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The New History and the Old

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The

New History and

the

Old

The New History

and the Old Gertrude Himmelfarb

The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts

and London, England

©

Copyright

1987 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

All rights reserved

9876543

Printed in the United States of America

10

This book

is

printed

on

acid-free paper,

and

its

binding materials

have been chosen for strength and durability. Library of Congress Cataloging -in-Publication

Data

Himmelfarb, Gertrude.

The new

history

Bibliography:

and the

old.

p.

Includes index. 1.

Historiographv.

D13.H445 1987 ISBN 0-674-61580-8 ISBN 0-674-61581-6 '

I.

Title

907'.2 (cloth)

(paper)

87-327

For Celia and Harold Kaplan

Contents

Introduction

1

1.

"History with the Politics Left Out"

2.

Clio and the

3.

Two

4.

The "Group":

5.

Social History in Retrospect

94

Reflections of a Chastened

95

New

13

33

History

Nations or Five Classes: The Historian

as Sociologist

British Marxist Historians

Father

Recovering a Lost World 6.

107 Conservative

James and John Stuart Mill: Ambivalent Rebels 7.

Is

70

101

Case Studies in Psychohistory

Edmund Burke: An Ambivalent

47

108 1 13

National History Obsolete?

121

The Frenchness of France The Englishness of England

122 132

8.

Who Now

9.

History and the Idea of Progress

155

Does History Talk Sense?

171

Notes

185

Acknowledgments

205

10.

Index of

Reads Macaulay?

Names

143

206

The

New History and

the

Old

The

past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past. They are fighting for access to the laboratories where photographs are retouched and biographies and histories rewritten. us,

—Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Introduction

"Old New The thus one eminent

social historian (Charles Tilly) distinguishes his

mode of history from

that of another eminent social historian (Law-

Social History"

rence Stone).

1

and the

"New Old Social

History":

Recalling the history of this genre, one might be

tempted to add some additional "old's" and "newY' to accommodate the several varieties that have emerged since James Harvey Robinson

proclaimed the advent of the

"New

History."

Even in 1912, when Robinson issued that manifesto, the "new history" was not all that new. In 1898 the American Historical Review, bastion of the old history, published an essay, "Features of the

History,"

commending the "new" Kulturgeschichte as



New

practiced by Karl

Lamprecht which itself was not so new, Jakob Burckhardt's classic work on the Renaissance having appeared almost half a century earlier. Lamprecht's new history was not quite Burckhardt's; nor was Robinson's Lamprecht's. But they had another and with

later versions

much

in

common

of the new history, for they

with one

all

rejected

the basic premises of the old history: that the proper subject of history is

essentially political

essentially narrative.

and that the natural mode of historical writing is Lamprecht's "genetic" method, emphasizing cau-

sation rather than narration, presaged the "analytic"

today.

And

Robinson's plea for a history of the

would dispense with the utilize

"trifling details"

method favored

"common man," which

of dynasties and wars and

the findings of "anthropologists, economists, psychologists, and

sociologists,"

is still

the agenda of the

new

history.

2

2

The



New History and

England had

the

Old

own founding father in J.

its

R. Green, whose History of

(1877-80) professed to take as its subject the "EnPeople" rather than "English Kings or English Conquests," and

the English People

glish

to be concerned more with the Elizabethan Poor Laws than with the Armada and more with Methodism than with Jacobitism. 3 Less than half a century later H. G. Wells published an un- Victorian and irreverent version of the new history in the form of an Outline of History in y

which

upon

Napoleon was seen strutting 4 "cockerel on a dunghill." Determined

a "world-historical" figure like

the crest of history like a

to democratize history as well as

would all

say),

Wells described his history

mankind," of

report that his the

debunk

all

and

classes

all

the sale of over

the

two

common

reader



million copies in

his

5

the

in evidence

little

though most professional historians were was of them, they could not ignore

"common adventure of And he was pleased to common man, it was for

as the

nations.

book was not only about

common man,

("demystify," the Marxist

it

of which he cited

more than

a decade. Al-

of Wells

as disdainful

work or

its thesis.

as

he

Reviewing

the Outline in the American Historical Review, Carl Becker (himself

new historian) confessed that Wells's "new hisnew for his tastes, too insistent'upon judging the past by

often identified as a

tory" was too

the standards of the present

when

— or rather by Wells's vision of the

the "Great Society," the "Federal

World

ushered in a truly democratic and universal

era.

6

State,"

If that

future,

would have

prophecy

seems quaint, some of Wells's other fancies have come to

pass. In

now 1900

he offered a "prospectus" for a history of mankind that would take into account

all

the forces of social change: biologic, demographic, geo-

graphic, economic. Later, in his autobiography, Wells remarked that

if

he were a multimillionaire, he would establish "Professorships of Analytic

History" to

gists."

