radical discussions of sexuality, led by various Freudo-Marxists, including the eccentric Wilhelm Reich (for whom, love was literally blue), and best-selling authors like Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization, 1955), Erich Fromm (The Art of Loving, 1956), and Norman O. Brown (Love’s Body, 1966). They all insisted that an abundant sex life and/or love were essential for a healthy life and that finding and sustaining either in modern technocratic capitalist societies was extremely difficult, if not impossible.   

Central Concern: This made love a central concern of the Counter-Culture. As the Time magazine article on Hippies (7/7/1967) observed, “The key ethical element in the Hippies movement is love – indiscriminate and all-embracing, fluid and changeable, directed at friend and foe alike.”  ‘Love’ was entering the vocabulary of the times with increasing frequency, as the New Age theorist, Marilyn Ferguson, observed in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1981). For her, love was “a conspiracy of two, a momentarily polarized circuit of consciousness, an electrified linking of minds [that] frees, fulfils, awakens and empowers” personal change.

Transformative Power: Ferguson even recorded a politician who wrote to her of “the transformative power of liberating love relationships.” It was clear that “no word better approximated the new sense of caring and connectedness” that characterized the era, and from which flowed “experiences of unity, fullness, awakened senses, empathy and acceptance.”

Spaces: This conception of love, seen in terms of transformation, connectedness, and unity, inspired George Harrison. He studied Hindu spirituality and learnt the sitar with the Indian master, Ravi Shankar. He then wrote Within You Without You, a synthesis of Western and Indian ideals and music, released on the Sgt Pepper’s album (1967). Harrison depicted love and its absence in terms of Hindu metaphysical ideas (augmented by LSD experiences) about the alienation and illusory nature of the everyday world in which we are all trapped by ignorance: “We were talking / About the space between us all / And the people who hide themselves / Behind a wall of illusion / Never glimpse the truth / Then it’s far too late.” The song also invokes the revolutionary power of love: “We were talking / About the love we all could share / With our love, with our love / We could save the world / If they only knew.”

The Rapture of Love: The underlying Eastern metaphysics of this conception were explained at the time by the pioneering expert on global religious systems and mythologies, Joseph Campbell, in ‘The Mythology of Love’ (1967): “Through our own experiences of the union of love we participate in the creative action of the ground of all being.”  “According to the Indian view, our separateness from each other … is but a secondary, deluding aspect of the truth.”

 Ground of Being: And what is this truth? “In essence we are of one being, one ground; and we know and experience that truth – going out of ourselves, outside the limits of ourselves – in the rapture of love.” This refers to the metaphysical idea (found in Eastern and Western traditions) that all life shares a common origin in the nature of the universe (‘the ground of being’) and that it is open to human beings to experience this nature as a unifying sense of love. That they do not do so reflects their alienation from each other and the universe, and their entrapment in a world of illusion. Understood in this fashion, love involves a re-connection with the very nature of things, along with the rapturous, transformative experience that goes with this.

Saving the World: All You Need Is Love, Within You Without You, and many other songs gave expression to these powerful notions and aspirations, and to the uninhibited optimism and idealism of the Sixties, as did the key slogan, ‘Make Love, Not War’. As another historian records (Timothy Miller, The Hippies and American Values, 1991): “Love was an emotion, a state of mind, a feeling that radiated optimistic moral power.” For the Hippies, “it was the only answer to the overwhelming problems afflicting the world.” Various Counter-Culture spokespeople endorsed this sentiment: “Love the cop who’s full of animal fear. Love the tortured souls who have all the material things, but [possess] nothing spiritual to make their lives bearable.”

Hymn to Love: Such declarations reflected another one of the principle resources to which the Hippies turned at the time. This was the classic Christian hymn to the supremacy of love, Chapter 13:1-13 of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I … know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor … but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Defining Love: Paul goes on to describe love:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant … It does not seek its own benefit, is not provoked, does not avenge a wrong, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” The New  Testament passage concludes: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully … faith, hope, love – these three abide; but the greatest of these is love.

