Are you being true to yourself? Should you? Better question: What in the world is a true self, anyway?
It seems every year we have more proof that American universities are failing to engage in civic education, especially if we understand the concept as requiring meaningful reflection about the nature and purposes of government rather than just an awareness of the mechanisms of our government. There are exceptions, but for the most part, it seems unreasonable to expect much from the cafeteria-style general education curriculum required at most colleges. It is just as often remarked that even the civic education that some college students might encounter does not help, either—at least if you are a U.S. citizen who cares about fostering morally serious debate about the legitimate purposes of government in shaping our lives.
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender vacations in Paris with his fiancée and her parents. One night Pender takes a walk to escape the insufferable egotists who surround him and stumbles upon an antique Peugeot. It takes him to the 1920s, the golden age for which he has always yearned. He falls in love with Picasso’s lover Adriana, who herself has always longed for the 1890s’ Belle Époque. After a horse and carriage pass them by and whisk them to that period, and after the Impressionists they meet yearn for the Renaissance, Pender realizes that no age is as golden as we imagine and concludes that it is better to live in the reality of the present.
Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic is an extended essay on the same theme.