The Conflict of Generations in Contemporary Europe


By DR. SIGMUND NEUMANN, Associate Professor of Government and Social Sciences, Wesleyan University; Director, Academy of Adult Education, Berlin, 1930-1933; Author and Lecturer Delivered at Institute of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, July 5, 1939

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 5, pp. 623-28

MODERN European politics from Versailles to Munich can be largely explained in terms of a conflict of generations. To be sure, the influence of changing generations as such is not a phenomenon of post-war history only. Plato and Aristotle observed their importance in politics and social life. The contrast between fathers and sons

has always been a favorite theme in literature even before Turgenieff's classic novel. Its rising importance today, how ever, is due to several specific factors. No doubt youth in our time is more conscious of its own value and independent existence. It regards itself no longer as a transition stage alone. We are living in the age of self-confident youth. In addition

to that, the dynamics of change have been more and more accelerated. The revolution of techniques has brought about a transformation in living conditions in such short periods that the cavalcade of thirty years nowadays includes more changes than three centuries before did. Today not only fathers and sons but older and younger brothers live in a different world, speak a different language, adhere to different values.

Such discrepancies are even more noticeable when the continuity of generations is suddenly broken, as happened at the time of the World War. The war not only clearly separated the pre-war and post-war period, but also meant the weakening, if not elimination, of a whole generation. The link was broken. The normal succession in generations was disturbed. Elders had to carry on. The younger generation did not slowly and naturally grow into the existing institutions. There was no apprenticing because there were no apprentices, but the very existence of the craft of modern statesmanship depends on a long tradition always renewed and rejuvenated by a succeeding generation. The crisis of modern democratic institutions is largely due to this breach in the old link. This cleavage, of course, is less visible in the United States with her only limited participation in the World War. However, a study of the after-effects of the Civil War would give striking illustration of similar difficulties in this country.

In Europe it was not only the destruction of a young war generation which was felt in post-war time but also a restless youth which had lacked fatherly guidance in its childhood had lost its normal connections with its elders and was eager to win its place in the world. Thus it was not ready to take a long training through normal channels, waiting for its culmination to come twenty years or so ahead. It looked for short cuts to seize power. This made the older men the more suspicious of the youngsters, but in the eyes of this group the ruling generation was completely exposed. Were they not responsible for the war and its outcome under which the new generation would have to suffer? The war had brought about this crisis of confidence in the political wisdom of the rulers. The political upheavals of post-war Europe, the fight between dictatorships and democracies is epitomized in this crash between two generations.

What is a generation? What makes people members of one and the same age group? It is not simply the co-existence in the same period. Different generations are living together in the same chronological time. The "contemporaneousness of the non-contemporary" is one of the most characteristic phenomena of the spiritual life of an epoch which makes it poliform and manifold. Contemporaries are not merely people born in the same year. Biological birthdates are only a starting-point, an outward approximation, for a sociological differentiation. What identifies them as people of one generation is decided by their common experiences, the same decisive influences, similar historical problems.

Modern child psychology has proved that at seventeen or thereabouts an unqualified acceptance of environment ends. With the start of adolescence the child begins to reflect on his inheritance. But adolescents are plastic at the same time. Impressions received in these years are deep and persistent. Generations could be divided according to these essential impressions around seventeen.

This holds especially true of a generation of adolescents which went through experiences of weight. This gives them unity, a common style, a new approach to life. The World War undoubtedly meant such a caesura in human life. It divided generations. There was a pre-war generation, including people born before 1890. Their education was finished, their life was formed before the war started. Not that this revolutionary upheaval did not disturb these elders.

For a few it meant a career of business. For most of them it signified catastrophe and destruction of their lives, work and accomplishments. Those who survived this storm tried to take up the thread where they had left it. At least they tried to return to a world in which they had lived before. They even tried to forget the war and its experiences.

It was different with the younger generation. To them the war meant the great formative experience. Admirable or brutal, it was in their blood. It could never leave them. This was the "younger generation" called upon to make post-war history.

