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Chapter 2

  • What force moves the nations?
  • Biographical historians and historians of separate nations understand thi_orce as a power inherent in heroes and rulers. In their narration event_ccur solely by the will of a Napoleon, and Alexander, or in general of th_ersons they describe. The answers given by this kind of historian to th_uestion of what force causes events to happen are satisfactory only as lon_s there is but one historian to each event. As soon as historians o_ifferent nationalities and tendencies begin to describe the same event, th_eplies they give immediately lose all meaning, for this force is understoo_y them all not only differently but often in quite contradictory ways. On_istorian says that an event was produced by Napoleon's power, another that i_as produced by Alexander's, a third that it was due to the power of som_ther person. Besides this, historians of that kind contradict each other eve_n their statement as to the force on which the authority of some particula_erson was based. Thiers, a Bonapartist, says that Napoleon's power was base_n his virtue and genius. Lanfrey, a Republican, says it was based on hi_rickery and deception of the people. So the historians of this class, b_utually destroying one another's positions, destroy the understanding of th_orce which produces events, and furnish no reply to history's essentia_uestion.
  • Writers of universal history who deal with all the nations seem to recogniz_ow erroneous is the specialist historians' view of the force which produce_vents. They do not recognize it as a power inherent in heroes and rulers, bu_s the resultant of a multiplicity of variously directed forces. In describin_ war or the subjugation of a people, a general historian looks for the caus_f the event not in the power of one man, but in the interaction of man_ersons connected with the event.
  • According to this view the power of historical personages, represented as th_roduct of many forces, can no longer, it would seem, be regarded as a forc_hat itself produces events. Yet in most cases universal historians stil_mploy the conception of power as a force that itself produces events, an_reat it as their cause. In their exposition, an historic character is firs_he product of his time, and his power only the resultant of various forces,
  • and then his power is itself a force producing events. Gervinus, Schlosser,
  • and others, for instance, at one time prove Napoleon to be a product of th_evolution, of the ideas of 1789 and so forth, and at another plainly say tha_he campaign of 1812 and other things they do not like were simply the produc_f Napoleon's misdirected will, and that the very ideas of 1789 were arreste_n their development by Napoleon's caprice. The ideas of the Revolution an_he general temper of the age produced Napoleon's power. But Napoleon's powe_uppressed the ideas of the Revolution and the general temper of the age.
  • This curious contradiction is not accidental. Not only does it occur at ever_tep, but the universal historians' accounts are all made up of a chain o_uch contradictions. This contradiction occurs because after entering th_ield of analysis the universal historians stop halfway.
  • To find component forces equal to the composite or resultant force, the sum o_he components must equal the resultant. This condition is never observed b_he universal historians, and so to explain the resultant forces they ar_bliged to admit, in addition to the insufficient components, anothe_nexplained force affecting the resultant action.
  • Specialist historians describing the campaign of 1813 or the restoration o_he Bourbons plainly assert that these events were produced by the will o_lexander. But the universal historian Gervinus, refuting this opinion of th_pecialist historian, tries to prove that the campaign of 1813 and th_estoration of the Bourbons were due to other things beside Alexander'_ill—such as the activity of Stein, Metternich, Madame de Stael, Talleyrand,
  • Fichte Chateaubriand, and others. The historian evidently decompose_lexander's power into the components: Talleyrand, Chateaubriand, and th_est—but the sum of the components, that is, the interactions o_hateaubriand, Talleyrand, Madame de Stael, and the others, evidently does no_qual the resultant, namely the phenomenon of millions of Frenchmen submittin_o the Bourbons. That Chateaubriand, Madame de Stael, and others spoke certai_ords to one another only affected their mutual relations but does not accoun_or the submission of millions. And therefore to explain how from thes_elations of theirs the submission of millions of people resulted—that is, ho_omponent forces equal to one A gave a resultant equal to a thousand time_—the historian is again obliged to fall back on power—the force he ha_enied—and to recognize it as the resultant of the forces, that is, he has t_dmit an unexplained force acting on the resultant. And that is just what th_niversal historians do, and consequently they not only contradict th_pecialist historians but contradict themselves.
  • Peasants having no clear idea of the cause of rain, say, according to whethe_hey want rain or fine weather: "The wind has blown the clouds away," or, "Th_ind has brought up the clouds." And in the same way the universal historian_ometimes, when it pleases them and fits in with their theory, say that powe_s the result of events, and sometimes, when they want to prove somethin_lse, say that power produces events.
  • A third class of historians—the so-called historians of culture- following th_ath laid down by the universal historians who sometimes accept writers an_adies as forces producing events—again take that force to be something quit_ifferent. They see it in what is called culture—in mental activity.
  • The historians of culture are quite consistent in regard to their progenitors,
  • the writers of universal histories, for if historical events may be explaine_y the fact that certain persons treated one another in such and such ways,
  • why not explain them by the fact that such and such people wrote such and suc_ooks? Of the immense number of indications accompanying every vita_henomenon, these historians select the indication of intellectual activit_nd say that this indication is the cause. But despite their endeavors t_rove that the cause of events lies in intellectual activity, only by a grea_tretch can one admit that there is any connection between intellectua_ctivity and the movement of peoples, and in no case can one admit tha_ntellectual activity controls people's actions, for that view is no_onfirmed by such facts as the very cruel murders of the French Revolutio_esulting from the doctrine of the equality of man, or the very cruel wars an_xecutions resulting from the preaching of love.
  • But even admitting as correct all the cunningly devised arguments with whic_hese histories are filled—admitting that nations are governed by som_ndefined force called an idea—history's essential question still remain_nanswered, and to the former power of monarchs and to the influence o_dvisers and other people introduced by the universal historians, another,
  • newer force—the idea—is added, the connection of which with the masses need_xplanation. It is possible to understand that Napoleon had power and s_vents occurred; with some effort one may even conceive that Napoleon togethe_ith other influences was the cause of an event; but how a book, Le Contra_ocial, had the effect of making Frenchmen begin to drown one another canno_e understood without an explanation of the causal nexus of this new forc_ith the event.
  • Undoubtedly some relation exists between all who live contemporaneously, an_o it is possible to find some connection between the intellectual activity o_en and their historical movements, just as such a connection may be foun_etween the movements of humanity and commerce, handicraft, gardening, o_nything else you please. But why intellectual activity is considered by th_istorians of culture to be the cause or expression of the whole historica_ovement is hard to understand. Only the following considerations can have le_he historians to such a conclusion: (1) that history is written by learne_en, and so it is natural and agreeable for them to think that the activity o_heir class supplies the basis of the movement of all humanity, just as _imilar belief is natural and agreeable to traders, agriculturists, an_oldiers (if they do not express it, that is merely because traders an_oldiers do not write history), and (2) that spiritual activity,
  • enlightenment, civilization, culture, ideas, are all indistinct, indefinit_onceptions under whose banner it is very easy to use words having a stil_ess definite meaning, and which can therefore be readily introduced into an_heory.
  • But not to speak of the intrinsic quality of histories of this kind (which ma_ossibly even be of use to someone for something) the histories of culture, t_hich all general histories tend more and more to approximate, are significan_rom the fact that after seriously and minutely examining various religious,
  • philosophic, and political doctrines as causes of events, as soon as they hav_o describe an actual historic event such as the campaign of 1812 fo_nstance, they involuntarily describe it as resulting from an exercise o_ower—and say plainly that that was the result of Napoleon's will. Speakin_o, the historians of culture involuntarily contradict themselves, and sho_hat the new force they have devised does not account for what happens i_istory, and that history can only be explained by introducing a power whic_hey apparently do not recognize.