Yesterday we had a delightful Thanksgiving meal with a group of people who were politically aware but not politically boorish, both eager to share their own opinions and to hear others. Conversations define Thanksgiving at least as much as the food. (I wonder if somewhere people plan topics the way the rest of us plan courses.) Anyway, yesterday's delightful dinner got me thinking about which historical characters it would be most fascinating to have for a long Thanksgiving dinner.
Here is my list. It would probably be different next week. And this six I include not just because I think that individually they'd be fascinating but because I think that one thing that made them all distinct was that they were social inventors, able to imagine a different kind of society, and it would be utterly fascinating to hear them observe our current world and then talk among themselves to imagine a new world yet again. We could use people who had the wisdom and talent to reinvent society but had actual experience with it.
Erasmus (1466 - 1536) - adviser to kings, popes, and the one who seemed to approach the Reformation with the most humor and wisdom. Martin Luther was far more critical of the Church but Erasmus seemed more interested in reform than revolution. For this reason alone he would probably be easier to talk to about those times and it would be fun to see how he made sense of today's religious and political world. It wouldn't surprise me that, of all the characters from the 16th century, he would be least surprised and most pleased to see how things had developed.
Ben Franklin (1706 - 1790) was the only founding father to sign all four founding documents (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Treaty with France to help us win the war of independence and the Treaty with Britain to announce that war's conclusion), but inventor, publisher, and wit. Which of the fascinating founding fathers would be more fun to have? Plus, who better to have turkey with than the man who proposed it be our national bird?
Wilhelm Humboldt (1767 - 1835) Humboldt defined the modern university, a place where knowledge was created through research and shared through teaching. Again, it would be fascinating to have him apply that same genius to the modern world to hear what - if any - recommendations he'd have for University 2.0, an institution as different to us as the modern university would have seemed to his peers.
Nathan Rothschild (1777 - 1836) with his brothers helped to invent the international bond market and by extension international finance. If markets eclipsed the power of monarchs, presidents, and parliaments, the Rothschilds were a big part of that transition. Again, how fascinating would it be to get his opinion about how markets have evolved and how that compares with his own expectations.
William James (1842 - 1910) wrote the first generally accepted psychology text book and helped to invent the philosophy of pragmatism at the dawn of the century of the mind. It would be fascinating to compare what happened in the century with what he had expected.
John Maynard Keynes (1883 - 1946) The man who did the most to define the modern relationship between government and markets. It would be delightful to apply his genius to a more evolved time, to get his take on the current realities to see what he felt would require new thought and what situations he would think affirmed his theories.
This leaves a number of obvious choices off of the list. Jesus was the first person I thought of but at such a meal one really wouldn't want to share time with another five from history. (Unless it were Paul, who never met Jesus. It would be fascinating to hear various Christians from Paul on down in history talk to Jesus and take personal instruction.) Einstein was wonderfully political and it would be fascinating to hear that dimension of him. Oscar Wilde would have to be a wonderful conversationalist. Jefferson, Kurt Vonnegut, Maria Montessori, systems thinking pioneer Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charlemagne, Pope Alexander (the Borgia pope), da Vinci, Martin Luther, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Austen, Picasso, Faulkner, Buddha, , Shakespeare ... the list of other potential candidates goes on.
Given these guests are unavailable, perhaps the thing to do would be to host a costume party instead of Thanksgiving, It is the only hope one has of meeting any of these people.
Who would you have included?