Posted July 1, 2013
The New Breed
by Andrew Greeley 1964
Do you see any comparisons to today's young people?
There aren't very many of them, but they're important just the same.
In a footnote to his new collection of essays, Abundance for What? David Riesman notes that he has observed a change in college graduates in the last seven or eight years. The cool and apathetic senior of the middle 1950's has not vanished, but a new and very different kind of person has appeared on the scene.
Riesman is not too specific about what the new graduate is like, but I think I know what he is trying to describe. Several years ago I wrote a book about young American Catholics, which, in a burst of pessimism, I called The Age of Apathy. A certain sympathetic churchman suggested to me that with all the changes going on in the Church I might regret the title in a very few years. I am happy that I followed his advice, for the title finally used (Strangers in the House) enables me to compose much more gracefully the "change of emphasis" in this article.
There has risen up a New Breed that was all but invisible five years ago. There are not very many of them; they might not show up in any sample; the majority of their classmates in the colleges, the seminaries, the juniorates of the country continue to be listless and indifferent. But the New Breed is making so much noise that one hardly has time to notice the majority. Almost any college president or seminary rector will admit their existence and will confess puzzlement about what they want.
All I can report about the New Breed are my own impressions, and the impressions are often confused. There are many things about the New Breed that I like, but many things that baffle me. I think I understood the "Strangers in the House" of whom I wrote half a decade ago; but the New Breed are different, and I fear I do not know them.
First of all, they are greatly concerned about things like honesty, integrity and authenticity. They must know the reason why. They do not refuse to obey, but before they obey they want to sit down and discuss the reasons for orders; they are confused when those in authority feel threatened by this desire for discussion. As a Jesuit college administrator observed: "For four hundred years we have been in the apostolate of Christian education, and now we suddenly find that our seminarians are demanding that we justify this apostolate." And a confrere added: "Jesuit seminarians are the most radical people in the American church -- bar none." Neither of the two was opposed to the New Breed, just puzzled by them.
With this concern for integrity and honesty there comes an inability to be devious or opportunist -- or even diplomatic. One generation of Catholic radicals (at least of the variety I know in Chicago) accomplished their modest goals by infinite tact, patience and political skill. The New Breed will have none of this. All issues, minor or major, must be brought into the open and discussed. Truth must be spoken even if speaking it does no good and may even cause harm. To do less would be to debase one's honesty, to compromise one's authenticity. It is hard to negotiate with them, because they seem to feel that the mere repetition of what they take to be true will eventually carry the day; they seem so eager to make almost any question a matter of principle that one is tempted to feel that they are looking for a fight -- though perhaps they are only looking for a cause.
With some exceptions, however, they are not intentionally disobedient or disrespectful of authority. They are appalled when their honesty is taken as disrespect and their desire to discuss is understood as disobedience; they can't see how such an interpretation can be put on their intentions. They think that they are being much more open with their superiors than those who comply with an external show of docility and then complain bitterly about authority when authority's back is turned. They contend that their desire for understanding is much to be preferred to a literal obedience that deliberately sabotages the goals of authority. They argue that superiors are much better off with the consent of free men than the compliance of automatons. They cannot understand why many superiors do not seem to agree with them.
They are greatly worried about "fulfillment." Their predecessors saw a job that had to be done and did not ask whether the job was going to fulfill the needs of the people who did it. But the fierce personalism of the New Breed will not tolerate such a "nonhuman" approach. They feel that they can help others only if they can relate as persons and that they cannot relate unless there is a possibility of "fulfillment" in the relationship. They are not attracted by a task that seems to rule out the possibility of an "I-Thou" dyad.
They are anxious about loving and being loved -- or more precisely, with whether they are able to love. It is not at all unusual for young people to be concerned with love; but it is surely new for youth to question its own ability to love, especially when to the outside observer it often seems that those who are the most able to love are the most likely to doubt their powers of love. They do not identify love with sexual romance, and indeed this latter aspect of love is much less a source of worry to them than friendship, encounter, relationship. They have no doubt that they can be sexually stimulated, but they are not sure that they can be "friends," that they can "encounter" a sexual partner or anyone else.