Debate on Love: As one Counter-Culture commentator observed in the Sixties: “Paul’s statement is comprehensive and goes further than anything to be heard so far in the debate on love.” Love was a revolutionary force: “Love can change and create. It can move and it can shake moral, political, ethical, economic, and spiritual consciousness.” Love “would counter the existing way of hate, epitomized by the politics of capitalists and communists alike … that had led the world to the brink of catastrophe.” Indeed, Hippies argued, “love was the only answer to the overwhelming problems afflicting the world.” (Hippies & American Values)

Caritas: Such a belief in the power of love guided the essential work carried out amongst the Hippie community by the Diggers, a community-action organization that had emerged in the mid-1960 out of guerrilla, mime, and street theatre groups centred on the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of San Francisco. They took their name from the anarcho-communist group on the radical wing of the English Civil War (which in turn traced its philosophy back to the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 and before that to the teachings of the Early Christian communities). They provided free food, clothing, medical care, transport, and temporary housing, for the masses of lost, naïve and trusting teenagers who had flooded into San Francisco during the Summer of Love. Consciously mirroring Jesus feeding the 5000, “the Diggers began to feed the multitude.” (Hippies & American Values)

The Summer of Love: The ‘Summer of Love’ was centred on Haight-Ashbury in mid-1967. During that summer some 100,000 young people descended upon the neighbourhood in search of the exciting ‘alternative lifestyle’ that they’d heard about. This influx had begun early in 1967 with an influential event called the Human Be-In (the pun inspired other events: ‘love-ins’, ‘teach-ins’, and Laugh-In). It was held at Golden Gate Park on January 14 and attracted 30,000 participants. Its primary purpose was to protest the recent banning of LSD, and it was addressed by the LSD prophet, Timothy Leary (‘Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out’), the Beat poets and Zen Buddhists, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, and the Zen master and pop theologian, Alan Watts, amongst many others. LSD was made readily available, and participants insisted that “a new concept of celebrations [from] the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind,” as the San Francisco Oracle reported.

Rock Festivals: Most of the young invaders later attended two multi-day outdoor rock festivals (the first in the world): the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival (June 10-11), and the Monterey International Pop Music Festival (June 16-8). The featured acts were a who’s who of Sixties music and the festivals attracted crowds of 30-100,000 people.  They had received massive publicity with the release of Scott McKenzie’s song, San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair. Released on May 13, by July 1 it was number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, and number 1 in the UK and much of Europe and the Antipodes, eventually selling over 7 million copies. It was immediately adopted as the anthem for the rapidly growing population of ‘flower children’ (as they were now called) that were streaming into San Francisco.

The Media: Prowling around the Summer of Love was a media horde looking for scandalous stories of drug abuse, sexual excess, wilful defiance of authority, and random lunacy; they found a great deal of all of these, which they gleefully reported to an incredulous world. However, according to a Time magazine feature article, the Hippies also

preached altruism and mysticism, honesty, joy, and nonviolence.” Indeed, “it could be argued that in their independence of material possessions and their emphasis on peacefulness and honesty, hippies lead considerably more virtuous lives than the great majority of their fellow citizens.

Time also reported the views of various experts on the new subculture

One sociologist calls them ‘the Freudian proletariat.’ Another observer sees them as ‘expatriates living on our shores but beyond our society.’ Historian Arnold Toynbee describes them as ‘a red warning light for the American way of life.’ For California’s Bishop James Pike, they evoke the early Christians: ‘There is something about the temper and quality of these people, a gentleness, a quietness, an interest – something good.’

However, Time also observed that “to their deeply worried parents throughout the country, [the Hippies] seem more like dangerously deluded dropouts, candidates for a very sound spanking and a cram course in civics.”

Origins: In terms of origins, it seems this counter-cultural idealism can be traced back millennia (Ken Goffman, Counterculture Through the Ages, 2004). As Time noted, its ultimate beginnings of the movement go back as far as the seriously outrageous Diogenes of Sinope and the Cynics (4th century BC), and as far afield as the ascetic Sadhus of India. It could also invoke Buddha, Jesus, Hillel the Elder, St. Francis of Assisi, Henry  David Thoreau and the American Transcendentalists, the Absinthe-deranged Paris Bohemians, Gandhi, Aldous Huxley, and even J.R.R. Tolkien.

Judgement & Redemption: At the time, the idealism of love was integral to the politics of non-violence originally practiced by the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. It was preached powerfully by Martin Luther King Jr, who had, in turn, derived much of his political theory from Paul Tillich, one of the leading theologians of the era, on whom King had written his doctoral dissertation. King followed Tillich in believing that the agape form of love united people at the level of humanity’s shared ‘ground of being’. It was an unconditional, forgiving, and healing love, and was so powerful that it could transform race relations and redeem American society. This type of love was also prophetic, calling for change at the personal and societal level, as King made clear in his many speeches calling America to judgement.

