Thinking Historically (Part Two)

OrwellThe amount of information at our fingertips is amazing. Never, in the history of humanity, have we had so much information so readily available for consumption. What perhaps makes it so remarkable is that it is a remarkably new phenomenon. A hundred years ago, even 40 or 50 years ago the world seemed like a much larger, much more distant place. Now, with the internet, 24-hour news networks, smartphones and tablets, we have almost instant access.

Yet, the inherent problem becomes our short attention spans. Bombarded with an almost constant stream of information, we don’t necessarily have the time for it all. So, to remain informed, we need it boiled down to nothing more than a short blurb, or a headline, to something we can just glance over quickly, and skim for the important details. Clear and concise, in many instances, is marked by a startling lack of details, and, in that, significant, sometimes vital facts.

It isn’t perhaps that surprising then when it spills over into other aspects of our education, doing a great disservice to our understanding.

All too often we tend to look at history in the same way, in the same manner, boiling it down to a key point or two that is easy to glance at and browse through, but that offers remarkably little insight or understanding. In many ways, it is used to make a point, often not even an accurate one, rather than to enlighten, educate and inform. In that sense it ends up doing more harm than good to our ability to think historically as it creates a false sense of expertise or education that does not have the background knowledge that is necessary to help the decision making process.

What we tend to forget is that history is more than just trivia. It is more than just dates, and places and names. It is more than just a simple record of what we have done, or where we have been. It can’t be whittled away at until it is nothing more than a list or a headline or a series of singular points with no contextual background or information, not without losing the purpose or the meaning that is behind it. It is a guide for learning, meant to edify and to clarify based on the vast experience of human events. In turn this allows us to grow, utilizing the strengths and weaknesses, the victories and defeats of past generations to advance, evolving and progressing in the deeper knowledge that our familiarity with history brings.

The ability to think historically applies the lessons of our past to our present, and, in turn, allows us to prepare for our future. Though, as we discussed last time, no two events occur exactly in the same way, and history never quite repeats itself in the same way, experience, understanding and attention to details reveal the common intertwining of events that offers greater insight to an individual who has well informed him or herself in history. In turn it allows them to have greater clarity in figuring out how it will ultimately work out in the end as they come to a deeper understanding of what the future will bring depending on the course that is ultimately taken.

This means going beyond just the cursory to critically assess the situations and circumstances that contributed to the names, places, events and times.

What we perhaps need to remember is that history, and, in turn, the ability to think historically, is a bit like putting together a puzzle just out of the books. Yes, it helps to seeHeinlein the big picture, allowing for better awareness as to what a person is looking at, but that larger picture is nothing without the smaller pieces that construct it. These need to be painstakingly put together, the differing parts need to be fitted properly, locking in together to create the full scope of the picture in question. In terms of the history, and our understanding of it, these create the broader building blocks that engage us, and create the base that we need to begin our path to comprehending the applicable in our lives. In the end it teaches us what the Tea Tax of 1773 can tell us about the nature of government bailouts and the popular reaction against them, or what treasury policy under Alexander Hamilton teaches us about public debt. It informs us on a host of different topics and issues that are directly applicable to our present age and our current situations so we can devise a better, stronger plan for posterity.

The Founding Fathers were serious students, understanding that it was more than a short blurb, or list of accomplishments or defeats from any particular society. In order to create a lasting, sustaining society, they needed more than just a short list. They had to have a firm understanding and a strong grasp of the history of government, politics, and society. They cultivated it because they knew that if they were to lay out a lasting republic, one that would ultimately stand the test of time, they would have to understand the full nature of government, their successes and their failures, and build from a foundation that had already been well established through the course of history. Now, as those who have inherited that which they had built, we need to follow that same example that they have laid out. This means avoiding the pitfalls of our present age, and focusing ourselves.

