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Theodore Roszak

The Making of a Counter Culture


Preface xi
I. Technocracy's Children 1
II. An Invasion of Centaurs 42
III. The Dialecties of Liberation: Herbert
Marcuse and Norman Brown 84
IV. Journey to the East . . . and Points Beyond:
Allen Ginsberg and Alan Watts 1 24
V. The Counterfeit Infinity: The Use and Abuse
of Psychedelic Experience 155
VI. Exploring Utopia: The Visionary Sociology
of Paul Goodman 178
VII. The Myth of Objective Consciousness
VIII. Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Fire 239
Appendix: Objectivity Unlimited 269
Bibliographical Notes 291


Theodore Roszak was born in Chicago in 1933, attended the University of California at Los Angeles, and received his Ph. D. from Princeton in 1958. He is a member of the history department of California State College at Hayward, and was editor of and contributor to ”The Dissenting Academy” (1968). He has had articles and reviews in many magazines, among them ”The Nation”, ”Liberation”, ”New Politics”, and ”The New American Review”.


As a subject of study, the counter culture with which this book deals possesses all the liabilities which a decent sense of intellectual caution would persuade one to avoid like the plague. I have colleagues in the academy who have come within an ace of convincing me that no such things as ”The Romantic Movement” or ”The Renaissance” ever existed&emdash; not if one gets down to scrutinizing the microscopic phenomena of history. At that level, one tends only to see many different people doing many different things and thinking many different thoughts. How much more vulnerable such broad-gauged categorizations become when they are meant to corral elements of the stormy contemporary scene and hold them steady for comment! And yet that elusive conception called ”the spirit of the times” continues to nag at the mind and demand recognition, since it seems to be the only way available in which one can make even provisional sense of the world one lives in. It would surely be convenient if these perversely ectoplasmic ”Zeitgeists” were card-carrying movements, with a headquarters, an executive board, and a file of official manifestoes. But of course they aren't. One is therefore forced to take hold of them with a certain trepidation, allowing exceptions to slip through the sieve of one's generalizations in great numbers, but hoping always that more that is solid and valuable will finally remain behind than filters away.

All this is by way of admitting openly that much of what is said here regarding our contemporary youth culture is subject to any number of qualifications. It strikes me as obvious beyond dispute that the interests of our college-age and adolescent young in the psychology of alienation, oriental mysticism, psychedelic drugs, and communitarian experiments comprise a cultural constellation that radically diverges from values and assumptions that have been in the mainstream of our society at least since the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. But I am quite aware that this constellation has much maturing to do before its priorities fall into place and before any well-developed social cohesion grows up around it.

At this point, the counter culture I speak of embraces only a strict minority of the young and a handful of their adult mentors. It excludes our more conservative young, for whom a bit less Social Security and a bit more of that old-time religion (plus more police on the beat) would be sufficient to make the Great Society a thing of beauty. It excludes our more liberal youth, for whom the alpha and omega of polities is no doubt still that Kennedy style. It excludes the scattering of old-line Marxist youth groups whose members, like their fathers before them, continue to tend the ashes of the proletarian revolution, watching for a spark to leap forth. More importantly, it excludes in large measure the militant black young, whose political project has become so narrowly defined in ethnic terms that, despite its urgency, it has become for the time being as culturally old-fashioned as the nationalist mythopoesis of the nineteenth century. In any event, the situation of black youth requires such special treatment as would run to book length in its own right.

If there is any justification for such exceptions in a discussion of youth, it must be that the counter cultural young are significant enough both in numbers and in critical force to merit independent attention. But from my own point of view, the counter culture, far more than merely ”meriting” attention, desperately requires it, since I am at a loss to know where, besides among these dissenting young people and their heirs of the next few generations, the radical discontent and innovation can be found that might transform this disoriented civilization of ours into something a human being can identify as home. They are the matrix in which an alternative, but still excessively fragile future is taking shape. Granted that alternative comes dressed in a garish motley, its costume borrowed from many and exotic sources&emdash;from depth psychiatry, from the mellowed remnants of left-wing ideology, from the oriental religions, from Romantic ”Weltschmerz”, from anarchist social theory, from Dada and American Indian lore, and, I suppose, the perennial wisdom. Still it looks to me like all we have to hold against the final consolidation of a technocratic totalitarianism in which we shall find ourselves ingeniously adapted to an existence wholly estranged from everything that has ever made the life of man an interesting adventure.

