An old Marxist maxim holds that a capitalist will sell the rope with which to hang him. Baffler guru Thomas Frank has argued, however, that capitalism has transformed a weakness into one of its greatest strengths by selling shopping-mall Che Gueveras and other tokens of dissent. That way, the rebellion and violence are merely symbolic, but the profits are real. Academics Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter take Frank's provocative ideas into new and unfeasible places in Nation Of Rebels, a maddening attack on the counterculture. In prose which betrays a deep social conservatism and which holds the legacy of the '60s responsible for everything from coddled criminals to decreasing civility, Heath and Potter insist that a nebulous entity known as "the counterculture" has done itself (and by extension, society) a great disservice by snootily rejecting gradual reform in favor of an abstract, probably impossible transformation of the public consciousness.

From Heath and Potter's perspective, the counterculture takes its cues from space cadets like Abbie Hoffman and Timothy Leary rather than from socialism; with its insatiable hunger to distinguish itself from the ignorant rabble, and its rapid cycles of obsolescence, counterculture's rebel consumerism fuels the system it ostensibly opposes. Heath and Potter frustratingly treat the concepts of gradual reform and a total revolution in human consciousness as an either/or proposition. Of course, many activists work toward gradual reform in the short term, and hold a larger shift in public consciousness as a long-term goal, but conceding as much would go against the authors' crude caricature of the counterculture as a motley gang of acid-eating whackos intent on turning human existence into one giant, tree-worshipping be-in.


There are some good ideas buried in Nation Of Rebels. Unfortunately, they're the ones the authors borrowed wholesale from Frank and from Bobos In Paradise author David Brooks. But Brooks is such an entertaining writer that readers can enjoy his work even if they disagree with his ideas. Rebels, on the other hand, offers the unsavory combo of faulty reasoning and weak arguments, and conveys both in prose that's alternately maddeningly technical (with lots of talk of externalities and collective action problems) and snide.