Barmy Days: And so, in those barmy days of the mid-Sixties it really did seem to idealistic Baby Boomers that ‘all you need is love’ – that love was a spiritual force that connects one to the universe, that love can ’change the world’ at the societal level, and that ‘falling in love’ was akin to a mystical experience that is transformative at the personal level.

Reality Bites: However, history was about to take a turn for the worst, make such idealism seem naïve, and shift the debate from the cosmic to the corporeal. The pivotal year of 1968 was just a few months away and would open with the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, which traumatised America, and continued with wars, invasions, atrocities, rebellions, assassinations, protests, riots, and repression on an international scale. Already, the flower children themselves were beginning to have doubts. Things began to fall apart as opportunists moved in: they didn’t share the Hippies’ adolescent idealism; they were there only to exploit it. Youngsters found themselves driven into prostitution and hard drugs. Run-down hamburger joints became ‘Love Cafes’ serving ‘Love-Burgers’ and ‘Love-Dogs’(!); businesses published ‘Love Guides’ for gullible newcomers seeking help in spending what money they had. It seemed that local merchants were “bringing in love by the truckload” for sale to gullible would-be Hippies.

Timothy’s Odyssey: Timothy Leary would be declared “the most dangerous man in America” by President Nixon, and sentenced to 40 years in prison for possession of half an ounce of marijuana. He escaped, fled the country with the aid of the Black Panthers, became the subject of an international manhunt, ended up in Afghanistan, was captured, deported, held on $21 million bail (the highest ever recorded), and sent to Folsom prison in 1973. There he was held in solitary confinement next to the mass murderer, Charles Manson, with whom he discussed the uses of LSD. Manson was surprised Leary had given LSD to people without using it to control them, as he had done with his own murderous gang. Manson observed ominously to Leary, “They took you off the streets so that I could continue with your work.”

Turn to Violence: Meanwhile, the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements were turning away from the non-violent approach of King and other leaders of the early phase of the struggle. Especially after the key assassinations of King and Bobbie Kennedy in 1968, they embraced violent and even deadly demonstrations and confrontations with the police and the National Guard, and the urban insurgency of the Black Panthers. The militants of the New Left denounced the pacifism and complacency of the ideals expressed in All You Need Is Love, and emphasized their own embrace of violent insurgency.

Sentimental Ramblings: The left also ridiculed what they saw as over-indulged, escapist, predominantly white, middle class Hippies with their mushy ‘Flower Power’ and sentimental ramblings about ‘love’. Where Hippies saw connectedness and love, the far-left saw counter-revolutionary promiscuity. Such privileged young people, these critics insisted, should be joining them on the barricades instead of ‘turning on, tuning in, and dropping out’.

Messiah Complex: The Beatles fell victim to this reaction, and the aggressive dismissiveness of the left was aggravated by the further doubts about violence and rebellion expressed by John Lennon in Revolution (1968), while his ‘Bed-Ins for Peace’ with Yoko Ono were seen as self-indulgent exhibitionism. Lennon’s brutal desertion of his wife and son for Ono also diminished his credibility. Inevitably, he began to succumb to the pressure, announcing to the other Beatles and their entourage that he was Jesus. This self-assessment was reflected in The Ballad of John and Yoko (1969), where he displayed a martyr/messiah complex: “Christ you know it ain’t easy / You know how hard it can be / The way things are going / They’re gonna crucify me.” 

Lennon & God: This relentless campaign of denunciation for failing to embrace revolutionary violence was similar to the one launched 20 years earlier by the far-left against Albert Camus, which had a devastating effect on the French philosopher. It took a similar toll on Lennon, and may have been the reason for his sad and nihilistic song, God (1970), in which he seems driven back into the tiniest of personal spaces. There he describes God as “a concept by which we measure our pain”. He then goes on to list those things that he once idolized but now doesn’t believe in. These included Magic, the I Ching, the Bible, Tarot, Jesus, Buddha, the Kennedys, Mantras, the Gita, Yoga, Elvis, Bob Dylan and even the Beatles. He ends up declaring that “I just believe in me, Yoko and me, that’s reality”, and that “the dream is over”. The denunciation of Lennon by the militant left intensified after the pacifism of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971) and Imagine (1971).

