Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ambiguity applies also to the contrast between the revolutionary language of the students, which was impregnated with Marxist rhetoric and nostalgia for the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution, and the content of the movement. You could say that in 1968 we “spoke Marxist,” just as you say someone lisps or speaks through his nose, because at the university it was the dominant language. But it was to say things that weren’t Marxist at all.

Perhaps more than an ambiguity, it was an irony of history. The real legacy of May ’68, as we see in France today, is individualism, the rejection of civic sense and ideology, the rehabilitation of the idea that personal and financial success is a worthy pursuit — in short, a revival of capitalism. To borrow an expression of Lenin’s, we were useful idiots. Indeed, the uprising was more a counterrevolution than a revolution.

...the French have ended up convincing themselves that May ’68 was a sort of Parisian exception, even though it was part of a worldwide effervescence. Comparable uprisings took place in Japan, Latin America, Germany and Britain. Today, we mention those foreign examples only in passing, without making them part of our collective memory. For us, May ’68 remains a French phenomenon.
Notice what country is missing from that list? Except what happened here was not a revival of capitalism, but the development of hyper-capitalism. The 60's put the process of development into overdrive.

Continuing from my recent comments below and at Balkinization:
One of the effects of various New Deal and civil rights legislation was the thinning of the wall separating public and private life and the increasing dominance of a single and public measure of man: the measure of economics. This is where social and free market liberalism side against the "conservative" socialist left and the old right.
None of this had to be articulated or even understood at the time for it to be seen by us in retrospect as obvious. 
We could ask even more bluntly if David Addington's understanding of the Constitutional separation of powers is wrong in the sense that one plus one doesn't equal three, or if mathematics and physics allow for Stare Decisis.

Again the question is not whether the constitution is "living" any more than it is whether language is current. We don't live in the past and we shouldn't pretend to. But we should look to the past to understand the present. Putting history before theory would seem the wise choice.

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