And yet: the sometimes downright hectic “openness” to the problems of the time and the day would not fail to leave a lasting impression. Most of the problems that were raised were not the fantasies of pessimists or hysterics; they were about the basic survival of humanity. It was definitely not superfluous to point urgently, again and again, to the errors and weaknesses of our system, to imminent hunger catastrophes, psychological threats, the situation in the Third World, the self-destructive arms race, and a lot more. These things were not new in the sense that no one had ever recognized them or given them precise names. But they were brought into the public eye, the veil of indifference was torn away, and the disastrous adjustment to misery and worldly catastrophe was prevented, sometimes dramatically – this is certainly the unquestionable contribution of this movement. All of this is the original moral and emancipatory achievement of the “New Left.”
But what will happen now? To be sure, the comparatively less spectacular “long march through the institutions” that we are experiencing now is not a carefully planned and systematically implemented strategy of overcoming the system by “treading softly.” The revolution of yesterday and today is taking place partly in radio studios, newspaper editorial offices, publishing houses, educational institutions, political party groups, and the headquarters of associations. This definitely has something to do with political strategy, but far more with the transitory status of the mostly student rebels and the psychological constitution of the movement as a whole. After the relatively unproductive theoretical assault, most are now concerned with the concrete application and practical testing of system critique. Effective work in the neighborhood and the workplace, social involvement among apprentices and pupils, project-related teamwork in small groups – in the present phase of development all of this ranks far ahead of the distant goals of the revolution and is regarded as more important and more meaningful than comprehensive theoretical analyses and sweeping diagnoses of the era [Zeitdiagnosen].
What we are presently experiencing is a new, totally unfamiliar “modesty” with respect to political demands: an orientation toward what is closest at hand, toward whatever is directly important to one’s life at the present time. It is a concentration on whatever seems just within the realm of the politically possible.
This return to modesty is no coincidence. It is part of a larger and more general shift in direction: the “limits to growth,” an appeal to a moderating reason that cannot be ignored. The energy crisis, with its long-term repercussions for the stability of the entire global economy, has been a decisive factor in raising general awareness of the risks facing our planet. We are beginning to realize that the pathological cycle of the arms race, that the global resources, environmental, and food crises, that the stultification of cities, the social, cultural, and psychological crises that find expression in neuroses, drug addiction, asocial behavior, crime, and increasing suicide rates, that all of these indicators of decline and self-destruction ineluctably force humanity to confront the question of survival.