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Europe In Retrospect

by Raymond F. Betts

An Era of Booming Success

The Politics of Europe
General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1971), first president of the Fifth French Republic, stood large (6'4") as a refutation of the previous assertion. The decade of Europe's greatest economic success was also the one in which de Gaulle more than any other man directed, if he did not determine, the destinies of Europe.

Few twentieth-century European personalities seem to have been more heroic in stature. As early as 1934, in the first of his many books, the then Colonel de Gaulle warned of the changing nature of modern warfare and spoke of the need for France to modernize, by mechanizing, its armies. De Gaulle was ignored.

On June 18, 1940, the day after the French armistice with Nazi Germany, General de Gaulle, having fled to England, made a radio announcement in which he announced to the French people that a battle, not a war, had been lost. Again, he was largely ignored. In the ensuing two years, as de Gaulle tried to organize a French fighting force and provisional government, the Allied leaders, notably Churchill and Roosevelt, tried to ignore him. De Gaulle's persistence was initially a bothersome nuisance. But his persistence paid off. Believing deeply in "Eternal France," de Gaulle assumed the responsibility for trying to repair that country's bad fortunes.

His political skills, his administrative ability, and his sheer doggedness eventually won to his side large portions of the French overseas empire, and after 1943, the major part of the resistance forces in France. By 1944, de Gaulle had emerged as France's man of destiny. And when he walked down the Champs-Elysees in liberated Paris in August of 1944, he did so as a minor deity.

After a brief term as prime minister of the new Fourth Republic, de Gaulle was politically discouraged by constitutional developments, and thereupon retired to his country home where he, like most other war leaders, sat down to compose his war memoirs. He was recalled to high political office by the president of the Fourth Republic in May 1958, when the Algerian war of independence caused deep political dissension.

Once again de Gaulle's career began. Once again he was a figure to be reckoned with.

The Europe of General de Gaulle was a Europe caught up in the Cold War, but in many ways as concerned about the extension of American power as fearful of the intrusion of the Soviets. Through NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), through capital investment and foreign aid, the United States gained an ascendancy in continental politics and assumed a responsibility for Europe's defense that was not always greeted with enthusiasm by European leaders. Moreover, American military strategy for Europe had changed from an earlier concept of immediate massive retaliation against any Soviet invasion of Europe to a new policy of gradual escalation. Europe was thus made more responsible for its own defense-and somewhat less sure of the degree of potential American commitment.

Into this atmosphere of doubt and concern strode Charles de Gaulle. Much has been written about de Gaulle's highly idiosyncratic view of foreign affairs and of the nation-state that directed them. In some ways de Gaulle was an unrepentant nineteenth-century nationalist. Most critics agree that he was a political anachronism who handled foreign affairs with consummate skill.

De Gaulle wished two things: the dominance of France in Europe and the independence of Europe from the United States, both militarily and economically. He advocated as his basic principle a "Europe of States." He considered as absurd the grand notions of political integration proposed by some of the Eurocrats. For him, the nation-state was the highest form of political and social institution. He thus was willing to use the Common Market for his own purposes: to assure France's ascendancy in Europe. And in so doing, he caused many difficulties, not least of which was the refusal of Great Britain's request for entry in 1963.

It was in the military domain that de Gaulle had the most important effect, however. His concept of national independence implied the nation's right and ability to use force. Distrustful of the Americans and convinced that France had a major role to play in world affairs, he pursued an independent military policy which was a nuisance to American strategists. He encouraged already ongoing atomic research so that France became the third Western power to have an atomic bomb (1960) . He then fostered a force de frappe, a "striking" force of bombers capable of delivering the bomb. Finally, in 1966, he withdrew France from NATO.

The Europe of de Gaulle was a Europe attempting to redefine itself politically. By the middle 1960s Europe was no longer the center of the Cold War and no longer so dependent on the United States. Perhaps the most notable political change was that concerning the "two Germanies." The split of Germany into two at the end of World War II, with Russia dominating East Germany, had been a source of continuing antagonism. The West German Federal Republic, established in 1949, had not recognized the division and had found support in its stand from General de Gaulle. Then in 1969, the new federal chancellor, Willy Brandt, began his Ostpolitik, or Eastern policy. Through negotiations with the Soviet Union, Poland, and East Germany, he came to accept the new status quo. In 1973 when both East Germany and West Germany were admitted to the United Nations, the legitimacy of both states was universally recognized and a major obstacle to the settlement of European affairs was removed.

