Yesterday was the first day of classes at ASU and I spent most of that day trying to explain to my students why studying history is important. Most of them are freshmen and are taking the course as a requirement, so I’m not sure how successful I was. But I’ll keep trying.
I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with “Drift and Disorder in World Affairs”?
In grappling with the issue of the U.S.’s lack of a coherent foreign policy William R. Polk points to an important factor that very few people acknowledge: us. Most citizens, and even many of the leaders, in this country are ignorant of the basic history and issues that impact their lives and the lives of others.
“Is this ignorance important? The French conservative philosopher, Josef de Maistre answered that it is because ‘every nation gets the government it deserves,’ If citizens are uneducated or passive, they can be controlled, as the Roman emperors controlled their peoples with bread and circuses, or as other dictatorships have with ‘patriotic’ demonstrations or manufactured threats. Indeed, a people can make themselves willing dupes as the Germans did when they voted Hitler into power in a free election. Ignorance and apathy are the pathogenes of representative government. Under their influence, constitutions are weakened or set aside, legislatures become rubber stamps, courts pervert the law and the media becomes a tool. So, even in a democracy, when we duck our civic duties in favor of entertainment and do not inform ourselves, the political process is endangered.” So true!
Polk identifies other important factors that contribute to the drift and disorder of the world, but I find this one particularly compelling. We cannot change what kind of leaders we get if we don’t first change ourselves. We all need to take our responsibilities as citizens of the U.S. and the world more seriously.
Please read Polk’s thought-provoking piece: History News Network | Coping with the Sense of Drift and Disorder in World Affairs, Part 1.