Changing Attitudes to Authority

Changing Attitudes to Authority: Overview

  • The period from 1951 to 1979 in Britain was marked by significant changes in attitudes to authority.
  • Challenging authority became more commonplace, especially from the late 1960s onwards.
  • This trend was due to a variety of reasons, including growth of youth culture, rise of the counterculture movement, and more liberal attitudes.

The Rise of Youth Culture and the Counterculture Movement

  • The birth of the ‘teenager’ as a distinct social and demographic group was a defining feature of this period.
  • Youth culture emerged with its own set of values, interests, and tastes, many of which were at odds with the norms and standards of the older generation.
  • The counterculture movement of the late 1960s was characterised by its critical stance on societal norms and values, notably its rejection of authority.
  • Key features of counterculture included protests against authority figures, a free love ethic, experimentation with drugs, and opposition to war, particularly the Vietnam War.

Discontent and Protest Movements

  • There was a rise in discontent and protest movements, often targeting political and social institutions.
  • Students became increasingly politically active, especially at universities, challenging the establishment and existing authority structures.
  • The period also saw sharp criticism of the police, with accusations of corruption and brutality, exemplified in the Miranda scandal and 1970s race riots.
  • Mass demonstrations, strikes, and sit-ins became common forms of challenging authority.

Changing Attitudes in Popular Culture

  • Popular culture started to reflect and reinforce public discontent with authority.
  • Bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones used their music to challenge establishment norms and values.
  • Films and television also began to deal with anti-authority themes and narratives more openly.
  • Comedians like Monty Python used satire to mock authority figures and societal norms.

Political Response and Backlash

  • In reaction, there were attempts from the government and other authority figures to preserve traditional norms and values.
  • Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, sought to reestablish authority by taking a hard-line stance against protests and strike actions.
  • However, such efforts were not always successful and political authority was increasingly questioned.
  • The election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 represented a further conservative backlash to the perceived societal unruliness.

Implications of Changing Attitudes

  • The questioning of authority led to long-lasting changes in British society, including more liberal laws and norms.
  • However, these changes were not uniformly accepted, and tensions between the older and younger generations often surfaced.
  • The legacy of these changing attitudes continues to shape Britain’s society and attitudes towards authority today.