My Sweet Lord: Amongst the Beatles it was Harrison who resisted this decline into nihilism and stuck firmly to his initial spiritual impulse, releasing his hit, My Sweet Lord, in 1970. It continued his campaign to bridge the music and metaphysics of East and West, invoking both ‘Hare Krishna’ (Hindu) and ‘Hallelujah’ (Christian), in a hymn calling upon God to manifest Himself. Numerous critics observed how it once again caught the spirit of the times, giving expression to a widespread spiritual longing, just as the underlying optimism was starting to fade.

The Love Delusion: But perhaps the Sixties enthusiastic belief in an exalted role of love really was a delusion. As the Summer of Love was consumed by the wintery year of 1968 the rosy glow faded, the mood darkened, and cynicism re-asserted itself. The horizon began to shift from the spiritual to the corporeal; from the transcendent to the immanent. Political ‘realists’ on the left began to ridicule the idea that there was something mystical going on when one ‘falls in love’ – rampant promiscuity seemed to make nonsense of that idea. And was love really a cosmic force for good? Was anything? This was hard to believe in a world confronted by images of mass murder, children burned by napalm, and the Manson Gang murders.

Instinctual: After all, wasn’t love just instinctual? Wasn’t it just an irrational emotion? Didn’t it simply accompany sexual desire to create the illusion that higher values are involved in mating? And didn’t it involve the projection onto another person of desired qualities that weren’t actually there? And wasn’t it just a psychological mechanism to cope with the fear of rejection or loneliness? And perhaps it was just a form of evolutionary adaptation that binds couples and families together during periods of vulnerability, but fades away or evolves into something else once the situation changes? And, of course, wasn’t ‘love’ just a useful concept of convenience for use in the delicate art of seduction? Such questions signalled a major retreat from exalted ways of thinking about love.

Handbrake Off: And, to top it all off, the Sixties had seen the ready availability of the Pill. The handbrake came off sexual relationships, and masses of the BBG stopped wondering about such deep questions and got on with exploring the many new possibilities that were opening up before them (most of which were pretty basic, as the various first-hand accounts of the era make clear). Very quickly it became easy to confuse love with related concepts, such as lust, sex, and desire; along with ordinary compassion and friendship. Indeed, it became possible to dismiss exalted notions of ‘love’ altogether. This was particularly the case with those who had never been in love or been loved and couldn’t imagine what it was.

Antinomianism: To even further aggravate such confusion, the Sixties also experienced the reactivation of the antinomian belief in ‘Free Love’. This was a libertine ideology that placed the emphasis not on ‘love’ per se, but on the ‘right’ of people to have multiple sexual partners, unregulated by church or state and unaccompanied by any lasting sense of attachment, commitment, responsibility, or guilt. It is a tradition that goes back millennia, but had been vigorously promoted by Anarchist, Socialist, and Communist groups since the Enlightenment, and found expression locally in the Sydney Push. In terms of radical social theory there was a shift from the humanism of the ‘Young Marx’ exemplified by Erich Fromm, to the Nietzschean anti-humanism of the Postmodernists, exemplified by Michel Foucault, who depicted ‘Power’ as the central dynamic of all social relationships – the dominant paradigm today. 

Radicalisation: This libertarianism was further radicalised by Second Wave Feminism and Gay Liberation. Such radical movements had either dismissive or distinctly ambivalent attitudes towards any spiritual or non-materialistic notion of ‘love’ that wasn’t depicted in exploitative and repressive political (e.g., capitalist, patriarchal, or homophobic) terms.

No Romance or Courtly Love Indeed, the leading feminist theorists focused their critical firepower on all conceptions of love that had any spiritual dimension. In Sexual Politics (1970) Kate Millet concedes that “Western patriarchy has been much softened by the concepts of courtly and romantic love,” but she depicts these as merely means of manipulation, allowing “the subordinate female certain means of saving face”; while “obscuring the realities of female status and the burdens of economic dependency.” Shulamith Firestone said the same thing in her radical feminist manifesto, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. (1970): “Romanticism is a cultural tool of male power to keep women from knowing their [true] conditions.” For Germaine Greer, in The Female Eunuch (1970), romantic literature provides only “perversions” of love, in which female readers are invited to identify with male fantasies about male domination and female submissiveness. She candidly admits she herself was entranced by Barbara Cartland’s Byronic character, Lord Ravenscar.