Ultimately the immense amount of information at our fingertips can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how we choose to use it. If it is nothing more than trivia, then we have to question what the point of it all truly is. But if we use it to delve deeper, to build on a firmer understanding, to build our knowledge base, and, in turn, inform our decision making then we have a unique opportunity to create a stronger, more viable future that expands on the lessons that have been learned throughout our past.

Book Review: The Idea of America

516Y+G8MstL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_With almost 250 years of history now behind us, we tend to let the American Revolution fade into the backdrop of our Republics story. Narrowed down to a few names, and key phrases or slogans, it becomes a bit like the mythology of our early history, taking a backseat to more relevant current events, or at least events that are nearer to our collective consciousness. That makes senses. After all these more recent occurrences have shaped our modern views, ideas, thought and reactions to the world around us.

Or perhaps not…

In the view of Gordon Wood no moment has shaped who we are as a people and a nation, nor had a more lasting impact than the American Revolution. This is the point he makes in his work The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. The winner of a Bancroft Award for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787, and a Pulitzer Prize for The Radicalism of the American Revolution, this book is a deviation from his previous ones. A collection of essays that comprise the life’s work of one of the most dedicated and diligent historians on the topic of the American Revolution, Wood challenges many of the contemporary notions that have been engrained in the mythos of our nation, taking on a few of the sacred cows that have been erected throughout the decades and the centuries.

Seeking “to emphasize the importance of ideas in the historical process,” he takes on what he has called “partiality that plagued” the histories offered by some, and the “need to find antecedents for the divisions of their own time.” Likewise, on the opposite end of the spectrum, he challenges the thought that “ideas cause human behavior”, arguing they offer more of a justification after the fact then a reason before, looking to the great Scottish philosopher, and historian, David Hume to help inform his opinion “that passion, not reason, are the ruling element in all human action.” The result is a triumph of historical thought that recognizes that social and political change had begun long before the Revolution began, and that this evolution in thinking had, more than anything else, formed a fundamental rife between these new world colonies and their old-world mother nation, creating an environment ripe for the events that would lead to a free and independent American nation.

Tracing the history of America back to its origins, Wood separates his essays into three parts, with three chapters dedicated to “The American Revolution”, four chapters on “The Making of the Constitution and American Democracy” and, finally, four chapters covering “The Early Republic”. Though one easily find in these pages the case made that the American Revolution was truly unique in the long course of human events and history, and that the United States has always possessed a particular nature to it that could not necessarily be ignored, he challenges the reader to reconsider some of the preconceived notions they have. In one instance, for example, he declares:

We Americans created a state before we were a nation, and much of our history has been an effort to define the nature of that nationality. In an important sense, we have never been a nation in any traditional meaning of the term. It is the state, the Constitution, the principles of liberty, equality and free government that make us think ourselves as a single people. To be an American is not to be someone, but to believe in something.

Yet, despite his belief in the special nature and character of this great and grand experiment, Wood does not wear blinders, nor does he expect his readers to either. Taking an approach that examines the early history of the nation from every angle with an almost clinical approach he takes readers through every side. For example while taking our Founding Fathers and stripping the myth from the reality to distinguish between legend and fact, he makes it certain that the reader is aware of just how much we fail in our understanding of them, not because of a lacking on their part, but of our own.

In that sense this is where, at least in my mind, ventures into the extraordinary. While emphasizing the idea that ideas and principles can span the course of time and events, he points to the fact that we have ventured far from where the Founders had been and how they viewed the world. This is perhaps most clearly outlined when he painstakingly lays out that, “They separated from every subsequent generation of Americans, by an immense cultural chasm… All the Founding Fathers saw themselves as moral teacher. However latently utilitarian, however potentially liberal, and however enthusiastic the Founders may have been, they were not modern men.” In a sense it perhaps makes us question if we, amidst our present day and our present understanding, are the true heirs of the American Revolution or if we even truly understand its core causes and what it set into motion.