Furthermore, the Cold War itself had passed through several seasons. With the death of Stalin in 1953, a period of "thaw" occurred in which the Soviet leadership under Premier Nikita Khrushchev turned to increased industrial and agricultural production with the intention of outstripping the United States economically. However, in the early 1960s, Khrushchev again took to denouncing the United States, and the Cold War frosted over. By the end of the decade a new policy of detente, of an effort at mutual understanding and accommodation, was being pursued by both of the superpowers. The Cold War in Europe was now over.

Thus, the role that General de Gaulle was able to play as France's chief of state was in part a reflection of changed conditions in Europe. Beyond the alteration in Cold War politics, there was the strength of domestic economies. As de Gaulle himself frequently remarked, no nation is able to negotiate from weakness. France could now negotiate because it was strong. The domestic improvement of France therefore enabled that nation to assert itself as it had not since the peace treaties of 1919. However, in de Gaulle's scheme of things, the improvement of the general lot of the French people was not a good in and of itself; it was, rather, the means by which a successful foreign policy could be pursued.

Because his eyes were focused on global affairs, because he did not seriously interest himself in domestic policy beyond how it would help foreign policy, General de Gaulle failed to see or understand many of the internal changes that were taking place in France and in the other nations of Europe. When he left office in 1969, it was because he had failed at home.

Europe at Home
General de Gaulle was sixty-seven years of age when he was recalled to direct France's government. Around him was a new youth culture, symbolized in that transatlantic phenomenon known as the Beatles.

The Beatles were a musical group who popularized, if they did not introduce, the musical idiom of "rock," variously described as reworked Beethoven or a combination of blues and country music. The musical style was less important than the mood it represented.

In a sense the Beatles were modern troubadours; their music was an expression of social consciousness, an astute commentary on the culture of the times. They sang of middle-class loneliness; they sang of drug use; they sang of youth in quest of self and of one another. Parents denounced them; youngsters applauded them; the press covered them.

When they made their first American tour in 1964, the Beatles showed the popular dimensions of youth culture. What was described as "Beatlemania" seemed to seize young people in the United States.

But there was a less pleasant side to the emergence of youth as a cultural and social category in the modern world. The new "generation gap" resulted in generation conflict, one of the most important social disturbances in postwar Europe.

"Youth" as a social category may only have been defined in the postwar era, but the role of youth in European society had been important for some time. One of the leaders of the French Revolution had been a young man of eighteen; the English Romantic poets were all young men; student movements in Germany and France had an impact on politics in the first half of the nineteenth century. And the "Lost Generation" of World War I was essentially a youthful generation.

Nevertheless, the situation of youth in Europe after 1945 was of quite different proportions. The population spurt meant a much more youthful population than before. The total collapse of older aristocratic values which emphasized tradition now meant a new cultural freedom or license, noticeable in manners, fashion, and language. Moreover, new social opportunities, notably the availability of university education, were made possible by the European economic "miracle." Finally, the American presence in the form of university students and the children of members of the armed forces, exercised an influence, perhaps most noticeable in a new casual manner of style and behavior among European youth.

Part of an affluent society and detached from the social values of their elders, many young people became "alienated," positioned in resentful opposition to the world in which they lived. Although there had been some youthful outbursts before 1968, it was in that year that university student movements proliferated, deeply disturbing European society and the world at large. In West Berlin, Paris, Rome, London, Mexico City, Tokyo, and Berkeley, California, students rose in protest. The "student movement" was, perhaps, well named, for it set off in several directions and was comprised of a variety of protesters. But there was one general thrust: the movement was made against the contemporary social order.

All of the rebellious students denounced what was popularly known in the United States and Great Britain as the "establishment," those agencies - notably government, corporation, and university - seen as the holders and manipulators of power.

The growth of state bureaucratization, the intensifying regulation of personal life, the emphasis on a consumer-oriented economy more concerned with goods than humanistic values, and, last - but of great importance - the Vietnam War, were factors combined in various slogans and hastily contrived ideologies.

