The Tyranny of Cool: Anti-Humanism in the Counterculture

Stevenson, Guy. 2019. 'The Tyranny of Cool: Anti-Humanism in the Counterculture'. In: Annual Conference of ECHIC (European Consortium for Humanities Institutes and Centres). The Byzantine Museum, Athens, Greece 4 -6 April 2019. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

Among many other things, 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 paper looks to the literary American counterculture of the 1950s and 60s to examine those tenets at their roots, and so better understand the backlash against them that is happening today. Through analysis of writings by various countercultural figures, I consider the beginnings of the revolution that contributed to the moral and political certitudes of the next sixty years. In what ways and through which means 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? Finally, 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? Taking its lead from the philosopher John Gray, this paper understands the current historical moment as one of ‘revolutionary change’ and aims to move beyond outrage and condescension, towards a better appreciation both of the conditions that have produced that revolution and the religious impulse behind the progressive political orthodoxy it is challenging.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


The Beat Generation, 1960s Counterculture, Orthodoxy, Heresy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


4 February 2019Accepted
5 April 2019Completed

Event Location:

The Byzantine Museum, Athens, Greece

Date range:

4 -6 April 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Jun 2024 15:42

Last Modified:

13 Jun 2024 15:49


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