Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Historicism: The Revolutionary Vanguard

 

The Humanities has been described, in the words of English poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold, as the study of “the best that has been thought and said.” Arnold believed that there is a canon of great works that illuminates the issues surrounding human existence, and that contains ideas that, because of humanity’s unchanging nature, are valid for all time. Rather than starting life with no guide, each new generation can “stand on the shoulders of giants” and can both profit from and build on what is already known.

Modern educators reject these notions and posit the transcendental truth that there are no transcendental truths. They then advance another self-contradictory transcendental truth that, in George Will’s words, “every principle is the product of historical context and is no more durable or valuable than the context was or is.” 

People cannot function in a world in which historicism is taken literally. Imagine every few years having to reconstruct ex nihilo the Western moral code – a system of thought that evolved over millennia – with its respect for the value of the individual and of individual freedom and responsibility, and its strictures against murder, slavery, rape, assault, theft, libel, and fraud. Were historicism applied to science and technology, each generation would also be tasked with rediscovering fire, the wheel, and the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Despite its shaky, self-refuting foundation and its obvious disutility, “historicism,” the name given to this bundle of transcendental lies, has largely taken over higher education in much of the West. This, because the belief provides a useful, if illogical, rationale for the Left’s idee fixe of burn-it-all-down-start-from-scratch revolution to liberate society from the past’s oppressive customs and ideals. 

Conveniently, historicism provides a ready response to any dissent based on fact, logic, and reason, because fact, logic, and reason are, historicists insist, contextual. Your facts are not my facts and my facts may well be different tomorrow, thus the all-purpose, question-begging end to any debate.

After the revolution, this nonsense will be swept away along with anyone who, not realizing the scam’s transient purpose, foolishly insists on believing it. Once the old order has been eliminated, were historicism allowed to fester, it would put any newly created utopia at risk. After all, a perfect world cannot rest on lies.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Richard Fulmer: Once the old order has been eliminated, were historicism allowed to fester, it would put any newly created utopia at risk. After all, a perfect world cannot rest on lies.

    But how long will it take to die? In the meantime, we will try to live through the destruction it causes. And it won’t be pretty. Good post, Richard.

    • #1
    • August 4, 2020, at 6:42 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    But how long will it take to die?

    The only way I can think of to deal with historicism is to tell the truth about it and keep telling it:

    • It’s based on self-contradictory “transcendental truths”:
      1. There are no transcendental truths
      2. There are no principles that span time and culture
    • Its circular reasoning makes it unfalsifiable (in science, unfalsifiable hypotheses are discarded out of hand)
    • It’s impractical. We can hardly put every time-honored principle of human behavior under the microscope nor can every new generation reinvent civilization
    • Its only “value” is its ability to destroy whatever the current culture is
    • #2
    • August 4, 2020, at 6:55 AM PDT
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  3. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Richard Fulmer: Modern educators reject these notions and posit the transcendental truth that there are no transcendental truths.

    … and they get really cranky when you laugh at them for that.

    • #3
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:03 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Percival (View Comment):

    Richard Fulmer: Modern educators reject these notions and posit the transcendental truth that there are no transcendental truths.

    … and they get really cranky when you laugh at them for that.

    Transcendentally cranky

    • #4
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:13 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Literature is one antidote to historicism. To the extent that novels by, say, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, or Mark Twain speak to us across the decades or centuries, we learn that human nature hasn’t changed much. We also learn character traits and virtues that are worthy of emulation.

    • #5
    • August 4, 2020, at 11:04 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    In his biography, Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man, Timothy Sandefur wrote about technique of depriving slaves of their history as a way of keeping them under control:

    History is a shared tradition about one’s origins and sense of purpose and a role in the progress of the world. History can generate pride and solidarity among a people. Lacking a conception of their part in the progress of a nation or a people, enslaved people were encouraged to regard themselves not as dynamic and full of potential, but as static and fixed in the landscape. If the slave could be deprived of a past, he could not imagine a future.

    Our schools all too often inadvertently practice “history-deprivation” by neglecting the subject altogether, by presenting courses that offer only disconnected fragments of history based on professor specialties, or by looking at the past through today’s distorting lenses – projecting the cause du jour into the actions and thoughts of people who lived hundreds of years ago.

    Deprived of their pasts, high school and college graduates are often unable to relate to those who came before them, and to understand their humanity, struggles, failures, and triumphs. Nor can they see the continual, if uneven, progress that has been made, technically, economically, and morally.

