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By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Incite 26/2/19]
It is impossible to sum up with any kind of justified generosity the value of the body of knowledge put forth by Professor Victor Davis Hanson in his lectures, books, columns and public interviews. The man is simply a modern day phenomenon in possession of an incredible mind that is capable of gifting us with the details of the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s most powerful empires: from ancient Greece to today’s America and everything in between that 2.7 millennia time-line, including the Romans, the Byzantines, the Renaissance Florentines, the British Empire, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. This softly spoken man is a powerhouse of intellectual accomplishments.
Professor Hanson is a classicist, a military historian, a political commentator and a fifth-generation farmer. He puts me in mind of the talented, manly eclecticism that so typified Thomas Jefferson, minus the slaves.
His books include:- The Saviour Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost - From Ancient Greece to Iraq, The Decline and Fall of California: from Decadence to Destruction, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day - How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny, The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and Hanson’s latest work, The Case for Trump. (This list of his books is far from being exhaustive.)
If there is one outstanding virtue which Professor Hanson exudes in spades (I know he has many more than one), it is a strong sense of how history connects us with the present moment. He lives on the same family farm that his great, great grandparents of the 1870s lived on in the San Joaquin Valley in California. After growing up on the same plot of land which his family saw through WWI, the hardships of the Great Depression and then WWII, he has watched his home town transition from a high trust society to its current lack of neighbourly decency, largely because of unprecedented, illegal immigration through America’s Southern border. Hanson says in this recent interview with the Hoover Institution’s Classicist podcast:
“Who thought that in 2018 at night you’d hear cock-fighting in the air, as I do when I walk my dogs at night. We don’t know what we’re going to find - we found a dead body, we found stripped down cars, we find hypodermic needles piled up, we find people beating up their girl friends… that’s what you’d expect from a non assimilated, illegal cohort that comes into your country and the first thing it does is break the law. The second thing it does is break the law by residing here and the third thing it does is often have a false identity. So all of these things are the realities that a lot of Americans deal with and it’s a world away from Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi and Mark Zuckerberg who have these palatial estates and they virtue signal as a way of balancing their apartheid existences.”
This post-modern state of affairs stands in stark contrast to the world in which Hanson was sired and raised. No better recent historical overview stands than his own personal experience gleaned in just one generation of astute observation, summarised beautifully in his 2018 Christmas piece for the National Review titled, “Remembering a Farm Christmas: where old and young blended together, and diversity was natural, not conscious.” Here is an excerpt:
“Diversity was natural, not conscious. Our farm neighbors were Japanese, Punjabi, Armenian, Mexican American, and German. Stereotypes were far more positive than biased. So my grandfather would say in admiration, “No one can farm as well as the Japanese,” and “The Punjabis work into the night”. My aunt would learn recipes for Armenian food and say, “Why cannot we eat such delicious food?” and so on. So-called WASPs were rare in our rural neighborhood."
"To a small boy it seemed that siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, neighbors, workers, and friends drifted in and out all day long, especially during Christmas holidays. There was no such thing as being unwanted, much less any need for invitations. Fear of strangers was absent. People just showed up and my parents and grandparents shoved coffee and desserts in their faces and pulled up chairs. There was no concept of “private space” or “downtime,” much less “quality time” at all. To the contrary, the worst fate was “living alone” or “having no one to visit” or proving inhospitable.”
To witness such a change in one’s own beloved country must be a saddening experience. Yet Professor Hanson keeps hold of a certain dignity that can only be described as a sense of gentlemanliness which comes from good breeding, not of the snobbish variety, but of the old-school American variety that is seeded in one’s DNA from those who forged the modern spirit of the New World after Lincoln’s nation-defining presidency. His higher education as a classicist professor worth-his-salt only adds to his fair-minded dignity. He is one of the few current intellectuals alive today worth us listening to every single word he has to say or write.
In today’s cultural climate, which too often reeks of historical ignorance coupled with opinionated arrogance, Professor Hanson is a wonderful antidote. His ability to illuminate in great detail the civilisations which came before us, with insights to be taken note of, from every civilisation and every war, is pure gold to those of us aware of the always timely adage that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We may even find that there are features of the past worth repeating, for the past is certainly not all bad. But in order to repeat only the best of former times, not the worst, we need to know them as fully as we possibly can. I regard this as the great challenge of our era and we are lucky enough to have Professor Hanson’s knowledge as a lodestar in this worthy struggle.
It’s only fair to share! :-)
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