The Spirit of '68

Review: Nehring on Horn

Horn, Gerd-Rainer: The Spirit of '68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-927666-0; 264 S.; £ 35.-.

Rezensiert für H-Soz-u-Kult von:
Holger Nehring
University of Sheffield, Department of History
E-Mail: [mailto][/mailto]

This book is special: not only did it appear about a year before Sixties-Mania engulfed much of the lit-crit circles in Europe and the United States. It also puts forward an argument that more recent treatments of '68' have neglected; and it does so from an impressively broad geographical perspective, encompassing both the United States and all countries in Western, southern and northern Europe. Horn's primary research in archives, journals and pamphlets and his analysis of research literatures in no less than six languages (English, French, Dutch, Spanish, German, Portuguese) puts the linguistic poverty of much (if not all) Anglo-American research on this topic to shame. Moreover, his account is also much more detailed and factually grounded than comparable overviews, such as Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey's pastiche on the sixties in Western Europe and the USA.[1] Horn's chronological reference points are more explicitly political than those of other authors: he begins in 1956 with the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian uprising and ends with the termination of Italian wage earners' successful battle for the control of their workplace and the Portuguese Revolution of the Carnations in the mid-1970s.

This wide-ranging chronological and geographical perspective enables Horn to uncover a key element of the 1968 protests that many other recent accounts have tended to neglect.[2] Whereas the historical mainstream now paints '1968' in the mellow tones of a pre-Raphaelite painting that shows the almost natural flow of generations, carried by a shift towards 'post-traditional' values, Horn's narrative is similar to an inspiring (and frequently polemical) Situationist-type happening. He emphasises the explicitly political character of '1968' as a historical moment that 'opened up possibilities that fundamentally questioned the social, political, economic and cultural status quo' (p. 231). Horn's argument profits from the author's refreshing personal political commitment to the issues discussed in this book, for example when he refutes unnamed 'establishment pundits' (p. 2) or when he expresses his hope for a revival of popular protests around these issues in the twenty-first century in his conclusion.