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History Is War

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Generals fight wars, historians win them. Armies rape and pillage cities, scholars erase civilizations. 

“”History is war and needs to be won.” These rather noteworthy words were uttered by Russian President Vladimir Putin when meeting with historians on June 22, 2016. No historian dared argue. The utterance concerned the battles of the so-called Great Patriotic War. Putin’s logic seems to suggest these battles are still raging, among other things, in treatments of history, Mihhail Lotman writes.” - Mihhail Lotman, ERR News, February 19, 2020.

An excerpt from, “Man And His History” By Isabel Cary Lundberg, MANAS Journal, Volume II, No. 45, November 9, 1949:

Admitting without argument that a welter of “facts” about the past can be confusing, and that a strong nationalist bias in history supplies the emotional armament for useless struggle, we pass to the proposal that nearly everything we know of ourselves, as men, is “history,” in some sense or other.

“Continuity,” declared Dupont-White in the Preface to his French translation of John Stuart Mill’s essay on Liberty, “is one of the rights of man; it is a homage of everything that distinguishes him from the beast.” History, we might add, is the record of man’s awareness of his continuity. It is the memory of our collective human past, the “treasure,” as Ortega puts it, of our mistakes, “piled up stone by stone through thousands of years.” Where shall the imagination and will of the present find their discipline, except in history? Without history we should have no self-consciousness, no real identity.

Compare, for example, the difference between the biological description of the life-cycle of an animal—a horse, a tiger or a butterfly—and that of man. Even a child will remain unsatisfied with this sort of account of man. But who was he, really—the child will ask— what did he want and what did he do? You may have told all there is to know, approximately, about the horse, but about the man, as a man, you have told exactly nothing. The horse is the creature of his species. The individual horse has no “history,” and what there is to tell concerns the species. But the history of a man or a group of men does not even begin until the story of his species—what little we know of it—is finished, and we engage in a consideration of the differences among men. What is the same in all men is the capacity to be different, and this capacity imparts to history its importance and its very existence.

History—or Memory—is half, although the lesser half, of self-consciousness. The other half is Imagination. That greatest of Renaissance platonists, Pico della Mirandola, in his Oration on the Dignity of Man, has the Demiurge address Mankind in the person of Adam:

I have given thee neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar to thyself, Adam, to the end that, according to thy longing and according to thy judgment, thou mayest have and possess that abode, that form, those functions which thou thyself shalt desire. The nature of all other things is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws prescribed by me: thou, coerced by no necessity, shalt ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand I have placed thee. I have set thee at the world’s center, that thou mayest from thence more easily observe whatever is in the world. I have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that thou mayest with greater freedom of choice and with more honor, as though the maker and moulder of thyself, fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are animal; thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgment, to be reborn into higher forms of life, which are divine.

Thrusting aside all partisan theologies and all partial scientific definitions of man, and applying directly to experience, is there any other conception of the human being which meets the facts as this one does? Pico’s great theme explains the deep sense of uniqueness that is a primary psychological reality for every man; it provides a metaphysic for the love of romance, of daring and adventure; it gives philosophical substance to the idea of man as  creative being and presents to him the ideal of a high moral destiny. More— it defines and sets apart the natural region of human life and intimates the special character of the elements and forces which frame the experience and set the problems of human enterprise.

History has many definitions, the most succinct being that it is “past politics.” A more inclusive definition would be that it is “past choices.” Its fascination lies in the unpredictability of human behavior. Its instructiveness lies in its marshalling of the issues, evident and obscure, that are joined by human decision.

The good historian, it seems to us, must admit three absolutes as the monitors of his art and the basis of his science. The first is the fact which provides him with a subject-matter—the fact of human freedom. The second is the primacy of moral reality in human life—that men always move, however deviously, according to some idea of the good. The third is that all choice and all movement take place within a field of circumstances that sets relative limits to choice and action, but is also continually being recreated by choice and action.

It is possible, of course, for some sort of history to be written in neglect of these principles, but such history is a motiveless technology—the kind of history which instructs the truck driver in obsolete theory simply as a matter of “information.” Someone else may be able to “use” the information assembled by mere technicians of history, but a peculiar indigestibility attaches to facts that have been gathered according to some mechanical scheme —they do indeed, as our correspondent suggests, “clog” up the mind with useless furniture. They produce history without living continuity, “dead” history, the study of which, in the pretense that it is knowledge, forms the worst possible intellectual habits.

History, further, should have some reference to myth. The myth, as distinguished from the chronicle, may be defined as metaphysical allegory. It personifies the universal human situation, dramatizing the self-creating struggle of mankind.

History which reveals no correspondence to mythology is a bloodless imitation of the reality in the affairs of men. Of course, on these terms, history is itself an instrument of power. The partisan myth, the nationalist drama, is probably a worse crime against humanity than the most terrible of explosives, because it perverts the mind to justifying the use of any sort of weapon to fulfill the spurious meaning of the myth. History, in other words, is not only a “study” of human behavior—it is a cause of human behavior, and history as a science must recognize the dynamics behind this causation as well as describe its effects.

By separating conscientious history from myth, scholarly historians deliver the masses into the hands of demagogues—the stage-managers of Reigns of Terror, inventors of false Ragnaroks and nationalist Armageddons. Whenever specialists ignore the breath of life, quacks, pretenders and unauthorized prophets rise to power, for whatever else they may be, these “leaders” of the multitude are not fools enough to separate themselves from the springs of human behavior. They know that man lives as a moral organism in the moral world, just as he lives in the physical world according to physical laws, and they know also that the promise of material welfare has to be made in the context of an ideology—the artificial version of the myth—before it will be believed.


Source: http://disquietreservations.blogspot.com/2022/12/history-is-war.html


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