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The Path Less Beaten: Jack Kerouac's On the Road

Stephen H. Webb

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One of the casualties of the attack on the Vietnam War was the bourgeois ideal of moderation. Before the sixties, entry into the middle class required a disciplining of desire on behalf of family, church, and nation. When political radicals began persuading America's youth that it took more courage to evade the draft than to serve their country, they substituted the ideal of self-fulfillment..."self-actualization" in the psychologist Abraham Maslow's more altruistic sounding words...for self-sacrifice. Moderation was out. Excess was in.

The pleasure of middle-class life is found in its respect for limits. The days are short, one has duties and responsibilities and a place in the world, and goals must be set and accomplished. Sixties radicals saw this conformity as the source of every social ill, from nationalism to sexism. They believed that the pursuit of personal freedom could transform society. They hoped they could end the Vietnam War by undermining the bourgeois ideal of moderation.

Although linking sexual liberation and draft evasion was a brilliant rhetorical ploy, and an effective recruiting slogan, the idea that transgression in the pursuit of freedom (or pleasure) can cure social problems was still an untested article of faith. Sixties radicals needed a new scripture to justify their creed, and they found it in the "Beat" novelist Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Kerouac actually supported the Vietnam War, but they were determined to enlist him in their cause, even if they had to misread him to do so.

Read the entire article on the Touchstone magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 28-Sep-05



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