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November 1998

Les Soixante-Huitards
Poachers turned Gamekeepers

Michael McGrade

In France they call them the soixante-huitards [’68-ers]; perpetrators and fellow-travellers of les evenements de Mai, the epochal Paris student riots of May 1968. Now middle-aged and more bourgeois than the hated bourgeoisie they sought to bring down, the soixante-huitards and their counterparts around the globe have spent this thirtieth anniversary year of the evenements romanticising or justifying the rebellious and detrimental domino effect their riots set in train.

Typical of these rationalisations was a piece in Marianne, a mainstream-liberal French weekly, by one of the ex-leaders of May ’68, Henri Weber, now National Secretary of the French Socialist Party and a Senator. Reacting to an article by the magazine’s Director which suggested that the ’68 revolt was the source of "some of the worst evils which torment our society today," Weber condemned such claims as mere "sophistry." Instead, he rooted the cause of contemporary social crises "not in ‘liberal excesses’ spawned by May ’68" but in adverse economic conditions involving "slow growth which bleeds the protector State of its resources." With the blind faith of a true believer, he proffered that "the May movement, on the contrary, brought about a leap forward in our system of collective solidarity unprecedented since the Liberation."

Weber also rejected claims that the vulnerable had suffered most from the ’68 fallout. Ignoring mere peccadillos like abortion, post-abortion syndrome and the generally unprecedented levels of physical abuse endured by women and children, not to mention a homosexual plague to rival the Black Death and the resurgence of euthanasia and eugenics, he wrote: "The advent of permissiveness has not harmed the weakest – women, children, sexual minorities, the handicapped – and has profited everyone, so much so that despite leagues of virtue and moral order ‘nostalgics,’ nobody seriously proposes a return to the former status quo."

This might come as news to more hard-headed critics, like one feminist who bluntly described the sexual revolution as having sold females down the river – a green light for male irresponsibility guaranteed to keep women "flat on their backs." To such a rare daughter of the revolution as that one (at least prepared to recognise symptoms if not diagnose contraceptive causes), the pre-68 status quo ridiculed by Monsieur Weber may well be looking more desirable by the week, as the hedonistic West sinks further and faster into unprecedented moral, social and spiritual degradation.

But few liberals are even willing to admit this decline, let alone its source. A studied denial of both cause and effect is the norm. "One must not impute to the May revolution," Weber concludes, "that for which it is not responsible, for example, the quasi-absolute right to say anything, which, in our country, long preceded the favoured year 1968 and has apparently survived it."

Weber fails to acknowledge, of course, that a basic level of intelligence and reason which existed in public debate prior to ’68 disappeared in a fury of adolescent outrage and unintelligible babble thereafter; trampled in a rush to say n’importe quoi ("anything") as long as it was dans le vent ("trendy"). In one of the numerous Swinging Sixties media profiles which have featured this year, Jimi Hendrix’s former lover recalled that: "As he got more into drugs, I would sit and listen to Jimi giving interviews, spouting the most ridiculous acid[LSD]-inspired stuff which the journalists would soak up as if it were timeless wisdom." It was this sort of demented pseudo-intelligence that precipitated the eclipse of reason which now denies the very right to be born! It is the exaltation of this "quasi-absolute right to say [and do] anything," inflamed by Henri Weber’s beloved revolt and embodied in rock stars like Hendrix, which has now enabled deviant minorities to hold sway through an oppressive, politically correct polemic: ‘if you don’t think boys should be legally buggered,’ they wail, ‘you’re homophobic.’ In a generation has such insanity become holy writ.

Despite its bogus intellectual façade, however, the soixante-huitards rebellion has become the stuff of high-minded legend. In a recent glossy coffee-table production titled 1968: Marching in The Streets, author Tariq Ali perpetuates the myth cultivated by the likes of Weber, fancifully describing 1968 as "an attempt to create a new world, a new starting point for politics, for culture, for personal relations." Well, perhaps it did, after a fashion. Commentator Paul Johnson, a leading Left-wing intellectual during the sixties tumult, has documented how the Paris events had a widespread influence, "all of it bad." As well as systemic moral decline, they also led to "an escalation of violence worldwide": bloody student riots in the short term and ultimately the rise of Pol Pot and assorted Communist dictators, as student demonstrations forced America’s withdrawal from Vietnam. The dominoes continued to fall throughout the seventies as trade unions quickly developed strong-arm tactics which destroyed several British governments and brought this country to its knees.

