This essay examines the pervasive countercultural investment in authenticity by looking at three intellectuals—the political philosopher John Rawls, the sociologist David Riesman, and the poet George Oppen—who came of age before the sixties and shared a distinct ambivalence toward the counterculture's later refusal of universalism, particularly its existentialist tendency to derive authenticity from the atomizing experience of alienation. Politically, all three were social democrats who believed in the socially regulative necessity of individual autonomy, that is, in the premises of a Kantian liberalism. Riesman and Oppen were particularly concerned to reveal the relevance and value of contemplative autonomy in the face of calamity and catastrophe. Theirs was an engaged poetics, critical of the political order even as it depended on a universalizing version of the Kantian sublime.


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pp. 323-349
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