The left’s war on wisdom from the past

Why is literature that gives us insight into reality spurned by the left and pulled from school curricula?  Is it because such literature threatens their agendas and campaigns to change people and the world in impossible ways?

The reluctance of the left to deal with people and the world as they really are – not as wished or imagined – is probably why "liberalism" has earned such a bad name in our time.  For today's redeemers and reformers of society who habitually ignore reality, the following two samples of such instructive literature must be too embarrassing, subversive, and painful to deal with.

Four reformers met under a bramble bush.  They were all agreed the world must be changed.

"We must abolish property," said one.

"We must abolish marriage," said the second.

"We must abolish God," said the third.

"I wish we could abolish work," said the fourth.

"Do not let us get beyond practical politics," said the first.  "The first thing is to reduce men to a common level."

"The first thing," said the second, "is to give freedom to the sexes."

"The first thing," said the third, "is to find out how to do it."

"The first step," said the first, "is to abolish the Bible."

"The first thing," said the second, "is to abolish the laws."

"The first thing," said the third, "is to abolish mankind."

– "The Four Reformers" by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1896.

The destruction of the past by innovating modern mankind [is proceeding by] carting off to a bonfire on the Western prairie everything that dead ages venerated.  Pedigrees, noble crests, badges of Knighthood, and all the trappings of aristocracy are tossed in; a despairing gentleman cries, "This fire is consuming all that marked your advance from barbarism, or that could have prevented your relapse thither."  But purple robes and royal sceptres follow; and strong drink, and tobacco, and the weapons of war, and the gallows – and presently marriage certificates, and money, and a shout rises that deeds to property must burn, and all written constitutions.  The bonfire is augmented, very soon, by millions of books, the literature of the ages: "The truth was, that the human race had now reached a stage of progress so far beyond what the wisest and wittiest men of former ages had ever dreamed of that it would have been manifest absurdity to allow the earth to be any longer cumbered with their poor achievements in the literary line."  To replenish the pyre, the people soon drag up surplices, mitres, crosiers, crosses, fonts, chalices, communion tables, pulpits – and the Bible.  "Truths which the hearers trembled at were nothing but a fable of the world's infancy" – so into the holocaust with Holy Writ.

 


Book-burning, May 10, 1933, Berlin (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

 

Now it seems that every vestige of the human past has been destroyed in this magnificent reform, and mankind may luxuriate in primitive innocence.  But someone reassures the despairing reactionaries.  "There's one thing that these wiseacres have forgotten to throw into the fire, and without which all the rest of the conflagration is just nothing at all – the human heart – and, unless they hit upon some method of purifying it, forth from it will reissue all the shapes of wrong and misery – the same old shapes or worse ones – which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes.  I have stood by this livelong night and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. Oh, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!"

– From "Earth's Holocaust" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1844

It is worth recalling that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (George Santayana) and that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32-36).

Why is literature that gives us insight into reality spurned by the left and pulled from school curricula?  Is it because such literature threatens their agendas and campaigns to change people and the world in impossible ways?

The reluctance of the left to deal with people and the world as they really are – not as wished or imagined – is probably why "liberalism" has earned such a bad name in our time.  For today's redeemers and reformers of society who habitually ignore reality, the following two samples of such instructive literature must be too embarrassing, subversive, and painful to deal with.

Four reformers met under a bramble bush.  They were all agreed the world must be changed.

"We must abolish property," said one.

"We must abolish marriage," said the second.

"We must abolish God," said the third.

"I wish we could abolish work," said the fourth.

"Do not let us get beyond practical politics," said the first.  "The first thing is to reduce men to a common level."

"The first thing," said the second, "is to give freedom to the sexes."

"The first thing," said the third, "is to find out how to do it."

"The first step," said the first, "is to abolish the Bible."

"The first thing," said the second, "is to abolish the laws."

"The first thing," said the third, "is to abolish mankind."

– "The Four Reformers" by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1896.

The destruction of the past by innovating modern mankind [is proceeding by] carting off to a bonfire on the Western prairie everything that dead ages venerated.  Pedigrees, noble crests, badges of Knighthood, and all the trappings of aristocracy are tossed in; a despairing gentleman cries, "This fire is consuming all that marked your advance from barbarism, or that could have prevented your relapse thither."  But purple robes and royal sceptres follow; and strong drink, and tobacco, and the weapons of war, and the gallows – and presently marriage certificates, and money, and a shout rises that deeds to property must burn, and all written constitutions.  The bonfire is augmented, very soon, by millions of books, the literature of the ages: "The truth was, that the human race had now reached a stage of progress so far beyond what the wisest and wittiest men of former ages had ever dreamed of that it would have been manifest absurdity to allow the earth to be any longer cumbered with their poor achievements in the literary line."  To replenish the pyre, the people soon drag up surplices, mitres, crosiers, crosses, fonts, chalices, communion tables, pulpits – and the Bible.  "Truths which the hearers trembled at were nothing but a fable of the world's infancy" – so into the holocaust with Holy Writ.

 


Book-burning, May 10, 1933, Berlin (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

 

Now it seems that every vestige of the human past has been destroyed in this magnificent reform, and mankind may luxuriate in primitive innocence.  But someone reassures the despairing reactionaries.  "There's one thing that these wiseacres have forgotten to throw into the fire, and without which all the rest of the conflagration is just nothing at all – the human heart – and, unless they hit upon some method of purifying it, forth from it will reissue all the shapes of wrong and misery – the same old shapes or worse ones – which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes.  I have stood by this livelong night and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. Oh, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!"

– From "Earth's Holocaust" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1844

It is worth recalling that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (George Santayana) and that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32-36).