Thursday, January 05, 2006
On historical change
Historians never cease to amaze me: their perverse, cheerful lack of any rigorous theoretical framework is truly astonishing. They feel able to make any sorts of statements only based on rhetorical formulations, at the same time adamantly declaring that all is relative and every generation writes its own histories - then happily proceeding to “disprove” old viewpoints. Based on what exactly giving the premise? I simply regard this as intellectual laziness or worse (fairly common to all human studies nowadays). In my view causation is the key: how can we write about history without addressing causality in any way? We can make all sorts suppositions based on vague “common sense” about “deep currents” and “surface froth” but as long as we lack an actual theory of historical causation, what can we really say? Tolstoi’s point in the preface of War and Peace that history is not at all dependent on individuals seems utterly meaningless to me. History obviously consists only of a myriad of individuals - it is also a gigantically complex web with an almost infinite number of mutually reacting factors. This seems like the definition of a chaotic process to me: small factors can have great effect. Who can say? The total constellation of circumstances will determine the immediate consequences but is itself unique and irreproducible, "random", and there is no way that we could extrapolate long to the future based on it. Or so I feel, lacking a theory of historical causation. It does seem like a hindrance to me.