As

it

breed.

endow

new breed of

a

historians

— "human ecolo-

7

happened, the French had already started to produce that new

The Annates dyhistoire economique

in opposition to the political

the academic establishment

and

Paris,

was founded

diplomatic historians

— the Sorbonnistes,

tuously called. That epithet lost

moved from Strasbourg to

et sociale

some of

its

as

1929

they were contemp-

sting

where one of its

in

who dominated

when

editors

the Annates

(Marc Bloch)

joined the faculty of the Sorbonne and the other (Lucien Febvre) the

College de France. With the establishment after the war of the Sixieme

Introduction



3

Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, the Annalistes ac-

quired a powerful institutional base, and under the editorship of Fer-

nand Braudel

became the most

their journal

in France, possibly in the world.

innovative.

and

Going well beyond

social history,

now

it

8

more

the

organ

influential historical

has also proved to be remarkably

It

traditional forms

derives both

its

subjects

and

of economic its

methods

from anthropology, sociology, demography, geography, psychology, even semiotics and

linguistics.

While Americans have been developing history

— econometric and

sexual, psychoanalytic

cliometric, black

and populist

A

may be found making annual or

also

been much

in-

large contingent of historians

sabbatical pilgrimages to Paris to take

from the masters. Others look to

especially to the Marxists,

own modes of new

and ethnic, feminist and

— they have

fluenced by their colleagues abroad. instruction

their

Britain for inspiration,

whose work has been used

to fortify the

indigenous tradition of radical history (typified by Robinson's student

and collaborator, Charles A. Beard). Thus E. the English

Working

American working els"

is

Eric

taken as the prototype of inner-city gangs; and Perry Anderson's

version of "Althusserian" sions of the theory

If the

Thompson's Making of

become the model for the making of the Hobsbawm's concept of "primitive reb-

Class has

class;

P.

new

Marxism

is

the point of departure for discus-

and methodology of Marxism.

we know

today,

is

younger enthusiasts might think, neither

is

not

the stereotype has

for a Burckhardt as well as a

it

was never

German

it.

as

novel as some of its

the old history as archaic as

assume.

before the advent of the new, plistic as

it

The old history, traditional assimilate and accommodate itself to

its critics

time to

history, as

history, has

had

a long

the new. Indeed, even

homogeneous or simmanaged to make room

as

history

Ranke, for cultural history

as well as

po-

The English Whig historians, descending from Burke and Macauley, came in many sizes and shapes, including some notably un-Whiggish types. And their contemporaries litical

in

and

"scientific" history.

France had a breadth and

liberality

admire; one of the complaints of the nistes

Nor

abandoned the grand

are the great

croft's history

of spirit that even the Annalistes

new historians

is

that the Sorbon-

tradition of Guizot, Thierry,

American

was not only

classics

a

merely

and Michelet.

political chronicles.

paean to Jacksonian democracy;

it

Banalso

— 4

The



New History and

Old

the

German

reflected his predilection for

the Great West,

ogy

as the

hero

as

9

was

as

he called his work on

rooted in anthropology, geography, and ecol-

as

work of any new

historian; the wilderness

was

as surely his

the Mediterranean was BraudePs.

The new history, then, new. In the

is

older than one might think, and the old not

what

quite so antiquated. But

is

new is the triumph of the whole the new history is now the

undeniably

historical profession as a

new orthodoxy. This being written.

not to say that the old history

is

no longer

is

and

Political, constitutional, diplomatic, military,

intel-

be written by some eminent senior histo-

lectual histories continue to

rians

And

idealism and romanticism.

Parkman's "history of the American forest,"

and even some enterprising young ones. (Although more often

the old history history

is

is

rewritten in the light of the new.

Thus

political

— the — the study of pop-

quantified and sociologized, and intellectual history

study of ideas ular beliefs



and

is

converted into mentalite history

attitudes.)

Yet the old history,

if

not entirely super-

What was once at the center of the periphery. What once defined history is now a

seded, has been largely displaced.

profession

is

now at the

footnote to history. In the spirit of collegiality,

argued that

all

of

this is

some

little

historians (old

and new

consequence so long

tolerance prevails, so long as each historian can "do his or, as has

more

been

said,

cynical view

"go to heaven

of the matter,

his

belittle

academic fashion that will disappear or as soon as some

as

own the

way."

10

as a

mood

own

thing"

as yet

as the novelty

more venturesome novices

have

another

wears

assert themselves

rebelling against their elders. (In the profession this

of

Others, taking a

new history

soon

alike)

is

known

off,

by

as re-

visionism.) In fact, this particular fashion has survived several generations

now

and has become more entrenched with the passing of time. By there are historians



serious, reputable, senior historians

— who

know no other kind of history and can do no other kind. For them the new history has lost its distinctive character. They recognize no legitimate

To

criticism

of the genre

as such,

any more than of history

as such.

the argument that quantitative history, for example, has a tendency

to elevate

method over

substance, permitting statistics to define the

subject, they reply that this

which takes

its

is

no

different

from constitutional

themes from whatever documents are

history,

available.

To

the

charge that social history tends to be unduly concerned with the

minutiae of everyday

life,

they respond by pointing to the no

less

Introduction

tedious machinations that issue,

we

are told,

is



5

make up a good deal of political history. The new history or the old, but good history or

not the

bad.

