Progressives, and some strains of neoconservatives, like to believe that history is constantly progressing upwards and forward, and that each age brings a type of advancement that will eventually lead us to an 'end of history' as espoused by the thinkers and leaders of this century-old movement. The United States has gone back and forth in believing this theory, with our citizenry never quite buying the argument that tyranny is a thing of the past and we are entering some sort of peaceful era of the enlightened administrator. Europe, for the most part, has long capitulated to this idea of permanent advancement and peace-- they believed it before and after the Great War, they believed it after WWII, and they believed it when the Berlin Wall came falling down. Indeed, after the Cold War we were momentarily swept up into this fanciful idea until the attacks on our country ten years ago woke us up. If there is anything within the realm of politics that destroys the Progressive notion of the unstoppable progression of the peaceful administrative state, it is foreign policy. Simply, there are bad people out there, and self-interested nations out there, and sometimes they try to kill us or each other. Even simpler-put, the times and surroundings may change, but human nature does not. Our Founding Fathers realized this, hence the creation of a government that manages to peacefully contain the extremes of human nature while allowing its better parts to justly be drawn out. Hence the constant annoyance of our Progressive friends at the Constitution and, to some, the Declaration, and constant historicist attempts to discredit the Founders and contain them and their ideas within their time.
A famous phrase that is unfortunately repeated too often is that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it; it is often the last cry of the high school history teacher to get many of his otherwise uninterested students to pay attention to those dreadfully boring textbooks (most shrug it off). It is a false notion, though, that if we know what happened before then it won't happen again. History is repetitive. We seek to know and understand the past so that we can better understand the present and draw from the common experience and wisdom of humanity lessons to help us when we meet the same challenges met by others throughout history. Too often we ignore that though, thinking that just because we know that things like tyranny and war have been bad in the past, we'll never have to deal with them again.
Luckily there are fellows like Victor Davis Hanson around, reminding us of the past to help us better understand the present. In this latest piece
over at NRO, Hanson discusses the current crises in the world and explains how we may be at one of those rare pivotal points in history; he contends that the present ills will either fizzle out like the revolutions of 1848 did, or vastly alter the status quo in a way that Constantinople's fall or the World Wars did. History is repetitive, and that requires our constant vigilance to thus pay attention. Greece's collapse could unravel the entire project that is the European Union, returning Europe to its former gloomy conditions in the 1970s and vastly altering the geopolitics of eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Germany is once more finding itself unfairly burdened by the excesses of its neighbors, and an angry and slighted Germany is usually part of a recipe for disaster. China's regional influence and wealth is growing as fast as Imperial Japan's, and the Arab revolutions unfortunately are seeming all-too-similar to the revolutions that swept the European empires out of Africa and Asia in the first place, that established the dictators they now overthrow. Through it all, though, the United States remains remarkably well-positioned, despite our present woes. Hanson points out that our greatest problems--dependency on foreign oil and our massive debt--are entirely optional ills that we could be rid of if we were willing to be rid of them. We still produce more food than ever before, have more fossil fuel reserves waiting to be tapped than anyone else, have the most successful and tested military power in the world, and continue to be the center of innovation and entrepreneurship. "America has never had greater strength or potential - and we should remember that as the rest of the world around us seems about to be turned upside down."