Erasmus says in The Education of a Christian Prince:
The world will have paid too high a price to make princes wise, if they insist on learning by experience how dreadful war is, so that as old men they can say: ‘I never thought war could be so pernicious.’ But, immortal God! what incalculable suffering has it cost the whole world to teach you that truism!
Indeed, will we insist on learning things by personal experience? To do that is precisely to refuse to learn by experience, whether through Solomon’s proverbs or through books of man or through the instruction of parents. But a few of us young people think ourselves very clever to say, “Have you undergone such and such an experience?” No, and perhaps we choose to heed the instruction of millennia over the owls’ coughballs of a few years’ experience if a choice must be made.
In the case of war, however, I’m sure you can reason out its evils even without the annals of experience before your eyes, and so no man need take a warlike man’s word that war is of highest advantage. So, too, with the other things in life: myopia cuts across centuries of time as well as individuals of the same time.
Let no one tell another to say nothing of war unless he has suffered, fought or waged war. There is such a thing as a safe distance from which not to be in war and still know it is a source of many evils. Likewise the books of the ancients are not nothing in the relentless face of new times, for nothing under the sun is new, at least across the vaporous lifetimes of men. Traditional “wisdom” of fifty years is not to be weighed against the burden of knowledge from a thousand.
Certainly, life is not so simple as to be captured in a hundred-odd adages; but nor is it so simple as to have exactly the same conditions every time. This is where it must be logicked: are conditions the same, or are they not? Are they certainly enough known to be so similar that we can expect the same results? Surely you’ve heard of theory. Isn’t this, then, its use?