… is from page v of the 1898 Altemus edition of John Lothrop Motley’s 1856 magnum opus, The Rise of the Dutch Republic :
The lessons of history and the fate of free states can never be sufficiently pondered by those upon whom so large and heavy a responsibility for the maintenance of rational human freedom rests.
History is indeed instructive. No amount of theoretical genius can compensate for an inadequate knowledge of history. To study history is to study human beings as we actually are and not as we are imagined or wished to be. This study reveals both that we real human beings are more creative and crafty than are the ‘agents’ in many purely theoretical accounts and more nuanced in our motivations. Also, history is essential for perspective, without which a correct understanding of one’s current time and place is impossible. (For example, to understand adequately modern economies requires that one understand in some detail just how differently ordinary people live today than they lived even in the relatively recent past.) And a careful study of history scrubs the mind of foolish fantasies about efforts to remake society consciously. To learn history is simultaneously to learn to appreciate the strict limits on human intelligence and volition and to appreciate the surprisingly vast possibilities of peaceful, decentralized cooperation.
(I thank George Selgin for encouraging me to read Motley.)