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A History Seminar, Anno Domini 2117

Overheard in a sane classroom, a century in the future…


First student: “There’s a lot about this period I don’t understand, Professor.  It isn’t that we don’t have primary sources.  We have billions of those.  Yet I find them totally baffling.  It’s easier for me to get a hold on the ancient Germanic war-bands.  The Celts painted their bellies blue – all right, I see that.  But these people confuse me.”

Professor: “Well, they were a confusing bunch.  What in particular are you thinking of?”

First student:  “All right.  These people were first-class germophobes.  They kept their homes sanitized and they wrapped up their small children in plastic bubbles.  It ended up causing public health problems the world had never seen before, like the deadly peanut allergy.  They nearly ruined antibiotics by overusing them.  But these same people when it came to sex promoted a thing – you know.  They promoted something they knew perfectly well was associated with really dreadful and lethal diseases.”

Professor: “You mean AIDS.”

First student:  “AIDS, sure, that was the worst of them, but it wasn’t the only one, not by far.  There’s something else about it too.  You have people who were religious about using anti-bacterial soap, taking showers every day, and so on, and yet the thing they were promoting was about the most septic thing you can imagine.  It wasn’t that it was clean but it caused harm later on, like smoking tobacco.  It was septic in the act itself.”

Professor: “You know what happens when the passions ply the whip.  They tie reason to the post.”

Second student: “But that’s not enough, professor.  Everybody knows that your desires can get the better of you.  But these people prided themselves on their love of science.  That is, the natural sciences – they never gave that name to anything else, unless they wanted to pretend that sociology was just like chemistry.  So it’s one thing to be in a fit of passion and to miss a truth that’s right in front of you, or to shut your eyes.  But that’s one person.  Can a whole society do that?”

Professor: “When does human life begin?”

Second student: “Touché!”

Professor: “Remember that never before in the history of the world had men and women and children lived so far away from nature – from trees, brooks, birds, cattle, wild animals, mud, rain, and the sky.  It’s a lot easier to wander off into mad regions of the imagination when you don’t have the natural world to correct you.”

Third student: “But when they saw that this activity was killing so many people, why didn’t they reconsider the revolution?”

Professor:  “The sexual revolution, you mean.”

Third student: “Yes, that.  Were they just bloodthirsty?”

Professor: “No, they weren’t bloodthirsty.  Let me ask you a different question.  When the slaveholders of the American south saw that their activity cost so many people their lives even before they made it to these shores, why didn’t they reconsider that filthy old state of human affairs?”

Third student: “They had too much invested in it.”

Second student: “They didn’t want to know about the ships.”

First student:  “They kept that part of their lives locked in a safe.”

Professor: “Locked in a safe?”

First student:  “Just as these others did with all the harm they were causing to others, just because they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep their clothes on.  Locked in a safe.  A black box.  They had the key, but everybody knows what happens to keys you don’t use.  After a while you forget that they even exist.”

Professor: “That’s an interesting simile.  Do you think it can hold up?  Is that what was going on, psychologically?”

Fourth student: “If it was, it was the stupidest thing they ever did, which is saying a lot.”

Professor: “What do you mean by that?”

Fourth student: “I’m not sure.  Maybe I should take that back.  It wasn’t stupid.  The attempt was stupid, because it can’t be done.  You’d lose your mind.  You’d become a kind of schizophrenic.  But I worked last year in a mental ward, and I got to know some people who had schizophrenia.  They can be really logical, I mean relentlessly logical, in their world that doesn’t exist.  But these people would be living lives that made no sense, and that they would know made no sense if they looked at them for one minute.  So in a way they would be more insane than the schizophrenic.”

Fifth student: “I think I’m Napoleon!”

Fourth student:  “He thinks he’s Napoleon, so he’s going to attack Russia.”

Fifth student: “What else is Russia for?”

