Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young for Europe’s radical upheavals of 1968 was (with apologies to William Wordsworth) very heaven!
“Remarkably, after the protests were over, an extraordinary number of ’68ers-those who’d stood on the barricades denouncing the system-ascended into positions of political and cultural power, shaping a New Europe (and an EU) in which the anti-Americanism of the barricades became official dogma. Paul Berman’s absorbing, elegantly written Power and the Idealists recounts the political journeys of three of the most influential of these ’68ers. Joschka Fischer, once head of the militant group Revolutionärer Kampf (Revolutionary Struggle), became German foreign minister in 1998. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leader of the May ’68 Paris demos, now sits in the European Parliament. And Dr. Bernard Kouchner, boy Communist, went on to found Doctors Without Borders in 1971 and to serve as an EU and UN official. The ultimate point of Berman’s 100-page opening chapter is that ethnic cleansing in Kosovo compelled these three to move ‘from radical leftism to liberal antitotalitarianism’-that is, to reject their longtime view of the U.S. as the world’s supreme menace and support NATO action against Milosevic. Many ’68ers, Berman suggests, made the same move.”
But the realignment did not survive the U.S. invasion of Iraq:
“Of Berman’s trio, only Kouchner supported the invasion of Iraq; Cohn-Bendit, Fischer, and nearly everybody else on the European left opposed it, in most cases fiercely. Berman claims that this posture was ‘tactical’-in principle, he insists, the left continued to stand for ‘liberal antitotalitarianism.'”
Bawer thinks that the brief flirtation with U.S. policies had more cynical roots. He argues that the goal of the book is to present his ’68 trio as “models of reflective and principled interventionist leftism” at a time when the left’s “hatred of George W. Bush has blinded them to the iniquities of al Qaeda, the Taliban, Saddam, et al., not to mention the best interests of people who’ve suffered under tyranny.”
Instead of creating heaven, the young ideologues of ’68 built a European social democracy that is “a kind of fundamentalism, rigid and doctrinaire, yielding what Swedish writer Johan Norberg calls ‘one-idea states’-nations where an echo chamber of insular elites calls the shots, where monochrome media daily reiterate statist mantras and shut out contrarian views, and where teachers and professors systematically misrepresent the U.S. (millions of Europeans believe that free public schools, unemployment insurance, and pensions are unknown in America).”