From the Editor

Getting ready for my upcoming trip to Scotland, I've been caught up by books about Boswell and Johnson's trip of 1773. I must say it's something of relief to turn to reading about history, geography and literature and for a little while, at least, put current political developments out of mind. The latter have been droopy over the past several years, yet I've felt a kind of citizen's duty to know about them. The question of what it is best to know can never be answered, of course. There's so much to attract the mind that one can barely sample any of it. Most of my life, I've believed that avid specialization is a bad thing. It makes one ignorant about almost everything and being knowledgeable about a single thing cannot make up for it. But, we do get benefits from some specialists, I'll admit, especially those who concentrate on the sciences.

Occasionally, when I watch Jay Leno's interviews and discover people who have no idea of the difference between the 18th and 19th centuries, I become discouraged about the human race itself. How can one live without any curiosity about where we came from or about the forces that shaped our society? It's not a condition of mind I can fathom. Yet, it seems to be one that satisfies a considerable section of our population.

In any case, I've decided to stop feeling guilty about steeping myself in the ways and manners of 18th century Scotland. One can ask, of course, what good is it? And it's not easy to give an utilitarian answer. But after I've pored through a book like Moray McLaren's The Highland Jaunt, I feel more human than when I began. And I also have a second wind for digging into the doings of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Bush, et cetera. If the latter were its only benefit, it would still be worthwhile. Too much concentration on dull-minded folly and viciousness can leave one drained, without the ability even to feel anger. But the invigorating thought of Johnson and Boswell arguing their way through the Highlands restores the belief that knowing is the only avenue to healthy existence, including healthy politics.

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