The influence of these experiences of youth was especially manifest in Germany. War events were more deeply felt here than elsewhere, the collapse more complete, the postwar history extremely disturbing for a younger generation. In addition to that a unique youth movement of pre-war times had earlier made Germany's younger generation alert to its specific position. A vanguard born between 1890-1900, they had preconceived basic ideas of a revolutionary postwar youth. It was a genuine movement to fight the artificial and corrupt style of bourgeois society, to find new contacts with the real sources of life in nation and society. It was a burgher's secession of a middle class youth, but it was surprised and overtaken by the war. Even when this youth movement enormously spread, after the war, its climax had already been reached before the world conflict. After the war this movement was disrupted and deflated. The best representatives of this young revolt had been killed off. What was left was a peakless pyramid, a truncated generation. Those who returned were cynics and skeptics. They had lost connection with their profession, with their family, with civil society. Not like a generation only ten years older had they already found a place in society before they were called upon to fight in the war, a place to return to when this bloody strife was over. They had just left school, ready to carve out lives of their own, enthusiastically open to a world to be conquered. So they joined the army, these young volunteers. War became their calling. When they were not sacrificed in the battlefields of human material, they were hopelessly worn out by this great ordeal. Many of them were only too grateful when they miraculously survived the deadly fire and happy to find a quiet escape for the rest of their lives. Silent, impenetrable, shy dreamers, they distrusted the noisy and petty world of busy people they returned to. Those, in return, distrusted the strange fellows who had seen a no-mans-land, and had experiences which they could exchange only with their co-warriors. A civil world could not count on them. It did not even ask them for an active participation.

What Germany, and as a matter of fact the whole of Europe, experienced in these post-war days was the rule of old people. Even the revolution of 1918 was led by a generation grown up in a pre-war world. The war had destroyed the flower of oncoming leadership. This is one of the many reasons why this revolution born out of defeat was doomed. A pre-war generation tried to fill the gap. It certainly was a sincere effort, but it was fatal nevertheless. Their conceptions were from another world. It was hard to make a new start. The age distribution of the German Reichstag gives a striking picture of the situation. Even by 1930 the average age of the representative was fifty-seven. All attempts toward rejuvenation of the old parties failed. Undoubtedly the party machines have a great responsibility for this abnormal lack in mobility. The prewar veterans felt to be the only reliable standard-bearers of the old revolutionary concepts. They did not trust handing over to the inexperienced young fellows even a part of the precious machine which had been built up during the life-time of a whole generation in its hard fight against a

hostile world. Georges Sorel, the great French syndicalist, had sarcastically spoken of these functionaries who because of vested party interests forgot the revolution itself. Indeed they did no longer represent a proletariat which had "nothing to lose but its chains." They controlled big trade union houses and positions. They did not want to fight, not even to take chances in general strikes. They clung to power. They had arrived.

Not so the younger generation which was dispossessed. The persistent refusal to take in younger elements, necessarily led to a blocking of forces. The revolution finally had to come, breaking the dam of unreleased energies since they could not in time be directed into normal channels. This became the crucial question in the fight between the generations.

Of course the elders had good reasons for their suspicion. It was not merely the attitude of the "Haves" blocking the assault of the "Have-Nots." It was the fear, justified or not, that these erratic youngsters were not reliable enough to administer and carry on the great heritage. This was especially felt in economics, where more than anywhere else the gerontacracy kept the key positions after the war. The average age of the economic leaders in Germany in 1929-30 was sixty. The board of trustees of the big banking institutions even reached an average of the biblical age of seventy.

Responsibility for the tragic tension rested upon both generations. Fathers had reason to be suspicious that their sons did not follow their path. Sons who had fought for their elders, who had protected their home and their property, who had endured and suffered for four years at the front, called such a cool reception ingratitude. They felt excluded from life. Thus the generation of young fighters became a tragic generation of outsiders. No wonder that the few daring and active people among them went out to destroy this bourgeois world in which there was no room for the warriors. Fighting was the only craft they really knew. So they joined the military cause, the fighting leagues. Wherever the drum beat was sounded they followed the battle cry. They fought hundreds of crusades but they were crusaders without aims. Their risings turned out to be irrelevant revolts. Such was Ehrhardt's Kapp putsch and Hitler's first beer hall revolt in 1923. This generation had had the most stirring experience at the front, but there its constructive spark had sputtered out. The future of Europe depended on her chance to postpone her necessary revolution for another fifteen years until a new and more fortunate generation would be ready to take action and control.

