Distinguished Scholarship Award, 2000, American Sociological Association Collective Behavior and Social Movements Secti
[T]he most evident meaning of long hair and blue jeans was that one was deliberately trying to look like anything but a conventional adult. . . . To be seen as a hippie in the mid-sixties was . . . not simply to be part of a new fashion trend; it was instead interpreted by many as a commitment to an alternative life course, a sign that one had made a break with the values and ways of life defined by one's parents, school, and community.3Music was an integral part of the counterculture, a further expression of opposition to established rules and institutions. Flacks argues that the movements of the 1960s are difficult to grasp unless we recognize the way music crystallized the identities of alienated youth and provided the underpinnings for collective gatherings.4 Folk music characterized the early 1960s, giving voice to protest and bonding people together in solidarity, and rock music symbolized the mid to late 1960s: Bob Dylan went electric and the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and a host of other groups gave voice to a more widespread youth culture.5 As Marcus puts it,
The music was something that you could talk about with your friends and that you couldn't talk about with people who were older than you. It gave people a sense of generational solidarity and a sense that they were different and a sense different from the rest of the country, different from any other generation in American history, that they were in some ways special and blessed and it gave them a sense of being embattled, of . . . being considered outsiders, reprobates, bad people.6Rather than a single, unified entity, in actuality the counterculture incorporated a range of beliefs and practices. For instance, the counterculture embraced diverse-and even contradictory-values. It encompassed both an urge toward individual expression and self-gratification, and an urge toward collectivism and community. It is, indeed, this diversity of beliefs and practices that allowed people of varying backgrounds and ideologies to commonly identify with an oppositional culture.7
I was less into the cultural aspects than the political aspects. . . . Some of that may have been a question of age; by the time the counterculture really hit strong, I was already in my mid-twenties. . . . I had grown up in the fifties. . . . I look[ed] at some of [the counterculture] as kind of silly, self-indulgent. . . . I was . . . antagonistic to some aspects of it. . . . I just didn't really identify with it in a strong way.Certainly the fact that many members of the early group were older and were affected by the more conservative cultural styles of the 1950s explains part of the difference in stance toward the counterculture. But early activists' objection to the counterculture did not simply reflect differences in age or style. Carl Oglesby speaks about his hostility toward the counterculture: "I was always annoyed at people who thought that the counterculture was in and of itself the revolution and that all we needed to do was all get high and listen to rock music. . . . Drugs had become kind of a metaphor of revolution and I felt that really was wrong, that saying change your head, that wasn't a revolution."10
When I was in Berkeley drugs were an important part of the student movement. . . . I actually saw some of my friends become heroin addicts. So I got very frightened of drugs. They either became heroin addicts or they . . . fried their brains on LSD. So I really moved away from the drug culture and so I didn't like that part of [the counterculture]. And . . . we were . . . serious about what we did and wanted to look like ordinary people. . . . I never believed in dressing in rags because I'd worked with people who had to dress in rags. I knew poor people . . . didn't like to be dressed like that. I felt it was ridiculing poor people to dress like that.In particular, many early activists were afraid that elements of the counterculture harmed the movement, making it harder to organize politically. For instance, Dorothy Burlage says, "I was never into drugs. . . . I didn't want the drugs being associated with the politics. . . . I didn't want to muddy the waters in the South. . . . I mean if people smoked pot, that was one thing. But to make that an issue and to contaminate a vision of changing race relations in this country with that, seemed to be not helpful."
I saw [the counterculture] happening in front of me. I knew that it was becoming primary. I didn't like it. . . . I thought it was destructive to the construction of a popular movement. It was isolating; and elements of it, of course, were just purely reactionary. . . . [I] thought that an awful lot of the rhetoric coming out of the so-called young Turks-they were called Prairie Power-was not at all socialist or favorable to the working class. Because a lot of it was countercultural and I just didn't see that as the cutting edge of socialist revolution. . . . I didn't [agree] with what I saw as anarchistic ideas-and I mean that technically, not connotatively.Bob's comments point to the growing divisions that occurred in SDS from 1965 onward. As a result of SDS's role in organizing the first large national antiwar march in Washington on April 17, 1965, SDS "went public."11 In the aftermath of the march, the media gave unprecedented attention to SDS, labeling it the leading organization of the New Left. As a result, membership skyrocketed. In December 1964 SDS membership was 2,500 with 41 chapters; by October 1965 membership escalated to 10,000 with 89 chapters.12 This upsurge in membership had two important consequences. First, it fundamentally changed SDS from a small group based on face-to-face interaction into a large-scale organization. From the mid-1960s on SDS became so large that the experience of being in the organization shifted from one in which members were integrated into a large circle of friends to an organization in which individuals knew only local or at best statewide members and often felt estranged from the national leadership. In fact, as the 1960s progressed, more and more tensions developed between the local and national levels of the organization.