This

is

appeal to

old and

Who

a tempting resolution of the matter.

good

history?

much good

Who

in the

can deny that there

new?

disputes and resist the call to

who

finds that ideas are

reconciled, that important questions are at stake

been resolved, that the two modes of history

and method which

history,

are

much bad

in the

Who can be so churlish as to revive old rapprochement? Who indeed, except

perhaps an intellectual historian

subject

is

can refuse the

not so

easily

which have not yet

reflect differences in

tantamount to different conceptions of

and that the new history has

significant implications

not

only for the history of historiography but for the history of ideas as well.

The

volume deal with one or another mode, method, history and the old. They testify to a variety that appears to contradict the singularity of "new history" and "old history," that may even seem to defy the labels "new" and "old." Yet for chapters of this

or aspect of the

all

new

the variations and qualifications contained within them, the catego-

ries

have a

common

reality that

"New

usage.

cannot be denied. That history" has

term for modes of history that

reality is reflected in

become the accepted shorthand

may not be consistent with one

another

but that do represent, singly and collectively, a challenge to traditional history.

The

challenge

is

serious only because of the

mony," the new historian would sion today.

11

Indeed,

it is

the fact of dominance that

argument of this book. Again and again is

not the

sumed and not

I

new

dominance ("hege-

say) of the new history in the profes-

I

make

is

crucial to the

the point that the issue

history as such but rather the decisive role

the superior claims

made on

its

behalf.

it

has as-

No one — certainly

— can reasonably object to a study of popular unrest

in Paris

from

1557 to 1572; or of vagrants, beggars, and bandits in Cuba from 1878 women's work in manufacturing in Central Europe from 1648 to 1870; or of stature and nutrition in the Hapsburg monarchy in the eighteenth century. But when, as recently happened, these constitute the entire contents (apart from book reviews), not of 12 the Journal of Social History but of the American Historical Review,

to 1895; or of

and when the editors and

editorial

board of the Review see nothing

6



New History and

The

noteworthy

them

in this

the

Old

grouping of

articles

— indeed do — one may

belonging to a distinctive genre

as

reflection

not recognize find cause for

and concern.

It is this species

of the new history,

social history, that

is

of the opening chapter of this volume. "History with the out"

politics left

way G. M. Trevelyan described social history almost half a ago. The phrase is now used facetiously, but it does characmode of history that either ignores politics, or relegates it to

the

is

century terize a

the realm of "epiphenomena," or recognizes

of study only when science.

it

as a subject deserving

has been transmuted into social or political

it

When such a history professes to be "total" history, or even the

dominant and superior form of history, the implications tous

the subject

— not only

are

momen-

for the writing of history but for the historian's con-

ception of the polity and of the

human

beings

who are the subject both

of the polity and of history.

The chapter on

the

"New

History" focuses on quantohistory and

own kind of determinism and "Two Nations or Five Classes" de-

psychohistory, each of which exhibits its

own

scribes

methodological problems.

its

an exercise in sociological history and contrasts the abstractions

and models of this type of history with the ''moral imagination" of the Victorians.

'The 'Group' "

Marxist history:

its

deals with the influential school of British

origins in the

commitments and revisionist tory and to the new history.

The

Communist

Party,

strategies, its relation to

its

ideological

non-Marxist

his-

paired essays in the following chapters analyze specific works

and themes of the new

history. The first, on social history, considers two founding fathers of that genre and reflects on its present status. The second presents psychohistorical interpretations of two major English thinkers, which serve as case studies of the method itself. The third, comparing recent historical works on France and

the views of

England, concludes that one of the supposed casualties of the history, national history,

may not

yet be as defunct as

is

new

sometimes

claimed.

The counterpoint history,"

form. rians

which

is

"Who Now of all

to the

new

history

preeminendy

is

generally taken to be

political in subject

"Whig

and narrative

in

Reads Macaulay?" points out that Victorian histoand Radicals as well as Whigs,

political persuasions, Tories

shared the view that the history of a people

is

primarily the story of its

Introduction



7

political heritage

and that English history

"liberal descent."

"History and the Idea of Progress" traces an idea that

is

peculiarly the story

is

of a

Whig history but is in fact characteristic of a who differed about what constituted progress but

often associated with

long line of thinkers

agreed that some concept of progress was necessary to give meaning to

continuum with the present and the "Does History Talk Sense?" suggests that the challenge to tra-

history by bringing the past into a future.

ditional history does not

come only from

vative philosopher Michael Oakeshott

the

new

history: the conser-

in this respect

is

more

radical

than Nietzsche, and Nietzsche more Whiggish than Oakeshott; for Nietzsche's historical

muse makes

sense of the past by speaking to our

present concerns, whereas Oakeshott's

not "talk sense" because the past

Most of

is

itself is

a beloved mistress

who

can-

dead.

book were published in the 1980s, the The "Frenchness of France" has not previously been published, and a somewhat different version of the essay on Macaulay appeared in my volume of essays, Marriage and Morals among the Victorians. All the essays but one have been edited, expanded, and in some cases extensively rewritten. The one exception is "History With the Politics Left Out," which is inearliest,

the chapters of this

New

"Clio and the

cluded here in essentially in 1984,

it

provoked

a

good

the issues by revision, Postscript

The

its

I

History," in 1975.

original form.

