what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Scots heritage


I learned a lot from re-reading Arthur Herman’s The Scottish Enlightenment – the Scots’ invention of the modern world (2003). He’s an American with no obvious axe to grind. I knew about Adam Smith and David Hume (although not properly appreciated the latter’s arguments eg “reason is – and ought to be – the slave of passions”). I knew about the openness of Scottish universities in medieval times and their strong links with continental universities (not least as a final stage of legal education); about the Scots role in the British Empire (and in exploiting the opium trade); and that most of the stuff with kilts is actually a Victorian invention.
What, however, I hadn’t realised were things such as –
- The speed with which Scotland apparently changed from a backwater of Iran-like religious domination and prejudice to playing a leading role in the development of the “study of mankind”
- just what a galaxy of stars there were in Edinburgh and Glasgow between the last 2 Scottish uprisings of 1715 and 1745. Frances Hutcheson I had vaguely heard of – but not his core argument that “all men of reflection from Socrates have sufficiently proved that the truest, most constant and lively pleasure, the happiest enjoyment in life, consists in kind affections to our fellow creatures”. The pulpit should not be a place to inspire fear and terror; but to uplift and inspire.
- William Robertson whose classification of history into 4 stages apparently shaped the modern approach to history
- The basically English agenda of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in 1745 – and how both Highland chieftains and the new bourgeoisie in Glasgow opposed him.

Nor have I ever read such a clear exposition of the issues and theories these individuals dealt with in the early decades of the 18th century – nor of the role of the Church of Scotland. My father – as a vicar of that Church and a great historian – will be turning in his grave!
And several times, phrases hit me with some personal force “The great figures of the Scottish enlightenment never lost sight of their educational mission. Most were teachers or university professors; others were clergymen who used their pulpits for the same purpose. In every case, the goal of educational life was to understand in order to teach others, to enable to next generation to learn what you yourself have mastered – and build on it” That helps me understand my drive!!

Several other things the book emphasises –
- How much Scotland benefitted from the 1707 merger with England – from which the Nationalist government now wishes Scotland to cut loose
- How misunderstood Adam Smith has been.
- The role Scots politicians played in liberalising British politics in the 1830 period
- How major a role Scots played in the American revolution – and, indeed (on the downside), in the development of its “revivalist” religious tradition!

I;m afraid that the book is not available in googlebooks.....I'll now try to find a suitable picture....

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