May 1968 was a watershed in French life, a holy moment of liberation for many, when youth coalesced, the workers listened and the semi-royal French government of President Charles de Gaulle took fright. But for others, like the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, only 13 years old at the time, May '68 represents anarchy and moral relativism, a destruction of social and patriotic values that, he has said in harsh terms, "must be liquidated."
French society in May 1968 "was completely blocked," Geismar said. A conservative recreation of pre-World War II society, it had been shaken by the Algerian war and the baby boom, its schools badly overcrowded.
"As a divorced man, Sarkozy couldn't have been invited to dinner at the Élysée Palace, let alone be elected president of France," Geismar said. Both the vivid personal life and political success of Sarkozy, who has foreign and Jewish roots, "are unimaginable without 1968," he said. "The neo-conservatives are unimaginable without '68."
André Glucksmann (former Maoist student), who still supports Sarkozy as the best chance to modernize "the gilded museum of France" and reduce the power of "the sacralized state," is amused by Sarkozy's fierce campaign attack on May 1968. "Sarkozy is the first post-'68 president," Glucksmann said. "To liquidate '68 is to liquidate himself."
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