Graduate studies at Western
Philosophy of the Social Sciences 23 (1):5-25 (1993)
|Abstract||This essay discusses the views of historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, who sets forth that democratic societies tend toward a determinist outlook; she fears that the weakened belief in free will and its heroes endangers a democratic society. She regards H. G. Wells as the founder in 1920 of the "new history," with its antiheroic bias. She welcomes therefore the television series The Civil War for having achieved "a history from above and history from below," with its heroes among common soldiers as well as the generals and statesmen. Himmelfarb criticizes the "debunking" historians who not only belittle the significance of heroes but find in "small causes" (e.g., the origins of Hitler's obsessive anti-Semitism) a basis for large-scale events (e.g., the Holocaust). Himmelfarb finds that H. G. Wells's Outline of History was intended not only to displace military conquerors as the heroes of history but to elevate the scientific elite in their place as history's truly constructive people. Americans, however, were, earlier, first introduced to another variety of "new history" by two Columbia University professors, Charles A. Beard and James Harvey Robinson, who wrote textbooks used by perhaps millions of high school students; Beard had derived the concept in 1906 when he read the Socialist History of France , much of it written by the French socialist, Jean Jaurès. The philosophy of history still remains in a position similar to that which has long prevailed in the philosophy of physics, where determinism and indeterminism have persisted irreconcilably.|
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