Rashid Elhawli

Rashid Elhawli

‘The Lessons of History’

lessons of history

The Thoughts section of this website blog, is dedicated to personal musings related to my self-designation as a life-guru and a history lover. Adding to this now, I’d like to include reviews of certain books that are in-line with this stream.

In this review, we look at the Pulitzer prize-winning ‘The Lessons of History’ written by Will and Ariel Durant. The historians/philosophers/sociologists have provided an awesome breakdown of the various lessons history can teach our post-modern world. Despite it being an enjoyable read, I had one major issue with it: lacked impartiality.

There were times when I thought to myself, is this a piece of propaganda promoting Western ideas and civilisation or an impartial analysis of what contributed to the fall and rise of empires throughout history?? There’s no doubt about the progressive nature, in parts, of our modern society. However, to write a book about the lessons of history and only include in it the ancestors of Western civilisation is pretty damn introspective.

The book continuously mentions the British empire and now the USA as the beacons of Western civilisation, following on from the Ancient Greeks and the Roman empire. This denies any input to human civilisation from empires such as Ancient Egypt, Persia, The Seljuks, Abassid, Umayyad and Ottoman empires to mention a few.

Beyond that, I did find the content to be well-thought out, structured and surprisingly short. The whole book barely read over 100 pages, nonetheless there was plenty to take out of it. Many young readers would find it extremely politically incorrect, however history does not stand to prove one person’s opinion over the other. The book highlights this, but also reminds the reader of some key global rules that we are severely overlooking today.

I think what stood out to me out of the whole book was a one statement about the relationship between freedom and equality. They mention, “Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.”

Entire societies are based upon the principles of freedom and equality. To see that they are in effect, inversely proportional, completely changed the way I view these principles. The way these manifest themselves in the practical world are what leads to the differing outlooks of societies.

If we rely on a Darwinian interpretation of this statement, similar to that of the complete liberties that many on the alt-right advocate for, the world will look much like the animal kingdom. The strong survive, while the weak perish.

On the other side of the spectrum, people become mere robots and lack the agency or capacity to facilitate their own dreams. Those in-charge can easily abuse power, especially with no in-built checks and balances to counter that.

Of-course, as with most things, the best solution lies somewhere in the middle. A fact the authors acknowledge, but then again a hybrid solution can also take many forms.


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