Written By: Anton Sawyer
This article is part of an ongoing series. In an attempt to be thorough, each video and/or course I research will be readily available to all (the free stuff). I would love to sign up for their complete online courses, so if you would like to see me go in-depth to one of their official courses, then please “buy a coffee”. I will use those funds to “advance my education” through the “prestigious” University that is Prager.
Debunking Courses Offered At Prager University Lesson 9—“Why Study History?”
If you’re a regular reader, you know I am obsessed with 20th Century American history. I've written many articles that have looked at the past to get a good idea of what lies ahead, along with finding patterns in history that have led to the same conclusions repeatedly. Given this background, the title of the PragerU course I’m debunking today leaped off the screen and into my face as soon as it came within my sphere of influence. I have to admit, out of all the Prager courses I’ve debunked so far, this had easily the most words used to convey the least amount of actual information. I can guarantee this: by the end of the video, presenter Victor Davis Hanson (Senior Historian at the Hoover Institute at Stanford) answers his own question a few times. Spoiler alert: he just doesn’t have the self-awareness to realize it.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
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To keep things clear, all statements from the video will be in bold, all my responses will be in italics.
Why study history?
Why study history? Ironically, this question is as old as history. 2,500 years ago, Thucydides, the great chronicler of the Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta, and the man many call the “first historian” said that “… I have written my work, not … to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.” Thucydides hoped that what he was writing would help future generations understand what transpired in his day. If they could learn from it and make better decisions, his efforts would not be in vain. More than millennia later, the American social thinker George Santayana said much the same thing, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Almost an entire minute was spent in this section to give a brief lesson on the etymology of a cliché which everyone has heard at some point by the age of 15. Some might see it as a time-waster, but in reality, it sets up the needed authoritarian vibe. Using names of philosophers and ancient historians allows the viewer a greater sense of trust because it shows that real research was done. For the PragerU follower, it’s just an incredibly large false security blanket.
The thing that’s so irksome about this entire presentation lies in the fact that PragerU is an extension of the GOP. As I’ve written before, when it comes to the American economy and equality on all social levels, they’ve been regurgitating the same lie for 100 years. Though the article breaks down all the specifics to each number, a condensed version looks something like this:
In 1921, Republican President Calvin Coolidge cut tax rates on top earners and de-regulated banking and Wall Street. In 1929 we had the stock market crash which led to The Great Depression.
In 1981, Republican President Ronald Reagan cut tax rates on top earners and de-regulated banking and businesses, ushering in “Reaganomics.” In 1987 we got “Black Monday,” which was the greatest stock market crash since 1929 and put the US into a recession that plagued most of George W. Bush’s presidency.
In 2001 Republican President George H.W. Bush used the economic surplus the government had as the justification to cut tax rates on top earners, while also de-regulating banks and Wall Street. In 2008 we got the largest Stock Market crash since 1929 which threw us into “The Great Recession.”
If we think in terms that about half of the country identifies as conservative, and supports this trickle-down narrative, then Faulkner is right. We know for a fact that at least half of the country hasn’t learned anything from history, and their voting records show we’re repeating the same mistakes.
But while knowledge of the past is a prerequisite to wisdom, it doesn’t give the historian a crystal ball. We must be modest in our claims: studying history provides an invaluable guide—but only a guide—to current and future political, economic, military, and cultural challenges. Just as it is dangerous to be ignorant of past events, so too it is equally risky to assume that history across time and space will repeat itself in exactly the same fashion. It never does.
Philosophically speaking, I completely agree with this section. It is dangerous to be ignorant of past events. It is also risky to assume everything will turn out the exact same way … to a point.
Though we’ve seen that our overconfidence as a species has ended up in complete folly throughout our history in a myriad of ways, there is also a point in which the evidence becomes so overwhelming that to ignore it would be just as disastrous. Using the example above when it comes to the 100-year lie, there is more than enough evidence to show that there is only one potential outcome when the combination of certain events transpire simultaneously.
(For those of you not paying attention, see how easy it is to use a lot of college-level verbiage to make yourself seem smarter than you actually might be?)
Still, with proper caution, studying history can warn us of dangers ahead. For example, across the ages, appeasing or ignoring enemies has rarely proven to be a prudent strategy. Usually, it’s disastrous. The Greek city-state’s coddling of the Macedonian King Phillip II, the weak Western democracies’ reaction to the aggression of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, and the indifference shown to the dangers of radical Islam by an affluent West in the 1990s make this point.
A 1939 Gallup Poll conducted between September 1st-6th asked Americans to what degree they supported assisting England, France, and Poland. Americans supported providing material assistance to these three countries but were overwhelmingly opposed to sending military forces to fight Germany. In a separate question in the same 1939 poll, Americans were specifically asked if the U.S. should declare war on Germany in support of England, France, and Poland and should deploy forces to assist those countries. Americans were strongly opposed, with 90% rejecting the idea and 8% in favor.
