C. S. Lewis: “Studying the Past Liberates Us”

Lewis, relevant as always.

To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past.  ~ C. S. Lewis, De Descriptione Temporum”

I do wonder if Lewis might have to qualify “historians” if he were giving this lecture today, given the state of academia, which has fallen prey in vast numbers to the chronological snobbery he describes in Surprised by Joy:

. . . the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

At Breakfast by L. A. Ring, 1898


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