“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.
A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” (C. S. Lewis, Learning in War-Time)
To which I would add, the opposite also is painfully true. If we raise a generation of those who think they know everything just because they are taught a specific trade, make lots of money, or know only the newest and novelest theories, but have no accurate and realistic sense of their place in history, you are in trouble. In this case you have a culture that can be driven like a heard of lemmings over the edge of a precipice and have them bounce cheerfully to their death. You can tell them to erase history and create your own new version of the truth. And they will do it.
We live in a culture of reigning ignorance. Ignorance of history. Ignorance of logic. Ignorance of the development of ideas. Just look around. Donald Trump leading in the poles is a mighty testament to this fact. People vote for the superstar, having no inkling of the massive weight and consequence of leadership.
I came to this cringing realization in a recent conversation with a friend. I spent a good 16 years in school. What can I say about the basic sketches of history? What can I say about the history of ideas and thought? Why are we currently in the place that we are in? I. Don’t. Know. Ugh.
We are to read and think because we are to fear the deadly peril of our own ignorance. We must know and understand the past if we are to properly live in the present.