“Culture:” A Definition

Culture is the practice of full temporality, an institution that connects the present to the past and the future. As the Greeks understood, the mother of culture–of the Nine Muses–was Mnemosyne, whose name means “memory.” Culture educates us about our generational debts and obligations. At its best, it is a tangible inheritance of the past, one that each of us is obligated to regard with the responsibilities of trusteeship. It is itself an education in the full dimension of human temporality, meant to abridge our temptation to live within the present, with the attendant dispositions of ingratitude and irresponsibility that such a narrowing of temporality encourages. Preserved in discrete human inheritances–arts, literature, music, architecture, history, law, religion–culture expands the human experience of time, making both the past and the future present to creatures who otherwise experience only the present moment.

–Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

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