II. “The End of an Era” (Fritz Ullrich Fack, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 18, 1982)
[ . . . ] Only historians will be able to offer a just ruling on this second major discrete period of postwar German politics. Contemporaries have the legitimacy only to render an account of the causes of the decline – a truly dramatic one in the end. And more than a few will seek the blame primarily in the economic sphere: in the entire deterioration resulting from oil crises, budget disasters, and economic depletion; in the decline of innovative strength; in bankruptcies and increasing unemployment figures; in reorganizational dead-ends and distribution disputes.
All this surely played a role; still, as we know from the crises of the first German Republic, there is something to be said for seeing political and economic developments in close connection. From the outset, however, there was something else as well: The legacy of the past era was an overarching ideological pressure, a sometimes highly successful change in consciousness among wide segments of the population. It was a kind of delirium of progress, encouraged by a huge personnel turnover in all institutions of socialization – from kindergarten to the university – that saturated the country in mostly socialist thought.
This is where expectations actually collapsed, and that was long before the political crises announced themselves. The “change in trends”* that was much discussed in the late 1970s never really happened. The undoing of this republic was not a conservative counterrevolution but a process of erosion that was political, intellectual, and, in the end, also moral – just think of the scandals over major trade union companies. Ideals and reality started drifting farther and farther apart, and the result was that the younger generation, in particular, experienced a rapid radicalization. Of course, progressive education had prepared the ground by depicting the conflict as socially normative and by portraying tolerance as a kind of weakness in the face of the reaction. [ . . . ]
* The Tendenzwende referred to a shift in focus, reflecting a preference for personal over activist politics – trans.