Both Here and There: Student Government - or Bombs?

by W.H. Auden, published in the March 21, 1944 issue of the Phoenix

"All power," wrote Lord Acton, "corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. All great men are bad." But the anarchists, unfortunately, are wrong. Government is a necessary evil. Granted that - it is more blessed to be governed than to govern; submoral for any college administration - persuade the students to do the dirty job; submoral for any student - don't be taken in.

I deplore student government, not because it doesn't work, but precisely because it works far too well. Having spent ten years of my life in English boarding schools where order was maintained and punishment meted out largely by boy officials appointed for their Character and influence, I have learned by painful experience that one can sometimes deceive one's elders, one's contemporaries never; they know too much.

Healthy Skepticism

There seems to be, for the awful human animal, no age too tender to develop the Sense of Responsibility or its mirror counterpart the Habit of Rebellion. The healthy skepticism which knows that - (a) there has to be government, (b) however the former are chosen, there must always be two classes, the governors and the governed, who can never be friends, (c) if one is a governor, one is not governing for that reason, but because one loves power, and (d) that all of us love power - appears, on the other hand, only to develop much later; i.e., some Deans are not prigs; all Student Councilors are.

No Cooperation

Moreover, the years between eighteen and twenty-two seem to me to be pre-eminently years in which most of us should not be sensible or nice or co-operative, but, on the contrary, an unmitigated nuisance to one's neighbors, outrageous, affected, snobbish, and very foolish indeed; for, as Blake remarked, few of us, alas, seems able to learn what is enough until we have learned, usually at considerable cost to ourselves and others, what is more than enough. There are few men or women, in their maturity both lovable and admirable, who were not, at college, either shy nonentities or conspicuous little toads; while the former Big Man on Campus, his safe deposit crammed with diplomas of Character, is today bald as a coot and owns a wife with a face like the backside of a bus, and the ex-Big Woman, her medals for womanhood clanking on her ample bosom, is reading the latest choice of the Book Society, or concocting for her tame little husband some inexcusable salad unearthed from the pages of "Ladies Home Journal."

Fellow Irresponsibles, follow me. When I am Dean of Men, which, if there were any justice in this world, I should long ago have become, I will make you sorry you were ever born. But in the meantime, let's go underground and make bombs.

Phoenix archive < Student Government - Or Bombs? > Foghorn Bellow, Sly Bitchery

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