Youth in our future
The children of the ’60s and ’70s rebels are growing up, and many do not like the Brave New World their parents’ generation has foisted on them. They are our future hope.
“Young men are fitter to invent than to judge,” said Francis Bacon, “fitter for execution than for counsel; and fitter for new projects than for settled business.” In a world of “settled business” largely run by corrupt old men, where the status quo is at a premium in money as in politics, it is easy to lose sight of the value of youth, with its freshness, its optimism, and its innocent ambitions. Youth is the time when dreams are forged and nurtured, when newly minted minds struggle to make sense of the way things are, and dare to dream of how to make them better.
On those odd occasions when the stream of history is diverted, it is usually youth that dig the new channel. Jesus of Nazareth was 30 when he began his brief ministry that ended under the iron heel of the Judaeo-Roman state, but transformed human civilization forever. Most of his apostolic followers were also young men, able to abide then-revolutionary doctrines and to endure the physical hardships of missionary labor and persecution. Siddartha Gautama, who would become the Buddha, was roughly the same age when he grew dissatisfied with a life of princely dissipation, and sought enlightenment through austerity. Most religious reformers, heretics, and innovators throughout history have been young, restless souls dissatisfied with religious establishments that they regarded as ossified or otherwise in need of reform.
In the realm of military history, Alexander of Macedon was just 20 when he embarked upon his meteoric conquests that completely changed the map of Asia, and left in place a political and cultural legacy, from Asia Minor to the Indus River, that endured for centuries. Joan of Arc was in her teens when the voice of God spoke to her and told her to liberate France from the English invader. “I am not afraid…. I was born to do this,” she told skeptics in the military and clergy. When they finally blessed her enterprise, she promptly led the French armies to miraculous victories at Orleans, Jargeau, Meung-sur-Loire, and several other cities, showing her countrymen before her own capture and eventual execution that victory over the entrenched English invaders was possible.
Because of our veneration for them, it is easy to forget that most of the American Founding Fathers, Washington, Franklin, and Adams excepted, were under 40 when the Revolutionary War broke out. Thomas Jefferson was a mere 33 when he penned the Declaration of Independence, and Alexander Hamilton was in his very early twenties when he became General Washington’s aide-de-camp. Subsequent generations of pioneers who moved the frontier westward–both saints and sinners–were generally young, restless individualists seeking fortunes that had eluded them in the settled, static east. And lest we forget, the overwhelming majority of those who fought in the great wars that, for better or worse, have shaped our history–the War Between the States, the two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam–were very young men, fighting and dying at an age when most youth are thinking of senior proms and college entrance exams.
Closer to our own time, it is youth who have given us the defining event of our era–the ongoing high-tech revolution that has transformed every aspect of our lives in ways that people only a few decades ago could scarcely have imagined. Everywhere that changes are underway, from politics to art to technology, the energies and imagination of youth are enlisted.
Where middle age desires predictability and old age craves security, youth, above all else, is hungry for freedom. This is the reason that youth are the backbone of the movement inaugurated by Congressman Ron Paul, which started as a quiet presidential campaign, mushroomed into an Internet and media phenomenon, and is now fueling a movement to elect other statesmen like Ron Paul to state and national office. College students in droves organized rallies of staggering proportions to receive Dr. Paul, while countless other innovators, many (though not all) of them young, peppered the Internet with imaginative and stirring Ron Paul video promotionals, clever slogans and logos, and even songs. Dr. Paul himself has been promoting freedom for decades; all of a sudden, America’s youth are listening.
But the same energies that prompt youth to become freedom-seekers are, unfortunately, easily misdirected. Sensing that all was not right with the domestic political turmoil and with a debilitating war being fought on the other side of the world, the youth of the ’60s, the first wave of the Baby Boomer generation, rebelled in the name of freedom–and ended up wreaking havoc. In retrospect, all the youth-driven ferment of the ’60s and ’70s accomplished little more than legitimizing revolution of the wrong sort, degrading the cause of liberty into a sordid pageant of libertinism and, in the longer run, strengthening the very institutions of corrupt, outsized government that they had resisted.
