(The first shall be the last, and the last shall be the first, etc.)
Once there was a hobbit who was charged to save the world. He had in his possession, through no fault of his own, a Ring. He was charged to take it through danger and misery, into a land of fire and poison, and throw it into lava. His survival was not guaranteed, and in fact death was tacitly assumed. At no point was he to try and use the ring for his own benefit. There were others, stronger and wiser than he, but none of them volunteered, nor did anyone think it was that strange that the most important task at hand was charged to the least able. The main qualifications were innocence, humility, and a good heart.
Well, it turned out he didn’t actually have those, or at least not in good enough stock. With the fate of the world depending on his ability to resist temptation, he chose the Dark Side, and tried to walk away with the Ring for himself. Through blind luck, another pathetic personage who wanted the Ring tried to take it from him, and in the ensuing chaos it (and its new bearer) fell into the fire.
Well, none of that is the real story.
Here’s the real story: A hobbit went off into fear and danger, and so became the kind of hobbit who, when he returned home and found his town set up as a petty dictatorship, saw it as “the obvious thing to do” to matter-of-factly lead an uprising and restore tranquility. He regarded this like a vacationer come home and fixing a leaky sprinkler, rather than as a grand act of heroism in defense of freedom. Then he died (*cough* “Grey Havens”) and it was off to the next lesson.
The pattern is: make it worse and worse until you break, and then you’re ready to move on.
(Spoiler for a 2003 movie that you should definitely see) Surprise! THAT WAS A TEST TOO. Later the trainee in the clip is selected to be the black ops agent of his class. The conversation goes something like this:
BURKE: You lasted longer on your interrogation exercise than any CT has in the last fifteen years!
CLAYTON: I broke!
BURKE: Everybody breaks, that’s the point, damn thing doesn’t stop ’til you break!
CLAYTON: Then why did I wash out?
BURKE: Ya didn’t, that’s why I’m here!
Evola: “Save the West!”
Carlyle: “Rebuke foolishness!”
Jeremiah: “Cry repentance!”
Well, they’re all dead. Have they done anything but scold for the last 50/100/2500 years? Will Carlyle help you find a job if the Eye of Soros alights you? Will Evola tell you how to restore an aristocracy, whether it’s a good idea, how it should look like? Will Jeremiah come fix your church?
Destroy the Ring! Save the West! Easy to say. Much harder to do.
…But this doesn’t make them wrong. The Ring needed to be destroyed, the West needs to be saved, and Christ is the cure for what ails us. And those things will happen. There are better and worse versions; the West can be cleansed by repentance or fire, and Christ’s coming will mean either relief or terror for us, but they will happen, whether we’re involved or not.
When there’s no solution in one world, an injection from another is necessary. What saves the world is necessarily from outside it; else it wouldn’t need saving. This is what fiction does for us; this is what the saga of the Ring did for the Shire, through Frodo, and it is what Christ did for us. You live in one world, and what it turns you into, you bring into the next.
I simultaneously have a ton of things to say about this model, and none at all, for fear I should mislead.
But to stay consistent with the title, I’ll focus on one: The past is the past, ideals are ideals, and God is God. They are neither wrong nor panaceas. However you act with respect to them, the results will so accord. Do you want to actively try and change the world? You can do that. Do you want to decry them as outmoded and impractical? You can do that also.
When the Change happens—and I have left that deliberately ambiguous (is it the Return of Kings? The Return of Christ? A Return to Normalcy?)—some will be those who waited night and day for it. They knew old things would be done away, and they wasted no time on things as they were, knowing that old things should pass away. They will be raised up by universal agreement, because who could forget that crazy iconoclastic hermit who Was Right All Along, and took hell for it?
There will be others who had counted the cost and concluded they didn’t have it in them to make it that far. They avoided doing anything against the coming new world, but they did not perhaps sell themselves out bringing it to pass. Instead, they will have focused their energies on the world they lived in, without forgetting the future.
Peter and John, and their fates, are worth thinking on.
If you want to be “ahead of their time” 500 years from now, I think Reaction is a very good tack to take. Be prepared for a lot of failure in your life, but console yourself that you’re on the right side. I make no judgment here, as Asimov says (or does he?) “In a good cause, there are no failures.”
Man, I don’t know if I can hack that. This is a barefaced plea of weakness. I just had a crush on a girl in my class and went to the Internet and found pickup, and dug and dug and dug, and here I am, with various holy charges. Someone, sometime, will effect a restoration of English magic, and it will be a great thing. But I will not be that person. I have petty, personal, boring, seriouslypleasedropit-specific problems of my own, but they’re very real and that is not in the least diminished by their lack of sexiness.
This is all of us. If your ideals seem achievable, then they’re probably not high enough. We all of us have a wide gulf between the Good and what we are. We have to make peace how we deal with that gap. Play for longevity.
Recommended reading: the parable of the unrighteous steward, Asimov’s “In a Good Cause—“