The Cold War and the intellectual history of the late twentieth century

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In retrospect, the mid-1970s seem like the high point of what one might call the crisis of the West – or at least the high point of an acute consciousness of crisis in the West. The famous report to the Trilateral Commission claimed that European countries might be in the process of becoming ‘ungovernable’: the oil shock of 1973 had brought the trente glorieuses of unprecedented growth and social peace to a definitive end; the hitherto unknown phenomenon of stagflation – combining high unemployment and runaway inflation – seemed there to stay. In fact, the conservative German philosopher Robert Spaemann claimed that the oil shock was, from the point of view of intellectual history, the most important event since the Second World War. Domestic and international terrorism, from Right and Left, were on the rise; and, not least, the high levels of social mobilisation and political contestation that had begun in the late 1960s continued unabated. The 1968 phenomenon had not in any narrow sense ‘caused’ large-scale social and cultural transformations, but ‘1968’ became shorthand for them. Because changes there were: a new quasi-libertarian language of subjectivity – foreshadowing the ‘me decade’ – and a new politics of individual life-styles. All over Europe, the traditional family came under attack – in some countries, such as Italy, for the first time. Students, the sons and daughters of the middle classes, who had been on the Right for most of the twentieth century (and highly active in the promotion of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s), all of a sudden were to be found on the Left.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the Cold War
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139056106
ISBN (Print)9780521837217
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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