When it was

deal of controversy,

first

published

and rather than blunt

chose to keep the original intact and add a

by way of commentary.

passionate response to that essay, favorable as well as

me

critical,

had come to a few years earlier. In 1980, in a review of The Past before Us (a volume of historiographic essays commissioned by the American Historical Association), I wrote caused

to reconsider an opinion

of "intimations" in

this

I

book and elsewhere

that

some new

were becoming sensitive to the concerns of traditional

historians

historians. I

predicted that "the 'humanization' of social history will eventually lead,

not to a restoration of the old history, but to an accommodation in

which old and new can

live

together."

13

I

came to

this

conclusion

from seeking an

same work accommodation with the old history, some new historians were embarking on a still more radical mission. In his contribution to that volume Carl Degler observed that while a great deal of attention was

despite other intimations in the

that so far

8



The

New History and

the

Old

being directed to the history of women and the family, these subjects

had

still

not been properly integrated into the "mainstream" of history,

and that

this

could be achieved only by altering our conception of

and our sense of the

sum, what

meant by history or the past will have to be changed before these two subdisciplines become an integral part of it." 14 history

past: "In

is

Since the publication of The Past before Us the

demand

for "main-

streaming" has been echoed by other subdisciplines dealing with workers, blacks,

well

ethnic groups, and social and sexual "deviants."

wonder whether anything would remain of the

One might

discipline

of his-

tory if these subdisciplines were brought into the mainstream, and

whether such an

of integration would not

effort

The "total" history on might turn out to be

result in the disinte-

some new

gration of the whole.

that

pride themselves

a total dissolution

tory

— history

in any

historian. This

is,

form recognizable to

either the

in effect, the prescription offered

new

historians

of

his-

or the old

by Theodore Zel-

din (discussed in Chapter 7); pursuing the historical revolution to end, Zeldin seeks the liberation of history from

concepts (cause, time,

class,

nation) that

Even some of the Annalistes

still

all

its

the categories and

enslave

it.

are beginning to suspect that they have

unleashed a force they cannot control. The very disciplines they have

used to subvert the conventions of the old history threaten to subvert history

itself. It is

curious to find the editors of a collection of essays by

prominent Annalistes complaining of the "aggression of ences," history:

and

still

'The

social sci-

more curious to hear of the effect of that aggression on which it [history] used to occupy alone as the

field

systematic explanation of society in

vaded by other sciences with absorb and dissolve

it."

15

its

ill-defined

time dimension has been

in-

boundaries which threaten to

The same volume

contains an essay by one of

'The Return of the Event." But the "return" heralded there is not of the kind of "event" familiar in traditional history. On the contrary, Pierre Nora confirms "the effacement of the event, the negation of its importance and its dissolution," as the great triumph of the new history. It is quite another event that he sees as returning: one that has been produced by the mass media of modern industrial society and that is often indistinguishable from a

the editors with the provocative

title

"nonevent" or "illusion," a "sign" or a "function." 16

A similar

retreat,

more semantic than

substantive,

may be noted

in

,

Introduction

the United States, where one of the founders of the

"new old history" to some of the virtues of the

new

new and But the "mentalite history" that

correct the excesses of the

restore

old.

tory"

is

And the

nothing "revival

Cipolla's Faithy

of narrative" he points to

Emmanuel Le Roy

ers



of a

old his-

or even cultural history.

— the "narration of

a single

Ladurie's Montaillouy Carlo

Reason and the Plague in Seventeenth Century Tuscany

Hobsbawm's Primitive Rebels,

Eric

mode of this "new

as the distinctive

like traditional intellectual

event" exemplified by

9

history has

called for a

Lawrence Stone invokes



Thompson's Whigs and Huntis far from the old narrative history, where the narration was not single event but precisely of a series of events chronologically

connected so as to

One

is

tell

E. P.

a story over a significant span

of time.

not surprised to find other signs of misgiving and dissidence.

Orthodoxies breed heresies; dominance generates discontent. As the

new history loses the glamour of novelty, the old acquires a new allure. More and more often one hears confessions of nostalgia for an oldfashioned history that has dramatic movement and literary grace; for a and laws

political history that regards constitutions

as

something more

than ploys in the manipulation of power; for an intellectual history that takes serious ideas seriously, as ideas, rather than as instruments

of

production and consumption; even for a social history that does not

presume to be dominant or superior,

we

are witnessing the beginning

revisionism skeptical It is

a real is

— not

let

alone "total."

It

may be

of yet another wave of

that

historical

the restoration of an old regime (historians are

of such restorations) but the inauguration of a new regime.

tempting to say

(as I

once did) that

accommodation of new and

old, a

we can now look forward to

merging of the best of both.

but not a very hopeful one. At a time

a pleasing prospect

when

It

the

new" historian adamandy rejects the small, tentative overtures of the "new old" historian, one can hardly be sanguine about the prospects of reconciliation with the "old old" historian. There is a good

"old

deal at stake, not only in terms of professional interests (careers depen-

dent upon particular subjects, methods, and institutional but of philosophical convictions

even

human

nature.

