HISTORY FOR PERSPECTIVE
B.H. Liddell Hart
There is a modern, and too common, tendency to regard history as a specialist subject. On the contrary, it is the corrective to specialization. Viewed right, it is the broadest of studies, embracing every aspect of life. It lays the foundation of education by showing how mankind repeats its follies, and what those follies are.
It is universal experience—infinitely longer, wider, and more varied than any individual’s experience. How often do we hear people claim a knowledge of the world and of life because they are sixty or seventy years old. Most of them might be described as a “young sixty, or seventy.” There is no excuse for any literate person if he is less than three thousand years old in mind.
James B. Stockdale
In my view, the single most important foundation for any leader is a solid academic background in history. That discipline gives perspective to the problems of the present and drives home the point that there is really very little new under the sun. Whenever a policy maker starts his explication of how he intends to handle a problem with such phrases as “we are at the take-off point of a new era…” you know you are heading for trouble. Starting by ignoring the natural yardstick of 4,000 years of recorded history, busy people, particularly busy opportunists, have a tendency to see their dilemmas as so unique and unprecedented that they deserve to make exceptions to law, custom, or morality in their own favor to get around them.
The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.
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Donald Rumsfeld, 2002
There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns—there are things we do not know we don’t know.
Niall Ferguson, 2012
But there’s another category that Rumsfeld forgot to mention: the unknown knowns. These are things that people who ignore history don’t know, but historians do know.