Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I read somewhere that during the Renaissance an Italian prince was on a balcony several stories high overlooking the town square with the pope and the local ruler. He wrote later that he was sorry he had missed the opportunity to push both of them off the balcony to their death and so be remembered forever in history. The desire to achieve immortality is ingrained in our psyche. The fear of death so overwhelms us that we want to live forever if only in written words or pictures. Princes, Popes and rulers of all sorts want to leave behind a legacy that will live forever. Think of Caesar, of Lincoln, of FDR and of Wilson who are remembered with kindness. On the other side we have Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan

The current administration is preoccupied with their legacy as have all the Presidents in recent history. The vision of a monument, a library, riding a horse in battle and memorable speeches all enhance the dream.

Mostly a legacy is associated with wars or times of great social upheavals. Think of FDR and the great depression and then WWII. He wins on two accounts. So does Lincoln for saving the union and for freeing the slaves; Wilson for saving the world for Democracy; Teddy Roosevelt for San Juan Hill.

Our current president would like to be remembered for establishing a democracy in the Middle East: a flame of freedom that would ignite and spread to the whole of the Middle East. Of course we have a freedom flame there, the supposed Democracy in Israel which has set the region aflame, but not in the way intended. But regardless of facts, ideologies are forever true.

Legacies are most admirable when they are acquired without being the basic aim of the individual. For instant Shakespeare probably did not think he was creating a legacy when he wrote his plays. He probably thought he was making money and prospering on the popularity of his plays at the Stratford theatre.

Kings and Queens on the other hand did things to be remembered for. And now our presidents do the same. Most often the plans they had failed but the devastation lives on. And for that they are remembered. Think of the Third Reich, or the Socialist Revolution in Russia or the great march in China.

Certain wealthy individuals establish foundations to help humanitarian causes and keep the tax man at bay, and their name is usually the name of the foundation. Doing great things to establish a legacy is certainly a way to achieve immortality. If it can be done without human sacrifice it is commendable.

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