Student activism has rarely been examined in political perspective. Most of the existing literature treats it as a form of deviancy which must be explained as a special tendency of students to respond, in an unorthodox manner, to social, psychological, and cultural disturbances. Such formulations generally fail to account adequately for levels of activism, let alone the political positions-left or right, nationalistic or internationalist-which students espouse. This paper represents an attempt to lay the foundations for a political theory of student activism. It points out the affinities between students and other "marginal elites," the military and clerical professions, which tend to play independent political roles at times of crisis. Most political alliances involving student movements are ephemeral because students lack effective means of coercion, such as armaments and religious sanctions. And being the weaker partners in any alliance, students tend to be deprived of most of the fruits of victory, or become an easy target of repression following defeat. They then move into ideological opposition to their former coalition partners. The paper illustrates these shifts in coalition patterns and ideological positions by tracing the historical changes in German student movements from the period of the Napoleonic wars to the present.
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