Faithful reader Gary writes in to offer a mild correction to this post of mine on Churchill and the study of history.
I’ve just read your post for December 19th on Winston Churchill and I feel I must digress and pick a nit with your use of George Santayana’s quote. Though commonly misquoted as you have done, the correct quote is as follows: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If you read it in its original context you can see that Santayana does not quite mean what you and others claim.
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience. - George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905
The use of the words “cannot remember” implies an inability not a capability as the words “cannot learn” seem to imply. For those who are capable but unwilling to learn, history is just ignored. For those unable to remember, like infants or a person suffering from Alzheimer’s, every day starts anew. Since nothing is retained, there is no history, nothing to improve upon and all actions are merely instinctive and reflexive. Every day is literally the same or as Santayana calls it, “repeating the past”
Thanks for all the great posts in your blog, they really provoke a lot of thought.
I agree with everything Gary says, especially the last sentence. The accurate quotation from Santayana along with Gary's interpretation actually lends more credence to the point I was deriving from Churchill, namely that an historically ignorant people can only live in the present and this limited perspective makes them susceptible to easy manipulation and immoderation in their politics.