classics, Conservativism, Denis Diderot, French Enlightenment, Greek History, Greek philosophy, Greek tragedy, Greeks, human nature, interview, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Philosophy, Thucydides, Victor Davis Hanson
“I don’t think I would think the way I do if I hadn’t had an affinity for the writings of the Greeks. I think the idea the Greeks had, the tragic view of the world — that there are limitations in the human experience: we all age, we all die, we don’t demand utopian perfection given the brief time we’re on earth — has made me more realistic about things.
So when you see a war, for example, you don’t ask who’s one hundred percent good and who’s one hundred percent evil. There is good and evil in the world, yes, but it can sometimes be very difficult to understand that you have to go to war even though you won’t always be in the right.
The Greeks were much more realistic about the fallibilities of human nature. That’s had a very profound influence on me…
The idea that people are predictable across time and space, as the historian Thucydides said. That they have appetites and urges which are often identifiable. That people seem to respond to status and honor and fear, and that civilization — whether it’s religion, or custom and tradition, or politics — tends to save us from our selves.
It’s a very different view from the Rousseauian, Diderot, French enlightenment idea that we’re born into the world perfect human beings, but that religion or the family or the government repress us and ultimately ruin us.”
Victor Davis Hanson, checking off the important boxes in the first minute of his three-hour-long C-SPAN In-Depth interview in 2004. If you want to read Hanson, pick up his acclaimed study of nine pivotal battles in history, Carnage and Culture. I just ordered my copy.
Watch Hanson’s answer (along with the other two hours and fifty-nine minutes) below.
Then move on:
- An illuminating passage from Arthur Schlesinger’s biography of RFK — how the Kennedys read the Greeks differently (and how Robert took solace in them after Jack’s death)
- A summary: the Christian worldview vs. the Greek worldview
- How ancient Greeks partied