The part about radical Islam I don’t quite understand. In the video, we see a picture of the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers. There was a bombing done in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in 1993, but that’s the only 90s reference I could find tying that picture with radical Islam. I’m thinking that because there is no context, perhaps it’s meant to conflate liberalism with the September 11 attacks in 2001, which is an effective subliminal tool for the conservative masses.
There is another—perhaps less recognized—value in studying history. Every generation, none more than our own, suffers from a pernicious presentism—the arrogance that those now alive have created the most prosperous period in history. The result is that too often we judge a materially poorer past by the same contemporary standards of an affluent and leisured present. Those who study history can avoid these fallacies. Aside from the fact that the present is the beneficiary of the accumulated intellectual, moral, and scientific contributions of the past, proper knowledge of the hardships of prior ages teaches us the value of humility. To take just one possible example, it might be an easy thing to chronicle what seems to us prejudices recorded among the wagoneers on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. It is quite another to imagine how the trailblazers struggled to survive one more day in an age without effective medicines, labor-saving machines, or adequate shelter. Studying history also confers much needed perspective. It’s neither fair nor wise to attempt to apply the moral standards of today to say, the far more deadly 17th century when life, in the words of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
I have never watched a PragerU video where so many words are being used to say so little. In essence, this is all about appreciating what you have. To be honest, I don’t know how many people have read a historical account of the early pioneers and laughed out loud while scoffing at the trials and tribulations brought about because of technological limitations.
I do find this section to be perplexing in the fact that as a species, we define ourselves by our progress. Whether this trait is an overall positive or negative is debatable, but it’s this arrogance of advancement that pushes people to want to achieve more and more. Do you honestly think that Elon Musk wants to create everything because he’s so humble and just wants to help out?
As far as the application of moral standards is concerned; it’s allowing for the logical leap to accept things from our history that may now be called racist or the like. This is just a guess since his thought goes nowhere and doesn’t provide for any kind of bridge connecting the 17th century with today.
The Covid-19 pandemic seems to many like a public health crisis without precedent—until we take time to learn of the global outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus in 1918. The “Spanish flu” killed nearly 600,000 Americans in a nation of 100 million, with a worldwide toll of perhaps 50 million dead—and yet our nation and planet survived and learned from it.
The depths of the cavern known as “lack of Republican self-awareness” always find a way to reach new levels, doesn’t it? No Faulkner, we did not learn anything from it. During the 1918 flu, we got groups like The Anti-Mask League of San Francisco. A younger generation of these same individuals has returned like their predecessors to ensure that as the Spanish flu, Covid will most likely be around for at least a hundred years as well.
One of the ways that I used to endure the tedium, dust, and noise of a tractor driving was to remember that my farming grandfather covered the same ground with a team of horses. It took him two days of back-breaking labor to cultivate four acres of land. I could do it in an hour—sitting down. But while technology improves, human nature does not. That means we have if we bother to look, a timeless connection to those who went before us. Their struggle to make sense of life is our struggle. In this regard, there’s still much to learn from King David, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, or Elizabeth I. And, we can draw strength and courage when all seems lost from inspirational figures like George Washington, Frederick Douglas, or the Wright Brothers. Finally, the study of history teaches to value caution over certainty. We should avoid making judgments about who’s good and who’s bad as if we were watching a morality tale in the present. Major historical players like Julius Ceasar, Robert E. Lee, and Napoleon were complex men who at points in their lives did some good things. That these efforts ultimately led to bad outcomes—made far worse by their outsized talents—is one of the many tragedies of history. So, why study history? Nobel prize-winning American novelist William Faulkner summed it up as well as anyone, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” I’m Victor Davis Hanson, senior historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford for Prager University—End Credits.
This section here perfectly encapsulates the problem with any conservative being taken seriously as some kind of moral or philosophical speaker; the beginning sucks you in with level-headed prospects and then the entire integrity of the information given falls to pieces by the end.
Yes, in that finale Faulkner defended slave-owner and avowed white supremacist Robert E. Lee, along with a dictator in Napoleon. After defending them, he attributes “bad outcomes” as the reason for their fall from grace—and these outcomes being tragedies.
This course was a winding road of quotes provided by philosophers, historical figures, teachers, etc. all in an attempt to say nothing of substance when it comes to learning from history. From pointing out the obvious when it comes to how a lack of historical understanding can have negative consequences in the present, to defending the actions of white supremacists and dictators, this course has it all—when it comes to an inability to put logical conclusions together. The unwillingness to see history repeating itself in 2020 with our response to the Covid outbreak is breathtaking. And then to take it one step further by professing there are no similarities between our actions now versus those in 1918 because we “learned from our mistakes” … priceless. It should be laughable to think that anyone could take these blatant misdirections and information cherry-picking as something to be taken seriously. Yet, millions of our fellow countrymen see everything espoused in this PragerU lesson as not only valid but also entirely reasonable.
Hey Faulkner, I think I answered your question
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