It was already growing up, this generation of a war youth (born between 1900 and 1910) and it did so under the suspicious eyes of their older brothers. These younger fellows had experienced the war too. It may even have made a deeper impress on them since they had lived through these years almost unaware. It had penetrated their minds and body without shattering them. Certainly they were bewildered youth, unguided by their fathers who were fighting at the Front, but to this generation the war meant at the same time the great collective experience. It destroyed the pre-war isolation of a middle class individual. The four years tension had not destroyed the strength of the younger group but had built it up. All the suffering had made them vigorous and sturdy. Thus they met a post-war world with explosive energy. They felt so sure of themselves that some day they would build up their own and better society. They certainly could review the international scene in a much less prejudiced way than the soldiers' generation, stamped by hostilities. They had acquired much knowledge. They followed professions. It sometimes seemed to their elders that they took after the grandfathers. Indeed they often locked

hands with them over the heads of the preceding generation. They too were idealists and reformers, but they were sober idealists and they could wait for their hour. At least they thought so. The future belonged to them. In the long run they would inherit the world that their elders could not master. They were the strongest generation, even as far as actual number went. Neither were they reduced by loss in battles nor by decline of the birth rate of a succeeding generation. They felt superior compared with these younger brothers,

This post-war youth, even if born before the war was not at all impressed by this paramount event. They most certainly had no experience of contrast between pre-war and post-war times. They were efficient, physically able fellows, but poor in substance in their inner life. They had no headaches. Economics, techniques, sport—those interested them. They had no problems. They did not want to reform the world. They wanted to live. The motorcycle was the embodiment of their ambitions. It was simpler than the luxurious automobile of a lazy, fat bourgeois. It matched the dynamic rhythm of their youth. In sport activities, which came into fashion only after the war, it was again the dynamic games, i. e., skiing, football, gymnastics which with them became popular. If there was a great experience comparable to the war which impressed this problemless generation, it was the inflation—a miracle world of fairy tales to them where one might lose a fortune of generations' standing and where one might just as well make it. It was a world lacking absolute bounds and preconceptions, where everything was possible and nothing impossible. This was not a generation of leaders but they were driftwood ready to break dams if thrown into a stream. They could be material for any political revolution. Everything depended upon which generation would take up the challenge. The Nazi revolution of 1933 decided it. It certainly was not merely a revolution of the young war generation. It was a strange alliance of the warriors with pre-war technicians who thought they could tame the young revolutionaries. Victorious national socialism was a hybrid, not only as far as name and program was concerned, but it also connected very different age groups. Still it is important to note that almost all active leaders of national socialism were born between 1890 and 1900. The war had been the decisive experience of this generation. Hitler, though born in 1889, had a somewhat retarded development, and did not find himself before the war broke out. In fact, the war meant to him, according to his own statement, a discovery of his place and mission in society. All important lieutenants of Hitler belonged to the young war generation, such as Goering (1893), Hess (1891), Goebbels (1897), Himmler (1900), Ley (1890), Otto Dietrich (1897), Alfred Rosenberg (1893), von Ribbentrop (1892), Amman (1891), Lutze (1891) and Darre (1895), etc. The few exceptions, such as Lammers (1879), von Blomberg (1875), Frick (1877), indicate the influx of an expert group which, very much needed by the rising movement, still did not represent the main driving force of young national socialism.

