"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

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Monday, March 28, 2005
  Quote of the Day: Celebrating Man
An oft-repeated truism I hear all the time is that, "Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it." While this is true, it implies that the importance of history is primarily negative; in this view we ought to study history in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. I think however that there is a much more positive role history can play in anyone's life - namely, discovering what man (and a culture) could be, and ought to be.

Without history, it is true, we wouldn't know fully the terrible damage that religion can wreak upon mankind, or the massive destruction of human life that communism achieved in only 50 years. We wouldn't know that irrationalism in any form, secular or religious, has always led to impoverishment, dictatorship and death.

But we also wouldn't know that the hatred of man that we see emblazoned throughout the culture today in the form of animal rights, environmentalism or the corrupt "pro-life" movement was only an incidental aberration, and not something endemic to the world. Most importantly, we wouldn't know what heights men once knew; we wouldn't know that there was a time when man, not some ineffable all-powerful deity or insignificant animal, was the center of the universe and the highest object of reverence.

Such knowledge is needed, not just to refute those who look everywhere for metaphysical feet of clay, but for one's personal happiness. Knowing that a culture devoted to man's greatness existed is an invaluable aid for maintaining one's motivation in a corrupt culture. And it is immensely satisfying to live vicariously in a world that today is nearly impossible to find, outside of Ayn Rand's works of fiction.

I'm thinking, of course, of ancient Greece, which I consider in many ways to be the pinnacle of human civilization. I know of no other period in history where a culture so closely approximated my ideal world. Here is a brief glimpse into it:
Among all the peoples of the ancient world, the one whose culture most clearly exemplified the spirit of Western man was the Hellenic or Greek. No other of these nations had so strong a devotion to liberty or so firm a belief in the nobility of human achievement. The Greeks glorified man as the most important creature in the universe and refused to submit to the dictation of priests or despots or even to humble themselves before their gods. Their attitude was essentially secular and rationalistic; they exalted the spirit of free inquiry and made knowledge supreme over faith. It was largely for these reasons that they advanced their culture to the highest stage which the ancient world was destined to reach.

- Edward McNall Burns, Western Civilizations: Their History & Their Culture, pg. 147

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