Activism, Progress, and Thought

A young man should speak only in the form of questions, at least in public, while issuing his opinionated outbursts in private, preferably alone. To be perfectly clear, this is not to say that he should form no opinions, but only that he should be discouraged in every possible way, including through a well-honed sense of secrecy, from expressing them to anyone, let alone to everyone. Rather, his opinions, which ought to be passionately held and supported with the most overwhelming arguments he can muster, should function as secret experiments within his own mind, or tests of the strength of his will to know. They should be expounded with gusto in a closed room, while pacing in small circles, and his only interlocutors should be the truest friends of any thinking youth in our time, namely the books and essays that rally his reason or stoke his self-doubt.

We get excited about new ideas, new explanations. In our excitement, all past ideas seem paltry and passé. Such is the nature of enthusiasm that the whole world seems to reflect the object of our excitement back at us. Everything is an affirmation of the obviousness of it all — just as everything had previously seemed an affirmation of our past ideas. Hence, in this enthusiastic vision of the new, all past modes of seeing seem so foolish and dead. It may take eons to see the matter clearly, to understand our past idea again as though it were fresh; only then may we judge the true worth of our latter-day enthusiasm. 

A man with an exciting new idea at twenty or twenty-five would be well-advised to wait at least ten years, perhaps twenty, before declaring it as his new-found Truth. To avow it openly too soon is to stamp it into the wax of one’s being prematurely, perhaps stunting natural growth for a generation. For a society, the proper waiting period would be one or two hundred years. It is rare for an individual to show so much patience and foresight in restraining this dangerous urge to declare himself, although one does occasionally find such virtue. Has any society, on the other hand, ever been so patient?

Progressivism always draws on youth as a great critical mass of outrage and cries for change. Activist youth, or rather youth reinvented as activism in its essence, is the dream of all progressive education. This is the most psychologically corrupting of all progressive machinations. To prod young people, in the name of an unearned but heady feeling of power, to harden their minds in a position, and then to scream their certainties to the world — hence to trap themselves emotionally and socially in these prematurely declared and undigested absolutes — is to burn away the natural reservoir of energy intended for the soul’s growth and learning, to burn it away on collective anger, delusional power lust, and rationalizing self-importance. It is to bury modesty, self-doubt, and the many painful but necessary corrections of maturation beneath mountains of indignant self-protection and self-righteous cynicism, thus ensuring that no fresh air of alternative thoughts, no Socratic gadfly or tender longing for the beautiful, will ever penetrate the mind’s externally imposed fortress of certitude. It is to forcibly and artificially prevent the perplexing, excruciating, exhilarating mental and moral development without which no young person can ever become a man or woman — an individual — in the fullest sense. 

And that, of course, is precisely why the promotion of youth activism is so important to the progressive movement. Mature, intellectually probing and emotionally independent individuals are exactly what progressives hate and fear most. Perpetual children — easily indoctrinated and rallied to action, and easily shifted from yesterday’s truth to today’s as needed — are the surest means to radical social transformation of the sort that is required. To engender absolute and inescapable weakness under the guise of immediate and irresistible strength is to erect the most ingenious pillar of tyranny.

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