Home > Chesterton > The Importance of History

The Importance of History

Sisu offered a delightful Paul Johnson quote:

The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false. – Paul Johnson

Makes me think of this Chesterton quote:

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.” G.K. Chesterton

I think both quotes point to the illusion that the current generation is always more advanced than previous generations. We cannot see outside our particular cultural milieu. While every group in history is trapped by the particularity of their times, we can gain perspective by listening and engaging those from other ages and cultures. And when we do, we realize humans are humans in all ages and struggle with many similar challenges, so in spite our our hyperlinked world, we’re still human with basic human struggles and we can learn from those who’ve gone before us.

  1. October 11, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Hi, Doug . . . I Love the Chesterton quote. Thanks for the nice link. 🙂

    That other quotation — Santayana’s “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it” — comes to mind.

  1. October 21, 2006 at 12:47 pm

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