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The lessons of history
famous quotations and quotes

Learning lessons of history

Caricature questioning the value of any lessons of history


When it comes to ' the lessons of history ' there are doubtless many things we could aspire to learn.
Some of those would be more practically useful, in terms of contributing to the normal and decent functioning of well-meaning societies than others.

On the first part of this page some quotes are presented showing how some observers express disillusionment about Humanity's all-too-frequent failure to learn worthwhile lessons from history!

The last few quotations, on the other hand, show an appreciation that deeply important lessons about Human Existence can actually be learnt from the study of History.

Our overview of the possible lessons of history may not so much explicitly focus importance on the broader range of past mistakes of history, of which there are many, as learning useful lessons about - The Human Condition AND Social Change.
This can show, through cautionary examples, how past mistakes and serious misjudgements have arisen from time to time disrupting the normal and decent functioning of would-be well-meaning societies.

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"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history."
Aldous Huxley

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"If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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"Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone."
G. W. F. Hegel

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"History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time."

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"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
George Santayana

N.B. This quote is sometimes paraphrased as:-
"If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them." (or similar)

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"Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it."
Winston Churchill

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Leaving disillusionment aside we can
now turn to some glimmers of hope that
learning lessons from History is possible

"Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this as philosophy to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged."
Abraham Lincoln (in the context of The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865)

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"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
R. G. Collingwood

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"What man is, only history tells."
George Mosse

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"Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature."
David Hume

Diagram suggesting that Human Nature demonstrates a Spiritual, Materialistic and Tribal or Group-related 'Tripartism'


Several, authoritative key insights,
(from the Great Faiths, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, and Shakespeare!!!),
are available on this site that give convincing support to such a "Tripartite" view of Human Nature!!!

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Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that:-

" is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world..."

~ Should this be true it would follow that Human Societies often tend to arise out of the Human Condition as directly influenced by Human Nature!

Diagram suggesting that Human Societies often demonstrate capacities for Spiritual, Materialistic and Tribal / Ethnic 'Tripartism'


This view suggests that "Non-Doctrinaire" Societies themselves!!! often have a Tripartite character.

According to the seriously influential philosopher Immanuel Kant in his brief work entitled "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View" :-
"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment."

Or to quote Emerson, from his famous Essay ~ History more fully:-

"In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world."

This passage is also to be found in Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay ~ History:-

  "There is one mind common to all individual men....
....Of the works of this mind history is the record. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. All the facts of history pre-exist as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of this manifold spirit to the manifold world."

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"The first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents; and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions."
Georg Hegel, 1770-1831, German philosopher, The Philosophy of History (1837)

"The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral: by liberalizing the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will, it enables us to control, not society, but ourselves -- a much more important thing; it prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future."
Carl Becker, 1873-1945, U.S. historian

1848 : the ruling Dynasties of Europe
challenged by Socio-political aspirations

picture of We have prepared some fairly detailed, but hopefully "truth-full, informative, and ~ given the extent of the subject ~ brief", pages about a most deeply revealing episode in European History in the spirit of attempting to learn worthwhile lessons of history!!!

The events of 1848 display the existence and latent power of many societal pressures which have subsequently fully contributed to the "Emergence of Modernity" in the Western world.
Prior to 1848 the existence of these societal pressures was often unsuspected or ignored, - their latent power was certainly vastly unappreciated.

The European Revolutions of 1848

In February 1948, the British historian Lewis Namier delivered a lecture commemorating the centennial of the European Revolutions of 1848.

In this lecture Namier presented facts about the historical developments, themes, and events evident in 1848 and reached the conclusion that:-
"1848 remains a seed-plot of history. It crystallized ideas and projected the pattern of things to come; it determined the course of the following century."
If Namier is right in viewing the "Revolutions of 1848" as featuring a seed-plot of history, and if we can identify the early attempts at growth and development by such evident resulting "seedlings" as Liberalism, Constitutionalism, Democracy, Socialism and Nationalism ~ including such competition as came to exist between them for "a Place in the Sun" (in situations where, although shaken, down-but-not-out dynastic authority was usually trying to suppress them, fairly successfully in 1848 and with diminishing effectiveness over ensuing decades) then surely we will have succeeded to some degree in actually learning lessons of history.
Learning lessons of history can surely be seen as a pressing necessity in the hope of yielding up some guidlines for the adoption of practical policies intended to enhance the possibility for the lessening of injustices and for the avoidance of conflict.

We would hope that our coverage of this "dramatic historical watershed" will provide something of a persuasive outline as to how it came about that the Dynastic Europe of 1815 came to undergo those sweeping changes which have tended to produce the populist Europe of Modern Times!

The European map before the revolutions of 1848

The European political map above, agreed at the Congress of Vienna of 1815, saw some changes, (principally due to the emergence of Belgium and Greece), before the widespread Revolutions of 1848-1849.

The European map of 2013

The above map was placed on this page in 2013 and was even then a little out-of-date due to The Crimea
~ a southern peninsula of Ukraine since 1954 ~
seceding, early in 2014, to become closely linked with the Russian Federation).

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[N.B. Our Series of European History pages focus mostly on Europe in the nineteenth century and continue with coverage of Italian Unification, (as orchestrated by Cavour), and German Unification, (as orchestrated by Bismarck), and the Diplomacy underlying the settlements to the First World War ~ another tempestuous historical watershed ~ (as influenced by Woodrow Wilson].

The lessons of history
by Will and Ariel Durant

Will and Ariel Durant were popular historians based in the United States and were responsible for the authorship of many volumes on diverse historical subjects.

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"One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say."
Will Durant

Late in their careers the set themselves the task of attempting to investigate whether there actually were - lessons of history - and became the authors of a slim volume, (and a CD set), on that subject.

Picturess of the book and CD covers relating to Will and Ariel Durant's - 'The Lessons of History'


The following two quotes come from The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant.
The laws of biology are the fundamental lessons of history. We are subject to the processes and trials of evolution, to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest to survive.

One lesson of history is that religion has many lives, and a habit of resurrection. How often in the past have God and religion died and been reborn! . . . Atheism ran wild in the India of Buddha's youth, and Buddha himself founded a religion without a god; after his death Buddhism developed a complex theology including gods, saints, and hell.