Heritage as a Matter of the Will

Look closely at these two words -- heritage and destiny -- and see at once two concepts entirely different and yet intimately connected.  The former is what we have been, the latter what we will be -- and yet, if we simply describe heritage as what we have been and destiny as what we will be, we risk much loss.

For heritage, simply put, is not a series of historical happenstances -- dead, a record of what once was.  What once was is far better known as history.  But rather, knowing that any man may read history books and place them back on the shelf, heritage is something far different -- alive, something inherited and maintained.  It is a story propagated not simply by happenstance, but by a matter of the will.  In short, heritage isn't simply something we know about our ancestors, but rather something of theirs we want to keep.  And if we do not want it, we do not keep it.

For reasons of sanity, here must be distinguished two different types of heritage: universal and particular.  Only the latter is forfeitable.  For knowing that every man's story is different, that his forefathers' crimes and honors and struggles have begotten different microcosms of humanity with different manifestations of society both good and evil (that is to say, particular to certain persons and exclusive of others), mankind also has a common heritage, uniting black and white, male and female, civilized and barbarian alike.  This is man's creation in the image of God, his forfeiture of Eden, and his inevitable journey back to the Great White Throne.  Within universal heritage is encompassed a basic and foundational knowledge of the self and fellow man, without which no truly eternal brotherhood can possibly exist, without which there can be no unalienable rights and duties, and without which man's entire existence reduces him to an accident without hope, without glory, and without future.  Universal heritage may be ignored, but never escaped -- men may and should be held accountable according to it by other men, and they will be held accountable to it by God.

But, seeing that the second lesser kind of heritage, the particular, is a matter of the will -- morally subject to universal heritage, and maintained or forfeited by willing participants -- it becomes necessary to distinguish between what must be propagated and what must be abandoned.  For if men propagate the injustices of ancestors, not only error, but perpetual guilt and shame become an inheritance, damning posterity upon arrival and creating an injustice of another nature: children perpetually punished for the sins of fathers.  If heritage were simply a matter of recycling history and repeating it as a form of ancestor-worship, it could serve no moral or practical purpose, becoming a religion of anti-transcendentalism in which man could not only never rise above what he currently was, but also never rise above what dead men had already accomplished.

Therefore, seeing that particular heritage -- if it is to be beneficial (that's to say, an object of pursuit at all) -- must be a transmission of wisdom and goodness, and a forfeiture of follies and evils, we find ourselves in need not only of an eternal standard by which to progress (a moral compass provided by the universal heritage), but also of children willing to carry forward particular banners -- children who not only know what good their ancestors have done, but those who feel romantically inclined toward its perpetuation.  For whatever certain men say of the will -- wrongly, that it is a sovereign act committed by an impartial soul -- we must recognize that the will is nothing more than desire and potential combined: men will only what they want.  And thus we may say that in the perpetuation of heritage, two duties exist: the young have a duty to accept what is good; the aged have a duty to present what is good as living and desirable.

If the presentation of heritage is the duty of parents, what failures may we accuse the present generations of!  What negligence!  What willful ignorance in an age of unprecedented information!  To paint their greatest of ancestors with the hastily penciled lines of soulless history textbooks instead of carving statues of marble and gold!  To have given their children to teachers and professors, whose pathetic moral constitutions and self-loathing permeate entire classrooms, who smother glory under avalanches of guilt and make children hate their own identity!

Heritage inverted -- this is the inheritance of the modern American, the glorious story exchanged for something worse than nothing: a propagation of perpetual guilt and discord -- not a future to be gained, but a past to be lost, a people to be forgotten.  If heritage is an act of the will, then is ours likely to be handed to the next generation?  To children whose heritage comprises the ugliest they know, whose shame in their fathers exceeds their pride, whose story is felt to be better left untold?

Cursed are children without a heritage -- much more those whose heritage is worth keeping but thrown away.  But cursed still more are the parents of those children, who thought the greatest achievements of man not worth celebrating, whose hearts never beat wildly when reading of Hale, Henry, Washington, and Paine -- Abraham and Moses and David and Jesus.  Cursed are those who count the propagation of true religion and enlightenment and virtue less valuable than Monday Night Football -- walking but lifeless, spineless, heartless, with no future but to die clutching an increasingly irrelevant and dwindling "conservatism" on life-support.  To a series of rules for the purpose of production, and little more!

It may be said that the current fiasco -- a Republican party predominantly (though not entirely) filled with sellouts and establishment fat cats, and the Democratic party with traitors and villains -- may be a manifestation of our forgetfulness.  But if heritage is an act of the will, then let us pick up our books -- old books, written by long-dead men -- and start afresh.  Let us look upon the current era not as heritage, but as a stain in the pages of Western civilization -- as a second Dark Ages, as sins of fathers committed, but soon abandoned for lack of perpetuation.  Let us go back and fall in love with the great men of Greece and Rome, to pick up dusty banners, to celebrate the excitement of virtuous martyrs and the dangers of liberty -- to wet our eyes and cheeks before old gravestones as though heroes passed only yesterday, and reclaim what is ours.  This is what no soul can forfeit but ours, and then only if we choose.

If the above essay may be summarized in a short sentence, let it be this: if heritage is a matter of the will, let us then will to have great heritage -- first in the divine, and second by the moral triumphs of our great and glorious Western civilization.

Jeremy Egerer is a convert to biblical conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.  American Clarity welcomes friend requests on Facebook.

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