Eternally At the Crossroads of History: The Present

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Contrary to what you might have heard, history has not come to an end. Every day that we are alive, human actions of the present slip into past and become history.

The present time is the kind of time which has come and gone in countless lands a countless number of times in human history. We live in an age where a long and fateful struggle has come to an end. The Cold War, the successor to the Second World War, which in turn was a successor to the First World War, is over.

The twentieth century, mankind’s bloodiest hundred years, is over. Gone is the fin-de-siecle, except in the vast wastelands known as “literature” departments, who dump Shakespeare and Trollope in favor of the lamentations of those who define human life by orgiastic indulgences, and the endless search for the great literature of the most obscure tribes they can find. Novelty, not novels. Sadly, the views which dominate our universities are not even novel. They are rather stale. Thus, in Plato’s dialogues, Socrates responded to his opponents — who defined human life as the pursuit of pleasure — by noting that the best human life must be the life of a catamite. Today, that seems to be the reigning view. Note the attack on the Boy Scouts.

Western civilization is readjusting itself after a long fight with the anti-western communist bloc. Liberty, which seemed to pale in importance against the threat of nuclear destruction, is enjoying a rebirth.

And, of course, the fight for liberty and against collectivism goes on. The end of a century, like a birthday, is merely a statistical note, a line on a sheet of paper. The flow of time, and the changes in civilization, do not obey mere notations on a calendar. But we have at least reached a point in time where we can take a breather, hands on our knees like a linebacker after chasing Barry Sanders on a long run.

What to do, what to do? How to repair the damage done to the West during the 20th Century? How to take the offensive and rehabilitate the West. How to purge the sickness of collectivism?

The how is simple, and recommended by Voltaire. Work. In Candide, Voltaire suggests tending one’s garden as the path to the good life. It keeps us busy, and thus out of trouble. But it is also the way in which the entire world gets cleaned up. If we all take care of our own, and help those around us when they need help, there is no incentive to call for Big Brother to come and lend a hand.

The remedy, then, is simple. Work, work, work, work, work. Do your job, and do it well. Practice your faith, whatever that might be. If you are a free thinker, and not a member of any organized religion — like F.A. Hayek — this may simply mean striving to be a good and decent man. Hayek, aside from a brilliant writer, was universally acknowledged to be kind, polite, and cheerful. Live your human life to the best of your abilities.

And most importantly, spend some leisure time rediscovering what it is that made Western civilization distinct and what it is that has sustained the West through the millenia. Read the classics, and ignore the trendy — and blatantly political — attacks on such classics.

If we do not work to repair the West right now, then the West can only degenerate further — making rehabilitation that much harder. Furthermore, although those of us alive today may feel unworthy successors to the legacies of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Paul, we are it. In baseball, you win with the team you put on the field. You have subs on the bench, but that is it. Once the game is on, you cannot call up a fresh arm from the minors, and you cannot take back a pitch that has been thrown.

In closing, if you identify yourself as a traditionalist, or as someone who believes in liberty and virtue, you are it. Political correctness convinces you to defeat yourself by silencing yourself. Do not give in to this temptation. Although you may be unpopular with some by speaking out for freedom, it is not wise to seek popularity with those who would be slaves. This is not to sanction incivility — again, Hayek was always known as polite — but it is to encourage a principled, cheerful, and optimistic resistance to statist egalitarianism and the Left.

To quote Schiller’s Ode to Joy, we must live our lives as a hero runs a race. All out, and with a goal in mind. What’s the goal? The recognition that human life is good and worth living, and that human life and flourishing is best protected on this earth by a respect for political and economic liberty.

By the way — if you’re not partial to Beethoven’s 9th, try Bob Marley. In the words of “Get up, Stand up,”

You can fool some people sometimes
But you can’t fool all the people all the time
So now we see the light
We gonna stand up for our right.

You heard the man. Get a move on it.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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