THE PERMISSIVE SOCIETY:
By Alan Petigny.
Cambridge Univ. Press. 292 pp. $24.99
Has any decade of the American Century been written about more yet understood less than the Fifties? In both the popular and the scholarly minds, it exists as caricature, one held in contrast with an equally cartoonish conception of the Sixties: either a prison preceding liberation, or Eden before the Apocalypse. “When conservatives look back to the 1950s,” Alan Petigny writes, “they see an era of sexual reticence, a time when conservative Christianity was on the march, a halcyon era of order and tradition...