Given the anti-intellectual roots of May ’68 such a pass was inevitable. Right from the outset, as rioters swarmed into the Quartier Latin (the Student Quarter), erected barricades, set overturned cars on fire, hurled Molotov cocktails at the riot police and generally ran amok on the Left Bank, the students took their cue from dissolute, middle-class radicals like John Paul Sartre and his mistress Simone de Beauvoir.(1) "Famous but silly actors like Jean-Louis Barrault," states Johnson, "addressed them in clouds of vacuous rhetoric." Despite the vacuity of it all, however, politicians like Francois Mitterrand, famous writers and intellectuals like Johnson himself, as he recalls, "hailed the students as ‘liberators’ who were teaching their elders ‘a cultural lesson’… One of the few people to keep his head was the philosopher Raymond Aron, who denounced the whole thing as ‘pernicious nonsense’."

So it was. And no more pernicious than in its degradation of reason, hatred of obedience and substitution of political ideology for truth - formulated in Michel Foucault’s Les mots et les choses ["Words and Things"]. As a 24 year old in Paris during the riots, Times columnist Roger Scruton had this book thrust into his hands by enthusiastic friends seeking to convert him to the cause. The bible of the soixante-huitards, it cuts through the Weberian cant above and reveals the precise motivation for what happened and what came to pass; the rebellious spirit of May ’68 now institutionalised in the very ‘structures’ the class of ’68 sought to topple. Studying the work as chaos reined about him, the young Scruton discovered a text:

"which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is the posture of the victim. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, using all the slippery devices of Hegelian metaphysics and every kind of selective appropriation of the facts, to show that culture and civilisation are the ‘discourses’ of power. Foucault, I decided, was the enemy of critical thought, since his thoughts were constructed around a political agenda rather than the pursuit of truth. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world not for the things it can love but for those it can hate, have found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he told his readers, and you will find it. And where you find power, you also find oppression. Such was Foucault’s message, and there, in the street below, was the translation of that message into deeds."

The extent of this subversion practised by Foucault and the soixante-huitards was recently exposed in Intellectual Impostures, an attack on some of the leading French intellectuals of our time, by two academic physicists – Professor Alan Sokal of New York, and Professor Jean Bricmont of Louvain. In a critical review, Roger Scruton states that famous writers like sociologist Jean Baudrillard and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan "are charged with charlatanism – and the charges stick. These thinkers are shown to be impostors, who abuse the terms and theories of modern science in order to deceive the reader into thinking that they are thinking when in fact they are doing no such thing."

Their role, in fact, was to subvert the thinking of others. All the products and producers of May ’68 treated by Sokal and Bricmont had a political agenda which dictated everything they wrote. As Scruton puts it: "Their goal was to undermine the ideas and values of the ‘bourgeoisie’ – anyone who upheld law and order, the family and the Christian religion of France… The impostors were in the business of undermining the moral order, and putting the intellectuals on top. In effect the soixante-huitards formed a priesthood of unbelievers. They assumed the absolute right to say, think and act as they chose, and to invent the ideas and words that would justify their mischief. It didn’t matter if the ideas and words were gobbledegook. What mattered was the flair with which they were handled, and the offence that they caused to bourgeois decencies." Worst still was the "moral imposture of these parasites who lived in bourgeois security while sneering at the bourgeoisie."

In 1984, as the sodomy consonant with his pseudo-philosophy took its toll, Michel Foucault died of AIDS. But the nihilism he championed to his grave lives on in a form of spiritual and intellectual AIDS which has infected every nook and cranny of Western life. The works of Foucault and his contemporaries like Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva are still omnipresent in universities the world over; their hackneyed agenda, as Scruton observes, as influential as ever: "civilisation equals order equals obedience equals power equals oppression. Little has changed apart from the victim: once it was the proletariat; now it is women; soon it will be animals… The young are now taught to repudiate their culture. The act of rebellion is not a personal discovery but an established routine."

The evidence for that, of course, is all around us in the endless flood of sex and debauchery showcased as news, art or entertainment. It is personified in a typically unwitting beneficiary of May ’68 like writer Iain Banks, depicted by one interviewer as "a New Bloke – part politically correct anorak, part retarded adolescent. He won’t laugh if someone tells an off-colour joke about women or ethnic minorities. Or if he does, it is in spite of himself and he will immediately apologise." Described as "arguably Scotland’s best novelist" and Robert Louis Stephenson’s "heir", he exploded onto the literary scene in 1984 with The Wasp Factory, the story of a 16-year old boy who delights in torturing animals and occasionally people. A best-seller, it is "full of gruesome scenes and descriptions of appalling abuse…torture, perversion and murder are described with a graphic, precise attention to detail. ‘My emotional self is saying: ‘this is an awful, terrible, obscene thing’,’ admits Banks… ‘I don’t know where it comes from’."