[They] accepted the prairie identification as a symbolic badge of Americanness and populism. . . . Whether or not they came from an actual prairie, these Prairie Power people wore their hair longer and seemed looser in style, less formal and mannerly than the Old Guard generation. They were more likely than the Old Guard to call themselves anarchists; when they formulated a political position at the 1966 convention, it went by the name of student syndicalism. Within SDS they stood for campus organizing and against the centralized national office; many were students themselves, in fact, when most of the old guard had left the campus. In style they were proto-hippies.14The pattern generally holds true that early SDSers opposed the counterculture whereas the later generation embraced it, yet in actuality there were people who bridged the gap between these two positions. Jane Adams, for example, began working with SDS during 1964 and was older than most of the later activists. But in her role as regional organizer in the Midwest, and as temporary national secretary during the summer of 1966, Jane also embodied Prairie Power.15 Jane held ambivalent views of the counterculture. On the one hand, Jane said she was simply "too straight . . . too political, and maybe too intellectual" to fully accept the counterculture. Having grown up on a farm, she had a "pretty jaundiced view" of the back-to-the-land movement. There were also particular aspects of the counterculture that Jane found objectionable. For instance, she opposed the attitude of "what's mine is yours and I don't have anything so gimme." Criticizing the youth movement as "insensitive and almost predatory," she says it was particularly exploitative of women.
There's sexual freedom and then there's sexual exploitation. . . . It was still a male culture. I remember one group that [was] real counterculture. They weren't political at all. . . . The women did all the cooking and all the cleaning, and would wait on [the men]. . . . It was worse than anything I'd ever experienced.16Because of these macho strains and because Jane was older than many others, she felt distanced from the counterculture.
All of my friends had been smoking dope for a long time. Many of them had been taking acid or other psychedelics-peyote and whatnot; I mean this cactus ranch was part of the vernacular. And that was just a complete disjuncture for these East Coast older-not so much in age older, although there was some age difference-but generationally older. . . . That was one of the major differences.In fact a couple of years later Jane and her partner opened up a head shop in Oklahoma in the hope of "bring[ing] together the cultural and the political revolution."
I saw [the counterculture] as one current. I had this other current, which was the black community and what was going on there. That was countercultural, but in a very different kind of way. So I was part of that, too. I didn't see the white counterculture as the only way to go. It looked like it was useful because it . . . was eroding the traditional white hegemony. These were people who were just . . . thumbing their noses at what existed and they were rejecting Western culture and trying to live like Indians on communes. . . . To the degree that black culture became something that people respected . . . I was sympathetic to [the counterculture].John also points out that for him the sexual liberation associated with the counterculture represented a lifting of the restrictions dictated by segregation, the freedom to cross the line and sexually relate to whomever he wanted to. Thus, the counterculture had a different meaning for him than it did for white activists.
I wore my hair in braids, I smoked dope, I wore long dresses and sandals. Lived in collectives, made my own bread, ate granola, ate yogurt, was a vegetarian for awhile. . . . And dabbled in psychedelics and . . . tie-dyed things and macramé. . . . I was more into the human potential movement than some people, real interested in psychology and stuff like that. . . . Everyone I knew . . . men grew their hair long, they wore beards, they wore ponytails. Everybody had embroidered work shirts and we tie-dyed everything we could. . . . We definitely were political and we wanted all hippies to be political.Barbara says the counterculture was an integral part of her experience during the 1960s. "From the beginning how we lived our lives everyday was part of what it was all about. . . . It was a given long before I ever could articulate it."
I really felt . . . that we were going to create a culture that really worked. . . . In 1966, 1967, '68, the counterculture and the political movement were the same; if you asked people what they belonged to, they belonged to everything. . . . It was a very, very open time. . . . I really don't think [the history of the sixties] has been written yet. Until people can get a sense of what it was like to sit in a t-group [therapy group] and talk about what you really think but you have not been saying because you didn't want anybody to know; or you could sit in a women's liberation group and say, "My husband has never done a dish in his life and he's never going to." . . . I don't think people want to remember it because it really does challenge a person to be real.Terry Koch, another later activist, attributes his embrace of the counterculture to the unity of politics and youth culture in the St. Louis community. "What to me was wonderful about St. Louis was that if you were a poet, if you were a black jazz musician, if you believed in abortion rights . . . it was the same as being in the antiwar movement. You were all in it together because you're in St. Louis and you're surrounded by a bunch of rednecks. . . . It was all one and the same." By necessity, political and countercultural communities came together in the face of opposition. Terry says the two communities were also linked financially as SDS used to regularly receive money from drug dealers. "We got cash donations for bail, for leaflets when we needed one. I knew who was dealing and I would say, 'You're making money off our community. Share it.'"
