The left after May 1968 and the longing for total revolution

  • Boltanski L
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Abstract

In various European countries, the relation between ‘the left’ and
‘the right’ presents itself today in paradoxical form: the attenuation of the differences
at the level of policy making is accompanied by the persistence, if not
even strengthening, of the polarisation in terms of verbal position taking and
of partisan self-description. To understand this situation, one needs to return to
that which constitutes the ideological core of the opposition between left and
right. The left remains marked, though not necessarily in an explicit fashion,
by the heritage of the quest for ‘total revolution’. Such quest presupposes a
radical critique of the world in the form in which it presents itself, namely as
an obstacle to the full realisation of humanity. In this sense, the left is intrinsically
connected to critique, and left and right stand opposed to each other in
the same way that critique is opposed to celebration. From the second half of
the 19th century onwards, the critique of the left was elaborated in particular
in the form of a social critique of capitalism. Since the 1970s and 1980s, and
since the end of communism in particular, the theme of total revolution,
however, dissociates itself more and more from the idea of social revolution to
focus instead on the idea of sexual revolution. Certain problems that the left
encounters today stem from the fact that it amalgamates two highly different
kinds of expectation and of critiques. On the one hand, there are the social
concerns and the critiques of capitalism, which, however, are no longer oriented
towards total revolution. On the other hand, there are expectations that
are still turned towards total revolution, but have been shifted towards the exigency
of a revolution in the order of reproduction and of sexuality and, thus,
have dissociated themselves from the critique of capitalism.

Author-supplied keywords

  • capitalism
  • critique
  • revolution
  • sexuality
  • the left

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Authors

  • Luc Boltanski

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