some Thoughts on History
by Will Durant


from The Lessons of History, by Will Durant

Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign.  Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple.  A cynic remarked that "you mustn't enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it."  However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends itself to the manipulation by the forces that mold public opinion.  It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that "you can't fool all the people all the time," but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.

Government and History, pp. 77 - 79


Since inequality grows in an expanding economy, a society may find itself divided between a cultured minority and a majority of men and women too unfortunate by nature or circumstance to inherit or develop standards of excellence and taste.  As this majority grows it acts as a cultural drag upon the minority; its ways of speech, dress, recreation, feeling, judgment, and thought spread upward, and internal barbarization by the majority is part of the price that the minority pays for its control of educational and economic opportunity.

Growth and Decay, p. 92


Have we given ourselves more freedom than our intelligence can digest?  Or are we nearing such moral and social disorder that frightened parents will run back to Mother Church and beg her to discipline their children, at whatever cost to intellectual liberty?  Has all the progress of philosophy since Descartes been a mistake through its failure to recognize the role of myth in the consolation and control of man?  "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow, and in much wisdom is much grief."

Is Progress Real?, p. 97


The heritage that we can now more fully transmit is richer than ever before.  It is richer than that of Pericles, for it includes all the Greek flowering that followed him;...  If progress is real despite our whining, it is not because we are born any healthier, better, or wiser than infants were in the past, but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of that pedestal which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises as the ground and support of our being.  The heritage rises, and man rises in proportion as he receives it.

History is, above all else, the creation and recording of that heritage; progress is its increasing abundance, preservation, transmission, and use.  To those of us who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man's follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing.  The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning in human existence except that which man puts into it; let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death.  If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children.  And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.

Is Progress Real?, pp. 1-1 - 102



from The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, by Will Durant

We dislike education, because it was not presented to us in our youth for what it is.  Consider it not as the painful accumulation of facts and dates, but as an ennobling intimacy with great men.  Consider it not as the preparation of the individual to "make a living," but as the development of every potential capacity in him for the comprehension, control, and appreciation of his world.  Above all, consider it, in its fullest definition, as the technique of transmitting as completely as possible, to as many as possible, that technological, intellectual, moral, and artistic heritage through which the race forms the growing individual and makes him human.  Education is the reason why we behave like human beings.  We are hardly born human; we are born ridiculous and malodorous animals; we become human, we have humanity thrust upon us through the hundred channels whereby the past pours down into the present that mental and cultural inheritance...

The Ten "Peaks" of Human Progress, 9. Education, pp. 102 - 103


A farmer might do his job very well, and bring up a fine family, with no other date in his head than that of the next state fair; but a man condemned to the intellectual life, precluded from the deepening contacts of experiment and action, ought to have sufficient knowledge of man's chronology to give him, as some poor substitute for wide personal experience, that historical perspective which is one road to philosophy and understanding.

Twelve Vital Dates in World History, p. 106


... that have no more right to use (the) name than the ferocious Christianity of Calvin or Torquemada or Tennessee has to use the name of Christ.

Twelve Vital Dates in World History, p. 109


...  Even Christianity cannot boast of so many wars waged in its name (as Islam), or so many heathen killed.  With this trifling exception, it was a noble religion, ...  There is no surety that the future is not theirs.

Twelve Vital Dates in World History, p. 112


Perhaps this (the introduction of gunpowder in to the West) is the most important date in the story of the fall of man; though some cynic might argue that a still more tragic event was the invention of thinking, the liberation of intellect from instinct, the consequent separation of sex from reproduction, and the abandonment of the perpetuation of the race to the selected morons of every land.

Twelve Vital Dates in World History, p. 113


Civilization is the precarious labor and luxury of a minority; the basic masses of mankind hardly change from millennium to millennium.

Our Oriental Heritage, p. 59