A reader writes:
As someone who was definitely a Hippie let me expand upon your statement,
"But in the reaction to a doomed war, in their sense that mankind faced an existential crisis as destructive weapons technology spread, in their understanding that Christianity was not, at its core, socially productive or in any familiar sense, socially conservative, the hippies were onto something."
Those aspects of Hippie culture, to which I subscribed and lent what leadership abilities I then had, that were most critical were definitely based upon an understanding of essential Essene Christianity.
The culture was a communal, love based collaboration in a spiritual quest to bring peace, end bigotry – then against African and Native Americans, shortly adding women and not too long after Gays – stopping nuclear proliferation and war, and saving the planet from the rampages of unfettered exploitation. (Love in the Christian sense, though at 19, when I first got involved the sexual aspects were pretty attractive too.)
In a very strong sense, the hippies were a Conservative force. One that believed in Jeffersonian agrarian principles, practiced the Golden Rule, and direct religious experience, often enabled or enhanced by the use of psychotropic drugs such as Marijuana, Mescaline, psilocybin and LSD.
One of my favorite anecdotes of the period was being driven in Northern Arizona by an attorney who’d agreed to take a case for my room mate and me because it was on his way to a meeting to hear Barry Goldwater speak. We spoke about the war in Vietnam, the riots that had occurred after the assassination of MLK and the shooting of Bobby Kennedy and George Wallace, and the need to preserve the fantastic landscape through which we were driving. I remember the conversation because we agreed that the rioting after MLK seemed to be a reasonable, through regrettable response to that outrage (this 1968 ultra conservative was pro civil rights), that it was very frightening that there were forces willing to assassinate leaders rather than vote for them, and most startling, that we agreed that if we were unwilling to do what was required to win in Vietnam, we should leave. We even agreed that to win, would probably destroy Vietnam to the degree that the victory would be Pyrrhic.
And it should come as no surprise that preserving Arizona’s beauty was a shared wish, though I suspect on many of the aspects of that topic we now hold important but which were then relatively unknown by most people, we’d have disagreed. All I know is we both hated the cancerous growth that was Phoenix. Even then.
Of course, Hippidom was co opted by the greater culture within the context of fashions and music, AIDS and other STD’s put the kibosh on free love, and Nixon and Republicans of the day so frightened the older generation about their own kids that being against war and thermonuclear weapons was seen as treasonous. And not actually being Jesus meant that turning the other cheek and acting peaceably ended with the police riots in Chicago and the Hell’s Angels at Altamont.