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Chapter 1

  • History is the life of nations and of humanity. To seize and put into words,
  • to describe directly the life of humanity or even of a single nation, appear_mpossible.
  • The ancient historians all employed one and the same method to describe an_eize the apparently elusive—the life of a people. They described the activit_f individuals who ruled the people, and regarded the activity of those men a_epresenting the activity of the whole nation.
  • The question: how did individuals make nations act as they wished and by wha_as the will of these individuals themselves guided? the ancients met b_ecognizing a divinity which subjected the nations to the will of a chose_an, and guided the will of that chosen man so as to accomplish ends that wer_redestined.
  • For the ancients these questions were solved by a belief in the direc_articipation of the Deity in human affairs.
  • Modern history, in theory, rejects both these principles.
  • It would seem that having rejected the belief of the ancients in man'_ubjection to the Deity and in a predetermined aim toward which nations ar_ed, modern history should study not the manifestations of power but th_auses that produce it. But modern history has not done this. Having in theor_ejected the view held by the ancients, it still follows them in practice.
  • Instead of men endowed with divine authority and directly guided by the wil_f God, modern history has given us either heroes endowed with extraordinary,
  • superhuman capacities, or simply men of very various kinds, from monarchs t_ournalists, who lead the masses. Instead of the former divinely appointe_ims of the Jewish, Greek, or Roman nations, which ancient historians regarde_s representing the progress of humanity, modern history has postulated it_wn aims- the welfare of the French, German, or English people, or, in it_ighest abstraction, the welfare and civilization of humanity in general, b_hich is usually meant that of the peoples occupying a small northwesterl_ortion of a large continent.
  • Modern history has rejected the beliefs of the ancients without replacing the_y a new conception, and the logic of the situation has obliged th_istorians, after they had apparently rejected the divine authority of th_ings and the "fate" of the ancients, to reach the same conclusion by anothe_oad, that is, to recognize (1) nations guided by individual men, and (2) th_xistence of a known aim to which these nations and humanity at large ar_ending.
  • At the basis of the works of all the modern historians from Gibbon to Buckle,
  • despite their seeming disagreements and the apparent novelty of thei_utlooks, lie those two old, unavoidable assumptions.
  • In the first place the historian describes the activity of individuals who i_is opinion have directed humanity (one historian considers only monarchs,
  • generals, and ministers as being such men, while another includes als_rators, learned men, reformers, philosophers, and poets). Secondly, it i_ssumed that the goal toward which humanity is being led is known to th_istorians: to one of them this goal is the greatness of the Roman, Spanish,
  • or French realm; to another it is liberty, equality, and a certain kind o_ivilization of a small corner of the world called Europe.
  • In 1789 a ferment arises in Paris; it grows, spreads, and is expressed by _ovement of peoples from west to east. Several times it moves eastward an_ollides with a countermovement from the east westward. In 1812 it reaches it_xtreme limit, Moscow, and then, with remarkable symmetry, a countermovemen_ccurs from east to west, attracting to it, as the first movement had done,
  • the nations of middle Europe. The counter movement reaches the starting poin_f the first movement in the west—Paris—and subsides.
  • During that twenty-year period an immense number of fields were left untilled,
  • houses were burned, trade changed its direction, millions of men migrated,
  • were impoverished, or were enriched, and millions of Christian men professin_he law of love of their fellows slew one another.
  • What does all this mean? Why did it happen? What made those people burn house_nd slay their fellow men? What were the causes of these events? What forc_ade men act so? These are the instinctive, plain, and most legitimat_uestions humanity asks itself when it encounters the monuments and traditio_f that period.
  • For a reply to these questions the common sense of mankind turns to th_cience of history, whose aim is to enable nations and humanity to kno_hemselves.
  • If history had retained the conception of the ancients it would have said tha_od, to reward or punish his people, gave Napoleon power and directed his wil_o the fulfillment of the divine ends, and that reply, would have been clea_nd complete. One might believe or disbelieve in the divine significance o_apoleon, but for anyone believing in it there would have been nothin_nintelligible in the history of that period, nor would there have been an_ontradictions.
  • But modern history cannot give that reply. Science does not admit th_onception of the ancients as to the direct participation of the Deity i_uman affairs, and therefore history ought to give other answers.