The new



historian cannot concede the preemi-

nence of politics in the Aristotelian sense, which supposes "political let

affiliations),

ideas about history, politics, society,

man

to be a

animal"; and the old historian cannot admit the superiority,

alone totality, of a

mode of history

that takes

man

to be a "social

'

10



New History and

The

animal."

Nor

can the

the

new

Old

contempt for

historian conceal his

a history

that persists in studying "important people, significant events, successful historical

movements"; 17 nor the old historian

find

it

and any-

thing but bizarre that such subjects should be derided and that Vhistoire historisante

should be used

as

an invidious term.

announce that "Mickey Mouse may

historians

in fact

So long as new be more impor-

of the 1930s than Franklin Roosevelt," 19 or

tant to an understanding that "the history

18

of menarche" should be recognized

portance to the history of monarchy,"

20

as

"equal in im-

traditional historians will feel

confirmed in their sense of the enormous gap separating the two

modes of history.

One would

like to

more

produce a

be sanguine.

It

modern times

think that reality will inevitably assert

and

sensitive

was, after

that

realistic history.

all,

two of the

of history. In

Marc Bloch alluded

and located

were

all

of us either

us,

by

fall

seem

specialists in the social sciences or

and maybe the very

a sort

disciplines

sailors?

of what

avail

may have



at

work

were the petty struggles of

To think otherwise would

have been to

action.

in society

occurred to him

when he

ment and gave his life to it. It was the same tragic event, the

a

few ship-

falsify history.

it

was not only

politically

One wonders whether

later

fall

21

possibility that this "cosmic"

falsified history itself, that

enervating but historically stultifying. sibility

workers in

of those employ-

of fatalism, from embarking on individual

Even then Bloch did not consider the theory

1940,

In the vast drag of these submarine swells, so cosmic as to

irresistible,

wrecked

in

lethargy."

We had grown used to seeing great impersonal forces as in nature.

"impersonal

of France

to the theory of history that contributed to the

scientific laboratories,

ments kept

reality in the

moving account of the

mood of "intellectual

prevailing

We

his

during the most catastrophic event in

greatest Annalistes affirmed their faith in

a doctrine that belittled events

forces"

that pos-

joined the Resistance move-

of France, that

ironically pro-

vided another historian with the opportunity to launch an attack Phistoire evenementielle.

Braudel,

to

itself

But here too one cannot

22

on

Historians have paid homage to Fernand

who managed to write the first draft of his monumental work,

The Mediterranean and

the Mediterranean

World

in the Age ofPhilip II,

Introduction

while confined in a prisoner-of-war

War

That work extolled

II.

camp



Germany during World

in

la longue duree: the "inanimate" forces

geography, demography, and economy that were the "deeper

of history, compared with which the passions of Philip

II

23

The book was indeed an

and the ideas

it

was written

Europe was being convulsed by the passions of ideas that very nearly destroyed a people

and

Braudel himself has said that he wrote

which poured

in

upon

time

when

man and by

of considerable

in prison, partly as a

it I

at a

a single

a religion

"direct existential response to the tragic times All those occurrences

his-

impressive achievement, but also a

profoundly ironic, even perverse one. For

duree.

of

realities"

of the Renaissance were "cockleshells" tossed on the waters of tory.

11

was passing through."

us from the radio and the

newspapers of our enemies, or even the news from London which our clandestine receivers gave us

Down

had to outdistance,

I

with occurrences, especially vexing ones!

history, destiny, It is



was written

at a

I

reject,

deny them.

had to believe that

much more profound

level.

24

curious that historians, admiring the intrepid spirit that could

bring forth so bold a theory in the midst of such tragic "occurrences,"

have failed to note the gross disparity between that theory and those occurrences reject,

— the extent to which the theory did indeed "outdistance,

deny them."

It is still

more curious

that in the years following

the war, as historians tried to assimilate the enormity of the individuals

and ideas responsible for those "short-term events" (known

War

II

and the Holocaust), the theory of history that

as

World

belittled individ-

became increasingly influential. The irony is compounded by the fact that what Braudel took to be an "existential response" to reality distancing himself from it and seeking a "much more profound level" of meaning was exacdy the oppouals, ideas,

and above

all

events



site

from the response of the

cisely in the actuality



Existentialists,

who found meaning

pre-

of events, however contingent and ephemeral.

Because the Existentialists respected the meaning of events, they also respected the integrity of the individuals involved in scious, responsible,

autonomous

individuals

willed, even "gratuitous." Braudel,

of events, denied both the

efficacy

whose

them

— the con-

actions were freely

by denying the "underlying reality" of individuals and the possibility of

freedom. The Mediterranean concludes by asserting the triumph of the long term over the individuals

doomed

to live in the short term.

12

The



New History and

So when

I

the

Old

think of the individual,

am

I

always inclined to see him

imprisoned within a destiny in which he himself has

little

hand, fixed in a

landscape in which the infinite perspectives of the long term stretch into the distance both behind

him and

before. In historical analysis, as

I

see

it,

righdy or wrongly, the long term always wins in the end. Annihilating

innumerable events



all

those which cannot be accommodated in the

main ongoing current and which side



it

are therefore ruthlessly

swept to one

indubitably limits both the freedom of the individual and even

the role of chance.

