I think this will be a really fun topic. We love our history in CivCon. Yet, this one asks a bit more of us than usual. Determining what “history” is and how and why it moves the way it does can get very complicated very fast. An entire subfield of philosophy is devoted doing so. It’s called the Philosophy of History, and some of the giants have wrestled with its questions, including Voltaire, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Vico, and Foucault.
But, those links are more FYI. For our purposes, I think just asking some of the basic, big questions about history would be a good way to start our discussion. It also might guarantee we go a bit deeper than History Channel-level generalizations about what history’s direction or purposes might be.
Now, many religious people, obviously, claim history has a divine purpose and/or end-point. YMMV. But, secular people also like to believe that history is governed by comprehensible rules and mechanisms. Some of the philosophers and historians have even seen predictable cycles and scientific laws in history. We can talk about those, too.
If I can find the time this weekend I will work up a short opening presentation on some of this stuff. Try to peruse some of the recommended readings or at least briefly ponder questions like these, please.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What: What is “history?” Just facts and events? Which events and whose facts? Does history contain a central narrative, or do we make one up? Is history more myth and rationalization than science?
- Why: How can historical cause and effect be determined and combined into mechanisms? How complicated is contingency? Can we detect an overall narrative or meaning to history that isn’t just self-reflection?
- Who: Who/what drives history? Role of big, impersonal forces (e.g., economics, science/technology, war, cultural interaction) versus individual agency and chance?
- Is there a natural direction to history? Are we “progressing?”
- Does history repeat or move in cycles?
- Does biology or some other natural force provide us a purpose?
- Lessons: Types of lessons from history and their use/misuse.
- Examples: What is your favorite and least favorite Law of History / theory of history’s purpose/direction?
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READING –
- The “philosophy of history” asks many interesting questions about what history is and how we can/cannot understand it.
- (FYI, much more detail and depth via:
- Even without a God…
- Cycles: Does history move in predictable phases?
- Are counterfactuals useful in studying history?
- 53: CivCon has done 53 mtgs on history! A few relevant ones:
NEXT WEEK: Can California resist Trump’s agenda?