A.D. Momigliano on George Grote
Reading this indignant page,
Know that in a former time
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime.
As an afterthought to something I wrote yesterday, some thoughts about liberality. My adult life has roughly corresponded with a period of intense demonization of the liberal mind. Liberality was once the highest praise that could be bestowed upon the crypt of one dearly departed; but no more. We are taught to shun the concept, and shun the word—in the popular media at least. Let us hope that that time is passing, and that children of the future age will gawk in amazement when it is suggested that formerly, liberality was thought a crime: in America and wherever touches the rising tide of so-called fundamentalism.
Reading Momigliano, in an essay about George Grote (Studies on Modern Scholarship), he waxes passionate about the term:
As Benedetto Croce once remarked, intellectual failures are collective phenomena from which no contemporary can presume to escape. We all partake of the cruel dullness of our age. But it seems to me that we shall never be able to talk about Greek history without embarrassment until we return to first principles.... Greek history is essential to the formation of the liberal mind, but in its turn the liberal mind is religious in examining evidence.
George Grote possessed the all-redeeming virtue of the liberal mind. He was determined to understand and respect evidence from whatever part it came; he recognized freedom of speech, tolerance, and compromise as the conditions of civilization; he respected sentiment, but admired reason.
Momigliano restricts his contemplations to Greek history, the field of Grote’s greatest contribution, but one may ascribe to them broader application:
Fustel de Coulanges prophesied as long ago as 1872 that historical evidence would be distorted more and more for partisan purposes. But what nobody seems to have expected is that evidence would be distorted for no purpose at all, simply because of lack of common sense. Yet this is what has been happening with alarming frequency in recent years. Perhaps it is not altogether surprising that our generation should find it increasingly difficult to assess the value of evidence, but the consequence is that idle and misleading speculation is a factor with which the Greek historian constantly has to reckon.