The Near-Fatal Flaw in My Education

Deal W. Hudson
March 2, 2015

I’ve always viewed myself as classically educated, a proponent of the “Great Ideas” and the “Great Books.” In fact, I spent three summers as the Mortimer Adler Fellow at the Aspen Institute, working side by side with the great man himself.

As a college professor for 15 years, I avoided textbooks where possible and taught from original sources, my regular conversation partners being Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Dante; along with moderns such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Maritian, C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, Gilson, Adler, and Pieper.

My own education had been in philosophy and classics at the University of Texas-Austin; Christian Doctrine at Princeton Theological Seminary; and theology and literature at Emory University. Outside the classroom, I pursued the history of the novel and classical music and eventually everything I could learn about the movies.

But it wasn’t until my 60s that I started to study history seriously. For the past five years, I’ve found myself intrigued by both World Wars; the Russian Revolution; the Spanish Civil War; the history of the Czars; the War of 1812; Fin de siècle Europe; English history since Richard II; the history of China; the Middle East since the British-French Mandate; U.S. expansion westward; the American Revolution and Civil War; Peloponnesian War; the Greco-Persian Wars; Rome after Julius Caesar; the French Revolution and the Terror; Louis XIV, XV, and XVI; Europe after WWII; 20th century dictators; Napoleon; Queen Victoria; and the history of Byzantium.

Ruth Scurr's biography of Maximilien Robespierre.

Ruth Scurr’s biography of Maximilien Robespierre.

I wouldn’t say that I was ignorant of history, but I was ignorant of its essential importance in my education. I’m guessing that I was not alone in thinking history was a narrative to be memorized, a series of epochs, each with a dominant culture; important leaders and events; ideas; forms of government; institutions; works of art, all encompassed in a timeline starting with its rise, continuing through its flourishing, and ending with its decline and demise.

One lesson most of us have taken away from even a cursory knowledge of history is that kingdoms, no matter how dominant, are impermanent. They may bear the same name, such as Britain, but they went through a fundamental change in order to survive their decline. Think of what countries like the Netherlands, Spain, France, Portugal, Japan, Greece, and Russia once were. Remember the heyday of the Vikings and the Norman conquest.

However, the fatal flaw in my education was not noticing that history taught human nature, the centrality of character in human events, both public and private. I’m not using a character in the philosophical sense of a person possessing virtue but in the descriptive sense: Henry V had a character, largely admirable but far from perfect, while Richard III had character, most despicable but not devoid of compassion. What was the debacle known as the Treaty of Versailles other than the product of men with flawed characters clashing over claims of idealism, vengeance, ownership, and guilt?

What I take away from my recent reading of history is simple — I’ve been much too willing to put my trust in people. I’ve been naive in assuming people will generally do the “right thing.” Fallen human nature makes people more complicated than that. The probabilities of character are darker than I had assumed from a lifetime of reading philosophy.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth.

I could have learned this much earlier from Shakespeare. Macbeth, Richard III, and King Lear teach the same lessons, but my mind at the time was too deeply etched with the theory of the virtues to be distracted by the dissonance of these counter-examples.

As a good friend of mine said, one who helped to guide me through some tough times in my own life: “Everyone has a little larceny.” He was probably putting it nicely. It’s truer to say everyone has a little larceny, but more than a few people are capable of, given the circumstances, a lot of larcenies.

Some might ask here, what about your Christian faith? The life and death of Jesus Christ, the constant quarrel with the Pharisees, the abandonment by all but one of his disciples, the denial of Peter, the murderous intent of the Sanhedrin, the people’s choice of Barabbas over Christ? What about the history of the Church itself, which contains all the plot twists of the War of the Roses during its periods of decadence?

Finally, someone might say, have you looked at yourself? Yes. Though I’d like to think I’m exempt from all the character flaws and destructive inclinations described above, I know I am not. But my late encounter with history has overcome what must have been an inner resistance to recognizing human nature in the raw, so to speak. That’s why I call it a near-fatal flaw because I’m still here but better armed and ready for what may come.

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By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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