James Baldwin, in his speech “A Talk To Teachers,” concludes that a society is, “about to perish” if citizens simply obey the rules with no push for change (par. 2). Evidenced by the quote’s popularity, the stance is an agreeable one. By putting two-and-two together, this simple yet effective argument is backed up by both history and by logic.
Baldwin looks towards history to find the basis of his quote. During the American Revolution, colonists believed they were being treated unfairly by their sovereignty, the British Crown. Because the British were increasing taxes to make up for their war debts and strictly regulating the commerce and industry of the New World, the Patriots decided to unite and revolt against their leaders, sparking revolution.
If not for these men and women that took part in disobeying British rule, the United States of America would not exist and be the world superpower it is today, and the failing British empire would likely send the world into chaos as they ruled over most nations globally. While revolution is not always a necessity, does this not ring bells today? The government’s popularity has been at all-time lows across the branches for decades.
The only reason the United States has not fallen is that people have pushed for change, whether by petition, protest, or discussion and debate in the halls of Congress. If Americans were stripped of the right to elect representatives that fight for them and were not able to research the flaws of the government and the solutions to these flaws, the country would not be able to adapt to the rising concerns of today’s world. So too is this fight seen during World War Two.
As the Nazis began to round up Jewish and other similarly oppressed people, the world seemed to be plunged into permanent chaos. Millions of people were treated like animals and slaves, and most were eventually murdered. However, due to the Allied Powers uniting to suppress the Germans’ attempt at world domination, people today still preserve the privilege of freedom.
While we need not start actual wars whenever an urge for change is felt, any fight for equality in the face of death and destruction, or “at no matter what risk” (par. 2) as Baldwin says, is the best sort of fight. Some of the most famous events in history are of people who fought for change such as these, meaningful change that lasts even in today’s society, and Baldwin has been paying attention.
But Baldwin’s quote is also supported by common logic. Why should a man or woman or any sort of person allow an unjust society to persist? For what reason should unlivable wages and working conditions, unfair treatment from the ruling class, and dehumanization be allowed without criticism or pushback? What sort of society arises from this situation of total control over the people?
These are answered respectfully: they should not, there is no reason, and, like North Korea, Nazi Germany, and the fictional nations in George Orwell’s 1984, a society which makes life lose its worth of living. Even the word ‘society’ loses its meaning in these contexts. There would virtually be no socializing allowed. Any discussions about criticizing the government would be shut down, with citizens being indoctrinated as they are not allowed to have or hear a second opinion.
And so, from the use of common sense, Baldwin correctly assumes what society should and should not be. Baldwin puts thought into his claim, learning that history repeats itself. He also reflects on the logic behind his case, applying both pieces of evidence to his speech in which he advocates for progressivism, and with it, answers the question of what kind of person a society should want its people to be if it expects to survive the test of time.