The hidden majority

Another week, another great German conference – this time at the German Historical Institute London. Three days of papers on Conservatism in West Germany and Britain from the 1960s to the 1980s, organised by Martina Steber. I spoke about the British Conservative Party’s loss of confidence in their ‘natural’ connection to national history throughout the period and about the conflicting Tory and Whig attitudes to history in the party under Thatcher.

One of the papers which gave me most to think about was by Anna von der Goltz of Georgetown University. She spoke about the ‘alternative ‘68ers’ in West Germany – moderate conservative and non-left students, who often protested against their radical counterparts. They were by no means a marginal voice – around 50% of students at the time supported Kiesinger, the Christian Democrat Chancellor, while only 25% supported the student revolutionary Rudi Dutschke.

In the discussion afterwards, Richard Vinen pointed out that the iconic Cartier-Bresson photo of May ’68 in Paris (pictured above), almost certainly shows a young couple protesting in favour of de Gaulle. The Tricolore gives them away.

This was a welcome reminder always to look for the stories behind the stories, the hidden majority experience behind that of the glamorised, vocal, minority.

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