Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"Yo hear so much about the left in the sixties. You rarely hear much about the youngsters in the conservative movement then. There were thousands, thousands across the country on campuses all over . . . Goldwater certainly mobilized and motivated scores more people because of his campaign. It was a very thrilling, exciting time."

--Young Americans for Freedom member Emmy Lewis reminiscing about the 60s in "A Generation Divided: The New Left, The New Right and the 1960s" by Rebecca Klatch, 1999

A blindfolded woman balances two swords on her shoulders. The old card's symmetry suggests balance but the airy implication is of doubt, as if two dangerous forces have been set one against the other. A blindfolded subject is unable to foresee consequences, but balance is the best to be hoped for among the suit of Swords' many problematic outcomes. As Crowley suggests, the card's intellectual manifestations are always complicated, disordered and subject to change as in no other suit. Its comparative calm rides above an onslaught of conflict. Crowley calls the card "peace" but "stalemate" might be more accurate. The mind is quiet while two forces battle to a standstill.

Here a young woman, her eyes shielded behind tinted sunglasses, waits to be arrested in an anti-war demonstration. She looks out between two "swords," the soldiers preparing to remove her from the street. It must occur to her that these men, perhaps no older than she, don't share her view of war and abhor her action. For a moment she is leveraged on one side of her generation's cultural and political fulcrum, gazing across the wide space that separates her from so many others her age, others with different, even oppositional political identities. Generations are not monolithic. The Counterculture existed as only a slice of the great post war baby boomer pie. As Tom Hayden was writing the Port Huron statement in 1962, as hippies began moving into the Haight-Ashbury in 1965, as student protestors across the globe took to the streets in 1968, other slices of this generation were forming a reaction, one that would grow to have lasting consequences well beyond the Sixties.

A backlash against the New Left had its nascent coalescence in Sharon, CT, when in the fall of 1960 a hundred college students from more than 40 campuses met at the estate of conservative pundit William Buckley, Jr., to create Young Americans for Freedom. YAF became the conservative version of SDS and its one-page Sharon Statement a codicil of right wing values comparable to the New Left's 62-page Port Huron Statement. Sharon's young bedrock conservatives declared their support for personal liberty, for capitalism as the only economic system compatible with freedom, for law and order, for states' rights, and for patriotism. Klatch finds a number of common threads running through the Port Huron and Sharon statements, notably an interest by both groups in the concept of freedom. But, as Klatch points out, freedom for YAF meant radical individualism while the SDS version viewed freedom as functional only within a community. It was the difference between privatizing Social Security and supporting national health care. And for many on the much more populous student Left, the Sharon statement . . . if it was read at all . . . became a suspicious rationalization for bigotry and repression. Support for "state's rights" was translated by the Left to mean the defense of southern racists. Support for loyalty oaths meant a return to the political witch hunts of McCarthyism. "Values" was seen as a code word for religious intolerance. Anti-communism was considered war mongering.

But within months the YAF had more than 20,000 registered members and a national voice within the Republican Party. Following Nixon's loss to Kennedy in 1960, YAF became a force pushing Barry Goldwater into his presidential candidacy. The year 1960 also saw the publication of Goldwater's polemical autobiography The Conscience of a Conservative. The Arizona Senator's defiant defense of conservative values was read voraciously by college conservatives in the way that C. Wright Mills was read by New Leftists and Betty Friedan by feminists. Supported with student enthusiasm and a clever direct mail campaign dreamed up by GOP activist F. Clinton White, Goldwater won the 1964 GOP presidential nomination, only to lose to Lyndon Johnson in a November landslide. When Goldwater announced in his acceptance speech that "Moderation in the pursuit of liberty is no virtue, extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," the prevailing moderately minded electorate dismissed him as a dangerous extremist and his candidacy was doomed. Yet nostalgic neocons (including Republican political operatives like Karl Rove and Richard Vigourie) reminisce about the Goldwater campaign the way that hippies remember the Summer of Love or New Left activists recall the first SDS convention. It was a turning point in the battle of the baby boomers. After Goldwater's defeat, the predominant student Left dismissed the conservative youth movement. Tom Hayden called the YAF "politically absurd." But eight years later the young Republican activists would enjoy a payback with Richard Nixon's resounding defeat of Democrat George McGovern whom Nixon ridiculed as the radical candidate of "acid, amnesty, and abortion."