To Vigilance, Ignorance is Corrosive

The more woke society becomes, the less awake we become.

The historical illiteracy that afflicts Americans in the twenty-first century is well established. Studies show that growing numbers of people, including putatively highly educated ones, are ignorant of what ought to be elemental facts.

Twenty-first century Americans are not good with historical facts.  What difference does it make if a substantial number think the Civil War took place in the first half of the 19th century? How what does happened in 18th century America, let alone 17th century England or 5th century BC Athens matter to us? Why should one care about what a bunch of white dudes did in the past?

When did ignorance become a point of view? A man ignorant of history is at best, to paraphrase Cicero, a child, or worse yet a brute.  Knowledge of history broadens and enriches us – it is expansive, comprehensive, and universal.  It is more than past literature more than past politics, more than past economics. 

The danger that results from a neglect of history is not just that our souls will be impoverished, but that they will, over time, languish in a state of sterility and servility.

Our Founding Fathers understood that ignorance and independence will never coincide because, in part, vigilance is needed to defend liberty; and to vigilance, ignorance is corrosive.  History gives us a sense of proportion and perspective.

To study history is to study problems.  It seems naïve, if not delusional, to think that we are close to having it all figured out, that the moment is at hand when the conflicts that have relentlessly bedeviled our species will be resolved once and for all. 

If we are unable to understand the value of our inheritance, how can we save it?  To comprehend the hardships of the past is to realize just how good we have it today. The inevitable trials and tribulations of life are easier to weather when one learns that others have weathered them before.  In essence, a sense of history is an antidote to self-pity and self-importance of which today there is way too much.  To study history is to understand that the sins of the West are emphatically unoriginal.

But the same cannot be said of its virtues.  There is a reason why virtually every country in the top twenty of the Human Development Index is a Western country that embodies values that lend themselves to human development. 

Those values – respect for human dignity, protection of individual rights, a spirit of openness and inquiry – are no given.  They are the cultural efflorescence of a long historical process that can be traced back to Athens and Jerusalem, the wellsprings of Western Civilization.  And we, the heirs of that tradition, have a duty to safeguard and cultivate the civilizational fruits we enjoy and too often take for granted. 

When we flout that duty, the fruit rots. Without a meaningful understanding of the past, there can be little hope for the future.

Source: Advancing in Darkness: Some Reflections on our Ahistorical Present by David Eisenberg, The Imaginative Conservative

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