I thought [the counterculture] was very liberating and very fulfilling. . . . Basically I liked those people. I found them creative and bright and their hearts were in the right place. It's just the world was not amenable, I thought, to being changed solely by good vibes. . . . The hippies were going to have to get a little more organized. . . . But the politicos were also going to have to mellow out a little bit, right? . . . The counterculture was very, very important.A few other later activists also expressed mixed feelings about the counterculture. They were drawn in but remained critical of the politics (or lack of politics) of the youth culture. Michael Kazin was one of those divided in his judgments. As he wryly comments, he brought the counterculture and politics together at a party one night when he took his draft card, rolled it into a joint, and smoked it. And yet he was also skeptical of the counterculture.
I liked rock music and I did LSD, mescaline, peyote, and lots of marijuana, [but] I didn't feel allegiance with what seemed to be the ideology of it. I was always political . . . andI thought it was flabby thinking and people were fooling themselves about how people were going to change. You know, the old "You have to change yourself first to change society" kind of thing. . . . I was always on the side of the politicos.Yet later Michael comments that the women's movement was the "political translation" of the counterculture; feminism made clear that individual transformation was absolutely vital. Recognizing the importance of this, Michael says he gained insight from the counterculture.
I liked the music and I certainly liked the sexual liberation of the sixties. . . . But I also didn't believe for a minute the view that we can't change the world unless you have a revolution in your own head. . . . I thought [it] was just a lot of baloney. My recollection of the sixties and the early seventies was not a period of sitting back and taking drugs and listening to revolutionary music and so on, but grueling hard work, enormous tension, fear, poor health as a result of constant exhaustion. . . . So I saw the cultural revolution . . . as a great diversion. I thought [communes and alternative lifestyles] was just escapism.Echoing some of the early activists' concerns, other PL members believed long hair and a countercultural appearance alienated the working class.
I felt like a foot in and a foot out of [the counterculture]. I certainly smoked a lot of dope; that part I had no trouble with. . . . [But] I was never a hippie. You couldn't be a hippie in the Revolutionary Union. . . . We thought it was totally apolitical. . . . We were . . . turning on, tuning in and dropping in. . . . I didn't want to grow my hair long, live in filthy apartments in the Haight, and just hang out smoking dope. I really was intensive political. I didn't see most counterculturists as engaged as I felt it appropriate to be. . . . [The counterculture] in its totality [was] a bit too self-indulgent and too withdrawn from . . . engaging the dominant culture. One of the very few who "deviated" from this correct line on the counterculture was PLer Aldyn McKean. Although at the time Aldyn had not yet come out as a gay man, he particularly objected to the homophobia within PL.
There is no question that there was . . . severe homophobia. PL was probably the worst. . . . It was really more attitudes. . . . The typical thing would be simply not feeling that it was an important issue. . . . That what's important is building the revolution and . . . you can't organize workers if you indulge in any kind of-they didn't go for long hair and smoking pot. So clearly being openly gay would be anathema. I can remember one person in particular saying, "Well what do you want? Do you think PL should write a sex manual?" as though the question was about sex as opposed to about oppression and rights. . . . The issue was never about sex. The issue was that if you're a gay person and you want to live your life openly, that you then face discrimination, oppression, physical violence, etc., etc., just as other oppressed groups do.Aldyn's discomfort with PL's position, as well as his identity as a gay man, eventually led him to leave PL.
Given these intense divisions within SDS over the counterculture, it is not surprising that individuals' stance toward youth culture became one of the issues that split apart SDS during the late 1960s.
YAF and the Counterculture
Although we might expect all YAF members to be against the counterculture, in fact, as with SDS there was a deep division among activists. But for YAF this split was not based on the year of entry into activism; rather, it corresponded to the ideological divisions between traditionalists and libertarians. A common joke around YAF in the 1960s was that traditionalists wore colorless ties, sat straight, and prayed while libertarians wore necklaces and slurped their soup. Like early activists in SDS, traditionalists abhorred the counterculture. Both traditionalists who joined YAF before 1965 as well as those who became active in the later 1960s opposed the counterculture. Lynn Bouchey put it this way:
It was a generally unpleasant, unpleasant time. . . . I thought the music was nasty; I thought people were nasty. They dressed horribly. . . . It was a time I'm glad is gone. I see no romance to it. . . . I loved the early sixties, you know the Beach Boys, that sort of time. . . . But I was totally turned off [by the counterculture]. . . . The potheads and this sort of thing I found a waste.Like early SDSers, many traditionalists viewed the counterculture as self-indulgent and destructive. For instance, Anne Edwards discusses the counterculture as being "imposed" on people. "We all had to suffer through it. . . . It was a very damaging time because of drugs. There were drugs before . . . but never were they combined with the self-righteousness of the antiwar movement and the music. . . . That was a very rotten combination of events that came together all at one time."
