On Two Versions of the Counterculture

“There were actually at least two countercultures in 1968. The street mutineers dreamed of a political revolution, which was acted out as theater, using old scripts. In the second, politics became personal; emancipation came in the form of consumer choices. The first was collectivist and failed, the second was libertarian, individualistic, futuristic, and carried the day. In the United States Stewart Brand, the visionary who founded The Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, pithily described the difference as between ‘Berkeley and Stanford’: ‘Around Berkeley, it was Free Speech Movement, “power to the people.” . . .’ In Germany this kind of technology-as-revolution mindset was much more difficult to launch, given the entrenched romantic aversion to technology in the counterculture. . .”

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Zygmunt Bauman, the Left, and Modernity

Premised on the Left’s fundamental inability to dissociate itself from the ideals of the bourgeois revolution, Zygmunt Bauman’s “The Left as the Counter-Culture of Modernity” introduces the notion of reconstituting “the Left as the counter-culture of modernism,” rather than as the “counter-culture of capitalism.” Bauman makes the case for this repositioning because, in his view, there is no historical agent to carry out an anti-capitalist program. However, by continuing to defend and maintain the Left’s core values of individual autonomy and political democracy, Bauman believes that the Left can identify the barriers preventing their realization in the present neoliberal paradigm. Bauman recounts the Left’s courtship with various strategies, namely, the heterodox critique of capitalist practice and professed affinity with the industrial working class, and the recent flirtation with postmodern theory. By examining each as it addresses the present historical paradigm, he emphasizes the need to rehabilitate the values of the Leftist program and search for alternative strategies to realize them.

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