Victor Davis Hanson on the Wisdom of the Ancients
Spending time in April in New York, my PRI colleagues and I attended The New Criterion’s annual gala dinner which honored Victor Davis Hanson with the literary journal’s Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society. In his introductory remarks, Roger Kimball, the editor and publisher of The New Criterion, said “Victor cuts across the chattering static of the ephemeral, bringing us back to a wisdom that is as clear-eyed and disabused as it is generous and serene.”
True to those words, in his address, Hanson, armed with his sweeping knowledge of history, philosophy, the classics, and yes, even farming, took on the media’s trendy “chattering static” with his usual flare and good humor. Athena and Dionysus would be proud.
Hanson on the new wave of populism that the media claims has never been seen before:
It’s as “old as the Greeks.”
Hanson on the two present-day populist factions:
On one side is Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and Bernie Sanders and on the other side are the deplorables, the irredeemables, and the Reagan Democrats. Hanson calls attention to the wisdom of the ancients: the worst thing to have is a bipolar society – a mass without a middle.
On the progressives’ agenda:
Hanson discussed the importance of the protection of private property among the Greeks, out of which rose the beginnings of democracy. But later in the age, there emerged a large population that was detached from the land and the local populace. Ironically, he said this faction had an agenda of redistribution of property, employment for everyone, cancellation of debts, and more government, not less. Sound familiar?
On the importance of a middle, commonsense check on majority rule:
Hanson cited Thucydides, who chronicled a revolution in 411 of property owners who weren’t happy that 51 percent of the people made law. Hanson explained that the notion of the 51 percent rule was very influential to thinkers like Edmund Burke. Athens’ weakness was that it had no constitutional protections from majority rule. The 411 revolutionists wanted to bring back the middle.
On Trump as a tragic hero or an epic hero:
Hanson said that the association of Trump and hero always stops conversation. But hero, in the ancients’ definition doesn’t mean that a person is noble, or even moral said Hanson. Rather, it means that the person accomplished something that has those effects. Hanson sees Trump as a tragic hero. He wrote in the National Review: “Tragic heroes are loners. Ajax’s soliloquies about a rigged system and the lack of recognition accorded his undeniable accomplishments are Trumpian to the core — something akin to the sensational rumors that at night Trump is holed up alone, petulant, brooding, eating fast food, and watching Fox News shows.”
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My modest attempt to describe Victor Davis Hanson’s wonderful address (please cut me some slack — I took Classics more than 30 years ago) was merely intended to encourage Right by the Bay fans to read the printed lecture in full in the June edition of The New Criterion.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.