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

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The reality of crises and the growing awareness of crises also influence the development of the protest movement. In contrast to older social-revolutionary movements, this movement, from its very beginning, was not the product of shortage but rather of abundance. Therefore, the crisis of this affluent society [Wohlstandgesellschaft] is also its very own crisis, because only a prospering society can afford the “luxury” of a protest against affluence and its consequences. The end of the ideology of growth and prosperity also means the end of the manifestations that ignited the protest.

Added to this is the growing pressure that rising student numbers are exerting on universities. The practice of numerus clausus, which students in all disciplines will certainly be faced with soon, has already led students to worry so much about their own university admission and major that they barely have any leftover energy for other activities.

Because of this additional pressure, the protester sees himself as being entirely caught up, for the very first time, in a situation that has been ruled an overall crisis. He shares in the general fear of the future and experiences the doubt and uncertainty that plagues everyone. It can therefore be expected that his reactions will not deviate substantially from those coming from his social environment. He, too, will initially react to the dreaded situation of a general shortage of means by restricting his expectations and demands, also – and particularly – in the area of politics. He will be prepared to live with contradictions and compromises in a way that he would not be during times of carefree prosperity.

So, as for the prognosis for the further development of the protest movement: for the near future, a new Biedermeier era is more likely than a new chapter in the great battle for freedom. It remains to be seen whether our epoch, whether the heirs to the former protest generation, in particular, find their way to that “happiness based on melancholy” that literary historian Paul Kluckhohn attributed to the historical Biedermeier era in the period leading up to the March Revolution of 1848. Traces of worn-out, hypochondriac, privatist tendencies, a good dose of thinking about individual security, and the tendency to approach the inevitable with resignation – albeit without panic – are in any case easy to make out in current guiding models.

Source: Bernd Guggenberger, “Rückkehr in die Wirklichkeit” [“The Return to Reality”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 15, 1975.

Translation: Allison Brown

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