    • #6
    • August 4, 2020, at 11:26 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. RightAngles Member

    Imagine every few years having to reconstruct ex nihilo the Western moral code

    Ex nihilo nihil fit.

    • #7
    • August 4, 2020, at 12:44 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Imagine every few years having to reconstruct ex nihilo the Western moral code

    Ex nihilo nihil fit.

    oooh, Latin … that’s even hotter than French.

    • #8
    • August 4, 2020, at 12:51 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. RightAngles Member

    Richard Fulmer (View Comment):
    . Imagine every few years having to reconstruct ex nihilo the Western moral code

    And we learn of “tragic flaws” which cause the downfall of a hero. The literary archetype is a crucial element of Western Culture. They’re erasing it purposely. They’re turning us into the Eloi.

    • #9
    • August 4, 2020, at 12:53 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Mark Camp Member

    A lot of Mises’s criticism of the prevailing economics systems of his day, and their genealogy was directed at the German Historical school.

    To a typical uneducated reader like me, this was baffling…I had never even heard of historicism, except when I read a popular bio of Woodrow Wilson, years ago.

    Americans graduate from college very little awareness of the intellectual history of Western Civilization, especially that of the political ideologies of the late 18th and the 19th century. We are completely ill-equipped, intellectually, to fight this fundamentally illiberal, anti-American cult because we not only do not know how powerfully it has controlled the direction of American society…we don’t even know what it is.

    • #10
    • August 4, 2020, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. RightAngles Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Imagine every few years having to reconstruct ex nihilo the Western moral code

    Ex nihilo nihil fit.

    oooh, Latin … that’s even hotter than French.

    • #11
    • August 4, 2020, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Richard Fulmer: “every principle is the product of historical context and is no more durable or valuable than the context was or is.”

    If all principles are contextual, how can people today condemn 19th Century slave owners?

    Richard Fulmer: there are no transcendental truths.

    If all principles are contextual and there are no transcendental truths, what is the basis for the claim that slavery is wrong?

    • #12
    • August 4, 2020, at 2:50 PM PDT
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  13. RightAngles Member

    Richard Fulmer (View Comment):

    Richard Fulmer: “every principle is the product of historical context and is no more durable or valuable than the context was or is.”

    If all principles are contextual, how can people today condemn 19th Century slave owners?

    Richard Fulmer: there are no transcendental truths.

    If all principles are contextual and there are no transcendental truths, what is the basis for the claim that slavery is wrong?

    Excellent!

    • #13
    • August 4, 2020, at 2:59 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. Flicker Coolidge

    Percival (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Imagine every few years having to reconstruct ex nihilo the Western moral code

    Ex nihilo nihil fit.

    oooh, Latin … that’s even hotter than French.

    Wrote a song about it. Goes sumppin’ like this.

    https://youtu.be/8HqyEHqEYho

    • #14
    • August 4, 2020, at 3:25 PM PDT
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  15. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Historicism is a revolutionary con. The professors pushing these ideas are churning out a generation of useful idiots who will no longer be useful when they succeed in destroying the status quo.

    • #15
    • August 4, 2020, at 5:10 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Sandy Member

    One of the curious things about historicists is their apparent inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to think about their own futures. What will their intellectual output be worth in ten years, or for that matter, a year, or maybe tomorrow? But as you point out, historicism is entirely impractical in daily life. I had an argument once with a very young graduate student who was asserting that there were no absolutes, and therefore no truth. I might have told him that if so, that would include the statement he had just made, but the picture that came to my mind was that of a child with chocolate covering his mouth who was denying that he’d eaten anything recently, so I told him that should he become a father one day, his views might change. 

    • #16
    • August 4, 2020, at 7:39 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Sandy (View Comment):
    a very young graduate student who was asserting that there were no absolutes, and therefore no truth. I might have told him that if so, that would include the statement he had just made…

    Sandy: Is it absolutely true that there are no absolutes and no truth?

    Student: Oh, my G-d! I just pissed off $120,000 in tuition money.

    Yeah. Bad idea.

    • #17
    • August 4, 2020, at 8:19 PM PDT
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  18. MiMac Thatcher

    I love the “the truth is there is no truth” argument! ?????

    • #18
    • August 6, 2020, at 7:37 AM PDT
    • 2 likes