Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Henry Ford was Right

History was my undergraduate major.  I have been fascinated by history all my life, since I first realized as a boy that what is is only a moment appended to what has been.  

But I am belatedly coming to the conclusion that that notion is wrong.  What the world has now become so dwarfs and outstrips everything that has gone before as to make history essentially trivial and irrelevant.  

Modern Rome is twice the size and population of Imperial Rome and modern Italy has almost as many people as the whole Roman empire at its height.  Yet no one speaks of the "Grandeur" of today's Italy.

Modern Athens is tens of times more populous than ancient Athens, has abolished slavery, enfranchised women, is also a democracy, has near-universal literacy, has far higher living standards, longer life expectancy and so on.  Almost all Greek-speaking people live in a united polity instead of in perennially warring city-states.

Modern China is a colossus both in area and population compared to even the greatest of its earlier dynastic incarnations.  The same is true of other great empires of the past - Mexico, Egypt, Peru, Turkey, Spain, Iran, even Britain.  

I have come to the conclusion that the past was small and primitive in every way compared to modern times and, if we are frank about it, has little to teach us.

Our study should be not the past but imagining and planning the future of this brave new world.  Ford was right.  History is bunk.


  1. Can we learn from the past? Yes we can. Do we learn from the past? Probably not, mainly because we are arrogant enough to think that right now is superior to back then. You can walk now because you took small steps sixty-five years ago. You think the things you think because of how you we raised and educated. You are smarter, know more, are more competent than when you were five, but each step you took led to another until you arrived at where you are today. Do you really think your past has nothing to do with who you are now?

  2. The past has everything to do with what the present is like. But that is its only significance. The present and the future are what matter.