Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"What passes for little more than naïveté in deep disguise"

From Wilfred McClay's introduction to his new United States history volume, Land of Hope:
.... A nation that professes high ideals makes itself vulnerable to searing criticism when it falls short of them — sometimes far short indeed, as America often has. We should not be surprised by that, however; nor should we be surprised to discover that many of our heroes turn out to be deeply flawed human beings. All human beings are flawed, as are all human enterprises. To believe otherwise is to be naive, and much of what passes for cynicism in our time is little more than naïveté in deep disguise.

What we should remember, though, is that the history of the United States, and of the West more generally, includes the activity of searching self-criticism as part of its foundational makeup. There is immense hope implicit in that process, if we go about it in the right way. That means approaching the work of criticism with constructive intentions and a certain generosity that flows from the mature awareness that none of us is perfect and that we should therefore judge others as we would ourselves wish to be judged, blending justice and mercy. One of the worst sins of the present — not just ours but any present — is its tendency to condescend toward the past, which is much easier to do when one doesn't trouble to know the full context of that past or try to grasp the nature of its challenges as they presented themselves at the time. ....

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