I didn't live 1968, but my area of research requires me to have at least some undergraduate level of understanding of that era (i.e. the Cold War).

My opinion is that 1968 may be one of the biggest dark holes of History of the 20th Century. There are so many disparate, polar opposite documented opinions on it that making a comprehensive general history of that event is extremely difficult. Besides, there is no centralized, authoritative archive or single source that one historian can rely on to at least build a skeleton of a general history.

The only certainty that we can have on 1968 is that it was a very traumatic, cataclysmic; a watershed event in the history of the First World and the Socialist World (except China). It definitely marked the end of an era and the start of another one. But we don't know what were they exactly.

There must be a single, underlining event -- probably of economic nature -- that caused it to happen practically at the same year, in such vast and diverse territory of the human world. Data points that 1969 was the year capitalism in the USA was at its apex in the sense that it was the last year all the main indicators of capitalist welfare were rising at the same time (that is, the tide was rising all boats). But I don't remember if that was the case in the socialist world (that may be). The problem with this argument is that we know the world's economy started to go bad with the oil crisis of 1974, that is, six years after 1968. Maybe 1974 was brewing since then?

Another glaring feature of 1968 was the fratricide of the Left side of the political spectrum, which started infighting to mutual destruction that year, paving the way for the reunification and later rise of the Right side of the political spectrum. The USA is the easiest case to explain: the Old Left, led by the AFL-CIO itself, supported the continuation of the Vietnam War until the very end; the result of this was the rise of the New Left, which is the Left we have in the USA to this day. It is possible that this disaster is the main reason the American people hate unions.

In the socialist world, it seems that socialism degenerated into some kind of humanist socialism, preached by the likes of Gorbachev. What's striking about Gorbachev is that, since day 1, it was clear he was a complete loser in terms of economic results. Except that Stravopol experiment, which he himself admitted was just due to it being a test, which meant the USSR redirected the resources so it could be successful by design, Gorbachev's career was littered by absolute lack of results. There was absolutely no evidence his “humanist socialism” could work, and his career ascension was meteoric either way. Even more astonishingly, with every failure of his ideology, he doubled down on his critique of the Soviet system -- he blamed absolutely everyone but himself (indeed, he blamed the Russian people for the failure of his Perestroika at the very end of the USSR). This process of imbecilization (intellectual decline) must be a case to be studied by future historians, and it certainly started with the generation who graduated in Moscow circa 1968.

Let's talk about the “other”: the Third World. Well, seeing they essentially started to suffer a series of military coups and liberal (right-wing) dictatorships -- not to talk about Vietnam, which had millions dead in a brutal war of annihilation -- all I can say is that it was the peoples of the Third World who footed the bill for 1968.

Last but not least, we must talk about the only one truly unaffected great part of the world: China. Here we can only talk in exclusion: coincidence or not, all the parts of the globe were tied by destiny by 1968. Every one of them went to shit after 1991 in hindsight (at the time, the USA definitely thought it had become a 1,000-year Empire). China, it seems, escaped the curse of 1968.

P.S.: I don't think 1968 was a revolution or a series of revolutions. I think “reformation” is the more appropriate term. But, as a historian, I must respect the terms chosen by the people who were contemporary, who lived the event. If for them it was a revolution, a revolution it is from a historical point of view.

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I think 1968 is not as much much about revolution, as about the usual generational change. Do you think that without the events of 1968 there would be no described developments in social or cultural institutions?

In my opinion, it was something inevitable since the post-WW2 generation had been raised in completely different sociocultural conditions and perspectives, which coplitelty differed with these of their fathers. In this case the 1968 was just one of possible manifeststions of this long duree proccess.

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Aug 31, 2023·edited Aug 31, 2023

1968 was the end of "convergence". The East stopped and froze politically, the West did not turn left or right , it broke into new dimension culturally, but politically it went on a chaotic drift. Retrospectively, it looks like the moment when many branches of Enlightenment separated irreversibly and stopped seeing each other as siblings or even cousins. They instead sought or constructed "the other" to define themselves in opposition to it.

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The assassination of Robert F Kennedy in 1968 opened the door for Richard Nixon and the beginning of the erosion of public confidence in public institutions and government in the USA. The Pentagon Papers detailed the chicanery of the American government in lying and obfuscation about the Vietnam War. The US has not been the same since.

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Excellent. Formal social equality resonates with my memories of the times and pointing to the role of the vestimentary (and musical) revolutions in bringing this about is right on, as we used to say. It also suggests the limitations of the era. Dress the same and the revolution will come doesn’t work in the inequality and concentrated wealth boom of the new Gilded Age. Yet it has left its traces in America, killing off by ridicule a certain WASP seriousness.

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One of the more intriguing parts of this essay for me was the personification of the effects of 1968-- namely the references to Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, both of whom started their lives as left-wing advocates but slowly upon amassing personal power and wealth, both became quite hawkish and pro-capitalistic, at least the kind "without adjectives". I have very little respect for either of them but I am alive enough to know that time does and can change a lot, even the dominant ideology of the world. As always, a thought-provoking essay.

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Fascinating essay. I would add that the liberation of sexuality was a major driver of class stratification in the years that followed. Children are more successful when raised by their married biological parents. Before the 1960s, social norms ensured that most were. After the 1960s, out of wedlock parenthood became a major driver of downward social mobility.

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The 60s leftist generation was the one that turned European social democratic parties into career vehicles for academics by the 70s. With their careers safe it's when identity politics started for Europe and thus can be seen as the beginning of the end for trade unions Although many European nations with their tradition of sectorwide negotiations haven't fared that bad - Apparently employers aren't as evil as they are expected to be....

