THOMAS SOWELL, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of America's most important public intellectuals, retired from column-writing at the end of 2016. Here are snips from his last piece, "Random Thoughts, Looking Back: Avoiding the fatal mistake of disregarding the record of the past," nationalreview.com, December 27, 2016.
Not everything about the past was admirable. Poet W.H. Auden . . .
. . . called the 1930s "a low dishonest decade." So were the 1960s, which launched many of the trends we are experiencing so painfully today. Some of the fashionable notions of the 1930s reappeared in the 1960s, often using the very same discredited words and producing the same disastrous consequences.
The old are not really smarter than the young, in terms of sheer brainpower. It is just that we have already made the kinds of mistakes that the young are about to make, and we have suffered the consequences that the young are going to suffer if they disregard the record of the past.
If you want to understand the fatal dangers facing American today, read The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill. . . . [It] shows Europe's attitudes and delusions -- aimed at peace in the years before the Second World War -- which instead ended up bringing on that most terrible war in all of human history.
. . . .
You cannot live a long life without being forced to change your mind many times about people and things -- including, in some cases, your whole view of the world. Those who glorify the young today do them a great disservice, when this sends inexperienced young people out into the world cocksure about things on which they have barely scratched the surface.
. . . .
There are words that were once common but that are seldom heard any more. The phrase "none of your business" is one of these. Today, everything seems to be the government's business or the media's business. And the word "risqué" would be almost impossible to explain to young people, in a world where gross vulgarity is widespread and widely accepted.
Back when I taught at UCLA, I was constantly amazed at how little so many students knew. Finally, I could no longer restrain myself from asking a student the question that had long puzzled me: "What were you doing for the last twelve years before you got there?"
Reading about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and the widespread retrogressions of Western civilization that followed, was an experience that was sobering, if not crushing. . . .
When I was growing up, we were taught the stories of people whose invention and scientific discoveries had expanded the lives of millions of other people. Today, students are being taught to admire those who complain, denounce, and demand.
The first column I ever wrote, 39 years ago, was titled "The Profits of Doom." This was long before Al Gore made millions of dollars promoting global-warming hysteria. Back in 1970, the prevailing hysteria was the threat of a new ice age -- promoted by some of the same environmentalists who are promoting global-warming hysteria today.
The thing to read if you have not heretofore sampled Dr. Sowell's work is The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy. After that, try The Quest for Cosmic Justice.