Yet, unlike the early SDSers, traditionalists also opposed youth culture from a religious standpoint, believing it was immoral. Emmy Lewis comments,
You could say, "Well, it doesn't hurt anybody else." But what does it do to you? Does it rob you of your spiritual side? . . . Maybe there's no sense of their relationship beyond the material, immediate, temporal world. . . . The thing that's maddening is when you are slovenly and unclean you're hurting yourself. And the songs of the left. . . . If you listen to the words . . . that talk so crudely about sex, it reduces Man to being an animal. . . . They don't recognize or see or want to elevate Man to his higher natural state.Lee Edwards, another traditionalist, says he couldn't relate to the music, clothes, language, or drugs: "I was critical of the counterculture. I thought it was dangerous, hedonistic, self-centered, disruptive." Lee was part of the countercounterculture; he worked with Ed Butler in forming the square movement in the late 1960s. Declaring "Square power is on the rise," they started a magazine called Square, put on square conferences, and had a television show with square writers and square entertainers like John Wayne. At a Freedom Rally organized by YAF in 1969 that was devoted to victory over communism, 15,000 self-proclaimed "squares" sang, "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee. We don't take our trips on LSD. We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street. 'Cause we like living right and being free."25 In Lee's words, the square movement "was very consciously against the counterculture."
In fact, the culture many traditionalists were engrossed in during their college years sounds much like the mainstream culture of the 1950s. Jo Ann Gasper recalls the student tradition at the University of Dallas of the annual groundhog party held during the cold days of February: "The notion was that we would greet the groundhog with beer and get the groundhog so drunk it wouldn't see its shadow and wouldn't go back in its hole and then spring would come." Fran Griffin recalls wearing skirts to class throughout her college years. She lamented the day the campus got rid of the dress code because "everyone began dressing so sloppy."
Even those traditionalists who marginally participated in the counterculture continued to hold antagonistic views. Mary Fisk, for example, says she rejected all of the counterculture: "It goes back to the Catholic foundation of folk beliefs that these people were not living up to being the best a human being could be. They were typically gratifying whatever whim or desire or need they had. So I didn't have any respect for them. I would consider their activities immoral and oppose it." Yet Mary also had friends who were part of the counterculture.
I visited some communes. I had friends who were hippies. When I went to the communes, I very much was impressed by this very peaceful, totally accepting atmosphere of whatever you are or whatever background you have, they'd just love you and welcome you and "glad you're here." So morally and emotionally I would be against this . . . but when I was there I enjoyed it.On weekends Mary went to Greenwich Village and even smoked marijuana on occasion. Only one other traditionalist mentioned trying marijuana. Despite their exposure to marijuana, neither reported any change in their fundamental opposition to youth culture.
Another traditionalist, Mitch Petry, went to Woodstock. Yet even there he maintained his traditional attitudes and felt different from others attending. Describing himself as "pretty square," Mitch recalls his experience:
I dated a girl at the time who wanted to go up there and so I went with her. . . . We went to hear Jimi Hendrix and . . . the Eagles and a bunch of other groups. But the point is I wasn't drug-taking and I didn't dress differently. I had long hair at the time, but . . . I was pretty much on the straight and narrow. My values were basically middle-class working stiff, didn't come from money so I had to worry about responsibilities of a job. I remember being at Woodstock and thinking, I need to be back by a certain day for job reasons and school reasons. That might not have been on the minds of a number of other people. So when you say did I identify with them, no.In particular, Mitch remembers the disturbing atmosphere of Woodstock once the thunderstorms began. "What struck me was . . . after the initial expression of universal love . . . when the rains came people were running for cover. .. . People were selfish, people weren't caring for each other. . . . It was terrible." In striking contrast to praise of the collective spirit and caring witnessed at Woodstock, Mitch comments that perhaps the storms were a deliberate act by God to convey the lesson that moral actions are more important than preachings of brotherly love.
One of the few traditionalists who had anything good to say about the counterculture was Alan MacKay. Although he did not attend Woodstock, he recognized both the positive and negative aspects of youth culture.
There was truth and validity in a lot of the things that were said on behalf of the counterculture. One of the things that they were saying was there's an awful lot of hypocrisy in American institutions. I agree with that. . . . There was a spirit of generosity . . . of sharing and of brotherhood . . . that was a positive thing. . . . If there was an awful lot of drug abuse, there was an awful lot of promiscuity, those are the bad sides.Alan recalls enjoying wandering through the tent city set up in the Boston Common one summer during the 1960s.