  • Modern history replying to these questions says: you want to know what thi_ovement means, what caused it, and what force produced these events? The_isten:
  • "Louis XIV was a very proud and self-confident man; he had such and suc_istresses and such and such ministers and he ruled France badly. Hi_escendants were weak men and they too ruled France badly. And they had suc_nd such favorites and such and such mistresses. Moreover, certain men wrot_ome books at that time. At the end of the eighteenth century there were _ouple of dozen men in Paris who began to talk about all men being free an_qual. This caused people all over France to begin to slash at and drown on_nother. They killed the king and many other people. At that time there was i_rance a man of genius—Napoleon. He conquered everybody everywhere—that is, h_illed many people because he was a great genius. And for some reason he wen_o kill Africans, and killed them so well and was so cunning and wise tha_hen he returned to France he ordered everybody to obey him, and they al_beyed him. Having become an Emperor he again went out to kill people i_taly, Austria, and Prussia. And there too he killed a great many. In Russi_here was an Emperor, Alexander, who decided to restore order in Europe an_herefore fought against Napoleon. In 1807 he suddenly made friends with him,
  • but in 1811 they again quarreled and again began killing many people. Napoleo_ed six hundred thousand men into Russia and captured Moscow; then he suddenl_an away from Moscow, and the Emperor Alexander, helped by the advice of Stei_nd others, united Europe to arm against the disturber of its peace. Al_apoleon's allies suddenly became his enemies and their forces advance_gainst the fresh forces he raised. The Allies defeated Napoleon, entere_aris, forced Napoleon to abdicate, and sent him to the island of Elba, no_epriving him of the title of Emperor and showing him every respect, thoug_ive years before and one year later they all regarded him as an outlaw and _rigand. Then Louis XVIII, who till then had been the laughingstock both o_he French and the Allies, began to reign. And Napoleon, shedding tears befor_is Old Guards, renounced the throne and went into exile. Then the skillfu_tatesmen and diplomatists (especially Talleyrand, who managed to sit down i_ particular chair before anyone else and thereby extended the frontiers o_rance) talked in Vienna and by these conversations made the nations happy o_nhappy. Suddenly the diplomatists and monarchs nearly quarreled and were o_he point of again ordering their armies to kill one another, but just the_apoleon arrived in France with a battalion, and the French, who had bee_ating him, immediately all submitted to him. But the Allied monarchs wer_ngry at this and went to fight the French once more. And they defeated th_enius Napoleon and, suddenly recognizing him as a brigand, sent him to th_sland of St. Helena. And the exile, separated from the beloved France so dea_o his heart, died a lingering death on that rock and bequeathed his grea_eeds to posterity. But in Europe a reaction occurred and the sovereigns onc_gain all began to oppress their subjects."
  • It would be a mistake to think that this is ironic—a caricature of th_istorical accounts. On the contrary it is a very mild expression of th_ontradictory replies, not meeting the questions, which all the historian_ive, from the compilers of memoirs and the histories of separate states t_he writers of general histories and the new histories of the culture of tha_eriod.
  • The strangeness and absurdity of these replies arise from the fact that moder_istory, like a deaf man, answers questions no one has asked.
  • If the purpose of history be to give a description of the movement of humanit_nd of the peoples, the first question—in the absence of a reply to which al_he rest will be incomprehensible—is: what is the power that moves peoples? T_his, modern history laboriously replies either that Napoleon was a grea_enius, or that Louis XIV was very proud, or that certain writers wrot_ertain books.
  • All that may be so and mankind is ready to agree with it, but it is not wha_as asked. All that would be interesting if we recognized a divine power base_n itself and always consistently directing its nations through Napoleons,
  • Louis-es, and writers; but we do not acknowledge such a power, and therefor_efore speaking about Napoleons, Louis-es, and authors, we ought to be show_he connection existing between these men and the movement of the nations.
  • If instead of a divine power some other force has appeared, it should b_xplained in what this new force consists, for the whole interest of histor_ies precisely in that force.
  • History seems to assume that this force is self-evident and known to everyone.
  • But in spite of every desire to regard it as known, anyone reading man_istorical works cannot help doubting whether this new force, so variousl_nderstood by the historians themselves, is really quite well known t_verybody.