For these children are, in spirit, not children. Their backs are bent, like those of old sages, by the memory of all the failures of their parents, and of all past generations. So much knowledge has been fed into them that there is very little they can admire with enthusiasm. All previous resolutions- the history books say so- have ended in disaster of one kind or another. The rising in Eastern Europe have revealed tragic problems: “We know too much about the world. We have lost our ideologies; we know they cannot be made to work in real life.” there are no foreign models any more, as China or Russia once were. Mandarine had been to England, but found it “too respectful”; the USA is “even worse”.
Personally she does have some ideals: equality is what matters most, democracy too, resistance to state oppression, but keeping the state’s role in culture and television; she is for demilitarisation but without abolishing the army; she wants to help the poor; she is in favour of change, but also afraid of change, and she doubts whether others want to change. So she does not attempt to convert or persuade. Her school is setting up committees to discuss very modestly how it wants its individual budget altered and what rights each group within it should have; its only ambition is to transform the school from an examination factory into a “place to live in”. The school has become the children’s other home; they accept it as they accept their own home; all they want is to try to make the best of it.
However, when Mandarine reveals her deeper thoughts, it emerges that it is not just general disillusionment that has made her so different from her utopian parents. She is on very friendly terms with her father, who was a Maoist in 1968 and who does the cooking at home; when she made the posters for her demonstration, he said to her, “That is not the way to make posters,” he had produced marvellous ones in his youth; and they laughed a lot redoing them. But the crucial difference is that Mandarine has no confidence in herself. “I am not creative. I do not feel I am a capable person. Perhaps I lack ambition.” And why? “Because there is less risk in having limited ambitions.”
Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity.