How The Bohemian Culture Changed American Culture

Andrew Root’s big thesis, in Faith Formation in a Secular Age, is that the Age of Obligation gave way to the Age of Authenticity, though “authenticity” is not understood as many might understand it today: it means true to one’s self. It is noticeable to me at least that Root avoids interaction or complementing the work of Jean Twenge and her outing of the narcissism epidemic.

Root rehearses his narrative often enough that his readers are not likely to miss it (or forget it). Marxist critical analysis with Freudian thinking led to seeing mass society as an age of conformity and oppression (our last post). In today’s post we add to this narrative the significance of two waves of pushing against the Age of Obligation and conformity: the attempt to reform the age with Martin Luther King Jr’s civil rights movement (America was not living up to its ideals) to the Beats, like Ginsberg and Kerouac (America’s culture was corrupt and coercive and conforming). The former fought for reform; the latter for revolution and a counterculture. The second wave, then, attacked the establishment; the first wave called the establishment hypocrites.

That’s the big picture.  Freud had the ideas (desire and oppression) but the Beats the method (opt out, sex, drugs, etc.).

The Beats wanted to redefine adulthood by promoting eternal youthfulness.

The bohemian perspective was a battle for a new consciousness, for an eternal youthfulness that would awaken people to see how the establishment chained them in a suburban prison of boring, numb, inauthentic grown-ups. The goal was for individuals to free themselves from the shackles of bourgeois conformity by remaining forever full of youthfulness. The goal was to raise consciousness so you could see the traps, avoiding them so you might walk the path into all the desires of your own mind, being the individual you want to be.

There is failure and there is success. The counterculture never came into existence; but the battle for the mind was won. Bohemian or Beat theories became the Age of Authenticity.

Root sees Moral Therapeutic Deism as connected here: Moral is authenticity, Therapeutic is the Id free of the constraints of the Superego, and Deism was a spirituality without divine action.

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