Continuing Explorations In Perception And Perspective

by Milo Clark

July 15, 2002


Why am I so disquieted by current approaches to current events. . . . . . . . . . am I alone?

OK, John Lukacs yet again. Rambling among historians, as I have, for so many years, I may be acquiring some perspectives on history. Maybe it is only attitude. If nothing else, I write about both history and historians. I grovel, dig, probe and pick at history searching for perspective. Doing so involves digging into historians and their ways, too.

John Lukacs, as I have noted, has a quality of prescience to which I am attracted. Published in 1968, written over the preceding twenty years, Historical Consciousness or The Remembered Past clamors to be read, reread and grokked. It remains timely, pertinent and compelling.

Recalling a much admired professor of history at Williams, Richard Agard Newhall and a polar opposite in international politics, Frederick Lewis Schuman, now both swallowed by obscurity, I may be sharpening my perspectives. Time appears to have passed Newhall by, while validating the work of Schuman.

Newhall tends to believe while Schuman critiques. Do not leaders, indeed, know more? Perhaps. Newhall appears to agree. Their abundance of information, however, may not be matched by either wisdom or compassion. Schuman attempts to provide wisdom.

In a 1966 correspondence, Newhall identified his attitude to conscientious objectors as ". . . somewhat tolerant contempt." Probing deeper, he finds that his reaction rests upon ". . . belief that official estimate of the situation is sound. There is here [Vietnam conflict] a deliberate act of aggression, an eventual menace to our concept of a relatively free and peaceful world which can better be challenged now than at some later date, and if successfully resisted now will discourage future acts of similar aggression. Since I recognize and accept the U. S. position of power in the world I approve of its use, which may be regrettable but should be accepted as unavoidable. It seems to me that our government has made it quite clear that these ideas are the basis for our action, and that people who claim to be 'confused' either deny the basic assumptions or are too ignorant and unsophisticated to understand them. It is, I find, very much part of my thinking that I see free of the sentimental, emotional reaction to the 'horrors of war. . . . I find myself highly unsympathetic with the people who become morally indignant over the war. Their assumption of moral superiority seems to me arrogantly impudent, and their willingness to make scenes are on a par with the temper tantrums of an undisciplined child and should be treated accordingly. . . ." p. 367

He expands in a 1969 letter, ". . . From the study of history I have come to equate the development of civilization with the increasingly successful development of larger units of society. This has made me a champion of the British Empire as a civilizing force, also the Roman Empire and the United States, even Russia should be credited with pacifying central Asia, a very turbulent and sometimes menacing area. I admit that conquest, looked at historically, seems often to be the most effective process, men being the sort of creatures they are. Freedom, of course, is something we are for 'as a principle' but the anarchists are its most logically consistent champions. . . . My 'sympathy' [for those who neither want to carry the 'burdens' of empire nor be burdened by its imposition] doesn't mean I favor avoiding the 'burden' of 'Empire' for the U. S. -- not conquest perhaps but the use, when necessary, of force for 'law and order'." pps 371-372

Lukacs: [remember the 1968 publication date]

". . . millions of people; in an uneasy fashion they are beginning to feel the increasing senselessness of 'progressive futurism.' p. 42

". . . new recognition that even the materialist certitudes were crumbling. It is only natural that people should be confused when their accepted institutions and truths, their categories of thought and concepts of life, show cracks in the foundations.

"Once large and inspiring words--Liberty, Freedom, Democracy, Justice-are losing their meanings, the meanings of other terms change. It appears that about more and more things the Opposite of Everything May be true, that the existing state of affairs might be best expressed through paradoxes, that satire even illuminates less and less, serious facts are often more absurd and ridiculous than their exaggeration fiction could be. These are the marks of an interregnum [a time between rulers or between ruling conceptual schemes]." p. 43

"At the time when this is written [1966-67] a recognition of some of these matters has become popular in the United States. This is in itself an important development. . . . Whether this marks the maturation of the American mind of a prolonged lapse into destructive despair I cannot tell.

". . . All these things to my mind, may mark another phase of our 'internalization' meaning a further deepening of our self-consciousness. For self-consciousness and self-knowledge are marks of the historical evolution of the Western mind in the twentieth century-man turning inward rather than outward, the recognition that he is facing himself, alone.

"This existential condition provides the key to the few really meaningful intellectual developments of the century: to the recognition that all philosophy is, really, epistemology now; that science can no longer be separated from the scientists whose statements, really, are statements about our statements of knowledge; and that the questions of history are concerned, rally, with the conditions of our historical knowledge." p. 44

". . . I learned how the meaning of documentary evidence may be distorted or obscured by a management of words. . . . 'factually' correct and yet the over-all impression would be false. At the same time I was attracted by the relationships of certain factors in international history involving such things as the endurance of national character or the movements of popular sentiment." p. 316

[Historical Consciousness or the Remembered Past, John Lukacs, Harper & Row, 1968 -- republished by Transaction pub., 1994, ISBN: 156000732X]

Epistemology: Greek roots in episteme: knowledge, processes of knowing and epistani: to understand (epi + histanai which is to stand before, to confront)

"The study or theory of the origin, nature, methods and limits of knowledge."
Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, 1974.

Pretty good definition, too, of grok.

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Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine.

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Published July 15, 2002
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