If the resistance of the counter culture fails, I think there will be nothing in store for us but what anti-utopians like Huxley and Orwell have forecast &emdash; though I have no doubt that these dismal despotisms will be far more stable and effective than their prophets have foreseen. For they will be equipped with techniques of inner-manipulation as unobtrusively fine as gossamer. Above all, the capacity of our emerging technocratic paradise to denature the imagination by appropriating to itself the whole meaning of Reason, Reality, Progress, and Knowledge will render it impossible for men to give any name to their bothersomely unfulfilled potentialities but that of madness. And for such madness, humanitarian therapies will be generously provided.

There may be many readers for whom the issues raised in this book will seem meaningless as gibberish. It is not easy to question the thoroughly sensible, thoroughly well-intentioned, but nevertheless reductive humanism with which the technocracy surrounds itself without seeming to speak a dead and discredited language. Especially so if one admits&emdash; as I do (pace the doctrinaire eschatology of old and new left)&emdash; that it may well lie within the capability of the technocracy to utilize its industrial prowess, its social engineering, its sheer affluence, and its well-developed diversionary tactics, to reduce, in ways that most people will find perfectly acceptable, all the tensions born of disorganization, privation, and injustice which currently unsettle our lives. (Note that I do not say it will solve the problems; but rather, like adjustive psychotherapy, it will cunningly soothe the neurotic hurt.) The technocracy is not simply a power structure wielding vast material influence; it is the expression of a grand cultural imperative, a veritable mystique that is deeply endorsed by the populace. It is therefore a capacious sponge able to soak up prodigious quantities of discontent and agitation, often well before they look like anything but amusing eccentricities or uncalled-for aberrations. The question therefore arises: ”If the technocracy in its grand procession through history is indeed pursuing to the satisfaction of so many such universally ratified values as The Quest for Truth, The Conquest of Nature, The Abundant Society, The Creative Leisure, The Well-Adjusted Life, why not settle back and enjoy the trip?”

The answer is, I guess, that I find myself unable to see anything at the end of the road we are following with such self-assured momentum but Samuel Beckett's two sad tramps forever waiting under that wilted tree for their lives to begin. Except that I think the tree isn't even going to be real, but a plastic counterfeit. In fact, even the tramps may turn out to be automatons . . . though of course there will be great, programmed grins on their faces.


The Making of a Counter Culture
Theodore Roszak

”Most of what is presently happening that is new, provocative and engaging in politics, education, the arts, social relations (love, courtship, family, community) is the creation either of youth, who are profoundly, even fanatically, alienated from the parental generation, or of those who address themselves primarily to the young.”

Starting from this premise, Theodore Roszak examines in detail some of the leading influences on the youthful counter culture &emdash; Herbert Marcuse and Norman Brown, Allen Ginsberg and Alan Watts, Timothy Leary and Paul Goodman &emdash; and shows how each has helped call into question the conventional scientific world view and in so doing has set about undermining the foundations of the technocracy.

He then turns his attention to ”the myth of objective consciousness,” and suggests that a culture which subordinates or degrades visionary experience commits the sin of diminishing our existence. For the question facing us is not ”How shall we know?” but ”How shall we live?” And in finding the answer we must reconstitute the magical world view from which human creativity and community derive. So that, finally, ”the primary project of our counter culture is to proclaim a new heaven and a new earth so vast, so marvelous that the inordinate claims of technical expertise must of necessity withdraw to a subordinate and marginal status in the lives of men.”

Cover Painting by Daniel Schwartz
Cover Typography by Ted Bernstein