All year, commentators of a certain age have bored us with reminiscences about their radical youth. Should we even care? Perhaps we should: after all, the Spring and Summer of 1968 saw revolts and uprisings across the world, from Paris and London to Prague to the American South and Northern Ireland.
For some it was about opposition to the war in Vietnam, or solidarity with striking workers; for others it was about the fight for civil rights or women’s liberation; still more took on the stuffy traditionalism and bureaucracy of the education system. And lest we forget, the 1960s also gave us 'sex and drugs and rock' n' roll'.
So what is the legacy of ‘68? Compared to the politics of today the late sixties were a period of unbridled political optimism: young people felt they were building the future. The dream of a new society seemed one that could, and should, be made reality.
To be part of 'the movement' was to be a 'utopian' and a 'radical'. But 'radical' is no longer an acceptable prefix in politics. What’s changed?
Some of the '68 generation have become critics of a period they see as at best naive, at worst a conscious attempt to destroy the very fabric of society: the state, the family and community would not be in such a bad way now if not for the reckless anti-authoritarianism of the 68ers, they suggest. Others have swapped idealism and kaftans for grey suits and pragmatism. Are they right?
Looking back, what seems remarkable is that the elites of Western society offered so little in the way of resistance to their youthful challengers. Was society really transformed by the 68ers, or would it be more accurate to say traditional institutions collapsed from within?
Why were the rebels of 1968 unable to inscribe the spirit of the moment in lasting institutions of their own? Are today’s intellectual relativism and conspicuous consumption the true legacy of 1968?
Should we reclaim radicalism and utopianism for the 21st century - or is the pragmatism of the present a more sensible option all round?
Does an obsession with the sixties as a period of political optimism simply express our current limited political imagination?- Institute of Ideas
Tony Elliott founded Time Out in 1968 with Â£70 during the summer break whilst at Keele University. Over thirty seven years later, the Time Out Group has an annual turnover of over Â£45m per annum.
Time Out London (75,000 per week) and Time Out New York (152,00 per week), together with an extensive guidebook division and web site (timeout.com â€“ The Worldâ€™s Living Guide), have established the Time Out brand worldwide. Time Out Chicago (52,000 per week) launched as a weekly in March 2005.
Simon Fanshawe is a writer, broadcaster and a non-exec director in the public and private sector. He once won the Perrier Award for comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe. Currently Chair of the University of Sussex and of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, he writes in The Guardian and other publications on arts, culture, politics, innovation and leadership. Active in politics and the Labour Party, he was formerly Chairman of War on Want and a co-founder of Stonewall, the lesbian and gay equality lobby. He is a consultant on leadership and change in business and public and third sector organisations. He also makes TV and radio programmes.
Maria Grasso is Stipendiary Lecturer in Politics at St Hugh's College, University of Oxford and she is completing her PhD on the decline of political involvement and activism in Western Europe at Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
She has written, debated and been invited to comment on national radio and television on issues surrounding political engagement, free speech, education and radicalism. Maria has been on the Battle of Ideas committee for the past four years. Her articles have appeared on The Isis magazine, the Oxford Forum and spiked.
Grasso co-convenes the Institute of Ideas Postgraduate Forum at the London School of Economics. The Forum provides an opportunity for students in the arts, humanities and social sciences present their work in a context that encourages reflection on how the social and political trends shaping the contemporary world interact and cut across disciplinary boundaries. Grasso is also co-organiser of the IoI Current Affairs Forum.
Mick Hume is editor-at-large of the online magazine spiked and a columnist for The Times (London). He was editor of LM magazine (which he launched, originally as Living Marxism, in 1988) until it was forced to close in 2000 following a libel suit, and then launched spiked which he edited until January 2007.
Minette Marrin is a journalist, broadcaster and fiction writer. Formerly a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, she is now a columnist for the Sunday Times, shortlisted for Columnist of the Year at the 2004 Press Awards.
She has also written for the Spectator, the Guardian, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Observer, the Literary Review, Granta and others, on subjects from current affairs to books, food and arts and contributes to television and radio programmes.
James Panton is a tutor in politics at St John's College, Oxford and co-convenor of the Battle of Ideas. He is co-founder of the Manifesto Club and sits on the steering committee of Pro-Test, the Oxford-based group which campaigns in defense of vivisection.
Panton's research looks at historical and contemporary debates around ideas of politics, democracy and rights. He is currently working on a research project investigating changing conceptions of the public and the private in post-war political thinking in the UK and the USA, and is writing a book investigating elite attitudes to political apathy in the 20th century.
Panton writes and comments regularly in the media on issues around vivisection, politics and education, and is the author of a number of academic articles on politics, education and the state of intellectual life in the 21st century. He is the editor of a forthcoming book on contemporary attitudes to science, Science and Superstititon: the case for a new scientific enlightenment (Policy Exchange, 2006).
Panton previously taught politics and sociology at Lady Margaret Hall and Exeter College, Oxford. He has held a number of awards, most recently Carlyle Scholar in the History of Ideas in the Modern History Faculty, University of Oxford. From 2003 to 2004 James was national co-ordinator of the Institute of Ideas and Pfizer Debating Matters schools debating competition. In January 2004 he established the IoI Post-Graduate Forum, an interdisciplinary research group for post-graduate students working in the arts, humanities and social sciences.