People who don’t think are vulnerable to those who do, especially to those who think constantly about how to use others for nefarious purposes. Dictators and demagogues strongly prefer compliant, sycophantic subjects over thoughtful, independent, free-spirited types.
In her last three decades, she put her own mind to reawakening popular interest in the great thinkers of the ancient past—and in that noble effort, this homeschooled prodigy indisputably succeeded.
Born in Dresden, Germany, to American parents, she grew up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Her mother and father desired the best education for their five children. They quickly realized that it wasn’t to be found in the public schools. Edith and her three sisters and one brother were all homeschooled, and each one went on to become an accomplished professional.
She loved the ancient Greeks because, like her, they loved the mind of the individual.
“The fundamental fact about the Greek was that he had to use his mind. The ancient priest had said, ‘Thus far and no farther. We set the limits of thought.’ The Greeks said, ‘All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no limits set on thought’ ... To rejoice in life, to find the world beautiful and delightful to live in, was a mark of the Greek spirit which distinguished it from all that had gone before.”
“The Greeks were the first people in the world to play, and they played on a great scale. All over Greece there were games, all sorts of games; athletic contests of every description: races—horse-, boat-, foot-, torch-races; contests in music, where one side out-sung the other; in dancing—on greased skins sometimes to display a nice skill of foot and balance of body; games where men leaped in and out of flying chariots; games so many one grows weary with the list of them ...
“Athens is truly the mother of beauty and of thought [and] is also the mother of freedom. Freedom was a Greek discovery. The Greeks were the first free nation in the world ... Greece rose to the very height not because she was big, she was very small; not because she was rich, she was very poor; not even because she was wonderfully gifted. She rose because there was in the Greeks the greatest spirit that moves in humanity, the spirit that makes men free.”To Hamilton, the mind was each individual human being’s most unique and precious possession. She would be horrified by the notion of “the Borg” in the “Star Trek” fictional universe. It postulated a single “hive mind” to which humans would be subordinate and obedient. To her, the fact that we each have a mind of our own leads to one inescapable conclusion—namely, that to be fully human, we must be both free and responsible. She was a stalwart friend of the individual—his mind, his rights, and his freedom.
“That frightens me much more than sputniks and atomic bombs,” she opined. “Greeks thought each human being different, and I take a lot of comfort in the fact that my fingerprints are different from anybody else’s.”
I’m certain she would detest today’s groupthink, cancel culture, and political correctness as much as she would the fictional “Borg.”
Hamilton wanted the world to rediscover the best of ancient Greece—the appreciation of the individual mind and the critical need for people to be as free as possible so they can put it to use. She was ancient Greece’s most popular 20th-century cheerleader when she focused on its greatness; she was its most trenchant critic when she zeroed in on the reasons it declined and fell.
Allow me to close with a selection of additional insights from Hamilton. They resonate with vital truths we need to re-learn today:
“There is no worse enemy to a state than he who keeps the law in his own hands.”
“A man without fear cannot be a slave.”
“Fundamental to everything the [ancient] Greeks achieved was their conviction that good for humanity was possible only if men were free—body, mind, and spirit—and if each man limited his own freedom. A good state or work of art or piece of thinking was possible only through the self-mastery of the free individual, self-government ... Liberty depends on self-restraint.”
“In Greece, there was no dominating church or creed, but there was a dominating ideal, which everyone would want to pursue if he caught sight of it. Different men saw it differently. It was one thing to the artist, another to the warrior. Excellence is the nearest equivalent we have for the word they used for it, but it meant more than that. It was the utmost perfection possible; the very best and highest a man could attain to which when perceived always has a compelling authority. A man must strive to attain it.”