The Rippies, New Yippies on the Right

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Salon ran a very insightful article on the rise of the new yippies on the right: Glenn Beck is the new Abbie Hoffman. It's very prescient. The author suggests that like the radical yippies in the 1960s, today's radicals endorse a similar list of tactics, behaviors, and beliefs. Today's Right Hippies (Rippies?) follow radicalism, Luddism, anti-science stance, street theatre (or more like broadcast theater), and dropping out (a 60s hippie term). I would add another indicator to their list: The homeschooling movement, which also encourages families to dropout from the public education system. Finally, a favorite book of the rippies is Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. In October, 2008 an analysis by V. Krebs of Amazon book recommendations, where customers who bought book A, also bought book B, showed that Rules for Radicals was highly correlated with the purchase of other conservative books.

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Rules for Radicals in the lower left.

The tea partiers are the hippies of our time. True, they tend to be relatively affluent -- but so were the hippies. As Tony Hendra once told me, "You had to have a lot of money to take part in the Summer of Love."

Consider the following countercultural features of the emerging American right:

Anti-System Radicalism: Just as the New Left claimed that the New Deal era wasn't really liberal, so the countercultural right claims that the Republican Party from Nixon to George W. Bush wasn't really conservative. '60s radicals like Carl Oglesby denounced John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson as sinister "corporate liberals" in the same way that the radicals of the right claim that the two Bushes, if not the sainted Reagan, were inauthentic "big government conservatives." The radical left had Ralph Nader. The radical right has Ron Paul.

Luddism: A few decades ago it was the countercultural left that opposed science, technology and markets. Now mainstream environmentalists have arguably gone too far in adopting the market rhetoric of cap-and-trade. Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, today seeks to save the environment by means of nuclear power plants, genetically modified crops and urban living.

Nowadays anti-science, anti-technology Luddites are more likely to be found on the right, among opponents of stem-cell research and evolutionary biology. And while the exaggerations and cover-ups of some scientific proponents of global warming undermine the claim that science on this subject is settled, it is clear that many conservatives reflexively believe the opposite of what progressives say on this and other subjects. If Al Gore changed his mind and announced that global cooling was imminent, one suspects many on the countercultural right would immediately warn of rising global temperatures and flooded coastlines. A counterculture inverts not only the widely-shared values but also the agreed-upon facts of the dominant culture they despise.

Street Theater: The eclipse of the countercultural left by the countercultural right is evident in political protest as well. Carnivalesque protest is practically monopolized by the tea-party right in the age of Obama. In the U.S., at least, the street theater of antiwar and anti-World Bank activists cannot compete with the mass demonstrations of the tea partiers. The giant puppets of the left are out. Posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache are in.

Dropping Out: In a letter to other conservative activists in 1999, the late Paul Weyrich, the president of the Free Congress Foundation, called on the right to adopt an explicitly countercultural strategy. "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority," Weyrich wrote. "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values."

Echoing the back-to-the-land hippies of the '60s and '70s left, Weyrich called on conservatives to secede from American society and form their own subcultural communities. "And while I'm not suggesting that we all become Amish or move to Idaho, I do think that we have to look at what we can do to separate ourselves from this hostile culture." Weyrich concluded by holding up the countercultural left as a model for the new countercultural right: "The radicals of the 1960s had three slogans: turn on, tune in, drop out. I suggest that we adopt a modified version."


 
 

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