25

If historians have

shown

themselves,

resistant to historical reality, they

on

occasion, to be strangely

have also proved to be peculiarly

vulnerable to boredom. In his Philosophical Dictionary Robert Nisbet has an entry

on "boredom"

— nothing

so pretentious as "ennui,"

"anomie," or "apathy," but the simple "insistent and universal" trait

of boredom. Toward the close of the

article

human

he quotes Bertrand

Russell: "If life is to be saved from boredom, relieved only by disaster, means must be found of restoring individual initiative not only in

things that are trivial but in the things that really matter."

26

Some new

historians have confessed that their initial disaffection with traditional

came from boredom with the old subjects: dynasties and governments, wars and laws, treaties and documents. So it may be that a history

new generation of historians, bored with

the "everyday

life

of common

people" and the "long-term structures" of geography and demography,

may

in the

drama of events, the power of

ideas,

and the dignity of individuals

in things that are

trivial

but in the things that

find a

renewed excitement

— "not only

really matter."

"History with the Politics

Left

J.

Out"

You, the philologist, boast of knowing everything about the furniture and clothing of the Romans and of being more intimate with the

and streets of Rome than with those ofyour own city. You know no more than did the potter, the cook, the

quarters, tribes

Why

this

pride?

cobbler, the

When

summoner, the auctioneer of Rome.

— Giambattista

the history

ofmenarche

widely recognized as equal in impor-

is

we

tance to the history of monarchy,

A ing

few years ago, history,

in a discussion

have arrived.

will

—Peter

of recent trends

Stearns,

on the "cutting edge of the life

of

its

work

and

social institutions.

confine himself to that one town, but

of

as be-

He was writing a study of a

and sexual

familial

He

"in-

and

inhabitants: their occupations

and working conditions,

habits, attitudes,

his

toward the end of the eighteenth century, an

depth" analysis of the earnings, living

discipline."

1976

in the writing

one young historian proudly described

New England town

1702

Vico,

relations,

regretted that he had to

some of

his colleagues

doing comparable studies of other towns and their

were

collective efforts

and place. I asked him had any bearing on what I, admittedly not a specialist in American history, took to be the most momentous event of that time and place, indeed one of the most

would

constitute a "total history" of that time

whether

his study, or their collective studies,

momentous

events in

all

of modern

United States of America, the conceded that from

his

first

history: the

founding of the

major republic of modern times.

themes and sources

census reports, legal records, polling



land

lists,

He

parish registers, tax rolls, titles

— he could not

"get to," as he said, the founding of the United States. But he denied that this lives

was the

crucial event

I

took

it

to be.

What was crucial were

the

and experiences of the mass of the people. That was the subject of

his history;

it

was the "new

history," social history.

even ordinary people (perhaps most of

all

My rebuttal — that

ordinary people) had been

profoundly affected in the most ordinary aspects of their

lives

by the 13

14

New History and

The



the

Old

founding of the republic, by that

had created a new

him

naive and old-fashioned.

There was, in

political events, institutions,

and with

polity

it

a

new

society

something anachronistic about

fact,



and ideas

— seemed to exchange.

this

The "new history" or rather the new "new history," as distinct from the old "new history" sired by James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard early in the century is itself no longer new. If it is dated from the founding of the Annates more than half a century ago, it is by now



well into middle age. Indeed,

young

sion that while

so firmly entrenched in the profes-

it is

novitiates flaunt their boldness

and

originality,

they are comfortably enjoying the perquisites of a well-endowed estab-

And some

lishment.

of its leading proponents and practitioners (Fran-

and Lawrence Stone) find reason to complain of the excesses

cois Furet

and defects of what has become the new orthodoxy. 1

Nor is

new history

the

exclusive.

monolithic as the label suggests.

as

passes a variety of subjects

and methods, some of which

Yet there are characteristics that unite

differentiate

it

from the old

history.

it,

Thus the new

encom-

It

are mutually

and even more that history tends to be

analytic rather than narrative, thematic rather than chronological. It relies

more upon

statistical tables, oral interviews, sociological

and psychoanalytic theories than upon constitutions, mentary debates,

political writings,

or party manifestos.

history typically concerns itself with regimes legislation

and

tions, the

new

politics,

models,

treaties, parlia-

Where

the old

and administrations,

diplomacy and foreign policy, wars and revolu-

history focuses

problems and institutions,

on

cities

classes

and ethnic groups,

and communities, work and

social

play,

family and sex, birth and death, childhood and old age, crime and insanity.

Where

the old features kings, presidents, politicians, leaders,

political theorists, the

new takes as

its

subject the

"anonymous masses."

The old is "history from above," "elitist history," as is now said; the new is "history from below," "populist history." The new history is by now old enough to have provoked a fair amount of criticism. The analytic approach, it has been said, fails to capture the dynamic movement of history; the quantitative method narrows and

trivializes history

by confining inquiry to subjects and

sources capable of being quantified; psychoanalytic interpretations derive

more from

sociological

a priori theories than

from empirical evidence;

models are too abstract to elucidate

specific historical situ-

"History with the Politics Left

Out"



15

ations; the prevalent ideological bias disposes the historian to identify

endow them with his own attitudes and values; mode cannot accommodate those notable individuals

with his subjects and the populist

whose as a

actions

and ideas did,

whole, in

its

variety

after

all,

help shape history; and the genre

of techniques and approaches, suggests a

methodological permissiveness that seems to bear out Carl Becker's

famous dictum, "Everyman

his

own

historian."

