The American Future

Posted on Sep 12, 2010 | 0 comments

By Simon Schama

This is a great reminder of what America has been, promised to be, and could still be. 

At first I worried that Schama was going to dwell on the events of the recent past, the turn of the century, and the current situation that is all too familiar.  It has been covered at length.  But he does a great job as the book progresses of painting vivid pictures of the United States at other critical junctures to bring into relief the modern age.  It is the priceless gift of history to give context to the present and to show that there is no inevitability to the course we’re on; it hasn’t always been so.

Here’s just a brief, stirring sample, where Schama describes Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia:

 Sentences like Jefferson’s great coda [to Notes on the State of Virginia] are what should be the text that schoolchildren throughout the American republic ought to recite each day instead of the numb, and, since the fifties, mindlessly reverent Pledge of Allegiance.  Then they would understand, right away, the proper meaning of their nation’s existence.  “Truth is great,” wrote the man who could be hypocrite, egotist, utopian, beady-eyed stratagem-maker, all in the same week; yet if he had written only the following, he would have still warranted the gratitude of posterity.  It is the unflinching answer to moral and immoral bullying (whether by Americans or others); to the sweaty insecurity of the fanatics, to the secret policemen and thug-triumvirs.  It is why it is never sensible to give up on America. 

“Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself…she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”

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