The History and Philosophy of the Postwar American Counterculture: Anarchy, the Beats and the Psychedelic Transformation of Consciousness


This is a greatly expanded version of my article "Anarchism and the Beats," which was published in the book, The Philosophy of the Beats, by the University Press of Kentucky in 2012. It is both an historical and a philosophical analysis of the postwar American counterculture. It charts the historical origins of the postwar American counterculture from the anarchists and romantic poets of the early nineteenth century to a complex network of beat poets and pacifist anarchists in the early decades after World War II. The beat poets understood themselves to be religious prophets of a new form of liberated consciousness. Poetry was both a means to achieve this new form of consciousness and a means to express that consciousness once it was achieved by other means including travel, psychedelic drugs, sex or meditation. The transformation of consciousness sought by the beats was therefore primarily religious in nature, not political or ideological. However, that does not mean that the beats believed that the transformation of consciousness they sought had no political or social implications. On the contrary, the beats were almost all anarchists. It merely means that, for them, political ideology follows consciousness, not the reverse.

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Ed D'Angelo
State University of New York, Stony Brook (PhD)


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