Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Left and the Counterculture of the 1960s

And excerpt from Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class:
Protest in the 1960s found its ideological roots in the disengagement championed earlier by Beats such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Borroughs. It was a movement that, while it incorporated a healthy dose of disrespect for authority, focused again on self-indulgent schemes for inner peace and fulfillment. The use of hallucinogenic drug, advocated by Timothy Leary in books such as the Politics of Extasy, and the rise of occultism that popularized Transcendental Meditation, theosophy, the Hare Krishna branch of Hinduism, and renewed interest in Zen Buddhism and study of I Ching, were trends that would have dismayed the Wobblies or the militants in the old Communist Party. The countercolture of the 1960s, like the commodity culture, lured adherents inward. It set up the self up as the primary center of concern. It, too, offered affirmative, therapeutic remedies to social problems that embraced vague, undefined, and utopian campaigns to remake society. There was no political vision. Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, with its narrator's search for enlightenment, became emblematic of the moral hollowness of the New Left.

These movements, and the counterculture celebrities that led them, such as the Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, sought and catered to the stage set for them by the television camera. Protest and court trials became street theater. Dissent became another media spectacle. Anti-war protesters in Berkley switched from singing "Solidarity Forever" to "Yellow Submarine." The civil-rights movement, which was rooted in the moral and religious imperatives of justice and self-sacrifice, what Dwight Macdonald called nonhistorical values, was largely eclipsed by the self-centeredness of the New Left, especially after the assassination of Malcom X in 1967 and Martin Luther King Jr. a year later. And once the Vietnam War ended, once middle-class men no longer had to go to war, the movement disintegrated. The political and moral void within the counterculture of the Bohemians or the Beats, was always in tune with the commercial culture. It shared commercial culture's hedonism, love of spectacle, and preoccupation with the self.

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