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FROM MY CORNER, Our Brief History

Howell Hurst People


Our Brief History

If you have never read it, I suggest you will find Charles van Doren’s book, “A History of Knowledge” greatly entertaining. It may even give you a new found sense of optimism for the human race.

I read it about once a year to boost my outlook to a rosier level. Being a Capricorn (which true believers in this art contend is a pessimistic fellow) I always have to work to maintain a positive attitude about my fellow creatures.

The very first page of van Doren’s very first chapter, entitled “Wisdom of the Ancients” indicates to me how stringently we tend to cling to old ways and stay the same century after century.

Van Doren points out that an immense part of mankind’s inventive nature has been spent “inventing new ways of killing and torturing other human beings.” He also notes the threat of pain and death has always been found to be “often the only means of ruling large numbers of people.”

Laws, he comments, provide security against outsiders, but not always against the rulers themselves, who rule “by violence and guile.” Finally, he clarifies that almost everywhere religious leaders “join with the . . . rulers to keep the people in submission.” As the Frenchman said: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This last point is usually supported by the idea that justice is the interest of the stronger, because they can essentially infer it is divine and, therefore, right. It certainly appears that attaching oneself to divine preachers remains highly profitable. Most politicians follow this course “religiously.”

The Egyptians were the first major empire known to to arise. They were the original conservatives. Their secret, which they practiced for thirty centuries, was to avoid changes wherever possible.

Egypt decided to “avoid progressing in any way” van Doren documents. And, not surprisingly, they progressed “remarkably little in three thousand years.” Does it not sound familiar to America’s current ruling regime, that Egyptian leaders placed massive importance on the concept of law and order?

It’s enough, van Doren observed some time ago, that at least one half of Americans grasp firmly the Egyptian attitude toward life of holding to the status quo “even if change is shown to be improvement.” His summation is “Any change, for a tyrant, is for the worse.” And “The tyrants of our own time have not forgotten it.”

If you would like to bite off a few nuggets of Mr. van Doren’s enlightening and exciting wisdom I propose you go online at and order a copy of “A History of Knowledge, The Pivotal Events, People, and Achievements of World History.”

It’s a fascinating read. It may possibly give you hope for the future of your children, and theirs. Or, if you have a skeptical nature, confirm your worst fears. No matter what, you’ll find it helps you make sense of the life you’ve led and are still leading.


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