The Pivot of Oppression: “Love … is the pivot of women’s oppression today,” declared Firestone, in The Dialectic of Sex: undermine love and you undermine the entire capitalist-patriarchal system, she declared. Firestone saw society as a caste system in which women belong to the subjugated class and men to the dominant one. In such a system men, if they want to mate, have to entertain the romantic notion that they are ‘falling in love’ “in order to justify their descent to a lower caste” to gain access to a woman. Women in turn go along with this romantic charade to achieve their own ends; after all, Firestone observes, “one’s life depends on one’s ability to ‘psych’ men out,” in this game of make-believe.

Mutual Recognition: But love also involved mutuality. As Simone de Beauvoir observed, in a passage that resonated with Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch (1970): love “ought to be founded on the mutual recognition of two liberties; the lovers would then experience themselves both as self and other; neither would give up transcendence.” And, importantly, “neither would be mutilated,” in the confronting manner depicted on the cover of Greer’s extremely influential feminist manifesto.

Greer on Love & Needs: This retreat from spiritual or transcendental notions of love to corporeal or immanent forms was given more sophisticated expression in the chapter on ‘Love’ in The Female Eunuch. There Greer depicts love in psychological terms derived from Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. According to this theory, human beings must pass ‘upwards’ sequentially through a series of evermore refined ‘layers’ of psychological development before finally achieving the apex of ‘self-actualization’. Maslow believed that comparatively few people accomplished this, but tended rather to stall and ‘plateau out’ at some lower level. Fortunately, according to Maslow, love is one of the ‘middle-order’ needs, and can be readily achieved. It is, however, inferior to ‘Esteem Needs’, which have to do with achieving high levels of prestige and recognition; and to ‘Self-Actualization’, which involves achieving one’s fullest potential, usually conceived in terms of the very highest levels of creativity. Greer’s point was that ‘love’ – while valuable – was not enough in a relationship, especially under capitalism and patriarchy, as it is held one back from progress towards the ultimate goal, which was perfection of the self: one might have found love with another, but that served only to retard one’s own self-actualization.

Independence: Greer dismisses “the middle-class myth of love and marriage”. Instead, she promotes an ideal of love where two “self-regulating” personalities come together under “an autonomous moral code,” that frees them from any imposed restrictions on their sexual freedom and allows them to pursue the ultimate goal of self-actualization through their creative work. Greer saw herself and her own career in these terms, being notoriously licentious while avoiding any commitment, resisting any “efforts to tame her,” and carefully preserving her independence as she continued her writing and basked in public acclaim.

Children: Greer, along with Firestone and innumerable other Second Wave feminists, confronted the question of having children. She would have liked to (and did try many times), but she recognized that it would be no life for a child “to be cooped up in a flat all day while its mother was at the university or on a lecture tour” and, of course, a mother couldn’t be expected to forego such opportunities. Her solution was to move from the nuclear to the collective family. She and like-minded career women would establish a co-operative community, where their babies would be deposited immediately after birth to be looked after by paid staff (in Greer’s case, by Calabrian peasants near where she had her Italian holiday house). The children’s parents could visit them when they liked but there would be no need to emphasize the parental relationship. As she said: “If necessary the child need not even know that I was his birth-mother and I could have relationships with the other children as well.”

Utopian: In such visions of a future utopia, the conventional (‘middle-class’) notions of love between parents and children are set aside in favour of the pursuit of individual self-realization (paradoxically, in this case, via a collectivist commune relying on the peasantry). For both women and men, love ceased to be externally orientated to the Other, and instead became inner-directed, concerned primarily with the Self.

What was Lost? Such doctrines suited Western societies as they passed out of the Sixties, through the ‘Oil Shock’ and the sudden end of the Post-War economic boom in the 1970s, and entered the hyper-individualistic years of the 1980s. ‘All you need is love’ was shunted aside by ‘Greed is good’ as the catchy slogan to live by. The assassination of John Lennon, 41 years ago, in December 1980, symbolized this shift, and many people realized that they’d lost something, perhaps forever. Gone was not only an iconic singer/songwriter; lost also was any strong sense of the values, beliefs, aspirations, and ideology that had driven the idealism of millions of young people only a decade or so earlier.

Love Passé: This loss was made explicit in the 1987 documentary, It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, which commemorated both Sgt. Peppers and the Summer of Love. Various figures from the time were asked whether they still believed that ‘love is all you need’. They all readily downgraded ‘love’ or qualified the claim by saying no, it wasn’t enough, and something else was needed. Only George Harrison stood firm and agreed with the original Sixties sentiment that, yes indeed, ‘all you need is love’. It seemed a window had opened in the Sixties and the light of an inspiring utopian vision had briefly shone through, only for the blinds to be drawn, as they had always been when similar moments had occurred in the past. Ethereal notions of love had come to seem naïve and passé. The Idealism of Love made way for the Paranoia of Power as the defining dynamic in inter-personal relationships, to shape the world we live in today.