The turmoil of the ’60s and ’70s left footprints that are still very visible today. The abandonment of sexual restraint and the degradation of modes of entertainment are still very much in evidence, as are the drug culture and the repudiation of parental authority. Moreover, the self-absorption of the Baby Boomer counterculture found expression in a welter of new federal programs designed to give Baby Boomers cradle-to-grave security at the expense of American taxpayers. As humorist (and Boomer) Dave Barry put it, “I care about our young people, and I wish them great success, because they are our Hope for the Future, and some day, when my generation retires, they will have to pay us trillions of dollars in Social Security.”
In the last 10 years or so, however, something of a counter-revolution has begun to take hold, of which the Ron Paul phenomenon is but the latest manifestation. What is happening is not hard to diagnose: the children of the ’60s and ’70s rebels are growing up, and many of them do not like the Brave New World their parents’ generation has foisted on them. Many of them correctly perceive the web of so-called entitlements, like Social Security, Medicare, and sundry other “safety nets,” to be a vast pyramid scheme designed to enrich the old at the expense of the young. Many youth expect Social Security to be insolvent or drastically reduced by the time they reach retirement age, and resent being taxed heavily to support programs from which they are unlikely to benefit.
The once-vaunted “sexual revolution” is also getting a second look, as today’s younger generation watch their parents, who never learned in their youth the restraint and commitment necessary to sustain long-term relationships, fail to hold marriages and families together. A pandemic of new venereal diseases like AIDS has also cast “the new morality” in a different light.
All of these things youth are seeing and discussing among themselves in their blogs, chat rooms, and websites. But although many are trying not to repeat their parents’ mistakes, many more continue to succumb to the cultural riptide of drugs, promiscuity, and aimlessness.
What is needed, if the energies of youth are to be properly directed, is education. The Founding Fathers had their preceptors, like George Wythe, who instilled in them the doctrines of liberty, and subsequent generations were the beneficiaries of a small-town, one-room-schoolhouse, family-centered culture that both furnished a proper education and instilled values that perpetuated and strengthened our civilization. Today’s youth will be no less susceptible to refinement and enlightenment if they are given proper educations in their formative years.
Fortunately, a revolution in education is already underway, and it has nothing to do (fortunately?) with outcome-based education, federal grants, or the PTA. The home-schooling phenomenon, still accounting for the education of only a small minority of America’s youth, has already wrought tremendous changes on the cultural landscape. An entire generation of home-schooled children is being educated free of the socialist and secularist bias that taints the public-school curricula. Most home-schoolers are learning at their parents’ feet about limited government, our Western cultural heritage, and politically incorrect American history–topics that are forbidden, for the most part, in government schools. What victims of public education, like yours truly, had to learn painstakingly, as self-taught adults, home-schooled youth can learn when their minds are in the full flower of youth. Many of them go on to become productive, well-educated citizens with a proper perspective on freedom complementing high moral standards and firm religious convictions.
For those who were not home-schooled, the Internet is brimming with websites and organizations promoting liberty, decency, and character. Besides the aforementioned Ron Paul movement, organizations like the John Birch Society and the Von Mises Institute use the web to educate and inform, while myriads of churches use the Internet for outreach and inspiration.
In a word, the Internet has shattered the controls the so-called “gatekeepers” used to exert on the dissemination of information, while legal reforms have broken the government-school education monopoly. The surprising success of the Ron Paul campaign and the rise of home schooling are only the beginning. The future, in this author’s opinion, will continue to see more and more movement away from subversive, collectivized public education. The religious awakening that has been underway since at least the ’80s will continue to gain momentum, posing an ever-stronger challenge to the militant secularism that, a generation ago, bid fair to tear our civilization apart.
A challenge is building to the bloated Beltway behemoth that, for far too long, has sought to overthrow limited government and reconfigure American culture into the bargain. As Congressman Ron Paul himself recently observed, “There’s something going on in this country, and it’s big.”
That something may well be our last, best hope for the future: America’s youth are waking up.