This held even more true of the partners in the coalition of the first national government of 1933. All non-national socialists cabinet members belonged to an older generation, such as von Neurath (1873), von Papen (1879), Seldte (1882), Gurtner (1881), Hugenberg (1865), Meissner (1880), Schacht (1877), von Fritsch (1880), etc. The years following this national revolution brought a slow but a constant elimination of these pre-war statesmen. The purges of the army, foreign office, and bureaucracy brought not only a Nazification of the even more conservative institutions, but at the same time also gave the young war generation the complete control of the old agencies. Thus the rule of Nazi socialism can almost be identified with the political

victory of this generation. All basic concepts of national socialist government have been shaped by the experience of war. Politics itself has been defined by one of its belated partisans in terms of the irreducible category of Friend and Foe. Fully militarized social relationships had been basically conceived on the battlefield. There was no concept of civic government left. This explains the structure of the party as well as the idea of a permanent revolution in foreign affairs and in internal politics. Such a militant climate was the fundamental justification for the totalitarian state. War was a dictatorship's beginning, its demand, its test.

It is, however, significant that seizure of power in the Third Reich was accomplished almost exclusively by a younger war generation who, different from their elder co-warriors, not only had a romantic concept of war but also lacked experience balanced by a pre-war career. The few European statesmen of an older war generation, such as Bruning (1885), Benes (1884), Daladier (1884) showed striking differences. It is also no mere accident that there has always been tension between the regular army and the semi-military organisations of national socialism. Modern armies are much more rational and less ready for adventure and risks. Compared with these sober professionals it was necessary to have high pitched emotionalism to keep up the fighting spirit of the semi-military organizations of post-war times. The regular soldier is strongly and continuously disciplined. He does not need constant recognition of his patriotic and militant instincts, no parading and flag waving and challenging others to confirm his own strength and enthusiasm. Almost he seems to represent the only pacifistic institution in modern dynamic government. Before Hitler started his imperialistic drive in 1938 he had therefore to purge the army. The Third Reich is led by a capricious generation of young soldiers who, though they returned home, were broken by the war experience, especially since they could not fall back on the balancing reserve of a peaceful pre-war world.

The problem of generations is by no means reserved for Germany alone, though there it certainly had the most sweeping effects and visible breaks. Strangely enough, however, the revolt of the young people found its first political expression in Italy, the country embodying classical Roman traditions. Here the Fascist revolution of 1922 had swept the country calling for a rejuvenation of the nation. In spite of the great past, Italy had been indeed the Cinderella among the nations. United only in the second half of the nineteenth century and thus, like Germany, a late-comer in the concert of European nations, she suffered from an inferiority complex, colonial conquests in Libya and even the victorious outcome of the World War could not satisfy her pride. Her triumphs were only the reflected glory of her allies and brought her scarcely self-deserved laurels. Even the Italian people showed only contempt for the returning officers of the last war wherever they appeared in uniform. Those officers were the first recruits of a rising Fascism. It became the revolution of the war generation par excellence. But different from German national socialism more than ten years later, many leaders of the Fascist revolution were shaped by decisive experiences in pre-war times. Though the war undoubtedly changed their basic attitudes, by this time they had at least reached the age of maturity. Mussolini had already made himself a name as an ardent and leading socialist. Also, Mussolini's main associates had formed their basic conceptions before 1914. Fascism was an attempt to amalgamate pre-war nationalism and syndicalism. The pre-war sources of Italian nationalism can be well observed, especially in comparison with the younger German national socialism. It is significant that it was Goering, the type nearest to pre-war nationalists in the Hitler movement, who made the first and most effective connections with Mussolini.

While national socialism is a typical post-war product, the real sources of fascism go back to a vigorous reaction against the rationalism of a liberal parliamentarian bourgeoisie. Neo-idealism was set in opposition to positivism. It found its way to a young generation's ideas in politics, art, literature, science, and philosophy. Fascism, though in a distorted manner, was nourished by those early roots and indeed carried along by the mightier waves of an irrationalism which swept over European nations in the first decade of the twentieth century.

These pre-war foundations gave fascism a more conservative outlook than its revolutionary cousin in Germany showed it. It was much less a generation of disappointed cynics which seized the power. This was also partly due to the fact that the fascist revolution succeeded after only four years' preparations. It was not a delayed revolution, piling up disappointments and hatreds of failure and long waiting. True, there was cruelty too with the vigorous fascism treating political enemies with castor oil, typifying human perfidy and turpitude. But all these actions were mixed with true features of Italian buffoonery and burlesque.

