Tuesday, August 9, 2011

History IX

When we last discussed history we encountered the difficulty of discerning the truth that can be drawn from history. At every turn we seem to encounter difficulty. I then proposed that in order to understand history we must discern what our ancestors wanted to pass down to future generations.

To illustrate the pointed we must turn to those who until recently were revered as wise and great men. I refer to those we call the Founding Fathers. Those wise and noble statesmen who risked life, fortunes, and sacred honor to bring freedom to the colonies of North America.

There is no doubt in my mind that that those who founded this country are counted among the brightest statesmen that humanity has produced. One only needs to read the Federalist Papers to see that the intellect that was at their command was vast, and the ability to apply such intellect in the foundation of a nation are unique to history.

Yet they were also men. Human. Fallible. They did not design a perfect nation nor were they perfect themselves. They experienced weakness. They compromised on principles. There are even times when such principles were violated in the most horrific manner.

But until very recently they were honored for their greatness. The people of the nation recognized what made them great. The country that they founded espoused the notion that freedom was given to all men by nature of being human. And on July 4, 1776 they signed a document that meant their deaths had not the war turned in their favor.

Thus Americans were raised honoring those men who founded a nation. They were taught why the Founders were great and to look up to them. They were giants whose shoulders we stood on, and we have much to be thankful for because of them.

This is why sane societies have heroes. They embody what a society should strive for. We remember the best parts of them as we try to guide the future. We teach what was good and just in them, and try to impart those good aspects on the next generation.

But one may ask, is this not a whitewash of history? Should we not learn about their faults and failings to get the complete picture? While it is true that a more complete picture might be helpful to understand the greats we must be very careful and clear about what we are trying to accomplish. For looking at a man's faults may shed light on him it can also obscure him in darkness. We can lose sight of what the great man has to teach us if we preoccupy ourselves with his faults.

There is also one other point that must be made. The reason why the great ones are so is not because they were not weak but that they did great things. We are all weak and fallible. The greats had weaknesses as do we. But they were more than their weakness. They moved above and beyond their weakness to inspire others. We remember what makes them exceptional, not ordinary.

But now one final exception is raised. Just as a individual is fallible in what is right and should be passed on, so can a society err in what should be passed on to the next generation. How does one address this difficulty? We will attempt to answer this in our final examination of history.

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