Changing Moral Climates

History tells us that the West’s embrace of liberal values was not inevitable and is unlikely to last, says Tim Stanley.

The Fallen Woman by Pieter Fontyn, 1809

Social traditionalists have good cause to grieve. It must feel as if they are fighting a losing battle against secularisation and sexual liberation, trends that are in fashion even on the political right. As the West has grown richer in the past 50 years, so the old bonds of organised religion and patriarchy have loosened. There is a contemporary ‘End of History’ consensus that things like gay rights or abortion are not just worthy causes or inalienable rights but are the end goal of a grand historical process. Social liberalism seems inevitable and irreversible. But history shows that such progress can be, and often has been, reversed. The fashion for permissiveness comes and goes and tolerance can be as brief as the taste for bell-bottoms and flairs.

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