As a result their "radicalism" is not likely to have anything to do with "causes"; they are more interested in people than in ideas. Their predecessors on the picket lines of the 1930's were quite unconcerned with "whether they were liked" or not; there were enemies to be fought, principles to be defended, wars to be won. The New Breed wants to help people and wants to be loved by them. Hence they are not political ideologues; they are not "radicals" in the traditional sense of the word, since they are almost completely without a coherent political philosophy. While they work for civil rights, and may periodically throw up picket lines (sometimes, one thinks, for the sheer hell of it), they are not very active in the militant civil rights organizations or in the peace movement and studiously ignore the ideological overtones of these movements. Neither do they find much but amusement in the radical conservatives who are shouting so loudly. The New Breed is not, by any means, uninterested in politics; they are fascinated by the political game, may be active at the precinct level, and are tempted by governmental careers. But, like their heroes of the Irish Maffia, they are pragmatic rather than ideological in their approach.
Unlike the "Strangers in the House" of whom I wrote five years ago, the New Breed does more than talk about human suffering. It is from the ranks of the New Breed that volunteers are recruited for the Peace Corps, Pavla, the Extension home missions, and especially the various inner-city student programs that are spreading across the country like a prairie fire. Such work is with people; it is non-ideological and "fulfilling." One hears the volunteers observe: "We're getting more out of it than the people are we are supposed to be helping."
While such statements may not be true, they furnish a very revealing insight into the New Breed. But whatever their views as to the nature of the work, make no mistake about it, they are proceeding with a cool and nonchalant competence that is often quite disconcerting. The Northern Student Movement and related tutoring programs are anything but amateur. The New Breed knows how to work with committees, write brochures, give speeches, raise money, utilize community resources and issue press releases. CALM (Chicago Area Lay Movement), the inner-city movement I am most familiar with, was a going concern almost before those of us who were watching it closely were conscious that it had even started moving. Indeed, it managed to get stories into the newspapers about its work before it had begun to work -- which is surely the height of something or other. This competence should not be too surprising, since the New Breed is composed of the young people who have been student leaders through high school and college and know all about organizations. As one full-time worker put it: "After running things for eight years, it would be terribly dull just to sit in a classroom and teach school." Nor does the New Breed seem inclined to view its involvement in the inner-city as a passing phenomenon. Grace Ann Carroll, the cofounder of CALM, spoke for most of the New Breed when she said: "Before we're finished, we're going to think up a lot more things to do, so that everyone who wants, no matter what their age or responsibilities, can get involved."
We may be witnessing a major social change as the future members of the upper middle class return to the inner-city from which their parents fled.
The non-ideological coolness of the New Breed does not make them easy to deal with. Those who have positions of authority and responsibility over them surely deserve sympathy. The New Breed are frequently groping and inarticulate about precisely what they want, but they know that they want change. Often they seem almost to be hoping that their superiors will refuse their requests so that there may be a clear issue about which to fight, a definite change around which they can rally. They want freedom now -- whatever that may mean.
The "radical" Catholic youth of the past never expected to win. They did not think that in their lifetime they would see the ideals of the social or liturgical teachings of the Church become a reality. They were resigned to being a despised minority fighting for a lost cause. But the New Breed is not going to play the game that way. They have tasted enough change in the last few years to want much more. They are quite confident that they are going to win and that they will live to bury those who stand in their way.
The New Breed is not flexible, it is not gradualist. It wants a Church that is relevant to its own needs and the needs it sees in the world, and it wants it now, not next week. Unfortunately, it is not able to say exactly what that relevance involves, and at this stage of the game neither is anyone else. Thus the New Breed is a trial to its elders; we cannot understand them and they can't really understand themselves. They are the product of a revolution of expanding expectations, and in the midst of such transitional situations, friction (and occasionally very serious friction) is inevitable. As much as we are annoyed by the inconsistencies and irrationality that the New Breed often seem to display, we must not overlook what they are trying to tell us; they are trying to say that you cannot have a half-souled aggiornamento, that if you open the window you are not going to be able to close it again and that the wind that blows in is likely to bring all sorts of strange things with it.