Fourth student: “That’s right.  That makes sense in his world.  What doesn’t make any sense is to say that you are Napoleon, and that there is no such person as Napoleon.  That’s what these people were like.”

Professor: “I’m not sure I know what you mean by that.”

First student:  “Let me guess.  ‘I believe that there is no difference between men and women, but I absolutely have to go to bed with a man and not a woman, because I am attracted only to men and not to women.  But there are no differences between them.’”

Second student: “I’ll try.  ‘I believe that every human being is equal, and so a woman has the right to treat the unborn child as if it were a wart or a worm.’”

Third student: “They began to require doctors to kill them when they wanted it, and they called it healing.”

Professor: “I think we’d better get back to Napoleon!”

Fifth student: “I think we’d better get back to Russia.  No, I’m serious.  When the Russians got rid of the communists, sort of, they started to recover their cultural heritage.  The churches opened again.  Dostoyevsky was back in favor.  They looked upon Solzhenitsyn as a prophet.”

Professor: “You may be giving them too much credit.”

Fifth student: “It was very slow.  But if you’re going to recover something that you’ve lost from your heritage, you have to turn to your ancestors for wisdom.  There’s no other way to do it.  That’s what I’ve seen in the history of painting.”

Fourth student: “And military science?”

Fifth student: “Napoleon!  The thing about these people is that they made it almost impossible for them to do that.  They’d have had to reject the foundation of modernity itself.”

Second student: “The revolution.”

Fifth student: “Yes, the revolution.  The revolution.”

First student: “We’re getting pretty theoretical here.  What about the dead human beings?”

Fifth student: “You have to break eggs to make an omelet.”

First student: “Professor, was there any sense at all to who these people were?”

Professor: “Sort of.  Let me try.  They saw things like television and computers and skyscrapers, and they thought it was all onward and upward for mankind, and that made them look down on their forebears.  But they also could not deny the greatness of the things that their forebears achieved.  So they were divided against themselves.  Most of them did something really novel in the history of mankind.  En masse, they despised their own grandparents.  Oh, I don’t mean the nice old man and nice old lady who give you presents at Christmas.  I mean people in general who lived before they did.  En masse, it pleased them to learn that their grandparents were nasty or immoral or hypocritical or plain dumb.  En masse, they would be crestfallen to learn otherwise; they had to keep up the myth of their superiority, and the more outlandish that myth was, the more energetically they had to protect it.  Say goodbye then to reason, to the testimony of the ages, and to their own eyesight.  When this attitude of theirs finally bled over into the realm of sexual behavior, it was over.  Contradictions, death, confusion, the abuse of children and not just by a few bad men here and there, the corruption of their innocence, the pathetic parades – it was over.  You wouldn’t dare say aloud how awful it had become.  They couldn’t concede the principle.”

Sixth student: “What it all amounts to is this.  They hated the fatherhood of God.”

Professor: “They sure weren’t fond of it.”

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About Anthony Esolen 20 Articles
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He also translated Dante's Divine Comedy for Modern Library Classics. He is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire.


  1. Sixth student appears only at the end and says, “They hated the fatherhood of God”. The correspondence between love of father and mother and God the Father is real. “Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long and so that things will go well for you” (Deut 5:16). If we love them we are more apt to acknowledge and love God. And with that the good that is found in tradition. I think the 6th student is your inner Moses.

    • Nice literary conceit, but I very much doubt there will be seminars or even what we call “higher ed” 100 years from now in North America . Islam will see to that …

  2. Student 7: But, where was the church during all of this? Didn’t they try to reflect the wisdom of our ancestors? Didn’t they try to hold back the revolution??

    Professor: You would think so, but no. They offered no resistance and in a lot of cases joined the revolution. It was a very low time for the church, with some pretty bad popes. They used words like “accompaniment” as euphemisms for not doing battle. They even attacked anyone who did as “culture warriors” or worse.

    You see, it’s only by a miracle of grace that the church survived that despicable period and those bad leaders in high places.

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