The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States should, even if it wasn’t a masterpiece of historical scholarship, should be read for that reason and that reason alone. It offers a clear, brilliant and concise understanding of the Revolution and the spirit of America that is so often forgotten in our present age, forcing us to evaluate and re-evaluate our current view of our republic and our democracy. A critically analytical work that could and should inform even the most well-versed historian, I cannot recommend this book enough to readers. It is on my top five go to list, and it should be on yours as well.

But then as I close out I would like to end with a final passage for your consideration.

Both Rome’s greatness and it’s eventual fall were caused by the character of its people. As long as the Roman people maintained their love of virtue their simplicity and quality, their scorn of great distinction, and their willingness to fight for the state, they attained great heights of glory. But when they became too luxury-loving, too obsessed with refinements and social distinctions, too preoccupied with money, and too effeminate to take up arms on behalf of the state, their politics became corrupted, selfishness predominated, and the dissolution of the state had to follow. Rome fell not because of the invasions of the barbarians from without, but because of decay from within.

Our Own Magna Carta Americana (Part Four)

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If I thought I could fulfill the duty which I owe to myself and my constituents, to let the subject pass over in silence, I most certainly should not trespass upon the indulgences of this house.” He would state plainly. “But I cannot do this; and am therefore compelled to beg a patient hearing to what I have laid before you.”

The air hot and heavy, the crowds would look on as James Madison rose to the floor of Federal Hall in New York to address the House of Representatives. The galleries full, yet the seats of North Carolina and Rhode Island still empty, he would look down to the notes scribbled on a piece of paper and begin to speak, offering up his amendments to the Constitution.

This week on Fragile Freedom we continue our ongoing series on the history of the Bill of Rights as the Father of the Constitution, a man who once argued that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary, presented his amendments to the body. For Madison it would not be an easy or a simple road, but it would be one that he knew he had to take. After all, in his mind, government derived its ability to govern from the consent of the people, and, as such, the will of the people could not be ignored. This was what they demanded and this would be what he would fight for as he stood firm, tirelessly crafting the proposals he would present as he poured over the amendments offered up by the state ratifying committees.

Join with host Wyatt McIntyre as he explores the rich history of this great charter of individual rights and freedoms, and how, amidst political divides and battles, it finally came into existence.

August 29th, 1786

untitled.pngThe war was over.

The years had passed since General Charles Cornwallis had surrendered following the Siege of Yorktown, and the Treaty of Paris had been signed, but not so many that they had forgotten. They won the Revolution, and the yoke of England had been cast off. They had set out to secure their independence, challenging the most powerful empire in the World, and, after years of sacrifice, loss and pain, after years of being met with devastating defeats and glorious victories, they controlled their destiny, free of that far distant monarch and parliament. Nowhere had that been more celebrated than Massachusetts, where the first shots had been fired.

Returning to their homes and their farms, they believed that they could find some level of normalcy. Still, throughout the states, including Massachusetts, unrest was beginning to build.

The truth was though that America was a new nation and few knew what the new normal would be. The economic climate had changed. Depression, debt, and challenges in foreign trade had seen to that. Now someone had to pay the price. In the mind of Governor James Bowdoin that would be the people.

Unlike his predecessor, John Hancock, who had resigned as Governor in 1785, Bowdoin, a member of Boston’s merchant class himself, was less interested in being loved by the people as he was in the debts owed, largely by the wealthy merchants. European creditors were demanding hard currency even as credit previously extended was closed to them. Not only did he have to contend with economic struggles currently faced, but also with the prospect of bailing out those merchants now underwater.

He would begin to put the pressure on the local farmers. Despite their service in the Revolution, compensation from Congress would be almost non-existence. Now, it was the states turn to add injury to insult.

