Why don't we learn from history book summary

Why Don’t We Learn From History: Book Summary

Using history to interpret the past and predict the future.

Any man can discover the truth about himself and life as well. But discovery is without value unless it is expressed and unless its expression results in action and education.

History and truth

History is about finding out what happened while trying to find out why it happened. To seek the relationships between events.

History shows us what to avoid but doesn’t show what to do. It shows us the errors of mankind.

“Fools say the learn by experience. I prefer to profit by other people’s experience.”- Bismarck.

There is no excuse for anyone who is not illiterate if he is less than three thousand years old in mind.

“There are two roads to the reformation for mankind—one through misfortunes of their own, the other through the misfortunes of others; the former is the most unmistakable, the latter the less painful…the knowledge gained from the study of true history is the best of all educations for practical life.” – Polybius

Practical experiences

  • Direct
    • Scope and possibilities are extremely limited
  • Indirect
    • More valuable
      the great advances in medicine and surgery have been due more to the scientific thinker and research worker than to the practitioner.

“Hard writing makes easy reading. Such hard writing makes for hard thinking.”

More effort is required to express the facts with clarity than to express them cloudly.

“If you can doubt at points where other people feel no impulse to doubt, then you are making progress.” – Chang- Tsai

The Fear of Truth

  • I found that moral courage was quite as rare in the top levels of the services as among politicians. It was also a surprise to me to find that those who had shown the highest degree of physical courage tended to be those who were most lacking in moral courage, and the clue to this seemed to be largely in the growing obsession with personal career ambition—particularly in the cases where an unhappy home life resulted in an inordinate concern with career prospects.

Binding loyalties

Those who are disloyal to their own superiors are the ones who preach loyalty to their subordinates. Loyalty is a noble quality, so long as it is not blind and does not exclude the higher loyalty to truth and decency.

Government and freedom

  • All of us do foolish things—but the wiser realize what they do. The most dangerous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error. That failure is a common affliction of authority.
  • The duty of the good citizen who is free from the responsibility of Government is to be a watchdog upon it, lest Government impairs the fundamental objects which it exists to serve. It is a necessary evil, thus requiring constant watchfulness and check.

Power politics in democracy

  • The chairman of a company is apt to be more influenced by one or two individuals than by the collective mind of the directors who consider the policy presented to them.

Pattern of dictatorship

  • In gaining power
    • They exploit, consciously or unconsciously, a state of popular dissatisfaction with the existing regime or of hostility between different sections of the people.
    • They attack the existing regime violently and combine their appeal to discontent with unlimited promises (which, if successful, they fulfill only to a limited extent)
    • They claim that they want absolute power for only a short time (but “find” subsequently that the time to relinquish it never comes)
    • They excite popular sympathy by presenting the picture of a conspiracy against them and use this as a lever to gain a firmer hold at some crucial stage.
  • On gaining power
    • They suppress criticism on one pretext or another and punish anyone who mentions facts that, however true, are unfavorable to their policy.
    • They enlist religion on their side, if possible, or, if its leaders are not compliant, foster a new kind of religion subservient to their ends.
    • They manipulate the currency to make the economic position of the state appear better than it is in reality.
    • They ultimately make war on some other state as a means of diverting attention from internal conditions and allowing discontent to explode outward.

The psychology of dictatorship

  • Time does little to alter the psychology of dictatorship. The effect of power on the mind of the man who possesses it, especially when he has gained it by successful aggression, tends to be remarkably similar in every age and in every country.

The fallacy of compulsion

  • We learn from history that the compulsory principle always breaks down in practice.
  • Efficiency springs from enthusiasm—because this alone can develop a dynamic impulse. Enthusiasm is incompatible with compulsion—because it is essentially spontaneous. Compulsion is thus bound to deaden enthusiasm—because it dries up the source.
  • I believe that freedom is the foundation of efficiency, both national and military.

Progress by compulsion

  • The more hurried the effort, the greater the risk to its endurance. The surer way of achieving progress is by generating and diffusing the thought of improvement.
  • A life spent in sowing a few grains of fruitful thought is a life spent more effectively than in hasty action that produces a crop of weeds. That leads us to see the difference, truly a vital difference, between influence and power.

The importance of keeping promises

  • Civilization is built on the practice of keeping promises. It may not sound like high attainment, but if trust in its observance be shaken the whole structure cracks and sinks. Any constructive effort and all human relations—personal, political, and commercial—depend on being able to depend on promises.
  • It is immoral to make promises that one cannot in practice fulfill—in the sense that the recipient expects.

The problem of limiting war

  • Can war be limited? Logic says, “No. War is the sphere of violence and it would be illogical to hesitate in using any extreme of violence that can help you to win the war.”
  • History replies, “Such logic makes nonsense. You go to war to win the peace, not just for the sake of fighting. Extremes of violence may frustrate your purpose, so that victory becomes a boomerang. Moreover, it is a matter of historical fact that war has been limited in many ways.”

The problem of world order

  • Vitality springs from diversity—which makes for real progress so long as there is mutual toleration, based on the recognition that worse may come from an attempt to suppress differences than from acceptance of them.

“All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton

  • we were given minds to think—to search for the truth behind conventions and myths. We are given minds to use, and there can be no better use for them than religious thinking.
  • Truth is a spiral staircase. What looks true on one level may not be true on the next higher level. A complete vision must extend vertically as well as horizontally—not only seeing the parts in relation to one another but embracing the different planes.
  • Science and technology have produced a greater transformation of the physical conditions and apparatus of life in the past hundred years than had taken place in the previous two thousand years.

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