Some activist professors have told me in recent weeks that Henry Ford was right when he said that history was bunk, and that even a study of history will be of no use to coming generations. Everywhere we look, the extremist minority is convinced that the present moment, however exciting or ridiculous, is the thing that matters and that deliberate rejection of the past is the only way to look upon a future where all men are brothers in a peaceful world.
Loren Eiseley, professor of anthropology and the history of science at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a recent editorial in Science: “A yearning for a life of noble savagery without the accumulated burdens of history seems in danger of engulfing a whole generation, as it did the French philosophs and their eighteenth-century followers. Those individuals who persist in pursuing the mind-destroying drug of constant action have not only confined themselves to an increasingly chaotic present—they are also, by the deliberate abandonment of their past, destroying the conceptual tools and values that are the means of introducing the rational into the oncoming future.” Moreover, we are a society apparently bemused in purpose, yet secretly homesick for a world of lost tranquility.
Well, perhaps the activist professors are right, perhaps we have been wasting our time on irrelevant matters like history; the complicated mosaic of the past may mean nothing at all. Yet experience suggests, as Will Durant once put it, that an old tradition must not be too quickly rejected since our ancestors were not all fools. Another way of saying the same thing is that there is nothing new under the sun except arrangement. Mercy, justice, and integrity have always been there ...1
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