A Distant Dream: The Hippie Legacy

Flower Children, Love Children, self-proclaimed “Freaks”, and as we know them best, Hippies, this free-spirited generation of baby-boomers is best remembered for many things, including: 

  • their colorful style;
  • their use of psychedelic drugs;
  • their eco-friendly lifestyle; and,
  • their liberal- and peace-based ideologies. 

While the Hippie Movement began in the early 1960s, it reached its peak in the early 1970s, and was largely considered to have died out by the mid 1970s. They say, though, that history repeats itself and there’s no doubt that the lifestyle they advocated is still very relevant today.

… And I’m not just talking about curtain bangs and oversized glasses. Even their controversial ideologies and ways of living are making a strong comeback (yes, even the drugs!). 

Which begs the question, who exactly were these mystical beings of the past that we both romanticize and demonize? 

Free-spirited Hippies in a van

The Flower Child is Born

The 1960s was a time ripe for change, as the hippies were only 1 of many counterculture groups included in the overarching Civil Rights Movement. Other groups consisted of (Pruitt, 2018): 

  • The Black community
  • The LGBTQ community
  • Feminists
  • Various political radicals 
  • Anarchists

Clearly, the status quo wasn’t cutting it for many… but how come? What was it about the social, economic and political context that drove each group to organize and fight for their rights en masse? And what, specifically, fueled the hippie movement? 

Well, it all seems to have started with the close of the second world war, after which followed a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. While America experienced its postwar economic boom, values like capitalism, materialism and consumerism were taking hold of the country (Rahn, 2011), and households were experiencing riches and convenience like never before! 

However, not all demographics were sharing equally in the newly generated wealth. According to the Library of Congress, the ever increasing disparity was a major catalyst for these various groups to organize and defend their civil rights, a long battle that continues even today.

Indeed, concerns about these postwar values had been building up over time. Leading historian W. J. Rorabaugh (2015) even proclaims that the hippies were descendants of a 1950s group called The Beat Generation. This was a university-educated group of authors and poets, the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who “embraced Eastern religions, [and] experimented with drugs and a looser form of sexuality” (Pruitt), and began questioning the postwar values of the American establishment as being harmful not only to the individual, but also to the collective (Rahn). 

Ginsberg, author of “The Great Marijuana Hoax”, was particularly vocal about the laws regarding marijuana and other hallucinogens. It had been unearthed during a 1964 trial on cannabis charges that the government had not-so-long-ago recognized the benefits of the cannabis plant, and this hypocrisy alone was enough for him to spark a long-lasting fuse of doubt (McMahon, 2018).  The Beats, it turns out, planted important seeds that would later blossom into the infamous Flower Children we remember so well to this day. 

Though the second world war had ended, it was soon replaced by the Cold War (1947 to 1991), and an increasing sense of paranoia overshadowed the world as the United States and the Soviet Union raced to develop weapons of mass destruction (Pierce, 2009). As the battle between democracy and communism raged on, a clear line of division was drawn between “East'' and “West”, a line that was further reinforced by the start of the Korean War (1950 to 1953) and the Vietnam war (1954 to 1975).

For the first time since 1942, men were required to register with the government at 18 for draft calls to the Vietnam war (Jezer-Morton, 2006). This time though, the television brought home more gruesome detail than ever before, and as the decade wore on, an increasing number of American youth were congregating in protest against the war (Pruitt). It seems the people were fed up with sacrificing themselves for values they didn’t necessarily believe in.  

Finally, the stage was set for the hippies to flourish in abundance as the movement swept across the country, even spreading as far as other continents (hello Beatles 2.0!).  By 1969, in the summer of love, hundreds of thousands of free-spirited youngsters united at the infamous Woodstock music festival to celebrate their shared values of peace, love, and rock & roll (Pruitt). 

Woodstock Music Festival of 1969

- Woodstock Music Festival 1969

According to Rorabaugh, “the vast majority of hippies were young, white, middle-class men and women who… resented the pressure to conform to the normal standards of appearance, employment or lifestyle” (Pruitt). What they wanted most of all was the freedom to be themselves, a sentiment that was, and is, widely shared among many.

While the flower children sympathized with many of the other groups involved in the Civil Rights Movement, they opted for the laissez-faire approach. Rather than protesting, they unplugged from the system and led by example - to make love, not war. 

The End of Flower Power

Many believe that the Hippie Movement is directly correlated with the Vietnam war. After all, the lifestyle became popular when the conflict started, they were well known for opposing it, and the movement died out right about when the war ended (Pruitt). But is the end of the Vietnam war truly to blame for their disappearance? In truth, it’s likely a lot more complicated than that. 

Just as the hippie movement reached its height, President Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971 (A History of the Drug War). The establishment was fighting back with one of its biggest assaults on the Civil Rights movement as a whole.

John Ehrlichman, President Nixon’s Domestic Policy Chief, later admitted in 1994 that “the Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people… We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (LoBianco, 2016)

What… the… ______!

Then in 1972, Nixon ignored the recommendation to decriminalize cannabis made by the commission that his administration had authorized to review the effects of marijuana (A History of the Drug War), effectively maintaining its status as a Schedule 1 narcotic that offers no medical value. 

With some help from the media, Flower Power supporters acquired a rather unfortunate reputation as outcasts to society, and the hippie movement quickly regressed. Rorabaugh claims that “drugs, homelessness and [ahem] crime” had desecrated the Hippie communities (Pruitt), causing many to: 

  • escape to Canada (and elsewhere) with fellow draft dodgers (Jezer-Morton);
  • disperse into smaller communities across the country, developing communes of their own; (Pruitt) or,
  • “grow up”, or rather, assimilate back into popular culture (Perera, 2015).  

