Courtesy Reuters


THE rich development of historical studies in the nineteenth century transformed men's views about their origins and the importance of growth, development and time. The causes of the emergence of the new historical consciousness were many and diverse. Those most often given are the rapid and profound transformation of human lives and thought in the West by the unparalleled progress of the natural sciences since the Renaissance, by the impact on society of new technology and, in particular, the growth of large- scale industry; the disintegration of the unity of Christendom and the rise of new states, classes, social and political formations, and the search for origins, pedigrees, connections with, or return to, a real or imaginary past. All of this culminated in the most transforming event of all-the French Revolution, which exploded, or at the very least profoundly altered, some of the most deeply rooted presuppositions and concepts by which men lived. It made men acutely conscious of change and excited interest in the laws that governed it.

All these are truisms that need no restating; nor does the corollary, no less platitudinous, that the theories claiming to account for social change in the past could not be confined to it: if they were valid at all, they must work equally well for the future. Prophecy, which had hitherto been the province of religion and the preserve of mystics and astrologers, moved from preoccupation with the apocalyptic books of the Bible-the four Great Beasts of the Book of David or of the Gospel according to St. John-and other occult regions, and became the province of philosophers of history and the fathers of sociology. It seemed reasonable to assume that the realm of historical change could be dealt with by the same kind of powerful new weapons as those which had unlocked the secrets of the external world in so astonishing a fashion.

Nor did this prove to be an altogether idle hope. Some of the historical

Loading, please wait...

This article is a part of our premium archives.

To continue reading and get full access to our entire archive, please subscribe.

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.