I have a few older books on my shelves, the oldest having been published in 1711. It is the 7th edition of “An Introduction to the History of the Principle Kingdoms and States of Europe” by Samuel Puffendorf. It is meant to be something of a handbook for diplomats who need to know the basic histories of the various nations of Europe.
There are two lines in the Preface which seem especially relevant to our situation today in the US, caught up as we are in political turmoil because of the polarization between the liberals and the ultra-conservatives.
Puffendorf (with a name like that, he’s got to be good), writes, “. . .he who has no Relish for History, is very unlikely to make any great Progress in the Way of Knowledge.” As Donald Trump sounds increasingly like Hitler, I find myself wishing everyone would take a crash course in the history of tyrants, looking in particular at Germany in the early 30s. Most Germans realized that Hitler was a piece of trash but they tended to dismiss him as no more than a bullying gang leader. And then he was appointed Chancellor. . .and the rest is history. Those who don’t relish the lessons of that history will be in grave danger of remaining ignorant of the dangerous twists in the soul of Donald Trump.
Commenting on the challenges in the leadership of England, Puffendorf said that the King’s ministers, “being divided into Factions, they are more concern’d to ruin their Rivals, than to follow the Dictates of Reason.” It is not only the King’s minister’s 300 years ago who are in trouble; it is the Republican party in our own time and place. Having been committed for some time to nothing more than being negative, they are now reaping the whirlwind, having given birth to a monster who is so inarticulate that his favorite word is “stupid.” He only knows how to make ad hominem attacks since he is unable to understand any of the ideas put forth by his rivals.
I wish I knew Puffendorf’s email address so I could invite him to America for a lecture tour. We have much to learn from him.