May 5, 2008

Dismembering 1968

City Journal is featuring six of its editors' reflections on 1968. Christopher Hitchens, Kay Hymowitz, Guy Sorman, Stefan Kanfer, Sol Stern, and Harry Stein contribute. I've pulled a couple of excerpts to get you to click over.

Hitchens on his visit to Cuba:

Cuba was an unusually good vantage point for the 1968 phenomenon since it advertised itself as a new beginning for socialism that would avoid the drabness and conformity of the Eastern bloc. I was able to test this proposition in practice and in two ways. At a “cultural seminar,” I heard the distinguished Cuban film director Santiago Álvarez say that any form of criticism was allowed in Cuba, except direct criticism of Fidel Castro. This seemed a rather large exception, but when I tried to be funny about it (so often a mistake in revolutionary circles), I had my first experience of being denounced, in unsmiling tones, for “counterrevolutionary” tendencies. It was a slight surprise to find that people really talked like that.

Guy Sorman:

What did it mean to be 20 in May ’68? First and foremost, it meant rejecting all forms of authority—teachers, parents, bosses, those who governed, the older generation. Apart from a few personal targets—General Charles de Gaulle and the pope—we directed our recriminations against the abstract principle of authority and those who legitimized it. Political parties, the state (personified by the grandfatherly figure of de Gaulle), the army, the unions, the church, the university: all were put in the dock.

Some historical precedents haunted us. We remembered that the French Revolution was the work of 20-year-old boys. So, too, were the Romanticism of the 1820s and the surrealist revolution of the 1920s. History does repeat itself. After long periods of confinement under tight social, economic, and military strictures, a new generation gets up and says: “Enough! No more!” Just as in 1789 and 1830, the young in 1968 didn’t want the same life that their parents had. For one thing, we wanted to work less.

Stefan Kanfer on the protests at Columbia:

The time was right for rebellion: it was a benign spring, and there were “issues.” The students made the most of them, breaking windows, trampling any flowers within reach of their sneakers—jackboots would have been too warm for the weather—occupying offices, destroying papers, and, in general, making a major ruckus. So major, in fact, that Columbia authorities summoned the police. Hordes of outsiders began to arrive, among them leftist critic Dwight MacDonald, who announced that a friend had beseeched him, “You must come up right away. It’s a revolution. You may never get another chance to see one.” Like many another superannuated radical, MacDonald was unable to distinguish a revolt from a tantrum.
Posted by dan at May 5, 2008 10:34 AM