In Defense of Nostalgia

As people have become less connected globally, the need for escapism has grown. Nostalgia is a particularly powerful facet of this experience that allows us to travel back in time and visit simpler times, even though they may not have actually existed outside our own memories.

The “the strenuous life” is a term that has been used to describe the life of people who live in challenging environments. The term was created by the author, Ernest Shackleton, and it describes his life during his time on the Endurance Expedition.

The charge that this site is “overly nostalgic” is hurled at us on occasion. The critic will accuse us of propagating the erroneous notion that things were better in the past.

There is no longer any place on the site where we argue that things were better in the “good old days.” Anyone who opposes the plague, slavery, or World Wars recognizes the folly of such a claim. We contend, however, that in their haste to break free from the past’s ills, the previous few generations have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. The Art of Manliness’ purpose is to leave the worst aspects of the past in the past, while rediscovering the great aspects that might help today’s men.

Even still, there will be many who argue that nostalgia is unwarranted. They say that every generation looks back on the past as a golden age, that each era was equally wonderful and horrible, and that we are now living in the finest moment in history. I’d want to defend nostalgia since it appears to be getting a bad rap nowadays. I’ll argue that certain eras were superior than others, and that nostalgia is not only appropriate, but that a good dosage of it, even if you already believe the world is a wonderful place, is the key to make it even better.

What Exactly Is Nostalgia?

It’s best to define your terms first when writing a thesis. While I don’t recommend mentioning Wikipedia as a source, it may be a useful resource for quick definitions. Here’s the nostalgic entry:

“Nostalgia is a phrase used to express a yearning for a past that is typically glorified. The term is a learnt form of a Greek compound consisting of o, nóstos, a Homeric word for “returning home,” and álgos, a Greek word for “pain” or “ache.”

So, let’s define nostalgia as a yearning for the past, a desire to return “home” to a place or time when things seemed to be better. So, let’s get started.

The Renaissance as an Example of Nostalgia as a Catalyst for Progress

Nostalgia illustration.

Some could claim that reminiscing and romanticizing the past is counterproductive, yet history has shown otherwise. This may be seen plainly in the Renaissance period’s beginnings. We’ll need to go through some background to understand why this is the case, so stay with me; I promise I’ll make my point.

The 14th Century’s Problems

Europe was in a bad mood at the start of the 15th century. The 1300s were a chaotic and dreadful time.

The Hundred Years War began in 1337 when the English invaded France. But it was only one of the 14th century’s lengthy, drawn-out battles, each of which left bodies scattered over gory battlefields.

People were being mowed down by sickness as well as the sword. A mind-boggling 1/3 to 1/2 of the population was wiped out by the Black Death. The plague not only decimated people’s health, but it also decimated the economy, resulting in a nearly century-long depression (and you thought the current recession was bad!).

 

A split in the Catholic Church dealt the fatal blow to the people of the 14th century. There were two, and for a time three, separate popes between 1378 and 1417, each claiming to be the rightful head of the Church. All those under the jurisdiction of the opposing pope were excommunicated, thereby cutting them off from salvation.

There is plenty to be written about each of these three crises, but suffice it to say that the people of Europe (if they weren’t dead) were profoundly disillusioned and gloomy about the future by the end of the 14th century. The public’s confidence in the government, the church, and their fellow citizens was severely damaged. Apocalyptic thought was prevalent, and many people felt they were living in the latter days of the world.

At this time, Europeans may have succumbed to despair, accepting the notion that the world was going to hell in a handbasket.

Instead, they chose to respond to the problems of this confidence crisis in a constructive and brave manner; they sought a societal resurrection, rebirth, and rejuvenation. They had the utopian belief that they could create a new world.

There have been times in history when utopian hippies imagined they could create a new society where peace and love reigned supreme, most recently in the 1960s. That initiative was generally ineffective, and it contributed to the present cultural excess and stagnation in many ways. However, the European effort resulted in one of the greatest periods of cultural flowering in global history: the Renaissance. What’s the difference? While the 1960s movement was centered on the concept of beginning again, the Renaissance was rooted on nostalgia.

Nostalgia and the Renaissance’s Beginning

Raphael school of athens illustration.

The Middle Ages were unanimously seen by 15th-century thinkers as a period of tragedy, degradation, and corruption. This was not the case; contrary to what you may have learned in history class, the Dark Ages were not without their flaws. Nonetheless, they were well aware that many areas of their society had deteriorated and degenerated, and that their culture had become stagnant.

