How the humanities keep us free
The humanities are not fluff. Too often, an argument arises over their worth, some dismissing the study of the humanities as an intellectual luxury that doesn’t pay off in the real world.
But here is why the humanities are indispensable to a free society: America was born from ideas, a basic set of values and beliefs which include individual liberty and human equality, the rule of law, the separation of powers, property and civil rights, free markets, free elections, and the free exercise of religion. These ideas are not born of algorithms or big data or STEM; as important as those tools are, it is immersion in the humanities that allows us to better understand who we are and what we value; what it means to be a “good person” and a “just society.” Technological, economic, and even military power are not enough; they are not even the most important aspirations. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated:
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
Accordingly, a working knowledge of history, law, civics, great literature, great ideas, ethics, philosophy, and religion is of utmost importance. Support for the institutions that provide these to Floridians, like libraries and museums, is crucial. It falls to the humanities to nourish the still revolutionary American hypothesis that a free and diverse people are capable of governing themselves.
This edition of FORUM is dedicated to furthering our understanding of democracy and civics. It is never our intention to advocate for any political position. Rather, by sharing insightful articles by thoughtful authors, Florida Humanities seeks to bring light to our understanding of democracy, and not the heat so prevalent in our current public discourse.
In this edition, Florida Humanities also says hello to a new friend, Florida’s Secretary of State Laurel Lee, as she contributes her first “Letter from the Secretary.” Secretary Lee is a steadfast supporter of the humanities and we hope her voice will be heard from these pages for a long time to come.
And we sadly, very sadly, say good-bye to Dr. David Colburn, who died last September in his beloved Gainesville. David was a preeminent teacher, historian, and seeker of the truth. His grateful University of Florida students number in the thousands, including the award-winning Florida author, Cynthia Barnett, who provides a powerful obituary. David chaired the Florida Humanities Board as well as the Board of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. Had he lived for three more days, he would have received the Florida Humanities Lifetime Achievement Award, only the second one given in our 45-year history. A mighty oak has fallen.
We hope you will scour these articles carefully. The risk of not understanding the ideas and experiences that lie at the foundation of the nation is existential. As a 28-year-old Abraham Lincoln warned us so directly,
“As a nation of free men, we must live through all time or die by suicide.”
The humanities have the power to inform as well as inspire, and in the following pages, we hope to accomplish both.
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