The sentiment that history repeats seems like common sense and is hard to disagree with. In the history, wars have ended with countries that win or surrender, but inevitably breed more wars. Revolutions, like those in France and Russia, that gave an individual absolute power, such as Napoleon and Stalin, inevitably end up as failed empires or with brutal dictatorships. Even individuals are subject to this advice. Couples who do not learn from their fights break up. People who don’t learn from their mistakes don’t mature.
Born Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, George Santayana (1863 – 1952), was a great philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. Originally from Spain, Santayana was raised and educated in the USA and identified himself as an American, although he always kept his valid Spanish passport.
He went to Harvard where he studied with William James, and after traveling in Europe for a few years, he returned to Harvard as a professor. His Harvard students included T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein, and W. E. B. Du Bois.
When he was 48-years-old, Santayana left his position at Harvard under pressure from the administration because of his gayness. He returned to Europe permanently, never to return to the USA.
Santayana is known for aphorisms, which have been used to such an extent that they have become clichés: “Only the dead have seen the end of war…“, “Depression is rage spread thin” and “The definition of beauty is pleasure objectified“.
He was an atheist, yet he always treasured his Spanish Catholic values and practices. He passed away at 88-years-old, in 1952, at a convent in Rome where he was being cared for by the nuns. He went the best way: while he was sleeping.
I don’t know what the deal is with Harvard; despite a strong homophobic climate at the school into the 1990s, Santayana, Lincoln Kirstein, Leonard Bernstein, Frank O’Hara, Edward Gorey, John Ashbery, Philip Johnson: all of them were Harvard men, professors and students, and all of them gay.