Acton Institute Powerblog

AU: Rousseau, Love, and Perpetual Adolescents

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Since reading Rousseau raises a questions on almost innumerable topics, you can imagine that the Q&A after a lecture I gave on Rousseau was broad and varied. Among other things, love, family, and problems with relationships and maturity within modern liberal culture were a recurring theme. Two pieces that came up in discussion were:

1. Karol Wojtyla’s (John Paul II) Love and Responsibility. This is a beautiful book on human love and an antidote to most of the nonsense that goes around on love these days. I highly recommend it, but if you haven’t studied philosophy formally it might be best to skip the introduction on objects and subjects, and instead begin with the chapter, “Metaphysical Analysis of Love”

2. An interesting article by Kay Hymowitz in the City Journal called Child-Man in the Promised Land

The second one provoked quite a bit of response when it came out—I would be interested in hearing your comments.

One more on adolescents that didn’t come up in the discussion, but is worth reading, is a piece from six years ago by Joseph Epstein called The Perpetual Adolescent. Epstein worries that modern life which perpetuates and glorifies youthfulness and adolescense is not only a problem for society, but for human flourishing. He writes:

The greatest sins, Santayana thought, are those that set out to strangle human nature. This is of course what is being done in cultivating perpetual adolescence, while putting off maturity for as long as possible. Maturity provides a more articulated sense of the ebb and flow, the ups and downs, of life, a more subtly reticulated graph of human possibility. Above all, it values a clear and fit conception of reality.

Perpetual Adolescence is a serious problem for a free society since as William Allen says so well–“self-government requires self-governors” and adolescents as we know, no matter their age, are not reputed for self-control.

Michael Matheson Miller


  • Chad

    Mr. Miller I am curious if you think there is any link between ‘perpetual adolesence’ and a culture that makes every effort to emasculate our society. I would suggest that not only do we refuse to grow up, we refuse to ‘man up’!

  • Fifty years following WW2 we found Made In USA made $$$ and organizations grew large. With that growth came a “perpetual arrested adolescent” in our expectations of employers, and an attitude of looking for jobs that were guaranteed, rather than nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit of risk, expectation of failures, and learning applied to the next enterprise. This has made the shift of outsourcing in a world economy painful to many who are used to “Ma Bell” and “Pa Steelcase” taking care of them through to retirement. Americans must learn to “think of themselves as self employed” for that is what we have been and are: every day we go to work for an employer, the employer who lets us in the door of their establishment is saying, “Yes, I need your talents and contribution again today as it contributes to the goals, objectives and mission of my organization.”