Historical Imagination and the Renewal of Culture

On some summer nights I like to take my children up the hill behind our house. We live far out in the country and no lights from other houses can be seen. The sky is like black glass reflecting nothing, but dazzling with billions of stars and planets. At the crest of the hill we lie in the grass. It takes a little time but we eventually grow quiet and still. The children lie on my chest or snuggle under my arm and look up. We gaze up, up into the infinite pool which bears the stars into being. Above us, on especially clear nights, with the aid of a low power telescope we can locate a tiny smudge of light which is the closest galaxy. It is spinning, spinning, but it is so far away that one could look for a whole lifetime and not see it alter. There are other galaxies out there, I tell my children, that whirl into each other like discs blending in space without colliding. They pass through each other, those billions of worlds, at thousands of miles per second, yet they do not appear to move at all. The children can just barely believe it, but they do believe it because I am their father and they trust me.

“The universe is deep,” I tell them. “You can look into it forever.”

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The New Totalitarianism

The word totalitarianism usually generates impressions of dictatorial systems which crush civic freedoms and negate the humanity of their subjects in an effort to achieve complete control. Images of barbed wire, jack-boots and thought-control are conjured up in our minds. 20th century literature has given us some powerful works of fiction which suggest a variety of possible totalitarian futures: one thinks immediately of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Common to these dystopias (utopias which have collapsed into tyranny) is the absolutizing of the power of the State, or systems controlled by the State.

Totalitarianism invariably strives to do away with genuine absolutes and to establish false absolutes in their place. Genuine absolutes are fundamental, ultimate, unqualified truths, independent of the ebb and flow of cultures, fashions, myths and prejudices.

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