In the spring and summer of 1968 a wave of student protests erupted on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Their immediate causes were different, but they had two significant common features: contagious denial of the legitimacy of authority and a distaste for established norms of behavior and thought. The process was spiritually comparable to previous orgies of insanity (1793, 1917) but less focused or violent: the soixante-huitards “sought to change the world before they had begun to understand it.”
Defeated in the short term, as signified by Charles de Gaulle’s electoral comeback in June and Richard Nixon’s victory in November, the Left’s long march proved ultimately triumphant. For the future neoliberal ruling class, Paris 1968 was the cultural, social and political turning point where post-structuralism finally merged with young Karl Marx.
The wave of demonstrations in France was triggered off by the ostensibly banal demand of male students at the University of Paris at Nantierre to be free to visit girls’ dormitories at will. This was seen as a liberating demand at the time. (Little did they suspect that, half a century later, progressive students would demand campus authorities to strictly regulate relations between men and women.) The ensuing mayhem released a genie which was already chewing on the bit. Roger Scruton later wrote that his switch to conservatism started when he saw the Parisian barricades first-hand. He was in the Latin Quarter when students tore up the cobblestones to hurl at the riot police, overturned cars and uprooted lamp-posts to erect the barricades. “I suddenly realised that I was on the other side,” he wrote years later.
“What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilisation against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.”
Bloodless Parisian protests eventually morphed into a pan-European orgy of violence. The German offshoot, the Baader-Meinhof Group, soon embarked on a campaign of murder and terrorism which almost paralyzed the Federal Republic. The Italian Red Brigades were not far behind, aided and abetted by the Gladio-incubated Deep State apparatus.
The protests’ more ambitious and astute leaders opted for the Long March through the institutions, as per Antonio Gramsci’s 1920’s blueprint. Four years after the turmoil of 1968, in his essay Counterrevolution and Revolt, the high priest of the Frankfurt School, Herbert Marcuse, praised a French-German leader of the “uprising,” Rudi Dutschke, as a faithful Gramscian: “The long march through the institutions means working against the established institutions from within – not to subvert them, but to establish control over them, to acquire skills and routines, to program compuerms, to teach the young at all levels of education, to use the media, to organize production.”
The fruits have been plentiful. A key leader of the early Parisian protests, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, is today a prominent member of the European Parliament, a leader of “the Greens,” an advocate of open immigration and EU federalist. Ten years ago Cohn-Bendit gloated over the way 1968 destroyed “traditional culture, hidebound moralism, and the principle of hierarchical authority . . . social life, ways of being, ways of talking, ways of loving.” The late Joschka Fischer, who was memorably photographed battling a policeman in a street in 1968, became Germany’s foreign minister in 1998, and advocated his country’s participation in the US-led NATO war against Serbia a year later. Another prominent sixty-eighter, Javier Solana, became the Alliance’s secretary-general in 1995.
Those sixty-eighters were the most pampered generation of students known to history. Their anticapitalist rhetoric merely concealed an insatiable appetite for consumption and eventually produced a generation of Bobos steeped in mindless hedonism. Their insistence on the alleged right to be different has produced extreme subjectivism which has corroded Western societies ever since. Their demand for freedom without responsibility has made those societies markedly less free and less civilized than they had been half a century ago. The ensuing manufacturing of victim-minded minorities has destroyed their cohesion. The toxic legacy of 1968, with its slogan Il est interdit d’interdire (“It is forbidden to forbid!”) is a diseased, infantilized Western world ruled by cultural Marxists and at risk of population replacement.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.