One might say that the climate of fascist Italy changed with the Italo-Ethiopian war, due less to the resistance Italy unexpectedly found in the western powers but even more because of the necessity of allying herself with Nazi Germany. Since this time radicalization within fascist Italy could be observed, an acclimatization to Nazi ideology. The new racial policy is only the most visible phenomenon of these changes. It may even bring about radical diversion from basic concepts of fascism's early beginnings. No doubt this racial policy is inconceivable in terms of Roman tradition which is so fundamental to fascist ideology. Civis Romanus sum— the pride of Rome had always been her power to absorb, to civilize whatever nationalities touched her soil or culture.

It would be most interesting to check this radicalization which also finds its expression in economics and elsewhere against the change of personnel in fascist Italy. The rising importance of people such as young Ciano, Starace, and the come-back of Farinacci, all of them of the younger war generation, is a phenomenon worth watching. It shows that the Rome-Berlin Axis is much more than a tactical alliance. It leads toward a definite coordination of both systems in which Nazi Germany most certainly is in the driver's seat.

The conflict of generations also throws some light on the dark continent of world politics: Soviet Russia. Several years ago Ortega y Gasset wrote in his poignant study, The Modern Theme, "In the most violent opposition of pros and antis it is easy to perceive a real union of interests. Both parties consist of men of their own time; and great as their differences may be, their mutual resemblances are still greater. The reactionary and the revolutionary of the nineteenth century are much nearer to one another than either is to any man of our own age."

When we shall have won perspective, we may discover how much similarity can be found in the antipodes of the social and political struggle of today. Mussolini, critic though he was of the pre-war times, was himself a child of the period. This holds even more true of the revolutionaries still ten years older than Mussolini who became the agitators for and creators of Soviet Russia. In spite of their revolutionary attitude they are basically rooted in nineteenth century rationalism, imbedded in a belief in progress. Their godfather may be Darwin or Bentham, Comte or Spencer. "Knowledge is might," the slogan of the natural science of the turn of the century, was their guiding star too. The tabula rasa of illiterate Russia seemed to offer a vast field for their educational schemes. The miraculous advancement of hygiene, the almost child-like admiration for technical achievements—all that is nineteenth century at its best. Lenin became the Peter

the Great of the twentieth century. Communism and westernization seem almost inextricably mixed in the two-fold advances of Bolshevism. The institutional cycle of family life in Soviet Russia could serve as a conspicuous example for such a development. It meant a great social experiment unheard of and a belated emancipation at the same time. The revolution was as much an attempt at bringing socialism on earth as it was bringing Europe to Russia. This connecting of Asiatic Russia with the western world was largely a byproduct of revolutionaries who had spent their most impressive years in Zurich, Paris, Leipzig or London preparing the overthrow of capitalism, and incidentally bringing home a century of European rational thinking. Indeed the progress in revolutionary tactics of the Bolshevists as compared with their older cousins, the terroristic Narodniki, was just this step from a Utopian romantic socialism to a scientific rational socialism. In this sense Lenin, Trotsky, etc., only reflected the general trend of their time.

It may even be ventured that the more recent developments in Russia can find at least a part explanation in the specific texture of a new generation. There were certainly other elements, international implications, personality factors, etc., which explain the spectacular changes. U. S. S. R. may have come of age. Certainly a generation has grown up under the new regime taking it for granted that life in a socialistic country is a natural condition. If they call themselves revolutionary their revolutionary call is surely very different from their forefathers' battles. They are rooted in the soil of their socialist fatherland. They are nationalistic, conservative, more interested in constructive continuity than in revolutionary wrecking of a hated system. They even find a new interest in institutions, as the discussions in the Soviet youth movement on family problems showed. They speak a different language than their fathers did.