Thus, unknown even to its contemporary carriers, the nihilistic spirit of the soixante-huitards remains contagious, omnipresent and powerful. Ultimately, it has created a moral vacuum in the corridors of power that no amount of interminable bleating about Party "principles" and "family values" can hide. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair and William Jefferson Clinton epitomise its entrenchment in the Executive.

True sons of the fakers who spawned them, both have opted for pop-religiosity in lieu of genuine spirituality while neither believes in anything with sufficient conviction to defy what the polls and publicists tell them is the mood of the moment. Their renowned and sycophantic friendship is simply a meeting of kindred spirits; political Peter Pans still intoxicated by the puerile and decadent ambience of their formative years. "Within everyone of my generation," the electric guitar-toting Blair once remarked, "there’s an aspiring rock singer waiting to get out." Both court rock icons and associated deviants at cosy White House and Downing St. soirees (who could forget the bizarre bevy of geriatric rockers feted at Clinton’s inauguration), in which the opinions of drug-users, transvestites, homosexual activists et. al. are sought in formulating government policy.(2)

In sum, both Blair and Clinton are creatures of fashion obsessed with capturing the zeitgeist: big on slogans, soundbites and spin but bereft of substance. The fact is that the amorality of their political pragmatism – the overriding philosophy of the soixante-huitards(3) - is antithetical to that pursuit of truth and virtue in which genuine intelligence, wisdom and moral courage – real substance - is rooted. The ability to redress vexing economic, social, and ethical issues, in other words, is simply not in them. Faced with his semantic evasion during the Lewinsky affair and reversion to "old rock star arguments" in redefining terms like "fornication" and "fidelity," one US political correspondent has even spoken of "signs that Clinton has created a parallel moral reality and at times drawn half the American people into it." While Noel Gallagher of Oasis was closer to the truth than he ever imagined when, after his Downing St. debut, he wryly observed that Britain is being run by failed rock guitarists, just like his record company.

And so we find countries led, at best, by bewildered souls without any firm moral anchor or, at worst, by amoral power-mongers stumbling from one crisis to another without the will or wherewithal to put the nihilist genie - demons unleashed in the wake of May ’68 - back in the bottle.(4) Meanwhile, society struggles at the coalface to handle children corrupted by the culture in which those demons flourish; a pop culture indulged in by parents and courted by Presidents and Prime Ministers. "We have to try and educate children so that society develops into something less offensive," wrote one exasperated teacher in the daily press, "but it is difficult." Lamented another: "The home culture and the popular culture seem to have overwhelmed the staff."

The release of Humanae Vitae in July 1968 saw this rebellious scenario replicated with a passion inside Holy Mother Church. Just at that critical juncture when Her priestly sons were needed to defend the Faith as never before - to unite in opposition to the evil exploding about them - a multitude of ecclesiastics turned, instead, and manned the barricades with all the adolescent fury, non serviam arrogance and pseudo-sophistication of their secular counterparts.

The principle Prima sedes a nemine iudicatur ["The first See is judged by none"] disappeared overnight. Mirroring Left-wing politicians like Mitterrand and Pierre Mendes-France who supported the rebel students, bishops worldwide led their mutinous flocks in the novel sport of expressing judgement on a papal teaching rather than giving their assent. The French episcopate numbered among the very worst offenders, while in this country Archbishop Roberts strongly attacked the encyclical and opposed Archbishop Beck of Liverpool, on the radio. From that point on disobedience became endemic among Latin Rite Catholics as conscience operating by the light of private judgement was made the supreme rule of morality, by and large with episcopal blessing.(5)

During a six minute radio broadcast to the nation on 30 May 1968, President de Gaulle had refused to resign and surrender France to anarchy. Mitterrand, who was the one fomenting revolution, accused the President of trying "to provoke civil war." It never happened. Rather, the spirit of the soixante-huitards lived on to precipitate a universal culture war between the Christian remnant and the neo-pagans. As for the students and all the foolish politicians like Mitterrand who backed them, they were crushed in an unprecedented landslide at the general election called by de Gaulle.

