The newspapers in Britain are full of something I mentioned as an aside in a post last year—the fact that 1970s consolidation of progressive power was the phase that included the dropping of legalised paedophilia as a progressive goal. The status of the Paedophile Information Exchange as an affiliate of the National Council of Civil Liberties was what I had in mind when I wrote that. It was never any secret.
The establishment line, coming from senior policiticans who shared platforms with paedophile campaigners forty years ago, is that their progressive movements were “infiltrated” by “evil” paedophiles, later driven out. Inasmuch as “infiltration” implies any degree of secrecy or misrepresentation at all, that is very obviously untrue. In the early 1970s, paedophilia was a progressive cause. Rock stars’ banging of underage groupies was seen as part of their general wildness and edginess. It might eventually end in tears, but the same goes for their other wild behaviour like dropping acid or driving sports cars at 100mph—sex with teenagers was seen as in the same moral category as these other excesses.
East Germany legalised homosexual sex in 1968, with an age of consent of 14. The NCCL, by campaigning a few years later for Britain to follow that example, was holding a perfectly respectable progressive position—and going even further. (NCCL supported reducing age of consent to 10 “in some circumstances”, which I think meant relationships between children).
The Guardian today quoted a letter from Patricia Hewitt, saying “Our proposal that the age of consent be reduced is based on the belief that neither the police nor the criminal courts should have the power to intervene in a consenting sexual activity between two young people.” That was the progressive position in 1976. There have been pictures of demonstrations against the PIE, but the placards brandished by the demonstrators carried the National Front logo—not a respectable organisation.
The question for historians to ask about the 1970s is not, “how could respectable people have supported paedophilia back then?”, rather, it is “how did they not succeed?” My original answer was that as the rebels became the establishment, they were forced to take some small measure of responsibility for keeping society together, and withdrew from a few of their most dangerous demands. That’s no more than a hypothesis really, since I have no particular evidence for it. The truth could possibly be even more interesting.
Update 16 March 2014
I just noticed on Wikipedia, that the Labour Party was proposing reducing the age of consent to 14 as late as 1998.