Enacting high taxes, while rigorously pursuing back taxes owed and refusing to print more currency, Bowdoin’s policies would turn the Massachusetts government into everything men like Daniel Shays, Luke Day and Eli Parson had fought against in that struggle for independence. In a way, there was a sense of betrayal as the government ignored pleas for relief and petitions to the legislature went unread. Farms were foreclosed on and farmers jailed in the western part of the state. In their minds, these farmers, they had done what was right. They had convened conventions and meetings; they had sent their requests to the legislature. In the words of one farmer, “I’ve labored hard all my days and fared hard. I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war, been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates, and all rates, lawsuits, and have been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables, and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth. I have been obliged to pay, and nobody will pay me. I have lost a great deal by this man and that man, and t’other man and the great men are going to get all we have, and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors, nor lawyers. I design to pay no more, and I know we have the biggest party, let them say what they will.”

Shays, a Captain in the Revolutionary War, a man who fought at Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga, before being wounded and resigning from the military in 1780, saw it much the same way. He had sold the ornamental sword offered as a “pledge of affection” by his commanding officer General Lafayette for a few dollars to pay off debts owed, and would become known by fellow soldiers as one without “honor and spirit.” Returning home he would find that though he put his life on hold for the war, the rest of the world didn’t stop as he found himself in trouble for nonpayment of debts. He was not alone. In one instance, even as he was hauled before the courts, he would even witness the bed taken from a sick woman for her inability to pay her debts.

There came the point when it had become enough.

On August 29th, 1786 that day came as a force of 1,500 men marched on the Court of Common Pleas in Northampton, Massachusetts setting off the events that would become known as Shays Rebellion after the man who would eventually become their popular leader. Their goal was to shut down what they believed was the corrupt body that was robbing the people of their homes, their lands, and their goods. It wasn’t their first attempt, having risen only two months prior, on June 13th, to try and shut the courts in Bristol County following the new taxes levied on March 23rd. The difference? The difference was that this time they succeeded.

Stopping the court from sitting in Hampshire County had given them the victory they needed. Now the revolt only began to grow. Styling themselves “The Regulators” after the Regulator Movement of North Carolina in those years before the Revolution, they would set about shutting down the courts throughout the state, starting in Worcester, Taunton and Concord. Bowdoin’s initial response would be measured. While other states, faced with similar situations, called on their militia to hunt down rebels and their leaders as soon as they rose, he refused to organize initially. It perhaps wouldn’t have done much good. County militias were sympathetic to the cause of the farmers and would refuse to organize. When they were sent to Great Barrington to deal to open the courts, 800 of the 1,000 men would abandon their ranks to join with their downtrodden brothers.

Fear would quickly grip the Governor and one of his key allies, Samuel Adams. Seeing the signs of revolution, having witnessed the same actions, the same course just over a decade prior in 1774, they heard the cries of men like James Warren who would declare, “We are now in a state of Anarchy and Confusion, bordering on civil war” and they responded. Passage of The Riot Act and the suspension the writ of habeas corpus would soon follow, as would the creation of a 3,000 men private militia funded by money raised by the Merchants, and almost entirely made up of men from the Eastern Counties and lead by General Benjamin Lincoln, who had previously served as Washington’s second-in-command, accepting the British surrender at Yorktown. In the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts leaders of the Rebellion would be indicted. When Shays and 1,200 of his men would attempt to shut the Court a few weeks later, they would be met by General William Shepherd and 800 militia men in a standoff in the streets. Though the Regulators would be unable to stop the Court from opening, no juror would present themselves, and it would end without violence.

So it would go for the next several months, until January. Setting their eyes on the Federal armory in Springfield they would plan their attack. Yet it would be the delay of a single day would be their undoing as Shays message to hold off the attack until he could get into place was intercepted by the militia. Shepherd would be waiting for them. Approaching the Arsenal warning shots would be fired before the cannons were rolled out. Four of the rebel would lay dead; more would be wounded. Shays and his men would flee. In a few days word would reach General Lincoln, and 3,000 troops would pursue the broken rebellion. In a few days, it would all be over as Shays fled to Vermont.