The dissenting Catholic bishops, however, not only survived and prospered but did indeed trigger a civil war; one to rival the angelic confrontation between St. Michael’s battalions and Lucifer’s hordes. It continues to be played out fiercely within parishes and dioceses everywhere, setting, as always, those who will serve against those who will not. The former, eschewing political correctness, are truly strangers in a strange land. The latter, embracing popular culture, are at home in the world, forever mimicking their secular soul-mates in:

  • the ideological agenda which dictates everything they say and do;
  • the pseudo-intellectual verbiage and gobbledegook they vomit forth in waves of glossy A-4 (as bishops clap like trained seals and sign cheques for more of the same);
  • the studied offence they cause to Catholic sensibilities;
  • their revolutionary search for things to hate about the Church;
  • their desire to undermine the objective moral order by raising up a parallel magisterium of pseudo-intellectuals, a priesthood of unbelievers;
  • their parasitic use of the Church while sneering at Her teachings and authority;
  • their assumption of the absolute right to say n’ importe quoi as long as it is dans le vent i.e. to speak, think and act as they choose, inventing ideas and words to justify their unbelief.

Charlatans and "enemies of critical thought" one and all, these disciples of Judas have discovered in the "satanic mendacity" of their Foucault equivalents - Kung, Schillebeeckx, Radford Ruether et. al. - a formula to match that of their worldly brethren: ‘the Church equals order equals obedience equals power equals oppression.’ Dissidents, in other words, are victims. Or, rather, were victims - just as the 68-ers were victims, before they assumed power.

Babbling on in politically correct fashion about the need for seminaries to form "radical priests," who are "living the reality of a renewed understanding of the Church" which will give them "the pastoral skills for collaborative ministry" and save them from "triumphalism," one smug English cleric recently recalled how:

"In the heady and revolutionary atmosphere of 1968, while students set motor cars ablaze on the streets of Paris, a small and sober group of seminarians staged a ‘sit-in’ protest on the steps of the Gregorian University in Rome…The result was good. The use of languages other than Latin for lectures and exams was accepted. A modest beginning. I note with pleasure that three of my fellow revolutionaries from this period have recently been appointed rector of diocesan seminaries: poachers turned gamekeepers."

Yes indeed: from would-be victims to PC oppressors, clerical alignment with the secular rebellion is complete. And just like Henri Weber, the ecclesiastical soixante-huitards admit nothing, have learnt nothing and see no demons to exorcise. May God have mercy on them all, and on the innocent souls they would lead to perdition.

(1) In this regard, the essential malevolence that Sartre passed on to his neophytes must never be overlooked. Echoing Milton's "O evil, be thou my good!", his theories went beyond mere denial of the natural law to the celebration of breaking moral laws as his guiding principle.

(2) Ferocious criticism from former drug-addict Alan McGee, manager of rock band Oasis and a Downing St. regular, for instance, forced an embarrassing about-face by Mr Blair who exempted would-be pop stars from Labour's welfare-to-work scheme. It originally applied to all 18-24-year-olds unemployed for six months or more but aspiring rock stars will now be allowed to opt out of the programme and receive career guidance from specially appointed local advisors. A huge fan of Oasis, Mr Blair no doubt gathered further policy tips while intellectualising at No. 10 with the band's foul-mouthed singer-songwriter Noel Gallagher, who claims Oasis is "bigger than God" and says that drug-taking is as normal as "getting up and having a cup of tea" - the sort of suicidal worldview shared by Establishment 68-ers like Elton John and Paul McCartney. Sir Elton, between HIV check-ups and the next gay wake, wallows in sodomy; Sir Paul, partial to a joint himself, would like cannabis to be decriminalised (a proposal labelled "absolutely insane" by Ron Alexander of the drug treatment charity Turning Point).

(3) Lord Dahrendorf, who voted Labour, told Der Spiegel in a post-election interview that Blair "embodies the new type of post-modern politicians… his creed is: 'What counts is what works' ['nur was funktioniert, das zahlt']."

(4) Notorious Hollywood hell-raiser Mickey Rourke might have been speaking for his entire generation when he recently declared: "I have to get rid of all the old demons. These are demons that I cultivated, that I maintained and fed. While I was cultivating those demons I had a lot of fun. But it was at my own expense. I never imagined the price I would have to pay for all that fun. Now I'm paying the price."

(5) Among the notable exceptions were the Bishops of Scotland, whose Pastoral Letter of 4 October 1968 in support of Humanae Vitae reminded Scottish Catholics that: "The obligation of a Catholic to accept the teaching of the Church on any grave moral problem can never justifiably be regarded as an offence against the freedom of his conscience. Rather, the free acceptance of that particular obligation is implicit in the free decision, already made and still continuing, to accept the claim of the Catholic Church to speak with the authority of Christ."

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