What is erudition?
A quick glance at the Merriam-Webster reveals the definition to be: “knowledge acquired by study or research; scholarship, learning.”
This is a good working definition of what we are going for here in the new chivalry. This is not necessarily schooling, but rather an intense personal dedication to self education. As Mark Twain is attributed to have said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
I have a love affair with books. I always have ever since I learned how to read by reciting my favorite book (Jonah and the Whale) to myself because I couldn’t find a grownup to read it for me. Ever since then I have read, not perhaps as much as I could, for I had other interests (if not it would have been hard to find anything to read or write about), but at the very least a good deal. I have been laughed at on every deployment I have gone on for being the only person who brought a footlocker full of books with them.
I have since come to believe that reading is one of the true responsibilities of free men and women. Reading, not merely shallowly, or for entertainment, although that has its place as well; but reading widely, carefully and critically; reading not merely those authors that you already agree with, but reading their opponents as well; reading not merely the bestsellers, but the little known, the out of print, the difficult, the quirky, and the out of date. We should read and learn to love the books that we do not like, but ought to like if we were better sorts of people.
We ought to read the books that are not of our times, the old books. This is not because the old books are more likely to be right than new books, or because writers in other ages were less prone to error than they are now. In all ages people have been people, and all ages have been wrong about something. The chief advantage of reading books of other ages is that they are not likely to be wrong in the same way that books of our ages are.
Especially we ought to read the great books of the world, the books that built the great civilizations. We cannot grow a stable civilization without roots, roots in the past, in the great triumphs and even more so in the great failures of those who have gone before us. In the same way, an intellect not rooted in the past is unstable, rootless, easily shifted about with the changing opinions of our own times.
We read to stretch our minds, to stretch our hearts, to live other lives, and to see with other eyes. We ought to read, and we ought to discuss what we read with others and then we must put it into practice. It is not enough merely to fill our heads with ideas. We must make those ideas our own by comparing them with the ideas of other people, by probing their weaknesses and testing them, and finally by living them.
Reading is an intrinsic part of the well-lived life.