There are many diverse and competing accounts of the 1960s and the legacies of that decade. None can lay claim to comprehensiveness, including the one discussed here: there are always other stories. However the narrative of the 1960s presented here has a particular significance, both for understanding what transpired decades ago and what we encounter today. It is a narrative about continuity, albeit with transformations. Like many Sixties stories, its venue is largely the university, although not exclusively so, but it also involves an international framework: it can hardly suffice to recall the student movements within universities and ignore the complex global context. Nor is it sufficient to appeal to the memory of sixties radicalism, while attributing its decline solely to external, putatively reactionary forces intent on repressing the progressive camp. On the contrary, in place of the nostalgic mythology of that erstwhile radicalism as indisputably emancipatory, any credible account has to describe how repression emerged within the movement itself. Sixties radicalism – or at least part of it – was always already reactionary. The revolution was repressive from its start, congenitally flawed with a programmatic illiberalism and anti-intellectualism and – remembering one of the most prominent epigrams of the era: ‘we have met the enemy and he is us.’ Anything less than that is at best romanticism, at worst a regression to old Left partisanship, blithely separating the world into camps of absolute difference, to the left the blessed bound to heaven, to the right the sinners consigned to hell by the divine power of an unforgivingly secular emancipation: which side are you on?
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