Courtesy Reuters

Two Hundred Years of American Policy: Bicentennial Reflections

The best that history can give us is to arouse our enthusiasm"-Goethe's famous reflection on the value of history has found little favor with historical scholars who can rightly claim that a careful analysis of past events and of the structure of the society of other times can help us to understand the complex character of the world in which we live. Yet if we consider the impact of history in more general and more primitive terms, there is much truth in Goethe's statement. The re-evocation of outstanding national achievements and of a nation's great leaders reinforces social coherence and creates pride and confidence in the future. The commemoration of victories, the observance of the anniversaries of crucial years in the history of a nation-as much as such celebrations have the danger of stimulating the worst instead of the best in the national character-have a justification in revealing the values on which a society was built and in strengthening the bonds that hold it together. When Machiavelli stated that, from time to time, every society must return to its beginnings, "its principles," he gave a conscious formulation to that which every country has practiced in the past and will continue to practice in the future.

Even if we accept that such observances are inherent in the nature of political life, it must be recognized that the celebration of great events of the past has special characteristics and peculiar dangers in the United States. If the message of the past in the great European countries, which, in their long and extended history, have undergone many changes and revolutions, has been rather indistinct and might be summed up as enthusiasm, such celebrations have a much more precise meaning in the United States, still relatively close to the years of its emergence as an independent power. They contain an appeal to return to the principles on which the new state was founded. If the present world does not fulfill the original expectations, the

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