The university was selected as the immediate target - with student "take-overs" and "sit-ins" frequently occurring - because it was seen as closely allied with the "establishment." In the words of one young French professor who participated in the student revolution in Paris, "The professors respond more as guardians of the social order than as managers of a changing order."

Certainly the phenomenal growth in European higher education after the war was a result of technological improvement and demand. The intensifying concern with public welfare, the new interest in state planning, and the expansion of industries called for new skills and more personnel. The extension of older professions, like medicine, and the opening of new professions, like business management, moved the universities away from their older aristocratic image to a more popular base. Moreover, increasing state subsidies allowed students from different economic backgrounds to continue their study. Even a limited statistical sample gives some indication of the rapid increase in the university population:

Germany139,555 men406,831 men
Germany26,155 women106,612 women
Italy206,058 men342,478 men
Germany53,766 women126,641 women

To its critics - the radical students - the university had become a processing system for the acquisitive society. Their protest was, in effect, against much of Europe's most recent achievement. And for this reason the students found little support outside their own community. The efforts of French students to enlist support from the French workers were short-lived. Indeed, wages were low as a result of General de Gaulle's policy, and workers' discontent was accordingly high. But the purposes of the students seemed vague and removed from the workers' real concerns. The alliance between students and workers was therefore a matter of convenience, ended as quickly as it had begun. Once the government conceded on wage increases, worker support for the Parisian student revolution of May 1968 subsided.

Nearly as swiftly as it was generated, the violent activity of the students in Paris disappeared, swept away by public antagonism or indifference, by brutal action on the part of the police, and by governmental concessions. There is an ironic note found in the fact that the major leader of the French student movement, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, was making a cowboy movie one year later.

The end of youth protest did not occur in 1968, however. It continued in virulent form in the university environment of contemporary Italy - and Japan, half-a-world away - and it recently took on more sinister form in the terrorism evident in the late 1970s. Even in its most benign expressions, the youth movement was the most important cultural development of the 1960s. From rock music to the use of drugs, it represented dissatisfaction with the social effects of the "economic" miracle, with the seeming materialistic acquisitiveness and governmental manipulation complacently accepted by the older - over thirty - generation.

In 1956 the English scientist and novelist Sir Charles P. Snow introduced the concept of "two cultures," a thought he developed more fully in a major lecture delivered in 1959. The two cultures that Snow saw in opposition were that of science and that of the humanities. Modern intellectuals, so divided by their disciplines of study, could no longer communicate with one another, for they spoke different languages and dealt with different concepts.

Above all, Snow feared the ill effects of scientists unenriched by humanistic concerns and humanists incapable of understanding - and judging - scientific developments. That his "two cultures" was widely and favorably discussed suggests that Snow had described what others believed existent: a new social and cultural division based more on profession than on economic class. The growth of specialization, in part necessitated by technological progress, had done away with what the English used to call the "all-rounder," the individual who did many things well, but none with particular expertise.

Contemporary society, as viewed by many Europeans - and Americans as well - was dividing between the "experts" and the rest of the population. An intellectual and technocratic elite had come into being. Here was the subject of much of the objection registered by the student movement. The radical student emphasis on "spontaneity" and on "participatory democracy" was a statement of rejection of expert management and a demand for a new political equality. Even the Soviet Union and the various national Communist parties were viewed as vast, impersonal bureaucracies, run for the benefit of the officeholders, not for the people at large. As early as 1957, Milovan Djilas, a former vice-president of Communist Yugoslavia, had written an indicting book entitled The New Class. The new class in Communist society was, according to Djilas, the "political bureaucracy."

What the new economy of scale seemed to produce was a social order of scale. The vastness of contemporary enterprises, whether the multinational corporation or the welfare state, had reduced the significance of the individual. Radicals frequently used the word "imperialism" to describe this condition, suggesting a new form of domination and regimentation. And yet the efficiency of production and the extent of managerial planning that such large-scale operations had enabled were greatly responsible for Europe's contemporary economic well-being.

Europe of the 1960s, like the United States of the same decade, was a society with well-defined economic achievements and vague, even conflicting, cultural purposes.

NEXT:  Chapter Sixteen: Contemporary Europe

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