Now that Angela Merkel is set to take over the German chancellorship, the Wall Street Journal is ready to close the book on the ‘68ers who have dominated Deutsche politics recently. The youth movements of the 60s managed to produce a generation of political leaders in Germany who, as the Journal (or whoever it is the reporters are quoting blindly) puts it, “made a long march through the institutions,” changing the climate of political discussion and moving the status quo, the grounds upon which discussion starts, several degrees to the left—this despite the association of the left with the Red Army Faction and the Baader-Meinhof gang.
Why hasn’t something similar happened in America? Is it because America’s student radicals really were the self-centered navel-gazing Fonda-ites that they have been caracatured to have been, that they lacked the ability, fortitude and ambition to become involved with the nuts and bolts of political organization? Or is it that the two-party system forestalled such a development, closed off all avenues to the “institutions” to those with a mind to change them or challenge them. Reading about this departing generation of Germans made me sad to think that America had been deprived of its own like-minded generation, one that is now probably irretrevably lost. The opportunity that once might have been to make progressive ideas about enivronmentalism, conservation, social welfare, human rights, etc. into commonplaces, into hegemonic common sense, is gone with it.