Sunday, August 28, 2005

Quotations #071: Long

I normally don't put extended excerpts into my quotation file: it sort of violates the epigrammatic aesthetic. Sometimes, though, there's something that just needs a bit more saying...

We are no better people than our ancestors, though we live in an age in which improvement is seen as the norm and "history" is a place of darkness. We carry our challenges within us but we have to act anyway.
"Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead -- as if innocence had ever been -- and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been. There have been generations which remembered, and generations which forgot; there has never been a generation of whole men and women who lived well for even one day. Yet some have imagined well, with honesty and art, the detail of such a life, and have described it with such grace, that we mistake vision for history, dream for description, and fancy that life has devolved." -- Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
What shall we do? We should judge others with clarity, and ourselves unsparingly, and we must choose the right side, when sides must be chosen.
"The history of empire is far too important to be value-free. The rise and fall of empires to a great extent determines which values and ideologies will dominate an era. The study of empire says much about the contemporary global order, its origins, its moral and political bases, and the manner in which in which it may evolve. It is important to study empire in as many-sided, objective and 'sympathetic' a way as one can manage. It is neither possible nor desirable to be neutral about its history. In this subject neutrality would be equivalent to indifference to the fate of the human race. Judgements are inevitably influenced by who one is and by the dominant perspectives and values of the time at which one is writing. The descendent of a West Indian slave may have a rather different perspective on the British Empire from that of a European liberated from Nazi rule by British and imperial armies. It is certainly possible to condemn outright the hideous suffering of those subjected to Stalin's rule but idle to pretend that history would not have mitigated this condemnation had the society he created endured for generations and resulted ultimately in ever higher levels of material prosperity, Soviet global power and even some degree of individual freedom." -- Dominic Lieven, Empire: The Russian Empire and its Rivals

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