The air was redolent of marijuana. . . . It was a very friendly atmosphere. These people were gentle people. I felt very comfortable with them. . . . Whenever you're talking about what thousands or millions of people are doing, it's a danger to overgeneralize. . . . No social phenomenon is ever a single thing. . . . The counterculture movement gave rise to some very good things. It's helped the concern for the environment. It's helped a concern for nutrition. . . . And it's always healthy to test the premises that the last generation lived on and see whether or not they continue to make sense.Alan's sympathy with the counterculture is atypical. The difference between the overwhelmingly negative response to the counterculture by traditionalists and the stance of libertarians in YAF is striking. Like later SDS activists, libertarians embraced the counterculture in their attitude and lifestyle.26 For instance, when Dana Rohrabacher was asked if he felt an allegiance with the counterculture during the 1960s, he replied,
[We did] identify with the counterculture. The traditionalists were people who . . . wore their suits and ties and slacks and nice shorts; and the rest of us, we were basically in our raggedy blue jeans and listening to rock music and wearing worker shirts and growing our hair longer and listening to the Doors and groups like that. . . . The libertarians in YAF really identified with the freedom that was being expressed by the Woodstock generation. . . . Libertarians got very deeply involved in the new culture . . . where the traditionalists I don't think ever went through that at all [laughs]. They were just back there in 1965 right where they started.Dana recalls the particular affinity he felt for the music of Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan's music meant a lot to me at the time. . . . I identified [with] a lot of Dylan songs. . . . I remember . . . his experiences . . . and social commentary. . . . A lot of the traditionalists looked at Dylan as somebody who was an enemy. . . . He was a Commie or something. I thought of him as a poet and as someone who was talking about truths through experience. During that time period when I was really attracted to the counterculture, I was trying to find ways of seeing the world through other people's eyes in order to find if I could capture more insights into the world. . . . Dylan certainly . . . tried to give you those insights.For Dana the counterculture philosophy represented "a revolt against constraints and against institutions." He says, "I saw more of a free spirit philosophy being expressed-and that attracted me a lot."
Dana also notes that west coast libertarians were more involved in the counterculture than those on the East Coast. Eastern libertarians were more involved with Ayn Rand and the philosophy of self-interest while Dana and other libertarians on theWest Coast were "much more involved with the Grateful Dead and with rock and roll and, in my case, body-surfing, and our emphasis was all individual freedom."
Among this sample of libertarians, those on the West Coast were in fact more likely to wholeheartedly embrace the counterculture. Marilyn Bradley speaks of the transition she went through on arriving in California:
I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I came out here without a pair of blue jeans; I was wearing penny loafers and little Villager skirts. So I was going through this incredible personal transformation and wrestling with . . . issues personally. . . . I looked like a hippie but I took baths. I smoked dope and did acid. . . . There were no rules when I came to California, just sort of let go. Which is exactly what I needed to do to mature.Gus DiZerega already identified with the counterculture when he decided to leave Kansas and move to California. He arrived in Berkeley with shoulder-length hair, wearing a fringed leather jacket, and riding a motorcycle. Gus says he supported the counterculture "over the heavy-duty politicos." He believed those in the counterculture were "closest to living life the way I thought it should be lived." While Gus's Protestant sense of responsibilities compelled him to fight the state-to be "a politico"-he thought the counterculture had an enormous impact. Like the later generation of SDSers, Gus viewed the counterculture as a fundamental part of his politics.
Those libertarians who grew up in California also expressed an affinity for the counterculture. Although Harvey Hukari says he never took drugs, as a youth living in San Francisco, he went to rock concerts at the Fillmore, spent time in Haight-Ashbury, and read many countercultural underground newspapers. Harvey claims he was drawn to the ethic of the 1960s, "the opposition to government control and the idea . . . that individuals ought to be free to do whatever they want to do as long as it doesn't harm someone else."
Similarly, Sharon Presley comments, "I absolutely identified [with the counterculture]. I was living in San Francisco at the height of hippiedom. I can remember going down to Haight Ashbury, thinking that this was neat. . . . I saw it as people just being what they wanted to be. That was to me the essence of the counterculture."
For many libertarians the counterculture symbolized individual freedom, liberty of the mind and spirit. It also represented a stance against institutions, being critical of the system. Louise Lacey grew up in Marin County, California. When asked what the counterculture meant to her, Louise replied,
Sympathetic people . . . people who shared my values. . . . The media said that the counterculture was made up of hippies who didn't believe in the work ethic. Now that wasn't my experience. The people I knew were working damn hard trying to make a living not being part of the system. . . . What they didn't go for was the traditional concepts of what it meant to be responsible. I had to reevaluate my ideas about what responsibility was and . . . what success was, what were worthy goals, personal goals.Louise says the music of the times played a vital role. The lyrics of groups such as the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane conveyed important "interpersonal messages that had a political foundation." As an example Louise says the song "Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young "reinforced our feeling that we were cast adrift in an alien world and that it was up to us to make new values and create something new in the way of a future. . . . We had hope." Like later activists in SDS, libertarians found in the counterculture a new way of being, prefigurative of the new society.