Despite Samuel Adams belief that “the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death,” only two would be executed for the rebellion. When Hancock would return as Governor, he would issue pardons to many of the leaders. Shays himself would spend the rest of his life in exile from his home in Massachusetts drinking too much, working a few acres of land and dependent on a pension from the government for his service in the Revolution.

The effects of the Rebellion though would be long felt, as, even as the man and the events faded, it became a turning point in American history. Even as Thomas Jefferson would declare, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” General Washington would write General Henry Lee, “You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once”. In the end, it would draw the General out of his retirement, convince many, including James Madison, of the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation, and spur on a Constitutional Convention that would create a stronger national government.

This episode sponsored by: Tactical Dads

Book Review: Decision in Philadelphia

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Decision in Philadelphia by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier, originally published in 1987 by Ballantine Books

Though we may remember the political and ideological clashes of the Federalists and the Antifederalists following the adoption of the Constitution, intended to replace the much weaker, much looser Articles of Confederation, we tend often tend to forget that it was written and negotiated by men with different attitudes, views, experiences, and agendas. There was no unified view of what it should look like, or what form the government should take on. There was no consensus on the scope or the power that would fall to the federal and the state government. In the end, it would be the work of those delegates often divided by individual, regional and state size lines.

This is the story that brothers Christopher and James Lincoln Collier bring us in Decisions in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 as they remind us that, “The Constitution, beyond all else, was forged in the heat of human emotion. In the end, it reflected, for good or ill, the human spirit.” Written just over 30 years ago, it remains as relevant as it ever was. , Seeking to build its foundation on a different approach than other historians have taken while still explaining “how the Constitution, that rock on which American freedom was built, works, what means, and why it was put together the way it was.” Taking the reader through the names and personalities of those influential in the Convention, as well as the major issues that were being faced by the delegates, the Collier Brothers offer a comprehensive, human view of one of the greatest turning points in the history of the young nation as they struggled to build this new Republic.

What the Collier’s do exceptionally well in this book is weave the story together, creating a rich tapestry for the readers, trying to do justice to the fact that “the making of the Constitution was a kaleidoscopic process in which shifts in one place often produced changes in seemingly unrelated places.” Taking on complex, multifaceted issues, controversial within the Convention they break them down from start to finish, making them easy to understand and relevant to the Constitutional process. In some senses, it offers a new and unique view that encourages readers, challenges them even, to dig a little deeper.

Perhaps one of the places we should take note of this is in their addressing of the slavery issue. Morally abhorrent today, the issue was a source of controversy in 1787. After all, the newly formed United States was not the only nation trying to figure out a way to address this issue. Whereas they, like most contemporary historians, condemn the practice, it is not where they end it. While pointing out that an outright ban of slavery would have prevented the passage of the Constitution, and perhaps even shattered the new, and fragile union altogether, the prevalent fear at the Convention, they lay the foundation of how slavery might have been approached to have eliminated the issue without the long, and bloodied Civil War that would follow. Though speculation, it offers a compelling case for review, including of how possible it would have been for states like Georgia, and the two Carolina’s would have been to go it alone.

Unfortunately, not all approaches offered the insight that we would have come to expect from a book that takes on this painstaking depth. Their assessment of the Electoral College, for example, which they refer to as a “Rube-Goldberg Machine”, unnecessarily complicated, hardly does justice to the institution that Alexander Hamilton described in the Federalist Papers as, if not being “perfect, it is at least excellent.” In this, one has to wonder where it was that they drew their conclusion that it was nothing more than “jerry-rigged out of odds and ends of parliamentary junk pressed together by contending interests.” Wherever it may have come from it becomes apparent that their agenda in this is evident as they proclaim, “the question that inevitably comes up is whether it out to be abandoned.”