It seems to be an essential technique of the man inheriting (or better, seizing Caesar's mantle) to rule in the name of the founder, of course, but, with the help of an oncoming generation in staunch opposition to the remnants of the revolutionary period. The recent purges thus become a typical method in a totalitarian state to coordinate the resistant party by wholesale liquidation. Trotsky, the Number Two man of revolutionary days is in exile. Sinowjew, Kamenew—next to Lenin during the last years of his illness—Tukhachevsky of Red Army's fame, the leading admirals Gervais, Orlow and Wiktorow were all put to death. Litvinov, foreign secretary of long experience, has been superseded by Molotov, twenty years younger. More and more key positions are taken by a post-revolutionary generation. The only leaders left of older days are President Kalinin (powerless representative of the system, as was Hindenburg, or the king of Italy still is) and Voroshilov, chief of the Red Army. Their survival does not throw any light on the dominant personnel and real structure of the system's main agencies. Here a life and death struggle seems to prevail—in a significant mixture of Asiatic despotism and modern dictatorial techniques—which if successfully completed may be in substance a succession in generations.

In November, 1918, a young German conservative, Moeller van den Bruck (who a few years later christened the formula, "The Third Reich" in a book of the same title) wrote an article on "The Right of the Young Nations." In nuce it presented the philosophy of the "Have-Not" nations which twenty years later was to become the battle cry of the axis powers. Prototype of a young nation to Moeller van den Bruck was the Prussian and he saw no mere accident in the fact that the Piemontise are called the Prussians of Italy, the Japanese the Prussians of the Orient, the Bulgarians the Prussians of the Balkans. He thought to find the self-assertion of these young people in rising birth rates and a self-

denying heroic attitude, in their natural will to defeat Malthus and Bentham. The western powers to many German interpreters became the incarnation of coward preservation, a petrification of human dynamics where young ideas can never have a fair deal and the fountain of perpetual rejuvenation seems to have dried up. Nations saturated in the utter boredom of having arrived seemed to be an easy prey to a young people which prides itself in "living dangerously." At first glance such an analysis undoubtedly found some justification in countries where a pre-war generation ran and still runs things. Lloyd George and Clemenceau had made the Peace of Versailles. Poincaré and Baldwin, Briand and MacDonald, Blum and Chamberlain executed it—in patterns not exactly of a post-war world. As in the German Republic, it certainly was not a matter of their own choosing. They had to maintain positions which should have been filled by millions of young men lost in the World War and cheated of their share in making a new world. The honor rolls of Eton and Harrow, of Oxford and Cambridge are distressing testimony to the bloody sacrifice of the oncoming generation.

The fact that the western powers did not follow the same scheme as Germany and Italy is due to different factors of historical fate and national traditions. Victorious as they were, the need for a change did not seem so urgent and was not paramount. A flight into pre-war times, the golden days of the Epsom Derby, still seemed possible and even the numerous cynics among the young survivors of the war could "eat, drink and be silly because yesterday we died." "Debunkers in chief," though they were, they still had some reserves to fall back upon. The restlessness of early post-war England soon found its way back to normalcy. The Labor Party— taking the place of the. compromised and hopelessly divided Liberals—as his majesty's opposition and twice in the responsible position of the ruling party, did not even bring a new deal to England's internal politics. In France the prewar pendulum soon re-established itself.

But inarticulate or dormant as the conflict of generations still could be in the western world, it was just as real here as in central Europe. It is well to remember the great gap which the war losses left in literary fields too. When the clouds of war rolled away, four quite elderly writers were suddenly revealed as the presiding figures of the contemporary world of letters in France, André Gide (1869), Marcel Proust (1872-1922), Paul Valéry (1871), and Paul Claudel (1868). In England also the death of men such as Robert Brooke, explains the continued literary prominence of shopworn geniuses of sixty and upwards who exhausted their power to "epater le bourgeois" twenty years ago.