Whereas these west Coast libertarians were vocal advocates of youth culture, the few libertarians who had more mixed reactions to the counterculture all came from the Midwest or the East Coast. Yet even these activists all identified to some extent with youth culture. Marick Payton, who grew up in Kansas, says on the one hand he was culturally "rather too conservative to be that comfortable" with the counterculture. Yet, on the other hand, he still felt some allegiance:
The only drug I ever tried besides alcohol was pot. I never went on to LSD and all the other interesting stuff that everybody else around me was into. I was kind of cautious and conservative. Certainly enjoyed my number of years as sort of a free love advocate. So that part of it was quite convivial actually. [I didn't] like the corporate culture and liked bellbottoms and tie-dyes and things like that. . . . Had long hair. . . . So for a quiet, conservative, midwest sort of guy I enjoyed the sixties a lot and miss it a lot.Sheldon Richman, who was raised in Philadelphia, is one of the only libertarians who felt apart from the counterculture. Although he says he identified "only slightly" with youth culture, even he had his sympathies.
My roots in the movement were very strongly Randian. So I was concerned about what I saw as nihilism or irrationality or mysticism in the counterculture. . . . It seemed to be opposed to reason and science, technology, industrialization. Those were all things I was . . . in favor of so that kept me from being a full-fledged member of the counterculture. On the other hand, my attitude is that people ought to be free to experiment in different ways of living. I don't think we know everything there is to know about the best way to live. . . . One of the ways you find out is by some brave people trying different things. So in some sense I was sympathetic to [the counterculture] and identified somewhat with it.Although the only drug he ever tried was marijuana, Sheldon knew people who lived together and thought it was "perfectly all right," saying he "wasn't held in check by traditional morality." Unlike traditionalists who were horrified by the experimentation of the 1960s, Sheldon had faith in trying alternatives.
In short, in contrast to traditionalists, even libertarians who say they felt less connected to the counterculture still had contact and felt some allegiance to it. Any differences among libertarians about the counterculture did not pose major problems. Sheldon Richman reflects,
There was no tension between the libertarians who didn't think of themselves really as counterculture in the full sense and the ones that did. We all got along fine. That's what made us different from the traditionalists. They would have looked at someone wearing long hair and a beard and sneered and figured "You're a socialist" or call them a Commie or something like that. So the attitudes were very different.In fact, what is apparent is that the allegiance libertarians felt with the counterculture during the late 1960s led to a growing rift within YAF. Sheldon Richman recalls the conflict over cultural issues between libertarians and "trads," as traditionalists were called. "Culturally [the trads] were conservative. They knew who they didn't like. They didn't like liberals. They didn't like liberal Republicans. They didn't like hippies, new left, and [they] felt libertarians were part of that. So they didn't like them in a cultural sort of emotional sense."
The feeling was mutual. Libertarians increasingly felt their differences with traditionalists. Sharon Presley says that in terms of personal lifestyle she felt more comfortable with the left than with conservatives.
I recall a time when the idea of living with someone and not being married, you didn't talk about it much. But we [libertarians] were doing it and . . . I didn't see any problem with that; but the conservatives still were having a problem. . . . Then, of course, the drug issue. . . . I experimented with a couple of things just out of curiosity, but it never was anything that I was doing much of. But I figured if people wanted to do that, it was their business and nobody else's. So in those kinds of issues I started feeling increasingly uncomfortable with conservatives. . . . So on all these aspects of conventionality, where the conservatives were so stuffy, and I said, "What's the big deal? Long-haired hippies? Who cares what length somebody's hair is? Like big deal-what does that have to do with a person's worth?"This division between libertarians and traditionalists over the counterculture was also played out in a fascinating debate that took place in New Guard, the YAF monthly magazine, in commentary on the movie Easy Rider. A 1969 review by Stanford YAF chair Harvey Hukari applauded Easy Rider as dealing with "the quest for freedom from societal restraints, the task of finding one's self and difficulty of being an individual in an indifferent or hostile atmosphere." The movie shows us "an America where individuals with long hair are treated as outcasts, where redneck southerners deal harshly with those who choose to be different and where most of the 'straight' people are mindless, drab and bigoted."27 In another positive review, Easy Rider is labeled a "remarkable commentary on America" that presents an "America that excuses its collective bigotry by hiding or legitimizing it in the name of democracy."28 These words are striking because they could as easily have come from someone on the left.