These thinkers started to see Ancient Greece and Rome as the world’s golden era, a time of immense culture, pleasure, and learning. They said, “Those were the good old days!” With this new historical perspective, they set out to devise a strategy for reviving their civilization, based on the golden period of antiquity as a model and inspiration.

Scholars in Italy started to find and pore over old Greek and Roman literature. They swallowed the Greek notion that truth was relative when it came to rhetoric as they studied the old sophists, that if someone is persuaded by an argument, then it is true for that individual. As they considered the possibility that multiple truths exist for different individuals, they started to apply it to the topic of history, rejecting the notion that all history could be categorized under one overarching storyline and assessed using the same yardstick. Instead, they came to the conclusion that each period was distinct and distinct, with its own qualities and conditions.

 

This led them to realize that bringing back the classical era in its entirety would be impossible, and that a full epoch could not be recreated. While they still considered antiquity as a golden period, these new humanists knew that the ancient era would not perfectly fit up with their own, so they sought to resuscitate antiquity in a modified form, adapting the finest aspects of Greek and Roman civilizations to their own time and circumstances.

This reconstructed world, according to the humanists, would be both old and contemporary. They reflected on the past as they moved ahead into the future. It was both historical and progressive, and this great combination resulted in a dramatic cultural blossoming in art, architecture, music, and literature, which many today see as unparalleled in global history. The “Dark Ages” had come to an end, and a new world had begun.

Taking Renaissance Lessons and Applying Them to Today’s World

So, can anybody understand what I’m getting at here? The Renaissance was formed by romanticizing a time as a “golden era” but being flexible enough to recognize that not everything from the past should be brought back.

We’re in desperate need of a Menaissance these days. And with a good dose of nostalgia, we may create one by idealizing a golden past while adapting it to the contemporary day.

We’ve awoken from a dreadful time, much like the late 14th century, and many people are unhappy about the status of affairs. Now, I understand that some people believe the world is in complete decline, while others believe things are improving, but intelligent people may differ on this matter, and I’m not especially interested in that discussion.

What I don’t believe can be debated is that cultures rise and fall—you either believe that civilizations rise and fall as the world as a whole improves or as the world as a whole deteriorates. And, regardless of whether you feel we are now on an upward or downward trajectory, I believe that the capacity to look back in time and learn from the cultural peaks of the past is critical to our society’s continuous advancement and health. While our concerns are minor in comparison to the pandemic, our generation is dealing with major difficulties, and our self-confidence is at an all-time low.

We’ve been in this situation before, and we can either succumb to cynicism and despair or bravely rise to the difficulties of our day by turning to the past and revitalizing what was finest about it.

Looking Forward by Returning to a Former Golden Age

 Illustration of people enjoying party while drinking beer.

While it is true that every generation romanticizes the past, not every period is idealized equally. Who doesn’t become nostalgic for the 1970s and 1980s (despite the aching in your heart when you hear Journey)? When was the last time someone waxed lyrical about the 1910s or 1890s? And no one will look back on the “oughts” with desire in their hearts in the future.

 

There’s a reason behind it, too! While some things, even most things, improve with time, others, even if just a few items, deteriorate and become completely lost. And the time period for which we feel nostalgia usually corresponds to what we believe is lacking in our contemporary society. It’s not that we want to go back to that era in its entirety; rather, we want to bring back the traits that were most prominent at the time and are now missing in ours. Intellectuals in the 15th century yearned for ancient antiquity’s intellectualism, philosophical reasoning, political engagement, elevation of the human form, and eloquence, all of which had virtually vanished during the Middle Ages.

We “ache” for our last “golden period,” the 1940s and 1950s, these days. People still believed in the importance of dressing well, having manners, and respecting others as a result of postwar prosperity. A man could make a middle-class living with a blue collar job, corporations looked out for their employees (back then, the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker was 24:1, it is now 275:1), and corporations looked out for their employees. It was an opulent era. And that was a fashionable era. Cary Grant was suave manliness embodied on the silver screen and on television’s Father Knew Best. In any vintage photograph from the period, the guys seem to be confident and purposeful.

There was still crime, infants born out of wedlock, and adultery abounding, so it wasn’t necessarily a better moral period. But there was a huge difference in the celebration of ideas, in the sense that being good and doing good was a worthwhile goal even if it wasn’t completely achievable. This contrasts with our era, the Age of Irony and Cynicism, whose slogan would be “Why bother?” We’ll devote an entire piece to the damaging effects of cynicism on our society and on males in the future, but for now, all I can say is thank you, Conan, for declaring cynicism to be your least favorite attribute. It’s also mine (even though I struggle with it myself).

