From The '60s to The 70s: Dissent and Discovery

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Then and now, romanticism had a special feeling against Original Sin and for Original Innocence, seeing it exemplified in youth. William Wordsworth hailed a child of six: "Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!" That sentiment was obliquely echoed last summer at the Amherst College commencement; the class valedictorian declared: "Our parents and our teachers believe in adulthood and maturity: our wish is to stay immature as little children." It was meant metaphorically; yet it expressed a profound disillusion with the values of the "older generation"—or perhaps the lack of them. Given little to believe in or rebel against by their liberal parents, the young filled the void with their own lifestyles. The decade's compulsive clichés—"relevant" and "meaningful"—suggested a desperate search for identity.

The intention to shock by obscenity, absurd dress and confrontation

The American romantics of the '60s shared with their forerunners a vision of profound, if unspecific change that would regenerate mankind. In urging the abolition of the common law in England and the repudiation of the national debt, Percy Bysshe Shelley, according to Historian Crane Brinton, "saw nothing between himself and his dream." A poetic-minded radical of the '60s, Carl Oglesby, described the comparable Utopian stance of today's revolutionary: "Perhaps he has no choice and he is pure fatality: perhaps there is no fatality and he is pure will. His position may be invincible, absurd, both or neither. It doesn't matter. He is on the scene." The new romantics scorned gradual reform; for them, it was Freedom Now, Peace Now—Utopia Now.

Many adult Americans were shocked by the most obvious manifestations of the new romanticism—nudity, casual sex, obscenity, absurd dress, confrontation tactics. These were, of course, intended to shock. In describing some of his wilder contemporaries, Françoise René de Châteaubriand might have been talking about Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin when they confronted a House Un-American Activities subcommittee: "They rig themselves up as comic sketches, as grotesques, as caricatures. Some of them wear frightful mustaches; one would suppose that they are going forth to conquer the world." The heroes upon whom the romantics model themselves, and the causes they support, are also meant to shock. In the 19th century, romantics adulated Napoleon for defying all European tradition by his bold exploits. Many of today's young rebels glorify Che Guevara and Chairman Mao. The parallels are not exact, but in both situations it was enough that the heroes were hated by the Establishment.

A mystical search for a shortcut to Utopia or euphoria

The romantic is preoccupied with himself as a unique being, which indeed he is. He makes an adventure of exploring his own senses and extends his discoveries with the use of sex and drugs. As in his politics, he is searching for a shortcut to euphoria, to a mystical oneness with—not God perhaps, but something quite approximate. Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed his ecstatic poem Kubla Khan under the influence of opium. The rock romantics of the Dylan generation prefer pot.

Dostoevsky prophesied what would happen when the socialist dream of universal prosperity was realized, as it was

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