Skip to main content

1968: Radical Protest and Its Enemies


1968: Radical Protest and Its Enemies

1968 covers not just the more well-known anti-war and civil rights protests of that time, but also the trailblazing significance of gay rights, women’s liberation and advocacy for voter registration, which put down roots for decades to come. The fight continued, even as the movement was stifled for years by the popularity of the Nixon administration --- until the president’s pressured resignation from power over his own corrupt actions.

Richard Vinen’s book clears up the misconception that protesting can be an empty and merely symbolic ritual. The pressures applied to those in power have forced lawmakers to adjust their policies out of concern for losing in a general election or primary. Under the Nixon administration, the Environmental Protection Agency was created --- surely not from the president’s own plans, but from a concerted effort from environmental activists who led him to believe that there would be serious political repercussions from inaction. It is one of many examples from this era. Protesting increases public engagement and, more instrumentally, lays the groundwork for assembling a network of issues by connecting citizens to influencers, organizing grassroots campaigns to elect officials advancing the cause.

"1968 is no run-of-the-mill book on protest; it intricately weaves together historical narratives with global philosophical underpinnings."

There was tragedy in 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, followed by Robert F. Kennedy, as violence later broke out at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, culminating in Nixon’s victory. 1968 uncovers the shadowy side of some protests. Those that were highly radicalized or violent represented the unfortunate turn that brought great blowback from the majority of Americans, which inevitably closed the door on that era. It took decades more to institute justice to the American system in changes that we have only seen mostly in the past 10 years.

The influence of protest is shown in the book to have large-scale impacts on societies beyond the United States, with a focus placed on West Germany at the time, the United Kingdom and especially France. The whole chapter on workers, and another dedicated entirely to universities, goes right to the core of the spirit of rebellion and protest. In those hotbeds of protest, where the strongest waves of emotion were generated, there were insights into the resiliencies of labor and virtue in education. The generation of the ’60s began critical change, yet more importantly set the groundwork for more modern progressive movements --- many of which already have had success.

The book does not make references to contemporary protests, but does raise the question of whether or not 1968 is over. Perhaps what ’68 proves most is that, while immediate change is never guaranteed, protest is a trustworthy means for transformation --- even if those changes may gather force years from when the deeds are done.

1968 is no run-of-the-mill book on protest; it intricately weaves together historical narratives with global philosophical underpinnings. It questions the personal and the political, and connects it with capitalist or other systems in place that sway the spirit of collective social movements of the time. That time is 1968, and the powerful ethos of that era is proven to continue on.

Reviewed by John Bentlyewski on July 20, 2018

1968: Radical Protest and Its Enemies
by Richard Vinen

  • Publication Date: July 2, 2019
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062458752
  • ISBN-13: 9780062458759