10 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Love in the Sixties

  • andrew2 says:

    Yikes, is this really an accurate depiction of Baby Boomer concepts of love? It seems the generation seems to have missed the point entirely and focused purely on superficial and selfish concepts of love.

    There’s no need to go to philosophers to understand exactly what love is. It is clearly demonstrated by Jesus. It is the Good Samaritan who binds wounds and pays the innkeeper so his supposed enemy can recover. The father who forgives. It is the person who embodies the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the person who sacrifices himself for others. It’s seeing what good needs to be enacted in the world that is within your capability and then enacting it. It is very practical. It’s got nothing to do with feelings, other than when your feelings help you to formulate the wisdom you need to determine what that good you need to do.

    The concept of living in communion also seems misplaced. In the Book of Acts, it was only done in Jerusalem, and only because Jesus had warned his disciples that Jerusalem would be destroyed within a generation, which it was in 70AD. They were to leave everything and flee to the hills, so there was hardly any point owning anything.

  • Daffy says:

    The ‘love’ generation…aka the ‘me’ generation (now transmogrified to the generation of the self-exalting ‘Religion of Me’) was a gift to males. The universal beneficiaries of ‘free’ love, ‘the pill’ and ‘no marriage, no need’ were men. I’m thinking women were comparatively badly done by. It was a boon to blokes, a disaster for dames, I daresay.

  • pgang says:

    andrew2 and Daffy, well said. Very interesting article. I guess this is the difficulty secular humanism faces in articulating a non material concept beyond the self.
    The 60’s ‘love’ utopia is classic socialism (destruction of family replaced with communality), and Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ says everything about his socialist vision. What was lost? Not much.

  • padmmdpat says:

    I remember Archbishop Guilford Young (a show pony if ever there was one – I was never a fan) telling us boys at a school Mass in Hobaer in 1969 : ‘ Why did the hippie movement fail to create a world of love? Because Christ was not in it.’

  • Brian Boru says:

    Sorry to say I found this article hard going. In my humble opinion it really did not deal with love but instead with a phenomenon some people called love.
    Previous commenters have said it all.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Thank you , Mervyn, for a masterly walk through the cultural influences of the sixties, especially through analysis of the foundational music, which was the way in which the zeitgeist was formed. Your sub-heads keep it all on track for me. The communal impetus of ‘escape’ was very strong in those times and milieux too and the idea of ‘the journey’ (Easy Rider) also dominated, starting with the San Franscisco drift into Summer of Love. The beat-up VW Combi all rainbowed out, one of which we saw in the 90’s still on old Route 66 with its lonely hippy occupant. Folk music and Bob Dylan’s move from that to rock were also influential in the mix of it all.

    I’d like to write more on love, but it is quicksilver. Maybe later. There is much to digest in your essay.

  • brandee says:

    So much scholarship in this article and so insightful.
    Happy am I to reflect that the 1960’s cultural revolution passed me by. In the late 60s after our Christian marriage we begat wonderful children who begat our lovable grandchildren. Joyfully living the good life in a blessed structurally Christian country all I can say is: thank you Jesus.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    How lucky you have been, brandee, to be blessed with a strong religious heritage and life’s rewards in that. Your comment is a welcome reminder that the sixties was a sub-culture that at the time passed many by. The period’s later and enduring impacts however are far more widespread, with tentacles via culturally ‘hip’ baby-boomers into the schools, bureaucracies, political systems and universities of the present. The end result has been an often negative influence on the familial systems of the generations that followed the boomers.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    I came of age in the early sixties and spent the first half either in abject poverty or in relative isolation in the wilds of the then Territory of Papua New Guinea. I was a long way away from the extremes of the youth culture of the era. Like brandee, we married in the late 70s and are still happily married 54 years later with two sons and their wives having given us five wonderful grandchildren.

  • Gobsmacked of Gippsland says:

    Well, thank heavens Germaine Greer concentrated on her Brilliant Career – and did not have any kids.

    Thereby ensuring that her DNA was removed from the human gene pool.

    Story with a happy ending, I suppose.

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