Is America entering a new Victorian Era?

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Forty-seven years ago the musical Hair opened on Broadway. Elderly mavens — the core theater audience then, unlike the tourists thronging Disney-movie-knockoffs today — were instructed that America was entering an "Age of Aquarius." The old moral rules were extinct: we were entering a new era of freedom, experimentation, self-expression.

In some ways Hair's prediction came true. Rates of divorce, cohabitation before marriage and illegitimate births rose sharply in the years after 1968. The percentages of children living with two parents fell sharply. Hair's version of history — hundreds of years of oppression suddenly followed by a sudden trend to ever more liberation — seemed plausible, even persuasive.

But history is not unidirectional. Trends get reversed or arrested sooner or later. Behaviors that at first seem modern and refreshing, come to seem antique and old-fashioned. People adjust to new experiences just as they adjusted to old.

Today several widely unanticipated trends — certainly unanticipated by me — suggest that America is in some significant respects entering a new Victorian Era. Some may regard that as regrettable, others as welcome, still others as a mixture of good news and bad news. But it's certainly news, especially to the aging baby boomers who expected the Age of Aquarius to continue indefinitely.