And so, what was once a powerful and challenging force to be reckoned with had come to an abrupt halt. 

Two hippie women hitchhiking to everywhere

You May Say I’m A Dreamer

And so, the vibrancy of this passionate group of baby boomers faded away in our memories… almost like a distant dream. One in which we especially love to recall every year for Halloween (anybody else?). It’s clear, however, that their legacy lives on as a new generation continues in their footsteps. 

For starters, it’s finally cool to care for the planet again! Turns out they were right about us being “Children of the Earth”, and we now understand just how important it is to be good stewards of this planet. Thanks to the Paris Agreement introduced in 2015, 192 countries are committed to saving the world by investing in eco-friendly solutions, with a goal to reduce global temperatures to pre-industrial levels. Though this decision was largely fueled by a collective fear of global warming, we’ll hopefully continue learning from the hippies and work towards harnessing a genuine sense of love and respect for Mother Nature. 

Central to the theme of coming together as people, of course, are Civil Rights, which find themselves in the middle of the cultural conversation once again. Black Lives Matter took the world by storm in 2020 when it put a mirror up to society that revealed the long-term destructive impact of the many neglectful decisions that were made and compounded over time, like for instance, the drug war. This is just the beginning, and there is a lot of work to be done. Visit the Black Lives Matter website to learn more about how you can help.


The Last Prisoner Project, in particular, is a cannabis reform nonprofit organization working to liberate victims of the manufactured drug war. While corporations are reaping millions in profit from the cannabis industry, over 40,000 prisoners are still locked away in the United States alone for crimes no longer considered illegal. 


Speaking of the drug war, the world might yet be starting to open its mind to cannabis once again. Uruguay was the first country to legalize the plant for consumption in 2013, followed by Canada in 2018, as well as about a dozen states to date - though it is not yet federally legal (A History of the Drug War). Could this, perhaps, be the small beginnings of even bigger changes to come (regarding the drug war, even healthcare)?

As it turns out, the scientific community has enthusiastically reopened the books on psychedelic research. According to an article published on UniversityAffairs.ca, research was developing promising results in the 1950s,  but was ultimately abandoned “in the late 1960s when politicians… reclassified these substances as dangerous drugs with no medical value” (Banks, 2019), that is, until now! Institutions across Canada, the likes of U of T (University of Toronto) and BCCSU (British Columbia Centre on Substance Use), are reopening the case files, and picking up where the 1960s left off. Though this presents a very long, expensive journey ahead, the results could be revolutionary.

When we remember the hippies, many think of them as extremists, while others stereotype them as society’s lazy drop-outs. Though they certainly weren’t perfect (nobody is), they were an inspiring example on how to lead with love and live in peace. Should we carry these values with us into the future, we might yet find ourselves living in paradise.

“You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one”
(John Lennon)




  1. “A History of the Drug War.” Drug Policy Alliance, https://drugpolicy.org/issues/brief-history-drug-war.
  2. Atkins, Larry. “Hippies' Proud Legacy: Peace, Love, Activism.” Baltimore Sun, 30 Sept. 2021, https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-2007-06-21-0706210034-story.html.
  3. Banks, Kerry. “The Canadian Revival of Psychedelic Drug Research.” University Affairs, 14 June 2019, https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/the-canadian-revival-of-psychedelic-drug-research/
  4. DiPaolo, Miranda. “LSD and The Hippies: A Focused Analysis of Criminalization and Persecution In The Sixties.” The People, Ideas, and Things (PIT) Journal, 2018, https://pitjournal.unc.edu/content/lsd-and-hippies-focused-analysis-criminalization-and-persecution-sixties.
  5. History.com Editors. “Korean War.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/korea/korean-war.
  6. History.com Editors. “Vietnam War.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history.
  7. Jezer-Morton, Kathryn. “Hippies in Canada.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 7 Feb. 2006, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/hippies.
  8. LoBianco, Tom. “Report: Nixon Aide Says War on Drugs Targeted Blacks, Hippies.” CNN, 24 Mar. 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/index.html.
  9. McMahon, Xandra. “In 'Grass Roots,' A History of Marijuana in America.” Colorado Public Radio, 9 Apr. 2018, https://www.cpr.org/show-segment/in-grass-roots-a-history-of-marijuana-in-america/.
  10. Perera, Thivanka. “Why the Hippie Movement Declined.” The Culture Trip, 5 May 2015, https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/california/articles/5-reasons-why-the-hippie-movement-declined/.
  11. Pierce, David. “America in the Post War Period.” Inquiries Journal, 1 Oct. 2009, http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/2/america-in-the-post-war-period.
  12. Pruitt, Sarah. “How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Sept. 2018, https://www.history.com/news/vietnam-war-hippies-counter-culture.
  13. Rahn, Josh. “The Beat Generation.” The Literature Network, Jalic Inc., 2011, https://www.online-literature.com/periods/beat.php.
  14. Rorabaugh, W. J. “Hippies Won the Culture War.” History News Network, Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, 27 Sept. 2015, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/160407#:~:text=As%20blue%20jeans%2C%20beards%2C%20body,launched%20nearly%20fifty%20years%20ago.
  15. “The Paris Agreement.” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), United Nations, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.
  16. “U.S. History Primary Source Timeline: The Post War United States, 1945 to 1968.” The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/united-states-history-primary-source-timeline/post-war-united-states-1945-1968/overview/.



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