The Tyranny of Cool: Orthodoxy, Heresy and the 1960s Counterculture

Stevenson, Guy. 2021. The Tyranny of Cool: Orthodoxy, Heresy and the 1960s Counterculture. In: Karina Jakubowicz and Robert Dickins, eds. Heresy and Borders in the Twentieth Century. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 123-140. ISBN 9780367545031 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Britain’s vote to leave Europe and America’s election of Donald Trump to president represented a backlash against the orthodoxy of modern identity politics. Much of the subsequent discussion among liberal and left-leaning intellectuals has been marked by a sense of shock and alarm at the rejection of values that had for decades been taken as articles of faith. This chapter traces these tenets to the American counterculture of the 1950s and 60s, in order to better understand the contemporary backlash against them. Through analysis of writings by various countercultural figures, it considers the beginnings of the revolution that contributed to the moral and political certitudes of the next sixty years. It asks in what ways did the heretical spirit of the Beat Generation, their contemporaries and immediate literary descendants result in the orthodox position? What exclusionary and politically contradictory criteria did they employ? And what lessons can be learnt from the 1950s and 60s about the current turn against identity politics, a turn that is presented by many involved as the new, true counterculture? Reading the current historical moment as one of new and unfamiliar heterodox rebellion, I have aimed to put the orthodoxy it is challenging in its early heretical context. By doing so, I argue, we may move beyond outrage and condescension at the new nationalist backlash, and towards a better appreciation of the reasons for that backlash, including the religious impulse behind the progressive political orthodoxy it is challenging.

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Book Section

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“This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in ‘Heresy and Borders in the Twentieth Century’ on 10 March 2021, available online: It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.”


1960s Counterculture, The Beat Generation, Culture Wars, Modernism, Brexit, Feminism

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English and Comparative Literature


September 2020Accepted
10 March 2021Published

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Date Deposited:

12 Jun 2024 13:40

Last Modified:

12 Jun 2024 15:42


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