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The Ostensible End of the Protest Movement (March 15, 1975)

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The promising revolt against the constraints of the alienating world of technology and science was just a short flirt with freedom. All of a sudden, among the supporters of sub-culturalism, a privatistic cultural pessimism started to appear from behind the well-justified criticism of industrial society. The blind and desperate flight from reality and the future led to the total exclusion of any all-connecting social reference to the rest of the world.

The situation looks a little different on the “other side,” among the champions of an orthodox cadre strategy. Here, it is not the return to the individual person that offers evidence of capitulation in the face of the real tasks and problems that industrial society poses to socially imaginative citizens, regardless of their political orientation; instead, it is the “escape” into believing in the security-bestowing Marxist historical philosophy of the nineteenth century. Partaking of a more than century-old understanding of structure and law, which leads to an avowal of the social teachings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, has less to do with “criticism” and “intellectual freedom” than with a deeply rooted need for security, safety, and a clear orientation with regard to the origins and goal, the meaning and future course of history. Believing in a law of history that works behind the participants’ backs and ultimately remains inaccessible to them always also involves some fear of freedom and some fear of the infinite openness and uncertainty of historical existence.

So what remains; what should remain? What is there to preserve beyond all the fronts and factions?

First and foremost, the protest of the young generation did away with a host of long-outdated taboos once and for all. What had often been regarded as unspeakable up to that point was called by name, without hesitation. Language and general behavior have become freer, if not always also more tolerant; but on the whole there was an increase in openness and the willingness to engage in criticism. This can certainly be entered as a win on the overall balance sheet, even if the “losses” cannot be ignored: a persistent lack of understanding of the need for governance, rash denouncements of “the formal,” of “superficiality” in social relations, of tradition in particular, and a general readiness to rebel that prevents authority from being able to be experienced as a source of enrichment and self-enhancement as well.

What was new and often unfamiliar: a basic, underlying moral sensitivity to need and misery, to the disenfranchised and oppressed, a sense of the one-ness of the world, of universal concern no matter where evil should emerge. But unconditional side-taking turned all too easily into aggression, knowledge into know-it-allness, and justifiable criticism into sweeping accusation.

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