Remarkably, decades BEFORE globalization took off, western, especially northwestern, European unions saw wage competition as the best guarantee for (continued) employement.

And while workers were first competing on wages with their western fellow workers (80s), after that they 'went global'. Redistribution in rhineland-style economies worked but it's clear who were the winners: lefttist academics, who typically work in gov, semi gov's, NGO's, think tanks, education, healtcare and gov-consulting have managed to massively expand those i.e. THEIR sectors.

When it comes to taking care of themselves they've shown great skill. They are responsible for the humongous amount of unproductive bs jobs you find in gov and all the other parking-lots-for-friends. Of course they did so in name of the working classes and humanity as a whole. Since the 60s no worse qualitfication existed than 'conservative' for these people. Everything that benefitted them was done in name of someone or something else. (Preferably in The Third World, which they loved very much).

When gov budgets had to be cut in the NL in the eighties (the social democrats were voted out), the social democratic education unions chose to protect the wages of the incumbents at the expense of new teachers. While for job cuts in education 'last in / first out' ruled. Solidarity is a complicate concept...

The already generous Dutch healthcare budget has doubled since 2000 (like education) and the real babyboomer demographic demise has only just begun. Basically any school kid can now (and will) get some medical diagnoses for some nonsensical 'illness', often psychological, and the corresponding 'treatment'. many children have a whole array of 'illnesses'. Yet, regardless of the massive expenses and fashionable crap-diagnoses and the budgetary generosity, leftist journo's, pundits and politicians still call the NL healthcare system 'neo liberal'. If the Netherlands are neo liberal than what are the UK and US?

Education has exploded in size too, about 30% of the NL population is now academically 'qualified', although the lowering of entry standards and the attention to bs left-pet subjects has led to diminished quality. Solid reading and writing skills apparently aren't that important anymore, especially not for workers. Maybe they're not supposed to read the leftist bs spouted about them these days, now that working classes are suspect: 'They vote populist!' They're not afraid of nitrogen-quantities!' 'They are dangerous!'. No wonder several European political-vehicles-for-academics are contemplating banning 'dangerous' populist parties and/or media...

While for the vocationally trained the results of social democrats governing the NL education system are even more dramatic, though fully in line with the focus away from class and towards identity: decimals of Dutch 17/18 yos leave school these days functional illiterates. Many of them immigrant kids, lucky them: they can start focussing on their identities right after leaving 'school'.

But don't ask them to read the manual of the product they just bought (that's not that bad i guess now that the degrowth loons have determined that 'we', or better 'they', suffer from over-consumption). Finally of course repairing (or disguising) the bad educational outcomes will further enhance the job and salary-scaling opportunities for you know who...

A last observation from the US:

John Mcworther on the collapse of black American family structures during the 60s: 'What happened? The nineteen sixties happened'. (I'd say being overexposed to conscription for the Vietnam war mattered too).

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"China went through the Cultural Revolution, but it was an altogether different series of events, more serious, more ideological, and far bloodier. But no less significant was the Western Cultural Revolution"?? Bloody? Hardly!

Given Mao had redistributed China's land peacefully by 1953, why would peasants learning to read, write and vote would elicit violence? From whom?

It was a non-violent revolution that killed nobody.

The bigwigs who had been sent to tractor factories were back at their desks in 1975, none the worse for wear. Xi's dad was sprung, and went on to pioneer the private enterprise he'd always favored (and made today's Shenzen possible).

As Mao said after he lost his Chairmanship following the Great Leap, "If you can't handle being fired, you're not Party material”. He then moped so publicly that his colleagues relented and restored him to his perch.

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I wonder which of these most people believe should mark an ideological rupture? Or any? "Financial Crisis of 2008, or covid in 2019, or the war in Ukraine in 2023"

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I would propose 11.09.2001. The world-shaping ideology without any roots in European Enlightenment broke out onto the stage. The end of the end of history.

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Thoughtful piece. I think it is correct to qualify the revolutions of 1968 as cultural revolutions, in the anthropological, not Chinese, sense of the term (thanks God). I have a quibble however with the idea that the revolutions of 1968 in the West brought down the world where «rich parents’ boys would date only rich patents’ girls ». It seems to me that assortive mating has remained as relevant as ever. Moreover there is research suggesting that it may reflect genetic not just social advantage.

Another point I would like you to elaborate upon is the enduring vitality of nationalism. It was not part of the programme of the 1968 revolutions, if anything the opposite was the case (remember Daniel Cohn-Bendit?). Still, as you acknowledge, nationalism is very much with us and, especially in former Eastern Europe, is has been the final destination of former representatives of the cultural revolution of 1968.

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Right, the cultural changes of the 60’s were a reaction against the conservatism conformism in general and conformism and political repression in the police states on the East. The outcome was some loosening of hierarchical status and of dressing codes in the west. Yes political left social democratic leaning lost its teeth and lastly undemocratic, iliberal conservative re surfaced

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An interesting piece. Thank you. Two points come to mind. The first is that the reduced gap between rich and poor in the 50’s and 70’s was not caused by the cultural revolution. It was primarily caused by two world wars.

The second point is that revolutions rarely, if ever, create the society it’s protagonist where sealing. Gorbachev wasn’t seaking the current regime when he started perestroika.

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While initially coming from the left, these revolutionary movement ended up destroying any chance at a better world and the socialist experiments in general, as can be clearly seen in the continued shift towards right nationalism in Europe.

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Indonesia 1967: Soeharto becomes only the second president, deposing Soekarno's 22 years reign (since independence) as part of an anti-Communist drive.

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