The clash of generations
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” Marx and Engels famously declared in their Communist Manifesto. A century and a half later, with communism seemingly buried under the rubble of the Soviet Union, Samuel Huntington predicted a clash of civilizations.
But what if the great struggle of our time turns out to be between the generations?
Just consider the contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. On the latest figures, the under-30s prefer Sanders by a 71-29 margin. A quarter of Sanders’ total votes so far have come from young voters, compared with just 10 percent of Hillary’s. This time eight years ago, Barack Obama — then aged 46 — seemed to be a veritable Pied Paper to young voters. But 74-year-old Sanders has outdone him.
Generational conflict is a global phenomenon (think Arab Spring). It is also as old as the hills: Just read Ivan Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons’’ (1862) if you don’t feel like hearing the Who’s “My Generation” (1965) for the umpteenth time. Yet Marx was right in arguing that class mattered more than age. For over half a century that was true. From 1848 to 1968, youthful frustration was relatively easy to channel to the side of the proletariat.
That is essentially what Sanders is about. His pollster, Ben Tulchin, said millennials support Sanders because their generation is “(expletive) unless they see dramatic change. What’s their experience been with capitalism? They have had two recessions, one really bad one. They have a mountain of student-loan debt. They’ve got really high health care costs, and their job prospects are mediocre at best. So that’s capitalism for you.” ...