Thursday, January 29, 2004

For there is no remembrance of the wise…

more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.” This from the Ecclesiastics 2-16. It is a wonderfully moving text.

Since I don’t read Hebrew, I can’t be clear about what the use of remembrance here is intended to evoke. But the root meaning for remembering is Indo-European, and inexplicably bound up with mourning. And while, various structures of power pursue objectives with catastrophic consequences, the alibi being a declaration of uniqueness and permanence, a glimpse of the past—a past not yet forgotten-- leaves one wondering if the price in blood, treasure and tears might not be too terribly much.

That is why the study of history can be both exhilarating and enervating. Power cannot be separated from its public faces—the individual men and women who make the recklessly disastrous choices, their ambitions, and their frailties. Why is power so seductive for some? And why is it that those who revel in it are so persistently adamant about resorting to their gods to justify their conduct?

I am thinking here of Lynne Cheney’s Christmas card which I came across while purging my computer. The card includes the following quotation from Benjamin Franklin:

If a sparrow can not fall
to the ground without His notice,
is it probable that an Empire
can rise without His aid?

Lynne is an interesting warrior, but a bit too narrow-minded in her educational proclivities-- for my taste, that is. She has the audacity of a Kuyuk Khan, although she is not quite as forthright about the punch line as our other illustrious luminary. The following is from the inscription on the Khan’s seal:

In the power of the eternal heaven, the order of the oceanic khan of the people of
the Great Mongols, the conquered people must respect it and fear them

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