2

All these criticisms

and more have been discussed and debated. But there that has received less attention

the

new

history

and that may be more

preeminently social history, and

is

is

another issue

significant.

as

such

it

For

makes

problematic the kind of history that has been the traditional concern of the historian

What does

— it

political history.

mean to write

history that cannot "get to" the founding

of the American republic (or the development of the English constitution, or the course

when

this

mode of

of the French Revolution) ? What does history

becomes the

mean dominant mode, when it is it

on the periphery of the profession but at the very center, an ancillary field but as the main field indeed, as some social

practiced not

not as



historians insist, as "total" history?

sense of the past

3

What does

it

imply about one's

and of the present, about an American past and

present devoid of the principles of liberty and right, checks and bal-

and good government, which were

ances, self-government

ciated

It

by the founding fathers and incorporated

was almost

first

fifty

in

first

enun-

our Constitution?

years ago, in his English Social History

— one of the

English works to deal exclusively with social history, and under

— that

that label

G.

M. Trevelyan

social history as "the history

hastened to add that

it

of a people with the

was

history, especially in the case

offered the famous definition of

difficult to leave

politics left out."

out the

politics

He

from

of the English people. All he hoped to do

was to "redress the balance," to recover that part of history, the history 4 of daily life, which had been sorely neglected. And he proposed to do so

knowing

that others

of his professional

He would reverse

to have

it

life)

in the writing

have thought

entirely, to

it

were engaged it

make

(as

he himself had been for most

of conventional,

political history.

a travesty to redress the balance so far as to social history the

dominant form of history,

supplant rather than supplement conventional history.

Trevelyan, after

all, like

his great-uncle

Macaulay, was preeminently

16 a

The



Whig

New History and

the

Old

historian, cherishing the political institutions

and traditions

had made England the liberal, progressive, enlightened country that he, like Macaulay, thought it to be. His Whig interpretation of the "Whig English history, like the Whig mode of writing history that

fallacy," as

it

has been called



— has

fallen into disrepute.

bert Butterfield exposed that fallacy

more than

5

When

Her-

half a century ago, he

meant to caution the historian against the insidious habit of reading history backward, of seeking in the past the sources of those ideas and institutions

we

value in the present, thus ignoring the complexities,

contingencies, and particularities that cably past. But he did not

mean

make

the past peculiarly, irrevo-

to counter a too intrusive present-

mindedness with a too austere past-mindedness, to deny the continuity of past and present. If it

mine the

past,

it

is

and

unhistorical to permit the present to deter-

surely as unhistorical to prevent the past

informing the present. political ideas

is

And it is surely unhistorical to belittle or

institutions that

from

ignore

were agitated and agonized over

sometimes to the point of bloodshed

— and have

since

become our

heritage.

Unlike a Trevelyan or his modern counterpart for

whom

social his-

tory complements and supplements conventional history, the cial historian

history,

who

is

even

new

so-

regards social history as the only meaningful kind of as "total" history.

truly guilty

of the

Whig

In this sense, fallacy.

For

it is

it is

the

new

he, even

historian

more than

Whig, who permits the present to shape the past, who projects own idea of what is real and important. It was once only the Marxist who regarded politics as the "epiphenomenon" of the

into the past his

history, the "superstructure" or "reflection"

nomic and

social "infrastructure."

Today

penetrated our culture that in this respect are

all

Marxists now." Having failed in so

example of a communist society that

is

of the underlying eco-

that view of politics has so it

might well be

much

else



said,

"We

in providing an

not tyrannical or authoritarian,

in fulfilling Marx's predictions

of the pauperization of the proletariat and proletarianization of the petty bourgeoisie, of the collapse of capi-

talism

and triumph of worldwide revolution

demeaning and denigrating and ideas.

in this: in activities,

In a sense the ist.

Where

new

social historian goes

the Marxist feels

it

— Marxism has succeeded

political events, institutions,

even further than the Marx-

necessary to prove, or at least assert, a

— Out"

"History with the Politics Left

between economics and

causal relationship

may simply

new

politics, the

17



historian

ignore the political dimension, making the social realitv so

comprehensive and ubiquitous that any form of government, anv law or political institution,

is

automatically perceived as a form of "social

control." Instead of the classic Marxist infrastructure

production and the social relations deriving from that infrastructure

the daily

is

however,

social historian,

what the

is

relations

historian thinks

not what contemporaries mav

Like the Marxist, the social historian finds

of

ity.

"false consciousness,"

If he thinks at

past

all

it all

that the advantages

about the discrepancy between

of hindsight and the

that he

their

his is

more

own

real-

account of the

wiser than they,

techniques

latest analytic

econometrics, prosopography, psychology, or whatever objective,

and times.

lives

too easv to convict his

of not understanding

and that of contemporaries, he assumes

more

as

as for the Marxist, the infrastruc-

it is,

have judged to be the most significant aspects of their subjects

of the

and peasants.

well as of workers

For the

of ordinary people: the

of classes, the condition of criminals and the insane

sexes as well as

ture

life

— the mode of — the new

mode

— give him

accurate view of the social reality. His

is

a

the

"true" consciousness, theirs the "false."