Where it also tends to venture off track is in some of its various depictions of the characters. James Madison, who had staked so much of his political future on the Constitutional Convention and the passage of a new document, is, in many senses, recast in his role as the Father of the Constitution. Petty, vindictive, fundamentally dishonest, they portray him throughout the work as robbing others of their place in the drafting of the Constitution to secure his place in history. At one point it was stated that “Madison’s attacks on Pinckney’s claim of authorship of at least part of the Constitution were followed up by his admirers and subsequent generations of scholars… Thereafter Pinckney became a footnote of history, a moan soiled by ambition, who must be dishonored for attempting to reap credit that belonged to James Madison.” The theory proposed is that Madison himself revised his notes and his reputation after the Convention to give himself a more prominent place, while attacking and relegating any other, like Charles Pinckney, to the trash heap of history.

Likewise, with Pinckney, and others, Roger Sherman, and Abraham Baldwin, for example, they tend to elevate, picking out their clear favorites from the Convention and raising their status considerably. Considering this is a character driven history, one they are careful to point out isn’t psychohistory, that is going to be unavoidable.

Still, where this book tends to excel isn’t necessarily in the character driven story. It is in the way that it takes the somewhat sporadic, and random debates and issues that the Framers faced, often confusing to those reading a traditional history of the Constitutional Convention, and give it an order that is both easy to understand and enjoyable to read. In that clarity, it becomes a much simpler task to understand the key issues that dominated the discussions in laying out the framework of a new, stronger government.

Without a doubt Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 is not a perfect history, and it is not without its flaws and faults. Yet it is a comprehensive history that gives the reader a foundation in the Constitution, its origin, structure, and meaning, that is both fun and easy to read. Though it should not be a final study of the Constitution, it is a great place to start and will give readers unique insight into the character and personalities of those who helped frame it, as well as their motivations. I would recommend it to any hoping to gain a better understanding of the history of Constitution.

Our Own Magna Carta Americana (Part Three)

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“Poor Madison got so Cursedly frightened in Virginia, that I believe he has dreamed of amendments ever since.” Robert Morris, the newly elected Senator from Pennsylvania, an ardent Federalist who had argued for ratification and against the need for a Bill of Rights, would observe.

The truth? James Madison had every right to be frightened. He had staked his entire reputation on the Constitution and it almost cost him his political future. Denied a seat in the Senate by the Antifederalist Virginia Legislature led by Patrick Henry, he had faced every obstacle in his bid to win a Congressional Seat. Now, despite the gerrymandering, despite being denounced by the most powerful man in the state, despite facing a younger, more popular opponent, he had won. Yet that victory had come at a price. He had to back peddle on his initial opposition to a Bill of Rights, an idea that had been presented at the Constitutional Convention by the likes of his fellow Virginian George Mason. Not only would he now support the idea, he would become its foremost champion in pushing it through the House of Representatives.

The third part in the continuing history in the fight for an American Bill of Rights, in this episode host Wyatt McIntyre picks up where he left off following the victory of James Madison over James Monroe in the nation’s first election. Taking on the early days of that first Congress and that newly elected Government he goes through the initial struggle that was faced by Madison as he sought to bring the Federalists and the Antifederalists together while preserving the newly formed government of the United States.

Join us as we continue our journey into one of the most important, sometimes misunderstood and misrepresented documents, in American history.

Also be sure to check out this Episode’s sponsor, Tactical Dads, at http://www.thetacticaldads.com

Thinking Historically (Part One)

BurkeWhen one considers the vast scope of the human experience it is not hard to recognize that we, at present, live in an age unique in the gradual evolution of civilization. Ours is, after all, an age of advancement, of unparalleled progression, development and improvement. It should, when we consider it against the backdrop of where we have come from, mesmerize and enthrall us. After all, we seem to perpetually be on the cusp of enlightenment, of social, and technological breakthroughs beyond the imagination of our ancestors in an increasingly more scientific society.

It isn’t to say that advancement is somehow unique to our current society, or our present age. In truth, we have always been motivated towards growth, and advancement. Engrained in our nature, whatever our motivations might be, we have always sought to master our surroundings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the American experience, one framed, shaped against the backdrop of the great frontier, challenging its people to be more, to do more. Faced with the challenges of the limitless potential of this new land, they would be forced to show grit and unbridled determination, ingenuity and innovation, not just to survive, but to flourish and prosper as a nation and a people.

