Courtesy Reuters

The Conflict of Generations in France

THERE is a clash between two French generations, the prewar and the postwar. The first is made up of those who were thirty years old or more at the outbreak of the war, and whose ideals, consequently, had already been formulated; the second is made up of those who were twenty or less, and who therefore set up their system of values after the catastrophe.

I will at once be asked: "Does a conflict really exist between these two groups? It seems doubtful when we note how many of those whom the young generation has made its gods -- Barrès, Maurras, Claudel, Péguy, Bergson, Nietzsche, Marx -- belong to what you call the old generation, sometimes to one older still." Of course. Yet when the old generation itself was young (if I may generalize about it), those were not the men whom it considered masters; it favored, rather, men with precisely contrary philosophical leanings. Of these, Ernest Renan and Anatole France were the two outstanding. We may say that the old generation, from a philosophical point of view, was that of the Dreyfus affair, and that in many regards (though not in all) Romain Rolland might be considered a typical representative. I will be told that some young people still admire Renan and France. But they are rare, and their generation on the whole inclines to reject them. Anatole France's unpopularity with most young Frenchmen today is well known. Furthermore, no one who knows anything about French life would deny that these young people have been continually reproaching the old generation with having made such a fetish of the critical spirit that it failed to "arm them for the struggle." Taking each generation as a whole, although we recognize that any mass characterization is necessarily arbitrary, we nevertheless must conclude that the conflict between them is not a figment of the imagination but is a reality which some day will occupy a prominent place in the history of ideas

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