America has been so fortunate, and in many ways so outside of history’s darker corridors, that we have forgotten what we should have known, and neglected to teach it to our children. It’s like a population (think Native Americans before the coming of Europeans) that’s not been exposed to certain illnesses and is therefore less able to defend against them.
Too many of us—and especially our younger people—don’t know what to look for and guard against. We’re not sensitive enough to the signs, and our children are especially naive. We have not learned history not just because we don’t teach much of it, but because in recent years we haven’t thought we needed to, and we haven’t lived it in the way that eastern Europeans have, for example.
That “we” isn’t all of us. But it’s quite a large chunk. Meanwhile, the left has taken over a great deal of the teaching of history in this country, and most people who might have objected were either unaware it was happening, ignorant of the importance of the effects, or somehow powerless (or felt powerless) to stop it. So now we have a population that cannot recognize demagoguery when they see it, doesn’t understand how tyranny can take over in subtle steps that aren’t always recognizable, and is unaware of what the Founders had to say on the matter and why they built certain structures into the system to prevent it.
It’s not just the left’s doing; the left merely takes advantage of certain truths about human nature that ensure that people will always be susceptible to its siren song. That’s why education about the past is so important.
I’ve mentioned before (and sometimes I might write a longer post on this) that the thing that gave me pause, and kept me from being a leftist back in the late 60s when I entered college and leftism was so rampant, was a course I took with the seemingly innocuous title of “Russian Intellectual History.” I signed up for it because I liked Russian novels and Russian lit. And yes, we did read a number of novels in the course, as well as other Russian writers mostly of the 19th century (Herzen and Bakunin, for example). That course unexpectedly turned out to be what was probably the most formative one of my life.
It was there I learned—without anyone ever telling me directly—that in the 60s we were reliving those long-past Russian years in a somewhat altered, Americanized form. No, my generation was not unique; that was clear. No, we were not inventing something that had never been tried, going down some wonderful path that had never been trod. We were going somewhere that in the past had led to nothing good.
I could see it for myself; all I had to do was read, and think. If we don’t learn history we are indeed condemned to repeat it. And even if we do learn it, we may be condemned to repeat it anyway.
Here’s what David Horowitz (leftist turned conservative) had to say on the matter in his book A Point in Time. He uses the example of Dostoevsky, one of the great Russian authors who was a leftist in his youth and underwent a political change experience:
Despite Dostoevsky’s efforts to warn others, despite the fact that he [became] a national figure regarded as a prophet, the nihilistic idea that had captured his youth and nearly destroyed him became an inspiration for the next generation to lay waste his country and make it a desert:
“Even in 1846 Belinsky had initiated me [Dostoevsky] into the whole truth of this coming “reborn world” and into the whole sanctity of the future communist society. All these convictions of the immorality of the very foundations (Christian ones) of contemporary society and of the immorality of religion and the family; of the immorality of the right to private property; of the elimination of nationalities in the name of universal brotherhood of people and of contempt for one’s fatherland as something that only showed universal development and so forth—all these things were influences we were unable to resist and which, in fact, captured our hearts and minds in the name of something very noble.”
Nihilism in the name of something noble. And so it continues to this day, more than a hundred and fifty years later.