Yet, in many senses, we have gone beyond, accelerating at a pace that would have surpassed the wildest imagination of our ancestors. One need only consider the fact that for thousands of years we travelled by sail, or by horse, with essentially the same technology used by Founding Fathers as by Pharaoh before them. Medicine, for the large part remained unchanged, and without significant advancements, with practices like bloodletting existing from Ancient Greece until the 19th Century. Though advancements were made they were slow in progress, and even slower to evolve. Now change seems to occur on an almost daily basis with changes made.

It has created for us a curious predicament. Though we see the immediate benefit, understanding that through advancement we reap a benefit an unparalleled benefit that lets us live longer and more comfortably, that allows us to be connected in ways that we never have before, carrying us places we have never been, and offering new and exciting opportunities, it has also changed our way of thinking. Once where we believed that history offered us instruction, guiding us to a better path for the future, we almost see look on it with a sense of bewilderment now. It interests us but only in so much as visiting a zoo or watching a movie interests us. In many senses we just fail to see how it relates to us, our experiences and to our society. It is, perhaps, why we find it so easy to revise and rewrite history to fit our needs and our purposes, creating a narrative that suits us better than the present one.

We have become a society that doesn’t understand the experience that history has in our lives.

It reminds me of the words of economist F.A. Hayek in “The Road to Serfdom”. In a very simple way, he explains the disconnect between history and the contemporary world when he writes

Contemporary events differ from history in that we do not know the results they will produce. Looking back, we can assess the significance of past occurrences and trace the consequences they have brought in their train. But while history runs its course, it is not history to us. It leads us into an unknown land, and but rarely can we get a glimpse of what lies ahead.

We have taken this to mean that somehow we live outside of history even while we create it. Though we can watch history with interest, that’s ultimately where it ends. The lessons that it offers no longer apply because we are changing too fast, advancing too quickly for them to be relevant. At least that was how it was explained to me as of recent.

Yet, even Hayek would go on to expound upon his idea of the separation of history from current events when he would write:

Yet, although history never quite repeats itself, and just because no development is inevitable, we can in a measure learn from the past to avoid a repetition of the same process. One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers. An accidental combination of experience and interest will often reveal events to one man under aspects which few yet see.

A true study of history isn’t solely a study of names, events, times and places. It is a critical assessment whereby present thought is shaped by the past, by historical knowledge and understanding, to make the choices and the decisions necessary to secure a more solid standing in the future. It is realizing that though history may never occur the same way twice, it can teach us something about how we must react to different situations and circumstances that may arise.

TrumanWhat we must be acutely aware of is the fact that we are not above the lessons of history. We need to have the ability to think historically, and to apply those lessons not only to our reasoning, but to our lives and to the world around us. It is only in that way will we be able to approach the challenges, the struggles and the successes of the new frontiers that lay before us with the fresh thinking that we need to adequately tackle them.

This post, and the ones to follow, are not intended to condemn. It is not my intention to look with contempt on technology, science or advancement. To do so would be to look upon the human spirit, a spirit that is always looking to the future, to that vast undiscovered country that lay before it, with a sense of the endless possibilities. It is, instead, meant to serve as a reminder. We do not live in a vacuum free of the lessons of history. As far as we may have come, as quickly as progress may be upon us, we are still bound by the same laws and lessons of the generations passed. The only difference is that by failing to recognize the importance of history we fail to realize that there was a path of least resistance to bring us where we wanted and needed to be, we needn’t have ventured so off course.

We cannot let our hubris get the better of us as we stand on the precipice of the new frontiers that lay before us. It is only when we realize that that we come to the understanding that there is more for us to learn from the generations that have come and gone before us and we strengthen our future by properly discerning and applying the lessons of our past.