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Inspirations Behind the Hippie Movement: A Comparative Philosophical Analysis of Ideology

In ancient Greece, the cynics proclaimed themselves as citizens of the world and were strong supporters of free speech. Their most famous leader was Diogenes (400-325 B.C.E.) who was often referred to as the “dog” and who famously lived in a tub. In fact, the word “cynic” itself meant dog since most of the adherents of this group decided to shun social conventions and to live in a natural, animal state. It involved even urinating and defecating in public and living with as few worldly possessions as possible.

Their philosophical stance was an act of rebellion against the accepted, often hypocritical, corrupted and materialistic forms of living. They claimed that human laws of etiquette are illusory and that humans may be rational and social, yet they still pertain to the animal group and ought not to aspire towards a supposedly higher nature. Plato used to refer to Diogenes as a “Socrates gone mad”.

The romantics of the nineteenth century were another group that may have been an inspiration for the hippie movement in the 1960s. The romantics felt out of touch with a world that was growing more and more technological and logical and that seemed to be losing touch with both personal feelings and nature. They claimed that humankind cannot be reduced to simple scientific formulas and that the focus of the Age of Enlightenment on reason and rational thought was erroneous because it was ignoring a major part of the human make-up, the capacity for feelings.

Romantic sentiments and all forms of passion, no matter how destructive or irrational, were exalted; to express one’s deepest emotions and one’s individuality were the primal concerns of the movement. As such, the romantics contributed greatly to the formation of national identity and a growing sense of individualism.

The hippies themselves began to reject accepted norms and regulations that were imposed upon them by the government and their conservative society as a whole. Similar to the cynics, they decided to undergo social customs by not cutting their hair and by wearing their own distinctive clothing and often rags to protest against the clean-cut hypocritical tendencies of their age, especially the picturesque and well-groomed family ideal of the 1950s.

The hippies resembled the romantic movement in that they preferred to base their actions on spontaneous outbursts of feeling rather than on rational thought or deliberation. They circumvented social restrictions that limited their freedom and with the aid of the sexual revolution, they helped redefine gender roles while opposing rigid and institutionalized ideas on love and marriage.

The fact that the hippies used drugs was nothing new since the romantics had already experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, mostly absinthe and opium, which they saw as not only increasing spontaneity but also as a means of bringing forth creativity as well.

The ideological beliefs of returning to nature and living in harmony with it had been largely fueled by field studies of the anthropologist Margaret Mead, especially her work entitled Coming of Age in Samoa in which she demonstrated that there were other alternative lifestyles practiced in different parts of the world. The Samoans apparently lived in perfect harmony with nature and each other and felt sexually liberated as they were purportedly not being limited by the stigmas and prohibitions of stifling communities that the modern world experienced at the time.

As can be seen, even modern movements have not only roots and foundations in the past but those historical events may even serve, consciously or subconsciously, as inspiration or fodder for other times to come. For instance, the growth of technology has often been associated with alienation towards nature and others, especially since the industrial revolution. In addition, conflicts with rigid and inflexible values and lifestyles have been common since ancient Greece and they are prone to return in different time periods, similar to Vico’s cyclical conception of history.