Again, the point is not that the 1940s and 1950s were flawless; they certainly weren’t. No, the goal is to draw inspiration from the time in order to bring current society back to life. The goal is to accept that being relativistic about everything doesn’t make sense, and to be ready to admit that certain things, even if just a few things, were really better in the past.

Tulsa uncovered a 1957 Belvedere that had been buried as a time capsule 5 decades earlier three years ago. The discovery of the vehicle made headlines throughout the globe, and many were ecstatic to see such a gorgeous car rise from the ground (unfortunately, water had gotten into the vault and rusted it out). That same year, Tulsa buried another automobile, which would not be discovered for another five decades. What kind of vehicle is it? A Dodge Prowler, to be precise. A Dodge Prowler, to be precise. Who cares if the Prowler is raised from the earth in 2057? Who cares if the Prowler is lifted from the ground in 2057? There aren’t many. Why? Because the vehicles of the 1950s were stunning, and nothing since has inspired the same level of adoration and devotion that those long lines and gorgeous style did.

 

All of this is to imply that certain things were, in fact, better in the past. And if we want to progress, we should embrace and resuscitate those elements. Of course, automobiles with fins aren’t required to be brought back. But just high-quality items. Things you wanted to take care of because they were built to last.

This durable, long-lasting quality was not limited to items. It was a by-product of a society with meaning, a culture governed by laws. In his piece “The Comeback of Construction,” Matt Higgins puts it best:

“Mad Men” never fails to remind us that this society was socially and behaviorally homogeneous, racist, sexist, and terribly limiting for many. It was, nevertheless, something. A shared item that hangs over everything, infusing existence with its presence and inextricably moulding you via your connection with it. It was built and agreed upon, providing a consistent narrative and worldview based on common myths, dreams, and beliefs.

People are discovering that they miss something about the good old days in the middle of our aggressively egalitarian politically correct attempts to obliterate society as our grandparents knew it. The chivalry of a conventional date, the sophistication of a guy in a suit and top hat, the grace of a girl in an evening gown For the first time in history, the cultural standards that built our culture have been replaced by a one-size-fits-all code of jeans and whatever-you-want. A post-modern, deconstructed, supply-your-own-meaning society.

It also works. To some degree, yes. Because it gives folks a lot of leeway to do what they want. However, some individuals are discovering that they are missing out on some of the advantages of building. We live in a time when freedom is both overpowering and perplexing. Freedom is wonderful, but, like music without measures, there comes a moment when the lack of structure causes meaning to dissolve. Noise is created when music is played.

And as a society, we’ve had enough of the clamor. Young people nowadays are making significant attempts to reintroduce rhythm and meter into society. Costumes, traditions, and methods of standing, moving, and speaking are all being reconstructed all around us.”

Conclusion

With incessant hand wringing over the current day, toxic nostalgia believes that everything was better in the past and obstructs cultural growth. Healthy nostalgia is appreciative for current achievements that have improved people’s lives, yet also misses some aspects of the past and tries to restore them.

Every generation in the previous several decades has wished to reinvent the wheel, to start over and build a new civilization from the ground up. Hyper-presentism, on the other hand, is just as harmful as hyper-nostalgia. This postmodern society just perceives the present instant, with no sense of history or the past. We’ve tossed away all of the old rules but haven’t come up with any new ones.

Scrapping the project every decade in favor of constructing a culture based on the newest cultural fads and winds of change only ends in a rickety shell of a culture that shivers in the breeze until the next generation tears it down and begins construction on its own fragile structure.

 

Ideally, each generation should take the finest of the previous generation and include it as a brick in the culture’s foundation, rejecting the dross and continually piling the lessons we’ve learned, the things that have really worked well. As a result, the culture grows more robust over time.

So I admit that I am unashamedly nostalgic for the postwar era, and I think it might serve as a source of inspiration for us now. And I respectfully suggest that looking back is the finest way to go ahead when you’re searching for a revival, a renewal, a true renaissance.

Listen to our nostalgic podcast: 

 

 

 

Nostalgia is often viewed as a waste of time. But it’s not always the case. Nostalgia can be a good way to remember past memories and experiences, which are sometimes hard to forget. Reference: nostalgic in a sentence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main message of nostalgia?

A: Nostalgia is a feeling of longing for experiences connected with an earlier period in one’s life.

What is bouts of nostalgia?

A: Bouts of nostalgia are moments that trigger feelings of fond memories. They can be an event, a song, or anything else mentioned by the questioner.

What kind of feeling is nostalgia?

A: Nostalgia is a feeling that comes from remembering the past and also wanting to experience it again. Its an often bittersweet emotion, as one might recall happy memories with sadness because of how long they have been gone or forgotten.

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