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Today’s young are as puritanical as the Victorians

A tea party in 1895. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Young people today are “sober and serious”, says Ed West in his Substack newsletter. Alcohol consumption has declined since the turn of the century, and my children are “shocked and scandalised” to see grown-ups occasionally smoke. The “raunchiness” of the 2000s is long gone: it feels unimaginable that businesses would take clients to strip clubs, as they occasionally did two decades ago. Puritanical as much of this seems, it has led to an undeniable improvement in social mores around racism and homophobia.

This “moralising energy” mirrors the move from the Regency to the Victorian era in the early 19th century. Regency men were “womanisers and degenerates”: PM William Pitt the Younger consumed up to six bottles of port a day and the Prince Regent took 200 daily drops of opium. The next generation – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert especially – reacted against their decadent forebears. The Victorian “PC brigade” campaigned against sexual impropriety (there were 20 “Sodomitical Clubs” in 18th-century London) and banned cockfighting and bear-baiting. More nobly, they limited child labour and abolished slavery. The parallels with today’s “new Victorians” are striking. Indeed, the Quaker families that were involved in Victorian moral crusades now bankroll campaigns against racism. It’s only the sins that have changed.

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