Beats and the Counterculture

1960s counterculture, with its celebration of lived experience, psychic exploration, and bodily expression, was an outgrowth of the Beat sensibility. Sociologist Theodore Roszak coined the term “counter culture” in 1969 and called Ginsberg’s Howl “a founding document of the counter culture.” For Roszak, youth culture of the sixties was a rejection of “technocracy”—the estrangement of the individual from the adventure, splendor, and visionary possibilities of life. Ginsberg’s “Moloch,” the dehumanizing and soulless monster representing the machinery of mainstream society in Howl, leads directly to Ken Kesey’s “Combine”—the malevolent force of social control in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. To overcome such oppression, Roszak argued, there needed to be a “revolution in consciousness,” a notion linking the Beats and the “tuned-in” hippie generation.

Beat aesthetics of liberation and ecstasy strongly inspired rock music culture of the 1960s, and a number of the Beat poets and artists had close connections to rock musicians. In their anti-authoritarian attitudes, the Beats also helped set the stage for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s, and many of the Beats and their followers were active in antiwar and other protest movements.