November 22, 2006 Leave a comment
You know, maybe it’s better not to teach kids history at all.
Perhaps honest ignorance is better than thinking we know history when the history we know is so riddled with lies.
Puzzled by the Oracle’s answer, Socrates began questioning the prominent men of Athens and found them to combine ignorance with an ignorance of their ignorance. Thus Socrates came to the conclusion that he was wise precisely because he knew that he knew nothing.
So while I’m embarrassed by how little I know of ancient history, I am far more embarrassed by how much of what I thought I knew of American history still turns out to be wrong. This corrective self-(re)education may take a while.
I know she’s called the Statue of Liberty and not The Statue of Immigration; nevertheless, I thought the French government gave Lady Liberty to the United States to celebrate the American government’s open-immigration policy. After all, the plaque at the base of the statue says
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Ah, yes, BUT (as I learned from listening to Ralph Raico’s talk at the Imperialism conference and then checking Wikipedia for details) the statue was given in 1885 and the poem “The New Colossus,” though written in 1883, was only engraved and mounted inside the Statue of Liberty in 1903.
Now before some zealous blog spammer starts citing pro-immigration arguments at me, let me emphasize that this is not an anti-immigration post! I’m opposed to any government interventions aimed at keeping people inside or outside politically defined borders.
But I do think it does a disservice to America’s libertarian tradition to conflate the freedom referred to in “Liberty Enlightening the World” (the statue’s official name) with a particular public policy. (And I will again give my favorite Lew Rockwell quote: “Freedom is not a public-policy option. It is the end of public policy itself.”)
And I suspect the conflation is itself the deliberate result of a campaign to obscure the classical liberal history the French donors were referring to.
Here’s what it says at the end of Wikipedia’s page on “The New Colossus”:
Impact of poem
Author John T. Cunningham wrote that “[t]he Statue of Liberty was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under [the statue]. However, it was [Lazarus' poem] that permanently stamped on Miss Liberty the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants”.
James Russell Lowell wrote that the poem gave the Statue of Liberty “a raison d’etre” and Paul Auster wrote that “Bartholdi’s gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of international republicanism, but ‘The New Colossus’ reinvented the statue’s purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world”.