Excerpt from You Can’t Go Home Again

All of this makes the paradox of our great difference as hard and strange as the paradox of our polarity. And in this lies the root of trouble and the seed of severance. Your own philosophy has led you to accept the order of things as they are because you have no hope of changing them; and if you could change them, you feel that any other order would be just as bad. In everlasting terms–those of eternity–you and the Preacher may be right: for there is no greater wisdom that the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, no acceptance finally so true as the stern fatalism of the rock. Man was born to live, to suffer, and to die, and what befalls him is a tragic lot. There is no denying this in the final end. But we must, Dear Fox, deny it all along the way.

Mankind was fashioned for eternity, but Man-Alive was fashioned for a day. New evils will come after him, but it is with the present evils that he is now concerned. And the essence of all faith, it seems to me, for such a man as I, the essence of religion for people of my belief, is that man’s life can be, and will be, better; that man’s greatest enemies, in the forms in which they now exist–the forms we see on every hand of fear, hatred, slavery, cruelty, poverty, and need-can be conquered and destroyed. But to conquer and destroy them will mean nothing less than the complete revision of the structure of society as we know it. They cannot be destroyed by the philosophy of acceptance–by the tragic hypothesis that things as they are, evil as they are, are as good and as bad as, under any form, they will ever be.

The evils that we hate, you no less than I, cannot be overthrown with shrugs and sighs and shaking of the head however wise. It seems to me that they but mock at us and only become more bold when we retreat before them and take refuge in the affirmation of man’s tragic average. To believe that the new monsters will arise as vicious as the old, to that the great Pandora’s box of human frailty, once opened, will never show a diminution of its ugly swarm, is to help, by just that much, to make it so forever.

You and the Preacher may be right for all eternity, but we Men-Alive, dear Fox, are right for Now. And it is for Now, and for us the living, that we must speak, and speak the truth, as much of it as we can see and know. With the courage of the truth within us, we shall meet the enemy as they come to us, and they shall be ours. And if, once having conquered them, new enemies approach, we shall meet them from that point, from there proceed. In the affirmation of the fact, the continuance of that unceasing was, is man’s religion and his living faith.

Thomas Wolfe in “You Can’t Go Home Again”


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