The Perilously Impermanent Past

Change, while inevitable and sometimes necessary, can be disconcerting if it is too rapid, far-reaching—or misguided. Attitudes and beliefs are obviously not frozen in time. As our culture evolves, prevailing conventions are subject to revision, and in some cases become superseded or even obsolete. This is not necessarily bad—or good—but can provoke reflection on the impermanence of the past. Mere nostalgia—sentimentalizing the past for its own sake—must be distinguished from legitimate concern about the loss of symbols society once embraced, especially if they represent important bourgeois values that define our national character.

The past, it turns out, holds a precarious grasp on the present and can be quite impermanent—even ephemeral. History, as it was taught and understood in the mid-20th century, is under assault. We forget—or, worse, repudiate—the past at our peril. Our shared history binds us together as a nation, as Abraham Lincoln noted in his First Inaugural Address when he invoked “the mystic chords of memory” in the hope that our common history would “swell the chorus of the Union.” 

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