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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On the Importance of History

It seems that in our mad rush toward progress and prosperity, we have become afflicted with a malignant contemporaneity.  We don't really have time or patience to ponder the lessons of our legacy.  We are too busy with the present to bother much with the past.  As a result of this morbid preoccupation with ourselves, and its resulting historical ambivalence, if not ignorance, we have virtually locked ourselves into a recalcitrant present.

Thus, the English author and lecturer John H. Y. Briggs has poignantly argued that a historical awareness is essential for the health and well-being of any society; it enables us to know who we are, why we are here, and what we should do.  He says "Just as a loss of memory in an individual is a psychiatric defect calling for medical treatment, so too any community which has no social memory is suffering from an illness."

Lord Acton, the great historian from the previous generation, made the same point, saying: "History must be our deliverer not only from the undue influence of other times, but from the undue influence of our own, from the tyranny of the environment and the pressures of the air we breathe."  The venerable aphorism remains as true today as ever: "He who forgets his own history is condemned to repeat it."

The fact is, history is not just the concern of historians and social scientists.  It is not the lonely domain of political prognosticators and ivory tower academics.  It is the very stuff of life. -- George Grant

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