By Edward B. Driscoll, Jr.
Back in 2012, Tom Toro sketched a cartoon that aptly illustrates the connection between events of the present and the past. The scene features two professorial-looking men conversing in a library and text underneath that reads: “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”
As a historian, Victor Davis Hanson knows that feeling well, but he’s not the kind to stand by helplessly. Instead, he teaches the lessons of history to all who will listen. His determination to awaken people to the past is on display in “History in the News,” an eight-part video lecture from PJ Media now available on Amazon.com.
The series explores some of today’s hottest issues, from the state of higher education to the preference for emigration to the West. Hanson also touches on topics closer to his California home, including the fate of the Golden State.
The first episode focuses on “the German problem” in Europe. Pointing to the economic meltdown in Greece and the disagreements it fostered in the European Union, Hanson makes the case that Europe has been engaged in a “long war” with Germany. It started with the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and ended in 2012, the year the Greek government’s debt crisis began.
Greece’s default put Germany, whose financial clout is at the core of the European Union, back in the driver’s seat on the continent, a place it had lost after instigating two world wars. And now, with Germany united, the EU imploding and the lack of a common enemy in the Soviet Union, Hanson said Germany has even more influence.
“We’re back to the 19th century in some ways,” he said, “and it’s going to be a very interesting next 50 years.”
As Hanson turns his attention to higher education, he identifies three common criticisms, all of them valid from his perspective: 1) College educations have become too expensive; 2) despite those costs, universities are churning out illiterate graduates; and 3) “disinterested learning” isn’t possible because of rampant political bias in classrooms and on campus.
The current reality is a far cry from the historical ideal envisioned for universities, and Hanson is concerned that those days may be gone for good.
“The old idea of the university was a unique investment,” he said. “You cannot replace the classroom interaction between the professor and the student. You cannot replace the idea that students go and they meet various students of all different political persuasions, racial backgrounds, class backgrounds. You cannot erase the experience of being told again and again, ‘Think whatever you want.’ … We’ve lost all that.”
Hanson tackles the immigration issue from a different angle than modern news coverage. He examines why the flow of people has tended to be from non-Western nations to Western ones. He said it has been that way for millennia because of the “greater likelihood of prosperity, security and freedom.”
“People go to the West to create a new life,” Hanson said. “People leave the West to the non-West to exploit it or to have some type of imperial system or to colonize it.”
With that historical perspective, he then segues into a discussion of one of the most divisive political issues of the day – illegal immigration into the United States. That has become such a thorny issue because of what Hanson calls “a new multicultural apartheidism.” It encourages immigration without assimilation and holds guests in the country to a lower standard than law-abiding citizens.
“We end up with an entirely unethical enterprise masquerading as if it were moral when it is not by any stretch of the imagination,” Hanson said.
Another episode of “History in the News” delves into the longstanding military superiority of the West and how some enemies have checked that advantage. Recent examples include the Iraq insurgency of 2004-2007, the current situation in Afghanistan and recurring skirmishes in Israel.
Hanson attributed such periodic successes to five factors: 1) “military parasitism” where the West’s enemies get their hands on Western weapons; 2) asymmetrical warfare like terrorism that doesn’t adhere to Western norms; 3) an inability to unify Western nations in a military cause; 4) antiwar protests that have existed at least since Euripides’ Trojan Women; and 5) Western pretenses that repress a “desire to defeat, destroy and humiliate the enemy.”
In his lecture about California, Hanson illustrates the recent misfortunes of his richly endowed state by taking readers on a mental journey from where he lives in the state to where he works. The region is blessed with natural beauty (the Sierra Nevada Mountains) and human ingenuity (a network of electrical power plants). But it is plagued by a radical environmental streak that, for example, preferred a three-inch smelt over jobs for thousands of people.
“The result is the inexplicable and the unexpected,” Hanson said. “California took a rich natural inheritance and a rich human inheritance, and within one generation squandered it.”
Other episodes in the lecture explore the myths and realities of Ronald Reagan’s legacy in the context of modern conservatism, Barack Obama’s presidency as the ultimate fruition of modern liberalism, and America as the natural birthplace of innovation, past and present. He closes the latter lecture with this prediction: “The 21st century will probably be American.”
Visit Amazon.com’s “History in the News” page to learn more about Hanson’s thinking behind that prediction and to watch the complete series.