They Riot in the Streets Inflamed with Wild Notions; Their Morals Are Decayed

Plato? Creed C. Black? William J. Brennan Jr.? Theodore Hesburgh? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following questioning and unhappy words have been attributed to the ancient Greek sage Plato:

What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?

This popular quotation illustrates the millennium-spanning ubiquity of complaints about the misbehavior and immorality of the younger members of society. Strangely, I have been unable to find a citation that solidly connects this commentary to Plato. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Plato made the statement above.

The earliest instance located by QI was spoken at the Convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors held in April 1968. A panel titled “What about the Generation Gap?” was moderated by the newspaper executive Creed C. Black of “The Chicago Daily News”. His introductory remarks employed the quotation: 1

I just came from breakfast with members of our panel, and I think we are in for a very interesting morning. To set the stage we might have a text of what we are going to talk about, and it is this:

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents, they ignore the laws, they ride in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decayed. What is to become of them?”

These are not the words, believe it or not, of Program Chairman Paul Neville. They are the words of Plato and were written originally in Greek about 400 years before the birth of Christ. So, the generation gap is not exactly new, but it does continue.

The above passage differed from the common modern version in two ways. The word “ride” was used instead of “riot”, and the word “decayed” was used instead of “decaying”. These differences may reflect an imperfect transcription of a speech.

QI believes that Creed probably saw an earlier published instance somewhere, but where he obtained the quotation is not certain. This article presents a snapshot of what is currently known, and future research may result in further clarifications.

Another statement of this type was previously examined by QI. It began: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority.” These words have been misattributed to Socrates.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Riot in the Streets Inflamed with Wild Notions; Their Morals Are Decayed

Notes:

  1. 1968, Problems of Journalism: Proceedings of the 1968 Convention American Society of Newspaper Editors, Convention held at The Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C. on April 17 to 19, 1968, (Panel titled “What about the Generation Gap?” held Thursday April 18, 1968), (Speaker: Panel Moderator: Creed C. Black of Chicago Daily News), Quote Page 105, Published by American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), New York. (Verified on paper; special thanks to a helpful librarian at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa)