In Search of a History
by Richard Hiatt
Go to page one...
As an answer to this dilemma, Mortimer Adler,
professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, suggests we start at home. He lends great credence to what he called the "American Testament" (the Preamble, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address) "the sacred scriptures of this nation," suggesting that teaching them again would give students a foundation by which to fight the crisis of a national identity which is still "experimental," embryonic, pledged to the idea of "eternal
civil debate" and freedom of thought. It would galvanize the idea of
self-discovery at the deepest levels allowing students to know the
difference between fact and fiction, information and hyperbole, news
and scandal, substance and fashion, myth and folklore, perpetuity and
instability, (intrinsic) values and laws, art and non-art, humor and
hostility, common sense and nonsense.
Many other nations today don't share this problem of a missing history/narrative--simply because they are much older. They share deeply embedded bloodlines, languages and myths which curtail problems of national identity. We on the other hand are too young to have evolved such genealogical threads; we are still constitutionally and culturally embryonic. This is why the Founders leaned so heavily on history from the start - Tacitus, Voltaire, Locke - because they had nothing else on which to build a future. They were also aware, quoting Lewis Lapham of Harpers, that "all the pediments were jury-rigged, all the inscriptions provisional, all the alliances temporary" - which is just another way of saying that the only way to navigate an uncertain future was to have a firm grasp of world history.
The past is prologue. Psychologists say he who doesnt
know his own childhood is "doomed to repeat it." We need to reincorporate the narratives of a new but already rich heritage and not the countlessly doctored versions contrived to keep the res publica duped, misinformed, confused, smug, complacent, dull and dowdy. If not for the sake of future generations, then for the sake of those already uncomfortable with the harbingers of international tyranny and fascism.
Our children demand the truth, and it is our moral obligation to give it to them. It is then a test of moral grit to trust what they will do with it.
Copyright © 1998 Richard Hiatt. All rights reserved.