Thoughts from the Past for the Present, and for the Future for that Matter

Posted on December 2, 2018


I often invoke the adage, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” probably coined by George Santayana (1863-1952).

There is a lot of what I’d call popular wisdom out there from other ages. When reading these, one wonders how clever and original are we really when compared to the past?

Try these on politics and democracy from Winston Churchill (1874-1965): “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” I would suggest a one-minute conversation would be enough, if that long.

Think you know something better than democracy? Bernie Sanders and supporters need to chew on this one. “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

And, before I leave democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried [including socialism mentioned above] and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been.”

As the Left in this country becomes more strident, I kind of like this one, also attributed to Churchill. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Listening to one’s critics seems to be a thing of the past. But, as Churchill phrased, it does take courage to listen. I see and hear few listeners of courage these days, mostly yelling and screaming that passes for the exchange of political views. That’s ignorance or passion gone to seed, or both, and does not augur well for the rest of us.

Henry Ford (1863-1947) had his own take on politics and history: “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we made today.

Ford, of course made cars, made money and made history by doing so. But he also inadvertently embraced history. He was in a long historical line of anti-Semites and blamed the Jews for many problems.

On the other hand, Ford was also a pioneer of welfare capitalism, employed far more blacks in his car factories than others, and doubled wages at one time. His factories, converted from cars to airplanes for example, helped bury the Germans and Japanese in bombs during the Second World War, the giant Willow Run plant producing 650 B-24s per month at its peak in 1944.

He may have thought that history and making cars did not belong in the same category. Perhaps not. He wasn’t much of a churchgoer. Raised in the Episcopalian Church, he took on some quirky views like reincarnation, and of course anti-Semitism which was not uncommon in the Americas of the 1920s and 1930s.

He believed, like perhaps Steve Jobs, one of the founders of the Apple empire, that truth lay in science and industry, with man at the center, not God. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) commented that “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Neither Ford nor Jobs found much comfort in Christianity, largely because it asks you to replace self with Jesus as the force in your life, and the business of making cars and computers was too satisfying and led to a certain smugness toward the spiritual world.

In s way, from the Christian perspective, they and others—agnostics or atheists for example—were living a lie which as the great Marxist leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917 observed, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth,” Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). Lenin, the champion of socialism, was in fact predicting the final outcome of communism in the Soviet Union in the late twentieth century when truth prevailed, and the symbolic Berlin Wall was torn down as the old Soviet Union collapsed.

I like Mark Twain’s (1835-1910) take on truth better than Lenin’s. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” But as Scripture reminds us, “the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)

Finally, returning to politics, my old standby Churchill commented that “I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents.” President Trump should take that one to heart. Maybe I’ll write my first Tweet with it.

Published as “Timeless Thoughts on Politics, Democracy” in The Tuscaloosa News, Oct. 14, 2018.

Posted in: Democracy, History