Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Children of '68 (2)
Here is the second part of my essay on the longer term impact of the Paris riots of 1968, from the American Conservative. You can read part one here, part three is to follow.
De Gaulle’s speech, while exasperating many conservatives who had hoped for a tougher line, exposed the anti-democratic credentials of the opposition—those who claimed to favor the “rule of the people” weren’t too keen on the people being directly consulted. De Gaulle’s next address to the nation, after a further six days of disturbances, was less conciliatory. “France is indeed threatened with dictatorship” he declared, and announced the calling of early elections. “The Republic shall not abdicate. The people will recover its balance. Progress, independence and peace will prevail”.
The address marked the turning point in the crisis. That same evening a huge crowd of de Gaulle supporters began to gather in the Place de Concorde. Up to 700,000 people took part on the march down the Champs-Elysees chanting pro-de Gaulle slogans. And in the general elections that followed at the end of June, the Gaullists recorded a resounding victory. Although Gaullism had prevailed, de Gaulle himself had been shaken by the events of spring 1968. After narrowly losing a referendum the following April, he resigned from office. He died the following year.
Meanwhile, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the man who had done so much to stir up discontent in France in 1968, moved on to pastures new. Back in Germany, he became involved in radical Green politics and ran a kindergarten in Frankfurt. His stated aim: to “radically transform” German mentalities. As in 1968, it started with sex. In his 1976 book Le Grand Bazar he wrote of children opening his trouser zipper and tickling him, and how he “caressed” the children. When these comments later led to Cohn-Bendit being accused of pedophilia, he claimed that the book had to be understood in the context of the sexual revolution of the time.
Today, Cohn-Bendit is co-president of the European Greens-European Free Alliance grouping in the European Parliament. He advocates the legalization of soft drugs and freer immigration. A strong supporter of Western military intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s, Red Dany’s enthusiasm for overriding national sovereignty is something he shares with his fellow soixante-huitard Bernard Kouchner, the current French foreign minister.
De Gaulle believed the people’s verdict, delivered through a referendum, to be the last word. Red Dany’s views on referendum results are rather different: he infamously called for countries who twice vote “No” to the neoliberal EU constitution to be expelled from the European Union.
The anti-de Gaulle protestors in 1968 purported to be anti-capitalist, but their attacks on traditional values, the family, the church, the nation state, and a leader who, as a true conservative, was inherently hostile to the rule of money power, only helped the cause of global capitalism.
Forty years ago, the international moneymen were restrained, not just by currency and exchange controls but by the prevailing social attitudes that still held greed to be one of the seven deadly sins. By helping to crack what he called “the yoke of conservatism” and by loosening the ties of family and community that bind us together as human beings, Cohn-Bendit paved the way for the change in attitudes towards money-making that was to follow.
The “bourgeois triumphalism” of the Thatcher (and Blair) era, the greed-is-good ethos which even the governor of the Bank of England now condemns, and our materialistic individualism, might just have had their roots 40 years back” writes the conservative commentator Geoffrey Wheatcroft. The reality is that Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Gordon Gekko are two sides of the same self-centered, individualistic coin.
“No one has dared tell them that we live in a world of market forces” says Cohn-Bendit as he attacks those on the left in France who are less enamoured of 21st Century capitalism than he is. Although he has talked of “the extreme religion” of “Thatcherism and even Blairism”, Cohn-Bendit’s solution to the rule of money power is not public ownership or a return to the dirigiste policies of the “Les Trente Glorieuses”, but that classic New Left cop-out “the social market”. In other words, allow capital to rule the roost, but make government pay for the mop-up operation.