Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 3

  • A locomotive is moving. Someone asks: "What moves it?" A peasant says th_evil moves it. Another man says the locomotive moves because its wheels g_ound. A third asserts that the cause of its movement lies in the smoke whic_he wind carries away.
  • The peasant is irrefutable. He has devised a complete explanation. To refut_im someone would have to prove to him that there is no devil, or anothe_easant would have to explain to him that it is not the devil but a German,
  • who moves the locomotive. Only then, as a result of the contradiction, wil_hey see that they are both wrong. But the man who says that the movement o_he wheels is the cause refutes himself, for having once begun to analyze h_ught to go on and explain further why the wheels go round; and till he ha_eached the ultimate cause of the movement of the locomotive in the pressur_f steam in the boiler, he has no right to stop in his search for the cause.
  • The man who explains the movement of the locomotive by the smoke that i_arried back has noticed that the wheels do not supply an explanation and ha_aken the first sign that occurs to him and in his turn has offered that as a_xplanation.
  • The only conception that can explain the movement of the locomotive is that o_ force commensurate with the movement observed.
  • The only conception that can explain the movement of the peoples is that o_ome force commensurate with the whole movement of the peoples.
  • Yet to supply this conception various historians take forces of differen_inds, all of which are incommensurate with the movement observed. Some see i_s a force directly inherent in heroes, as the peasant sees the devil in th_ocomotive; others as a force resulting from several other forces, like th_ovement of the wheels; others again as an intellectual influence, like th_moke that is blown away.
  • So long as histories are written of separate individuals, whether Caesars,
  • Alexanders, Luthers, or Voltaires, and not the histories of all, absolutel_ll those who take part in an event, it is quite impossible to describe th_ovement of humanity without the conception of a force compelling men t_irect their activity toward a certain end. And the only such conception know_o historians is that of power.
  • This conception is the one handle by means of which the material of history,
  • as at present expounded, can be dealt with, and anyone who breaks that handl_ff, as Buckle did, without finding some other method of treating historica_aterial, merely deprives himself of the one possible way of dealing with it.
  • The necessity of the conception of power as an explanation of historica_vents is best demonstrated by the universal historians and historians o_ulture themselves, for they professedly reject that conception but inevitabl_ave recourse to it at every step.
  • In dealing with humanity's inquiry, the science of history up to now is lik_oney in circulation—paper money and coin. The biographies and specia_ational histories are like paper money. They can be used and can circulat_nd fulfill their purpose without harm to anyone and even advantageously, a_ong as no one asks what is the security behind them. You need only forget t_sk how the will of heroes produces events, and such histories as Thiers' wil_e interesting and instructive and may perhaps even possess a tinge of poetry.
  • But just as doubts of the real value of paper money arise either because,
  • being easy to make, too much of it gets made or because people try to exchang_t for gold, so also doubts concerning the real value of such histories aris_ither because too many of them are written or because in his simplicity o_eart someone inquires: by what force did Napoleon do this?—that is, wants t_xchange the current paper money for the real gold of actual comprehension.
  • The writers of universal histories and of the history of culture are lik_eople who, recognizing the defects of paper money, decide to substitute fo_t money made of metal that has not the specific gravity of gold. It ma_ndeed make jingling coin, but will do no more than that. Paper money ma_eceive the ignorant, but nobody is deceived by tokens of base metal that hav_o value but merely jingle. As gold is gold only if it is serviceable no_erely for exchange but also for use, so universal historians will be valuabl_nly when they can reply to history's essential question: what is power? Th_niversal historians give contradictory replies to that question, while th_istorians of culture evade it and answer something quite different. And a_ounters of imitation gold can be used only among a group of people who agre_o accept them as gold, or among those who do not know the nature of gold, s_niversal historians and historians of culture, not answering humanity'_ssential question, serve as currency for some purposes of their own, only i_niversities and among the mass of readers who have a taste for what they call
  • "serious reading."