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The lessons of history

By Peter Bowden - posted Tuesday, 26 September 2023

As we read the lessons of our history, in our school years, later in borrowed books from the library, or in the many "On This Day" blogs on the internet, we cannot help but being dismayed by the many stupidities of the human race. War after war, cruelty after cruelty, the atrocious punishments and methods of execution.

But that same history tells of the greatness of the human race. We have ended serfdom and slavery, abolished the divine right of kings, and introduced parliamentary democracy. From the poverty of slaves and serfs, we have progressed through to housing for the poor, to aged care, a minimum wage and a forty-hour week.

In the writing of our great thinkers over history, we have seen equivalent progress. King Solomon, thought to be the wisest man on earth, wrote in 1000 BC in his Book of Proverbs, wrote in Proverb 3.27and Proverb 3.29,


Proverb 3.27states help your neighbour if he needs help.

Proverb 3.29: Do not harm those near you.

For those who may be curious, Proverb 3.28 reads: Do not say to your neighbour, "Come back tomorrow and I'll give it to you"-. when you already have it with you.

Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote similar thoughts about 60 BC in On Living and Dying Well,

These thoughts are repeated by Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan and to a large extent, in The Sermon on the Mount, and supported by several more modern theories. Then we must add the Asian theory the concept of Ahimsa. In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophies ahimsa reads "Respect for All Living Things and Avoidance of Violence Towards Others."

They are great advances in the human condition. And in its thinking. But we have not progressed.


The wars still continue. Nagorno Karabakh, Haiti, the never-ending Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Khartoum in the Sudan, outbreaks of conflict in countries of which most of us have barely heard. And of course the Russian invasion of Ukraine, The first recorded war in history was in present day Jordan and Iraq about 2500 BC. Before even the advent of writing.

So we in our most disastrous undertaking, we have not improved. How do we stop wars then is the outstanding question of history.

First we must ask why do they start? This opinion writer has examined the cause behind war over history, and hascome to the conclusion that the overriding cause has been would be dictators. From Julius Caesar, though Alexander the Great to Vladimir Putin

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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