The meaning of civilization itself is, I believe, to be found in a few simple principles.
- War is a terrible thing. You had better be sure you know what you are doing when you engage in it.
- Certainty is a wonderful thing when deployed in defense of the defenseless and downtrodden; at all other times, it is suspect.
- Power does not last – even superpower; art and culture do.
- Cruelty and generosity last, too.
- Most people never got to be kings or queens, dukes or duchesses. Most people were underdogs, caught up in vast historical forces beyond their control.
- We should, I think, resist the temptation to think that we are somehow different, immune from the political, social, economic, or cultural tidal waves of history.
- We should not laugh at our predecessors, even at their most ridiculous, for someday we, too, will look ridiculous to our successors.
- We should spare a thought for the underdog.
- Finally, (…) civilization is fragile; it has broken repeatedly.
- It is not a building, or a book, or a law.
- It is a conscious act of respect and consideration.
- That act grows out of what we learn, what we teach our children.
- The final lesson of civilization and its history is contained in the following inscription from a bench at my alma mater, Cornell:
To those who shall sit here rejoicing,
To those who shall sit here in mourning,
Sympathy and Greeting;
So have we done in our time.