Letters to a Young Activist

Letters to a Young Activist

Letters to a Young Activist

Letters to a Young Activist

Synopsis

"Be original. See what happens." So Todd Gitlin advises the young mind burning to take action to right the wrongs of the world but also looking for bearings, understanding, direction, and practical examples.InLetters to a Young Activist, Todd Gitlin looks back at his eventful life, recalling his experience as president of the formidable Students for a Democratic Society in the '60s, contemplating the spirit of activism, and arriving at some principles of action to guide the passion and energy of those wishing to do good. He considers the three complementary motives of duty, love, and adventure, and reflects on the changing nature of idealism and how righteous action requires realistic as well as idealistic thinking. And he looks forward to an uncertain future that is nevertheless full of possibility, a future where patriotism and intelligent skepticism are not mutually exclusive.Gitlin invites the young activist to enter imaginatively into some of the dilemmas, moral and practical, of being a modern citizen--the dilemmas that affect not only the problems of what to think but also the problems of what to love and how to live.

Excerpt

Dear ——,

Let’s agree to overlook (maybe even enjoy) the absurdity that joins us: You agree to indulge my lecturing on matters I didn’t quite understand until I was older than you, and I make every effort to connect to your passions and objections—to take your arguments seriously, even though you’re too young to have had the experience I draw on. Fine. We need each other. Let’s both try to think our way out of our skins.

To start out, let’s recognize that it’s hard to be honest about age—as hard as it is necessary. Here is Max Weber in his great lecture of 1918, “Politics as a Vocation”: “The mere fact that someone is twenty years of age and that I am over fifty is no cause for me to think that this alone is an achievement before which I am overawed. Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to . . .

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