Gérard Bökenkamp

Gérard Bökenkamp, born 1980 in West Germany, is a historian and publicist.

Source: FooTToo / Shutterstock.com A great party: Fridays for Future

Reason for the success of ‘Fridays for Future’:Children of Privilege

Risk-free rebellion

Anyone looking for a collection of young people in our diverse society, in which there are virtually no children from immigrant families or from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds should go to a Fridays for Future demonstration. Fridays for Future is the youth movement of the German upper middle class. This is the class that purchases its groceries in the health food shop, where the children have three (German) first names, prams cost the same as half a small car and teachers are sued if the parents don’t agree with their children’s grades.

The reason for the success of Fridays for Future is therefore quite banal. All Western industrial societies have the same type of left-wing, high-income academics. They work as teachers, university lecturers, in administration, as doctors, lawyers, journalists. This group shares a common attitude to life and common political convictions. The preferred party for these voters are the Greens (which in Germany are currently polling at around 20 percent), because unlike the classic left-wing parties, where there are still remnants of ‘proletarian’ identity, the Greens express one hundred percent of this attitude to life.

Now this group also has children of school age who grow up with this very attitude to life and with these political convictions. For the children from these left-wing academic homes, climate change is just as real as God is for children from Christian homes. The amount of rational reflection on the former is just as negligible as that on the latter. As a rule, children simply adopt the values of their parental home, be it Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, Islam, nationalism or even faith in the impending man-made climate apocalypse.

For this class, global warming is not simply a scientific theory, but a substitute for the lost denominational bond. Just as in the first half of the 20th century the upper, especially Protestant, middle class filled the religious vacuum with nationalism, today it is the ‘saving of the earth’ from which a new middle class ‘lead culture’, a system of norms, can be derived, which gives sense and meaning to one's own life, an understanding of good and evil, sin and atonement. Because of the central cultural significance of the idea of man-made global warming for this middle class, rational arguments cannot be used here either.

These middle-class parents, in contrast to many others, have the time, financial means and social capital to support their children in their hobbies in every respect. Leading Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer has traveled more kilometers in her young years than others have in their whole lives. Whether she travels to the climate change demonstration in Berlin instead of shopping in London does not make much difference logistically. There is no break in her biography or lifestyle. For the children this is great fun for the whole family. It's also a big show and a profitable business for Greta Thunberg's parents, for example. Ideology and material interests usually go hand in hand.

Anyone who sits at the cultural and social points of influence of society has never had any problems with lifting their children onto a pedestal. Let's do a thought experiment. Imagine that there is a Christian youth movement that is campaigning against abortion. Suppose the political elites in the country were Christian conservatives. Let us also assume that the majority of journalists, teachers, university lecturers and judges are also Christian conservatives. Would this Christian youth movement not be met with the same benevolence, would these young people not also be handed around and praised to the skies, as is happening with Fridays for Future?

Why do so many of these students participate in Fridays for Future? The question is: Why shouldn't they participate? The whole thing is a great group experience, with music, dancing, celebrating, having fun. It’s also a rebellion without any risk. There are no police rolling up with water cannons, there’s no threat of expulsion from school or work, they don’t lose friends or rub anyone up the wrong way in their group. The parents are proud, the press praise them to the skies, as do politicians. Why not, when the son of the editor-in-chief, the graduate secondary-school teacher and the ministerial official are beating the drum together for the big climate protest? Contrary to the Marxist myth, revolutions are not carried out by the lower classes or the ‘proletarians,’ but by people who can afford them.

Young people who of their own volition, question such a group dynamic, get informed, buck the trend out of their own conviction and accept they may become outsiders, have always been the exception. Young people are usually conformists and behave like conformists. This is not surprising, not extraordinary, but normal. That's why participating in a Fridays for Future demonstration says nothing about what these young people will do as adults in the future, when the world and living conditions change.

There’s a significant entry on this subject in Ernst Jünger’s Paris diaries. At that time Jünger belonged to the resistance group centered around General Stülpnagel, and cultivated contacts with the opponents of the Nazi regime. One of them shared his concern that a whole generation of young people had now grown up in the Third Reich, who had consciously learned nothing other than the indoctrination, the flags and slogans of the regime. They had no longer learned to think for themselves. Jünger had a relaxed view on this. After the end of the regime one would only have to exchange the flags and the slogans, then they would fall in line behind these as well. Jünger proved to be a good judge of human nature and of the German middle class.

Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on October 2nd 2019.

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