In response to Hukari's review, David Brudnoy called the movie "implicitly subversive of important values. . . . It's cool porn, subtly subverting, cleverly luring the . . . uncorrupted to worship at the shrine of Our Lady of Grass." Brudnoy objects to the message of the movie, which he sees as "what's wrong with America is 'straight' America," as "hippieism . . . always drug accompanied, is great stuff," and "straights are . . . simple wits at best, at worst savages."29 Supporting this view, one person wrote a letter to the editor deploring Easy Rider as "a cheap representation of drugs, sex and filth with no responsibility to God, family or country."30 Clearly, what is playing out here is not only the divergence of opinion over the counterculture, but also a battle over the meaning of America, a struggle over who and what is responsible for the problems ripping apart the nation.
The Role of DrugsWithin this growing divide between libertarians and traditionalists, one major area of difference concerned the use of drugs. Only two traditionalists admitted ever trying marijuana, whereas only two libertarians claimed to have used no drugs at all. All remaining libertarians smoked marijuana, with nearly half of those interviewed also using hallucinogens.
The use of drugs created ground for common cause between the libertarian right and the countercultural New Left. As Willis points out, during the 1960s drugs acted to unite individuals in opposition to straight society.31 Part of the process entailed a transformation of the self by which a person became desocialized from conventional culture. Wieder and Zimmerman argue that the process involved a disengagement from major social institutions.32 Illustrative of this, a Rand study in 1966 found that those who took LSD remained the same except for responses to a scale that rated "ways to live." Stating that one dose of LSD stimulates enormous changes, the report concluded:
Whereas the person taking the test might have said, "It's important for me to get a corporate job. It's important for me to have a good car," after one dose of LSD they were saying, "I think maybe a contemplative lifestyle might be what I want to have. I think I'd like to travel before settling down. I think maybe I want to look for some spiritual value in my life."33YAFer Louise Lacey witnessed this transformation. Louise says that besides Ayn Rand, the other "clarifying and motivating" experience for her was music and drugs. "Smoking dope and taking acid and listening to music [made me see] the larger whole. I identified with the whole instead of just myself. LSD tends to do that to you. It's the kind of experience you don't go back from. . . . It's why I dropped out in the first place." After gaining new insight from psychedelics, Louise decided that "I no longer wanted to be among those who were autopsying the putrid corpse of the body social. I wanted to create positive alternatives instead."
For the left as well, using drugs became part of the process of questioning society. Bernardine Dohrn comments,
I think that drugs-the nonaddictive drugs-marijuana primarily, but then the hallucinogenic drugs-were primarily a part of breaking out of the molds that we were being raised to occupy. . . . I was never very involved with drugs . . . but to the extent that I experimented with those things . . . and there was a year or two when I was involved to some extent with drugs-they helped give us a sense of another reality . . . or spiritual and esthetic dimensions to things. So I think that it was great.Both the actual experience of taking drugs as well as run-ins with the state as a result of drug use brought together the worlds of the right and left. The radicalization evident in Rob Tyler's story is typical. Having been active in YAF for five years, Rob was in the top leadership of the California branch. Drawn to the music of youth culture, he heard Jim Morrison sing "Light My Fire" one day in spring 1967 and knew then that he was going to smoke dope. Reflecting on this he says,
The whole drug thing really impressed me. . . . It gave me literally a new way of thinking. It changed the rules suddenly. All of a sudden I was an enemy of the state. I was doing something illegal and the government could come down and bite my ass. I didn't like having to be put into that position, doing something I thought was absolutely none of their business . . . and was exercising my personal freedom. So when I was smoking over at the Republican National Convention, that shocked a few people because they knew me as a pretty conservative activist. I began to feel less akin to conservatives.Rob claims to have become the Johnny Appleseed of YAF, turning on others ripe for change. He set up what he termed "little fronts" such as the "Bob Dylan Appreciation Society" where he would invite people to his house to listen to Dylan and "smoke tons of dope." His use of drugs accentuated the differences he felt from traditionalists: "We were drug-using fiends. I'd go to my own board meeting stoned and wearing this Air Force jacket . . . because I was in the reserves at the time, stoned the entire weekend. I just could not relate any more to the trads."
By the late 1960s, Rob said, he "became very upset with the right-wing Christian types," particularly with their attitudes toward individual freedom. Meanwhile, his counterculture experience brought him to realization of common ground with the left.
