From Italy to France, from Germany to England, the post-World War II generation is now running the show. They have traded in their jeans and sneakers for political power. Thirty years ago, they rocked the boat at Berkeley, in Paris, and in Berlin; they marched against American imperialism in Vietnam, and supported the Yugoslav dictator, Josip Broz Tito, and his “socialism with a human face.” They made pilgrimages to Hanoi, Havana, and Belgrade, and many of them dressed in the Vietcong’s garb, or Mao’s clothes. A certain Bimbo named Jane Fonda even paid a courtesy visit to North Vietnam and posed for a photo-op with her rear on a communist howitzer. This generation protested against their wealthy parents, yet they used their fathers’ money to destroy their own welfare state. A burning joint passed from hand to hand, as Bob Dylan croaked the words that defined a generation: “Everybody must get stoned.”
This was a time which the youth in communist countries experienced quite differently. Prison camps were still alive, deportations were the order of the day from the Baltics to the Balkans, and the communist secret police–the Yugoslav UDBA, the Romanian Securitate, the East German Stasi, and the Soviet KGB–had their hands full. European 68ers did not know anything about their plight, and they simply ignored the communist topography of horror.
Back then, the 68ers had cultural power in their hands, controlling the best universities and spreading their permissive sensibility. Students were obliged to bow down to the unholy trinity of Marx, Freud, and Sartre, and the humanities curriculum showed the first signs of anti-Europeanism. Conservatives concentrated all of their attention on economic growth, naively believing that eliminating poverty and strengthening the middle class would bring about the renaissance of the conservative gospel.
Today, the 68ers (or “neo-liberals” or social democrats”) have grown up, and they have changed not only their name, but also their habitat and their discourse. Their time has come: Now they hold both cultural and political power. From Buenos Aires to Quai d’Orsay, from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 10 Downing Street, they sit in air-conditioned executive offices or in ministerial cabinets, and they behave as if nothing has changed. Perfectly recycled in stylish Gucci suits, wearing expensive Bally shoes, sporting fine mascara, the 68ers pontificate about the global free market. They have embraced their former foe, capitalist entrepreneurship, and have added to it the fake humanistic facade of socialist philanthropy.
They have drawn up a hit list, filled with the names of senile individuals from distant countries who have been accused of “war crimes” and must be extradited to the 68ers’ kangaroo courts. Seldom, if ever, do they acknowledge the millions of victims of communism, documented recently by Stephane Courtois in Le livre noire du communisme. Nor do they wish to face their own role in communist genocide. And why should they? Their decades-long civil disobedience resulted in the downplaying of communist horror and legitimized the Gulag. While the 68ers did not play a direct role in Beria’s, Yagoda’s, or Tito’s ethnic cleansing, they were useful idiots. If today’s caviar left were to open the Pandora’s box of the Gulag, Augusto Pinochet would look like a naughty little scout from boot camp. The best way to cover up their own murderous past is to sing the hymns of human rights and to lecture on the metaphysics of permanent economic progress.
The 68ers and their well-clad cronies are the financial insiders now, speculating on stocks, never hesitating to transfer megabucks to Luxembourg via the Cayman Islands or, better yet, to do some hidden wheeling and dealing on Wall Street. They no longer spout nonsense about equality and social justice for the Vietcong, Congolese, or Tibetans, nor do they indulge in academic rantings about socialist utopia. And why should they? Today, the time is ripe for their gross corruption, veiled, of course, in the incessant rhetoric of multiculturalism. The 68ers have won: The world belongs to them.
But for how long? The 68ers have inherited a massive financial burden, much of it the result of government spending on the various programs that they once took to the streets to demand. At the same time, their work ethic pales next to the rugged individualism of their hard-working predecessors. From Germany to France, from Italy to England, they may excel in a liberal mimicry of capitalism, which in practice translates into the rise of a handful of the very rich and an ever-larger mass of the working poor. But who will foot the tab? No country can be run by humanitarian decrees. When push comes to shove, good leftist intentions mean nothing: The voters can kick the 68ers out of office just as quickly as they brought them in.
Many conservatives in Europe misunderstand the true nature of the modern left and its socialist offshoots. These conservatives naively assume that the cultural war will be won through political elections. They believe that political power (that is, the army, police, and diplomacy) will keep the country together and circumvent or circumscribe leftist influence. This is a dangerous and possibly fatal mistake, not just for the conservative cause, but for European civilization. The political power held today by the former 68ers is being institutionalized through legal restrictions on freedom of speech, of thought, and of research. Germany, Belgium, France, and other European countries have already passed strict laws forbidding young scholars to pursue open and honest research in certain touchy areas of modem history. Passages from the German Criminal Code bring to mind the Soviet comrade Vishinsky: They are not what we expect of a free and democratic country.
Many conservatives have failed to realize that political power must always be preceded by cultural power, and afterwards strengthened by an incessant media war. In our age of video, of hologram Hitlers, of sound-bite political lingo, the one who adapts the fastest to the changing world is bound to win. The 68ers realized long ago that one needs to infiltrate universities, publishing houses, and schools before storming the White House. For three decades, leftist scholars have diligently dished out their marxophille dogma to gullible students in Europe. Their progeny have grown up and are well positioned to follow suit.
If conservatives ever wish to surface again, they must resolutely commit themselves to fighting the cultural revolution by grooming highly sophisticated, highly intelligent journalists and scholars, and by coaching young people to defend the heritage of Europe. Conservative political leaders must realize that the culture is the only battleground on which cultural and political hegemony can be snatched away from the hydra of 68ers. Consider this: Conservatives can still boast of some prominent political leaders, yet the universities, schools, and the media are totally controlled by the left.
Conservative intellectuals in Europe are too differentiated, and they often suffer from pathological vanity and obsessive individualism. Although they are sometimes wrongly accused of being populists, conservatives are incapable of whipping the young masses into a frenzy, or of creating militants ready to storm street barricades. Most conservatives don’t understand how to articulate their own message. It is impossible to get three conservatives to work together: Each will immediately wish to prove that he is the best. Cultural conservatives still don’t recognize their true enemy, much less know how to beat him. Frequently, they quarrel among themselves about their own nationalist victimology, or push their tribal dogmas to the extreme–always, of course, to the benefit of the international left. To be a conservative should not merely mean being frightened by postmodernity, or savoring one’s provincial “rootedness,” or wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses, or attending Sunday school lessons. Some great conservatives were agnostics, or pagans, or modernists, or revolutionary thinkers. By contrast, today’s conservatives have failed to address the social question of workers, and therefore, their turf has been stolen by the former 68ers, who are more versed in promising a glorious future.
What is to be done? Young conservatives, especially those with a solid background in the humanities, must start demystifying the leftist-liberal mythology. They must not gullibly imitate their teachers in the corrupt academy. After all, many self-proclaimed scholars are often half-wits with little knowledge of the drama of life, and they can easily be beaten on their own ground. In order to unseat the leftist-liberal political class and its pseudo-intellectual acolytes, young conservatives must resort to the same strategy that the left has pursued: Take to the cultural barricades, but to defend European civilization, rather than to tear it down.
And conservatives should not forget the ancient wisdom: Beat your leftist neighbor with his own weapon. Where it hurts the most.
[Chronicles, March 1999]