than any other
By ROD LIDDLE
11th February 2008
Britain experienced some pretty bleak years in the last century,
years you'd want to forget. 1940, for example, when - on the brink of
defeat - we stood alone against Hitler.
Or 1926, the year of the General Strike. But it's difficult to
imagine a year more ludicrous, or more damaging to the country, in
the long term, than 1968.
A year chock full of deluded teenagers, of fatuous slogans, of bombs
and sit-ins and bad music and worse films.
A year when everything the country believed in was turned on its head
by extremely ill-kempt people who perhaps went a long time between
baths. And even longer between shaves. People we should, by rights,
have entirely ignored, or just smiled at indulgently.
A year of drugs, violence, "free sex" and the lionising of congenital
idiots like the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, the German social
theorist Jurgen Habermas and a multitude of self- styled freedom
fighters wearing frankly embarrassing headgear.
If you are looking for a year when things first started to go bad,
when the lunatics at last got their grubby paws on the controls of
the asylum, 1968 is it.
The remarkable thing is that the half-baked and narcissistic
ideologies of that dismal 12 months are still with us, in our
schools, in our law courts, in our social services; they have
permeated every facet of our lives.
A disrespect for authority, contempt for the family unit,
multiculturalism, "yoof culcha" and an emphasis upon rights rather
A permissiveness and indulgence shown towards every anti-social
phenomenon from the use of illegal narcotics to single mothers and
suicide bombers ("We really need to understand them better") - all
that stuff was forged in the rather tepid British spring and summer of 1968.
And now, as we celebrate that year's 40th anniversary, you can expect
to see a parade of its noisome luminaries on your television screens
- because 1968 is still a year dear to the hearts of many in the
media and especially, I would reckon, the BBC.
For documentary film-makers, this will be a year of copious pining:
where has all that fervour gone! They look back with nostalgia
towards all that attitudinalising, all that faux anger - and the
Student protest leader Daniel ("Danny the Red") Cohn-Bendit is
certain to get wheeled out; his March 22nd Movement, based in Paris,
instigated the later sit-in at Nanterre. He was a cultural icon of
his time, afforded the sort of coverage we now give to our most
gilded footballers. Bendit like Beckham, then. Ha, sorry. Cohn-Bendit
is still with us, still treated with indulgence.
He now runs the Greens in the European Parliament, one of the few to
have survived that tumultuous year with even a vestige of the old
ideology intact (although he ditched hardline Marxism pretty
quickly). Him and the pro-Green former German foreign minister
They are both faux-apologetic about 1968; offering up a Blair sort of
apology if you ask them about it - gee, y'know, I did what I thought
was right. Maybe we were a bit naive and excessive from time to time.
You would hear much the same from their immediate ideological
descendants, the bombers and terrorists and agitators - such as Red
Army Faction militant Ulrike Meinhof and the Black Panther Party
member Eldridge Cleaver etc, those people who made the 1970s such an
entertaining place to be, with their explosives and ludicrous
The media is our unelected collective memory, but paradoxically its
own memory is both partisan and selective.
If they were truly even-handed they would use 1967, the summer of
love, as the year to epitomise the good stuff about all that 1960s
business, and 1968 - the summer of hate - to epitomise the bad.
It was the year that all those pleasantly pacifistic sentiments
spilled over into radically stupid politics and, God help us, direct
action - and threatened at least one Western government (France) in so doing.
In retrospect, it proved to be the first time anyone in power
anywhere took the slightest notice of what teenagers had to say about
anything - and back then it seemed that teenagers were about to
inherit the world.
These were the first generation of teenagers, born at just about the
time the term was invented, and we had not met their like before:
now, though, we know all too well.
Quite soon teenagers, as a concept, may be disinvented. Perfectly
nice as people, teenagers - but one really shouldn't take them too
seriously any more.
Still, all this meant nothing to me at the time, as I suspect it
meant nothing to most people. I vaguely remember my father being
angry at the black power salute given by those piqued athletes,
Tommie Smith and John Carlos, at the Mexico Olympics.
And everyone getting very worked up about the Tet Offensive as the
U.S. war against Vietnam entered a new and, as it happened, decisive
stage. But, like most of the Sixties, cultural change passed my family by.
It was the year I moved from Bexleyheath in Kent, where in cultural
terms the year was 1959, to Middlesbrough, where it was about 1937. I
did as I was told and if I failed to do so I was hit.
Looking back, it's easy to assume that nothing of the year really
impinged upon our lives.
But looking out of my bedroom window in the autumn of the year I
could see a new school being built, a state school which I would
later attend and which had thrillingly abolished the concept of
lessons, classrooms, learning, discipline.
"You will decide if you want to learn Maths or not," the headmaster
told us, proudly, when the new school was opened. Well, I decided.
What a time I had, doing nothing but playing football and the piano
for an entire year. I'm still hopeless at Maths, as a result.
We are fighting to rid ourselves even now of most of the cultural
nonsense imposed upon us by 1968 and those years immediately prior to it.
The bizarre excesses of multiculturalism, founded in a belief that
the white establishment orthodoxy was an imperialistic construct,
corrupt and useless, is only now being kicked into touch.
Children are still taught too little in our schools, and instead
encouraged to interpret, a legacy of Lady Plowden's controversial
report into education and, of course, Shirley Williams, the architect
of the comprehensive school system.
When the children are naughty they must never be struck; indeed they
must hardly be gainsaid, still less chastised. Radical feminism -
which in 1968 reached its apogee with the radical writer Valerie
Solanas's shooting of the pop artist Andy Warhol - has won every
battle it set out to fight.
That wonderful new sexual liberation has left us with a country full
of single mothers on benefit, the Child Support Agency, millions of
divorcees and some very rich lawyers.
The overthrowing of the art establishment has given us a Turner Prize
winner in a bear suit and a soiled mattress or a stuffed shark sold
for tens of thousands of pounds.
Rock music, in its most hideous and bovine incarnation, has become
the perpetual backdrop to our daily lives, a fugue of blandness and
stupidity assaulting us from every car window, shop doorway, public
bar, hotel, television programme.
Anti-Americanism remained the defining ideology of the European Left
for 40 years - while Vietnam is still an inefficient, incompetent
police state, lagging miles behind those south-east Asian countries
which, unfashionably, chose to embrace free market capitalism.
Lagging behind in terms of human rights as well as prosperity, mind.
The one real hero of 1968, Czechoslovakia's Alexander Dubcek - a hero
after the Prague Spring uprising against the Soviet invasion,
remember, who was given little succour from the West - is now dead,
having spent the greater part of the rest of his life working for the
Forestry Commission, but he would have revelled in the irony of it all.
Eventually, the USSR collapsed under the weight of its own economic
contradictions, and his country was at last free.
And yet in the West, the last tendrils of Marxism have a grip around
the neck of every facet of our lives except, perhaps, for the
economic sphere. So much, then, for Karl's idea of the base
determining the superstructure.
In the West, the superstructure is still in the hands of the radical
Left. Even the judiciary. How the hell did that happen?
I have a horrible feeling that we will be sent back, by the BBC and
others, not just to 1968, but to an earlier time of Leftist ferment
This year is also, of course, the 160th anniversary of 1848. A time
when, as de Tocqueville put it, those who had nothing united in
common envy and those who had something united in common terror.
The year in which the Communist Manifesto was published. Luckily, all
those revolutionaries are dead, so they won't be on Parky or Jonathan
Ross explaining how they meant for the best but things, later on,
didn't turn out that way.