Timothy Leary and reading Baba Ram Dass . . . was just amazing. It wasn't right or left. It was be here now. . . . It was a different lifestyle. . . . The greening of America-that was us. . . . I began to see that there are people on the left you can work with. . . . The counterculture was a great common ground. We had all these common values-love and peace and freedom from government interference and personal growth. . . . I was an enemy of the state. . . . Drugs and the war were the catalyst . . . and the lifestyle that Nixon and his gang didn't approve of.Rob says as he encountered new people, he changed: "A number of things had to be analyzed and reviewed and I couldn't hold onto the old prejudices." He gained a better understanding of the black struggle and of sexual discrimination. He comments, "It was difficult, but what I remember clearly was constantly being amazed at how much change I was going through at the time. Every three months . . . I was at a totally different mental place. It blew my mind. I didn't know when the damned thing was going to end."
Change came very rapidly, on the right as on the left. Rob's transformation involved not only a shared experience in the counterculture but also the recognition of common issues with the left. The use of drugs, and his stance against the war, led him into direct confrontation with the state. Saying he "reached a point that the American government was my enemy," Rob became an anarchist.
A parallel perspective occurred to SDS member Fred Faust, who said, "There were common grounds with the Right. They were against Big Brother, against narcs on campus. There were common grounds when it came to getting Big Brother off your back." In fact, the crackdown by campus and government authorities against drug users radicalized the left as well as the right. SDSer Lynn Dykstra relays a story of a drug bust at the University of Illinois in which a number of campus dealers she knew were arrested. Some people arrested had only very small amounts of marijuana, yet the police stormed into dorm rooms and dragged them off to jail. Lynn says this event radicalized her; it "drew lines between 'us' and 'them.'"
Such experiences led not only to alienation but to a questioning of governmental authority. A study by Mankoff and Flacks of students at the University of Wisconsin found that as drug use spread, an increasing number of college youth experienced harassment by officials. Such repression led to the delegitimation of institutional authority, radicalizing youth along the way.34
Thus, government repression forged a link between the left and right. By labeling casual pot smokers and small-time dealers as criminals, the state unintentionally "weakened the authority of authorities."35 Such action turned libertarians, as well as the countercultural New Left, into enemies of the state with a common concern for protection from government interference. Rod Manis, who served as chair of California YAF, wrote,
Members of my generation who have turned on with psychedelic chemicals are especially aware of the insanity and tyranny of government. They know from their own experiences that there is little harm in the use of these drugs. Many realize that if man is going to be able to enjoy, even just cope with the fantastically complex society and world of the future, he will have to have the help of mind-expanding drugs.In response, Manis called for the expansion of personal freedom through "abolition of the draft, censorship, and all laws that regulate or restrict pot, acid, narcotics, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, contraception, abortion, prostitution, cohabitation or any act that does not violate the property rights of others. . . . Our bodies belong to us and we alone should decide what we do with them."36
While the call for social freedoms brought libertarians into common cause with the countercultural left, it exacerbated tensions with traditionalists. Dana Rohrabacher reflects on the main factors that divided YAF:
The two things that eventually split the youth of the right wing were the draft and legalization of marijuana. Those two issues were central issues. . . . Milton Friedman, who was the conservative guru . . . [was] in favor of marijuana being legal and . . . not in favor of the draft. . . . It's consistent with his free enterprise philosophy. Well, the libertarians started evolving into that and pretty soon you got into a situation where on the fundamental issues of the day . . . the libertarians were more in tune with what the left was advocating than [with what] . . . the conservatives were advocating.In short, division over cultural issues intensified the political differences between libertarians and traditionalists, creating a fundamental schism in YAF.
Divisions within both SDS and YAF over the counterculture not only created tensions within each organization but also brought together the worlds of the left and right. In particular, the use of drugs, and the reaction from and to authority as a result of this drug use, further contributed to the radicalization of libertarians in YAF. Thus, the counterculture became a meeting ground not only in terms of shared lifestyles and values but also in terms of a common frame of understanding as the countercultural New Left and the libertarian New Right faced common enemies.
This case indicates that social movement mobilization is not always a predictable process. The intersection with people outside the boundaries of the New Left brought in new constituencies. Unexpectedly, then, the cultural aspects of the leftist movement appealed to new audiences of support among the counterculture. Libertarian belief and action increasingly overlapped with sectors of SDS. As we'll see in chapter 7, these sectors converged around a common hostility toward the state, a strong impulse toward personal freedom, and a call for decentralization and local control of neighborhoods, schools, and the police.
At the same time the libertarians' allegiance with the counterculture, combined with their stance against the Vietnam War and their reaction to government repression, translated into an ever-widening gulf between libertarians and traditionalists. Eventually these differences would erupt and lead to the purge of libertarians at the 1969 national YAF convention. But before turning to that, we must first consider another set of divisions that occurred among members of SDS and YAF, one that focused on issues of gender.
Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more