I have a hunch that the New Breed is basically gradualist; if it sees progress being made it will be content with a moderate pace of change and not demand everything all at once. Their present resistance to the gradualist approach may be merely an objection to a pace of change that is so slow as to be almost imperceptible. They may oppose a gradualist aggiornamento because many of them feel that almost no change has filtered down to their level. As the pace of reform and renewal accelerates at the grass roots, they may be much easier to deal with. This view, however, could be the wishful thinking of a member of the older generation, hoping that in a few years the New Breed will start acting like them.
Yet it would be a terrible mistake to think that they are going to leave the Church, either by apostasy or alienation. It is their Church and it would be difficult even to drive them out of it. They have been told that they are the Church so often that they now believe it, and while they may dislike many of the things they see in the Church today, they are sophisticated enough to know that these things can be changed and young enough to think that they are going to help change them. They are restless with the Church, but they are restless with it as the fair bride that they love. Nor are they anticlerical, even though they may object to many of the policies they take to be "clerical." Indeed, anticlericalism may well decline among the New Breed since its lay and clerical members share so many common problems and hopes. It often seems that the most "anticlerical" of the New Breed are those who are seminarians; and while a very few of the ex-seminarians have, temporarily at least, left the Church, the majority of the "ex's" simply become leaders of the New Breed laity (as do the "ex-postulants" and "ex-novices"). No, the New Breed is not going to leave, nor is it going to be quiet. We are going to have to put up with it for a long time.
How has the New Breed come to be? How can we explain it? The answers are not easy. The New Breed has known neither war nor depression, but only cold war and prosperity. It lives in the midst of a psychological age when even the Sunday magazines talk about existentialism. It has read the philosophy and literature of the day, with its heavy emphasis on significance and personalism. It hears of the aggiornamento in the Church and can follow in detail the progress of reform in journals of the Catholic Establishment. Its prophet is Fr. Teilhard (in one New Breed college apartment I saw a shrine to Teilhard), and it has found its patron saint in John Kennedy, who, with his youthfulness, his pragmatism, his restlessness, his desire for challenge and service, his vision of a new freedom, reflected in so many ways what the New Breed wants to be. Perhaps there are other explanations too. It is too early to say whence the New Breed has come; we will have to wait until they can explain themselves.
What will come of them? We have said that few will leave the Church. Some will become cynical and alienated. Others will bow to pressures of family and friends and settle for the good life; yet others will dissipate their energies in romantic dreams or confused and futile love affairs. Not a few of them will marry people who are not of the New Breed and endure lives of agony or frustration. Some will mellow with age. But it is a fair bet that enough of them will remain. They will mature with time, but we will be kidding ourselves if we think they will mature in our patterns. They are different now and they will be different twenty-five years from now.
They are a paradoxical bunch, supremely self-confident, yet anxious and restless; they are organizationally efficient and yet often diplomatically tactless; they are eager to engage in dialogue and yet frequently inarticulate in what they want to say; they are without ideology and yet insistent on freedom; they are generous with the poor and suffering and terribly harsh in their judgments of their elders and superiors; they are ecumenical to the core and yet astonishingly parochial in their tastes and fashions; they want desperately to love but are not sure that they know how to love. They want to scale the heights yet are mired in the foothills. I am sure there is a resolution of these paradoxes, that the New Breed has some principle of inner consistency, but because I am not one of them I cannot discover this principle.
It should be clear that I am ambivalent about the New Breed. I am fascinated by them and I admire their courage; yet they frighten me. In another quarter of a century they will be taking over the American Church. They will be the bishops, the mothers general, the rectors, the pastors, the provincials, the superiors, the scholars, the politicians, the organizers, the editors, the leaders of lay organizations. I don't know quite what their Church will look like and I wonder how much room there will be in it for someone like me. The New Breed has reason to be confident. Everything is on their side -- their youth, time, the wave of history, and, one suspects, the Holy Spirit.
Rev. Andrew M. Greeley was a prolific writer and researcher who wrote dozens of articles for America before his death on May 29, 2013. This article appeared in America on May 23, 1964.