All three parties in Great Britain equally felt the lack in a succeeding generation. It is especially obvious in the Labor Party which by tradition should take a progressive stand. However, an old gang in control is largely responsible for a narrow trade union mentality. All intellectuals are mistrusted. The crisis of 1931 finally estranged many of a young war generation from the Labor Party. They either drifted away to aloof cynicism in politics, sometimes finding a heaven in literature or transferred their field of activities into irresponsible intellectual dilettantism of a Communist party in Great Britain,

The fact of over-age has been visible in every political party in Great Britain and France. A statistical study of democratic statesmen before and after the war in these two countries would be very revealing. Taking the leading actors in the British political scene, for instance, it could be shown that the average age at their entry to the Parliament before the war was twenty-nine, after the war, thirty-eight years of age. They succeeded in entering the Cabinet at the age of forty-three and fifty respectively. They attained premiership, (if they did) at the age of fifty-seven and sixty-two

respectively. It certainly shows the lack of a war generation If is no mere accident that Mr. Baldwin resigned as "an old man" (in his own words) at the age of seventy in favor of Mr. Neville Chamberlain, age sixty-eight. A similar situation could be observed in France. Certainly the shadow of Thiérs, first president of the Third Republic at the age of seventy-three was felt throughout the whole history of the Third Republic. The great and exciting experience of French pre-war youth, the Dreyfus Affair, certainly could not be compared with the youth movement in Germany. The Revolution of 1789 and its ideas still hold good for French radical socialism and for the French nation as a whole. French radicalism certainly possesses the flavor of conservatism.

It might be said that the constitutional structure of western democracies necessitated a longer career. The rise to responsible position of government went through recognized channels of long trial, and even to become "ministrable" a long training in local government, in parliamentary successes, and committee achievements was necessary. It certainly did not attract "young men in a hurry." This fact is of extreme importance, not only for western democracies but for an evaluation of the "young generation in politics." Their reaction against parliamentarism is largely due to this fact of slow rise. They will always be ready therefore to follow any short cut to power. They become the champions of anti-parliamentarian movements.

In England and France this development has been largely retarded by established traditions which either idealized old age or the great institutions. The rise of Stanley Baldwin began in a defense of institutions in his Carlton Club speech against Lloyd George, the demagogue. Good fortune gave him at the end of his career again the function of preserving a great British institution in his handling of the monarchial crisis of 1936. The belief in institutions represents a most important reserve fund in British politics.

One may say that it is the belief in reason which insures the continuity of French politics. A country in which reason becomes the measuring stick, by necessity, places the experienced and wise old age definitely above youth. These factors, however, should not mislead the careful observer of contemporary Europe in believing that there is no problem of generations whatsoever in the western democracies. The very fact that the crisis could be still dormant may lead to a very dangerous development damming the normal flow of succeeding generations.

This conflict of generations became spectacular in the crisis of Munich. In Hitler and Chamberlain, the main actors of this crisis, two men met who belonged not only to different nations adhering to different traditions and philosophies, but also two men of different generations. The late Victorian was confronted with a man twenty years younger whose awakening experiences had been the World War. Chamberlain and Hitler speak a different language, one raised in the civic virtues of the Victorian era, the other in a militant way of life. Chamberlain certainly stands for a long tradition of a middle class civilization of late Victorianism. He is characteristic of a prevailing type of British statesmen. Neither the neurotic nor the demagogue has room in a political England which soon after the war dismissed the dynamic Lloyd George and never recalled him. Great Britain is still ruled by a pre-war generation of trustworthy business men who believe that a contract is a contract and that money speaks. But the dynamics of post-war politics speak a different language.

The still unwritten analysis of the momentous war generation would give an important key toward an understanding of the "spirit of Munich" because Munich means not only the liquidation of a peace treaty, but even more the result of a war which had transformed the people living through this experience and which above all had killed off ten millions of young soldiers. It is this loss of a war generation which explains many of the great ills of post-war society. The survival of western democracies will not the least depend upon their ability to fill the gap of a war generation by young and courageous leaders who can take the responsibility from the shoulders of the elder statesmen. Only then will democracy be able to re-define in equally dynamic terms the ideas it offers as an alternative to dictatorship. Only then will the World War be really overcome, the broken link of generations again restored.




















This Web Page Created with PageBreeze Free HTML Editor