The Path Less Beaten
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
by Stephen H. Webb
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.
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Stephen H. Webb is Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College. His latest book is The Divine Voice: Christian Proclamation and the Theology of Sound(Brazos Press). He, his wife, and their three children are members of the Lutheran Church (ELCA).
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