Working in a history museum the presence of the past is with you every day. There is not much that happens where you are not prompted to think about how it may have been different a century or two ago. So it is with the recent debates over public policy. What seems to be missing is the presence of reason. A principal premise of American society is the capacity of rational minds in a free society to reason. Today this principal has been replaced by the mindless chatter of television hosts, politicians and other assorted talking heads whose only proficiency is to state things as fact that have no connection to reality.
The Lees and their colleagues in the founding generation would be horrified by this turn of events. Reading their extensive correspondence and countless newspaper articles and pamphlets, their use of ancient texts and reason is evident everywhere. In the years before the American Revolution, proponents of American rights conducted a long debate with their opponents about British imperial policy. These debates are worthwhile reading, not just for their content but for the use of reason in making their arguments. Today the legitimacy of reason as a neutral objective faculty has collapsed, replaced by post-modern notion that all ideas are relative and objective reason indefensible.
There are those who argue that places like Stratford Hall and history museums generally are increasingly irrelevant in our modern world. These are the same people who helped create this world of intellectual chaos. Places like Stratford Hall have an obligation to provide a place where our citizens can reflect not just on the past, but the principles which have guided our nation for more than two centuries. One of these surely must be that it took reason to create a nation. It will also take reason to sustain it.
- Paul Reber, Executive Director