Those born in the 1930s were alive during Hitler’s conquest of Europe. Those born a bit later have no memory of World War II, but they do remember Stalinist Russia, a more distant threat, but one that was still frankly terrifying. Those born later still have no memory of the darkest days of the Soviet Union, but they do remember the Cold War and the Berlin Wall.
Those born as late as the 1980s have no memory of living in a world where democracy was threatened in any serious way. It is so much easier for youngsters to take democracy for granted. For them, it’s like taking oxygen for granted. They have fewer real-world foils to compare democracy with. Churchill’s quip that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others doesn’t resonate with them in quite the same way.
It’s easy to take oxygen for granted if no one is holding your head under water, but none of us, it’s safe to say, would argue that oxygen isn’t essential or that it’s a bad thing. Yet a quarter of young people think democracy is actually bad.
Just stop. Just fucking stop it. The millions of people dead in World War II did not die in order to teach Kids Today to stop looking at their iPhones and appreciate a real society with, like, voting and stuff. That is sociopathic, and gross, and anyway was not the function of the Greatest Generation.
One of the best things I ever did with my life, one of the things I plan to offer up against all the ways in which I am Not Right should there actually be a Judgment Day, was an editing project involving a series of stories from the early 1940s. The writers were college students, opining on subjects from prom elections to cafeteria food, and reading them one of the things that was very, very obvious is that they were all about to die. Not in the abstract. Immediately, upon shipping out if their boats got blown out of the water, or on landing if they made it to the beaches, or at the top of the first hill they made it up.
They were spectacularly unconcerned that the young people of the world would one day throw them a parade and give the right answers in a fucking poll, or whatever Totten up there is flipping his shit about. They were going to die, and it was all they were thinking about. Trying to stay alive. That’s all anybody’s thinking about, for Christ’s sake.
“It is so much easier for youngsters to take democracy for granted.” Jesus tits. I suppose it’s easy for them to take democracy “for granted” because their minds are otherwise occupied with having enough food to eat and not living in their cars, but by all means let’s hold their heads under water until they put a bust of Churchill up in their dorm rooms.
Can we please stop acting like these are abstractions? People born in the 1920s and 1930s didn’t take democracy for granted because fascism was trying to kill them with physical bullets. People born in the 1980s don’t think democracy is the shit because they and their parents did everything right and a bunch of guys in suits walked off with all the pension money and some extra taxpayer ducats besides. I swear, our elite magazine writers need to meet some actual humans instead of just learning about them from television beamed to their planets.
What will happen in a world where those things are no longer true, especially when rising generations care less for democracy than their elders? And what will happen, as we continue to pass through the transition we’re clearly in now, if Western democracies suffer sustained French-style terrorist campaigns by Middle Easterners with the warped minds of medieval genocidaires?
Nobody knows, but it’s probably safe to say at this point that the relative tranquility the West has enjoyed now for decades in ending.
Relative tranquility. You know, the kind that ensued during the glorious 1970s and 1980s, when those who truly loved democracy were in charge.