Ethics & International Affairs

Articles

Behind Clio's Mask: Philosophic History and Its Uses Today

Ralph Buultjens

Abstract

Buultjens examines the utility of history as a paradigm on which to build a prognosis of the future. With examples from the past, the discussion centers around two fundamentals. First, historical patterns may prove to be faulty models as they tend to focus on clusters of events and, usually, on the leaders/victors of that era, hence not representing the entire picture. These leaders, says Buultjens, are typically MCGA-egoists who influence international politics through their personal motives. Second, these historic clusters seldom contain elements yielding enduring or transferable conclusions upon which to build valid prognoses for the future. From historical patterns, several trends emerge: (1) the phaseout of conflict after the Cold War; (2) modern government and media culture prevent the emergence of “political supermen” and minimize disruption; (3) democracy, in its familiar form, curtails its rate of expansion; and (4) the spirit of separatism permeates as a result of collapse of yet another empire. The author is not in favor of disregarding historical analyses, but rather in questioning messages it provides so as not to extract erroneous lessons.

Ralph Buultjens is Nehru Professor of the Social Sciences and Professorial Fellow at the University of Cambridge (UK). He is also Professor at New York University and The New School for Social Research, the author of several books, and was awarded the To ynbee Prize for the Social Sciences in 1984.

Metrics