The justifications for public expenditure on accelerator laboratories that high energy physicists deployed over the course of the Cold War are examined.It is shown how legitimization in terms of Cold War economic and national security aims was rendered ineffective during the 1960s anti-science movements. As a consequence high energy physicists framed a response that emphasized the elegance and cultural value of their work. Their story vaunted universal and fundamental concepts that could be appreciated by even an anti-scientific audience. In particular, the concept of “symmetry,” which had become a powerful tool of high energy physics, was utilized to communicate the aesthetic qualities toward which the physicists aspired. Robert Wilson realized this vision in his design and successful construction and operation of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (1967-1974). During the 1980s, renewed Cold War tensions, string theory, and challenges from condensed matter physicists fragmented the physics community and broke down the high energy physicists' symmetry narrative. The multiplicity of competing stories about fundamental physics that resulted are considered as one cause of the 1993 cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider.

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