It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct.
—Sigmund Freud,
Civilization and Its Discontents

I will not give up on Paradise.
—Paul Goodman,
Five Years

Lust strives to become intellectualized, the concrete operations of the flesh are blended with decorous abstractions, human loves tend toward the impossibilities of angelic embraces. Magic and pseudo-mysticism … become so many spices which are used to give a new taste to the well-known feast of the senses.
—Mario Praz,
The Romantic Agony


One of the most conspicuous features of the cultural revolution that swept through America and Western Europe in the 1960s was the demand for sexual liberation. In some respects, of course, this demand was not new. The revolt against traditional sexual mores had been an important ingredient of advanced thinking at least since the 1920s. In essentials, it can be traced back to the early nineteenth century and the Romantic cult of feeling and spontaneity. Even the union of sexual liberation and radical politics—a hallmark of the 1960s— had important antecedents going back to such disparate apostles of liberation as Rousseau, Fourier, Blake, and Shelley.

Nevertheless, the Sixties were different. First of all, there was the matter of numbers. In the past, movements for sexual liberation had been sporadic and confined largely to a bohemian elite. In the 1960s— partly because of the perfection of the birth control pill and other reliable forms of contraception, partly because of greater affluence and mobility—sexual liberation suddenly became an everyday fact of middle-class life. What had been a fringe phenomenon became the established norm. There was also the matter of political rhetoric and quasi-philosophical baggage. If demands for sexual liberation were a regular, if not invariable, concomitant of revolutionary politics in the past, seldom had sexual emancipation been invested with such a forbidding panoply of political mystification and high-flown verbiage. Plenty of revolutionary movements have made sexual emancipation one of their causes; rarely has sexual gratification so thoroughly defined the content of revolutionary politics.