I am currently reading Jean Baudrillard’s The Transparency of Evil. Those familiar with the author know that he is no friend of the right. The central premise of the book is fascinating, given Baudrillard’s political associations. He argues that the left (even today) is still talking about the revolution as a future event — an event that will finally liberate humanity from all sorts of social, sexual, and economic repressions. This means that the left believes that the events of the late 1960s and early 1970s were merely a partial revolution or a failed one. Baudrillard’s big claim is that the Revolution happened and it was complete. The left simply cannot admit that this is the case: it turns out that the liberated world that they sought looked much different in theory than in practice. Instead of the re-orientation of values that the ’60s radicals wanted, their critical attack on normative values was so successful that they ultimately liberated the concept of value itself (rather than the humans who live according to those values).
In other words, the great success of the revolution was that values could no longer be effectively transmitted culturally — there is no way to posit any particular value above another. What you say is good, I say is bad. What you say is pretty, I say is ugly. What you say is hot, I say is cool. What you say is a problem, I say is a blessing. And we’re stuck with that.
A practical example of my own that shows the ineptitude of the left in bringing about the world they wanted (but their adeptness in changing the world irrevocably): war. The ’60s radicals wanted to bring about a world without war. They failed miserably (in part because so many of their tactics furthered their cultural objectives via a pseudo-military engagement with the demos). Nevertheless, the ways that wars are fought have undeniably changed. The Revolution didn’t abolish war, it just made wars unwinnable.
Since 1970, every US military engagement has resulted in an American loss, a partial American victory, or a pyrrhic American victory. Interesting timing. Why is it that the most powerful nation in the world can only muster a half-win, no matter how ill-equipped the opponent is to fight a war? Only because the revolutionaries did not eliminate the need for war, but only introduced a morality into a necessarily immoral human endeavor. We can no longer win a war because we cannot bring ourselves to fight one in the way necessary for victory: it would be too bloody, too vulgar a display of power. After all, don’t we have an obligation to meet the enemy half-way, at least give them a chance to win? A chance to defend themselves? Turns out that perhaps the most ethical way to fight a war is to fight to win — to do whatever it takes to win quickly and decisively, even if that means a bit more blood. Is it any wonder we are now in what appears to be only the second half of the longest war in American history?
The revolutionaries won, but their victory looks much different than they thought it would, and a bit of buyer’s remorse has set in because even if we now have a bit more respect for humanity, we have less reverence for it. Human beings don’t seem to be much happier for this change, and human happiness was THE primary objective (if we are being generous) of the ’60s left movement. Liberation meant something different than they imagined: the attack on the concept of value ensured that there would be no social glue left to bind the re-configuration they enacted. So, instead of a new order taking form, the ’60s radicals simply made an unanchored tower of concepts, blowing precariously in the wind — “a heap of broken images.” That tower blew over a few decades ago, but those remaining of the ’60s left still haven’t completely understood why they failed in their outcomes, while succeeding in bringing about the revolution. In fact, I think many of them can’t admit it to themselves, which is why they take refuge in indictments of their own generation: they didn’t go far enough, they sold out.
The liberation they wanted did happen: it was just unthinkable in 1968 that its legacy would one day be embodied by a Viagra commercial.