Reading history books when I was younger, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the Europeans living in the first half of the 1800s, the revolutionaries manqué. I pitied those frustrated young reformers whose hopes were raised by the French Revolution, only to be crushed under Napoleon’s boot, then ground into the dirt by decades of repression and dictatorship during Metternich’s Congress of Europe. I sympathized even more with socialists forced to flee their homes after the failed revolutions of 1848, never to return. Living in anticipation of an epochal event, gathering your resources, saving everything up for the grand act, striking, then realizing, to your increasing horror, that you’ve failed and your window of opportunity has closed...then suffering the calamity of exile, or worse, the agony of remaining and watching your home become unrecognizably foreign: such a disaster was hard to fully imagine. The benefit of centuries passing is that you can pretend that history is safely squared away, something that happens to hapless people in the past, not to you.
But those reformers’ unenviable fate—watching helpless and horrified as the world morphs into something disfigured almost beyond recognition—is what my generation, the millennials, is suffering today. Yes, those millennials, over whom so much ink has been spilled in condescending attempts at psychoanalysis penned by septuagenarian op-ed columnists.
Ordinarily, I’m skeptical about making age-based generalizations: culturally and politically conservative millennials rarely get attention because they don’t fit the stereotype. And I’m very sympathetic to the idea that generational politics is a “socialism of fools” which misidentifies age as the essential political fault line rather than class. Age and class overlap, but class structure underlies our economy’s woes. Plenty of leftists above thirty-five possess a millennial ethos despite not technically being millennials. This isn’t a case of “don’t trust anyone over thirty.”