against the tide

George Santayana, Spanish-born philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist once wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[1] It is often restated in a slightly different construction as “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” While it would seem to stretch its meaning beyond Santayana’s original intent, I would argue it does not diminish the truth of either in the slightest.



What is perhaps most disturbing, within the context of our time, is that implicit within those words is the absolute necessity for a clear and unadulterated record of the past, of history. Whenever history is destroyed, distorted, rewritten to mollify sensitivities, or cleansed of realities that may offend, no amount of learning will forestall the inevitable repetition of it. Which begs the question: which is worse, failing to learn from history or learning from a history that never was?

There is a current flowing through our national metaphysic that is seeking to alter the course of history and to erode the bedrock upon which we have for so long relied. Should we lose sight of the past, should we choose to “see indistinctly, as in a mirror” or to “know partially[2] then we surely will bear witness to the vicissitudes of historical repetition.

In an essay C. S. Lewis wrote, “Progress means movement in a desired direction, and we do not all desire the same things for our species.”[3] Using current criminal justice theory to illustrate the steady progressive encroachment of government he wrote “On the humanitarian view all crime is pathological; it demands not retributive punishment but cure. This separates the criminal’s treatment from the concepts of justice and desert; a ‘just cure’ is meaningless…Thus the criminal ceases to be a person, a subject of rights and duties, and becomes merely an object on which society can work…If society can mend, remake, and unmake men at its pleasure, its pleasure may, of course, be humane or homicidal. The difference is important. But, either way, rulers have become owners. Observe how the ‘humane’ attitude to crime could operate. If crimes are diseases, why should diseases be treated differently from crimes? And who but the experts can define disease? One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory ‘cure’? It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ The Straightener will reply: ‘But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.’…As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man), has died. The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good – anyway, to do something to us or make us something.

Lewis’ essay ought to be required reading; it most assuredly will make you think.


[1] George Santayana (1905), Reason in Common Sense, p. 284, volume 1 of The Life Of Reason.
[2] 1 Cor 13:12.
[3] C. S. Lewis, Willing Slaves of the Welfare State, The Observer, July 20, 1958.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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