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This article is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

Tradition and Professor Shils David J. Levy

ATTACHMENT to tradition is part of the English ideology. Elsewhere the cities are full of streets commemorating dates significant in the national myth. Ask a native the meaning of July 11 Street or the Boulevard of February 27 and he will tell you about a moment of revolution or liberation, a day that saw, or is fancied to have seen, a radical break between the redeemed and the unredeemed past. In the nature of political things the meaning of such dates and their attendant symbols is contentious. The past is a weapon in the battles of the present. Present disputants are selective in their appeal to the past and, where they cannot avoid a particular overwhelming historical presence-July 4 in America or 14 in France-they are choosy in the lessons they draw from it. For the past made present to political consciousness through the invocation of names, dates and events has different meanings to different sections of the population. The strands that have been woven together in the fabric of common, national consciousness stand out distinctly.

So every history must appear to the detached observer. The business of historical scholarship is overwhelmingly concerned with picking out the threads as they have intersected and sometimes intertwined in the past. To put it less metaphorically, historians are in the business of discovering which were the historically effective factors at a particular moment in the making of the present. In England, though not in the other nations of the kingdom, ...


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