Friday, June 25, 2010
RFK: "It is not enough to allow dissent, we must demand it, for there is much to dissent from"
Senator Robert Francis Kennedy, Address at the University of California, Berkeley (1966)
The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason, and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American society. It will belong to those who see that wisdom can only emerge from the clash of contending views, the passionate expression of deep and hostile beliefs. Plato said: “A life without criticism is not worth living.”
This is the seminal spirit of American democracy. It is this spirit which can be found among many of you. It is this which is the hope of our nation.
For it is not enough to allow dissent. We must demand it. For there is much to dissent from.
We dissent from the fact that millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich.
We dissent from the conditions and hatreds which deny a full life to our fellow citizens because of the color of their skin.
We dissent from the monstrous absurdity of a world where nations stand poised to destroy one another, and men must kill their fellow men.
We dissent from the sight of most of mankind living in poverty, stricken by disease, threatened by hunger, and doomed to an early death after a life of unremitting labor.
We dissent from cities which blunt our senses and turn the ordinary acts of daily life into a painful struggle.
We dissent from the willful, heedless destruction of natural pleasure and beauty.
We dissent from all those structures—of technology and of society itself—which strip from the individual the dignity and warmth of sharing in the common tasks of his community and his country.
These are among the objects of our dissent. Yet we must, as thinking men, distinguish between the right of dissent and the way we choose to exercise that right. It is not enough to justify or explain our actions by the fact that they are legal or constitutionally protected. The Constitution protects wisdom and ignorance, compassion and selfishness alike. But that dissent which consists simply of sporadic and dramatic acts sustained by neither continuing labor or research—that dissent which seeks to demolish while lacking both the desire and direction for rebuilding, that dissent which contemptuously or out of laziness, casts aside the practical weapons and instruments of change and progress—that kind of dissent is merely self-indulgence. It is satisfying, perhaps to those who make it.
But it will not solve the problems of our society. It will not assist those seriously engaged in the difficult and frustrating work of the nation. And, when it is all over, it will not have brightened or enriched the life of a single portion of humanity in a single part of the globe.
All of us have the right to dissipate our energies and talent as we desire. But those who are serious about the future have the obligation to direct those energies and talents toward concrete objectives consistent with the ideals they profess. From those of you who take that course will come the fresh ideas and leadership, which are the compelling needs of America.…
This is one of the many crossroads at which American life now stands. In the world and at home, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to help make the choices which will determine the greatness of this nation. You are a generation which is coming of age at one of the rarest moments in history—a time when all around us the old order of things is crumbling and a new world society is painfully struggling to take shape. If you shrink from this struggle, and these many difficulties, you will betray the trust which your own position forces upon you.
You live in the most privileged nation on earth. You are the most privileged citizens of that privileged nation; for you have been given the opportunity to study and learn, to take your place among the tiny minority of the world’s educated men. By coming to this school you have been lifted onto a tiny, sunlit island while all around you lies an ocean of human misery, injustice, violence, and fear. You can use your enormous privilege and opportunity to seek purely private pleasure and gain. But history will judge you, and, as the years pass, you will ultimately judge yourself, on the extent to which you have used your gifts to lighten and enrich the lives of your fellow man. In your hands, not with presidents or leaders, is the future of your world and the fulfillment to the best qualities of your own spirit.