The

social historian

does

he attributes to the past

is

this in

play, sex

and childhood,

preoccupy him in

are the things that

more important

the reality

the reality he recognizes in the present. If he

makes so much of work and to be a

good conscience because

own

his

it is

because these

culture, that he believes

part of the existential reality than the "merely

formal" processes of government and

politics. If

he interprets the

reli-

gion of the Victorians as a form of psychic compensation, a sublimation of social distress, an expression of alienation,

it

is

because he

cannot credit, for himself or his peers, convictions and experiences that are essentially religious rather than social or psychological. If he puts

more credence

in local history than in national history, in folk tradi-

tions than in political traditions, in oral

and informal evidence than

in

written documents, in popular myths about witchcraft than in theories

of

statecraft,

he

unwittingly telling us

is

intellectual culture

more about

the political and

he himself inhabits than about the culture he

is

ostensibly describing.

In imposing his exhibits

all

own

sense of reality

the faults of the

Whig

on

the past, the social historian

interpretation without

its

redeeming

18

features.

of

New History and

The



However

Old

fallacious the

Whig

assumptions about the origins

constitutional government, and representative institu-

civil liberty,

tions, there

the

nothing

is

fallacious,

nothing anachronistic, about

at-

tributing to the past a deep concern with political, parliamentary, and constitutional affairs. Social history, in devaluing the political realm,

devalues history

itself. It

which serious and ful. It

makes meaningless those

influential

aspects of the past

contemporaries thought most meaning-

makes meaningless not only the struggle over

political authority

but the very idea of legitimate political authority, of political rule that is

not merely a euphemism for "social control," of rights and

that are not (as principles

and

would have

who

it)

Jeremy Bentham thought them)

liberties

"fictitious entities,"

of

do not merely reflect (as Antonio Gramsci the "hegemony" of the ruling class. The social historian

practices that

professes to write a comprehensive, "total" history of England or

America while leaving the

politics

out (again,

I

am not speaking of the

whom social history is a supplement to political history)

historian for

engaged in a

far

more

radical reinterpretation

may

suspect.

The

truly radical effect

political history

of the new enterprise

but reason

itself,

is

of history than even he

is

to devalue not only

reason in history and politics

— the

idea that political institutions are, at least in part, the product of a rational, conscious, deliberate

attempt to organize public

promote the public weal and the good historian scientist,

is

life.

life

so as to

In this respect the social

only following the example of his colleague the political

who

sees politics as essentially a

game, with

politicians jock-

eying for position, power, and the perquisites of office, playing upon the interests, passions, and prejudices of their constituents. This political

process

is

presumed to be

rational

on

the part of politicians only

with respect to the means of attaining and retaining power, not the ends of power; and rational on the part of electors only with respect to the satisfaction of their particular interests, not the public interest.

(The language of

political science

itself suggestive:

"politicians"

rather than "statesmen," "constituencies" or "voters"

rather than

is

"citizens.")

On those occasions when the social historian applies himself to politics, it is this

quantifies the

conception of politics that shapes his research. 6 Thus he

economic

interests

and

class status

of members of Parlia-

Ouf

y

"History with the Politics Left

ment and ior

who

power and those who

seek

install

them

in

describes the relationship of rulers and ruled in terms of

and "deference"; or sees

momentum" filled

the

in

the

He

judicial

were not

self-serving, that

means of power,

that

if

decisions,

as

(a casual

and deliberation

if

remark or

national

social historian finds precisely these

forethought

trustworthy than

less

and deliberation if

a hasty note) are

considered reflection and judgment, as ideas

commen-

debates,

embodied some conception of the

Machiavellian attempts to conceal the truth, as

moment

kind of

a rationality

formal documents are

communications,

political

were directed to the ends rather than

and public welfare. The

sources suspect, as vate

of

utilize the

for the secrets

does everything, in short, except

— constitutions, laws, — which might suggest

interest

"hegemony"

the explanation of laws and policies; or looks in smoke-

taries, treatises

that

power; or

bureaucracy and "administrative

rooms and the corridors of power

decisions.

sources

and behav-

their constituents; or psychoanalyzes the motives

of those

19



pri-

implv

the ephemera of the

more

if interests are

revealing than

more

than

real

and passion more compelling than reason.

In his inaugural lecture at Cambridge University in 1968, the eminent historian Geoffrey Elton

The

chair

is

commented on

the tide of his

the chair of English Constitutional History.

that tide myself,

and

I

don't think

I

new

Now

chair. I

chose

could have chosen worse, could

I? I

damned myself twice over. English Constitutional History, in the present climate of opinion. One adjective might have been forgiven. Perhaps Chinese Constitutional History would have been all right. Perhaps English Social History would have been wonderful. But no, I will pick them both: English Constitutional History.

Elton,

whose Tudor Revolution

itself something

7

in Government, published in 1953,

was

of a revolution in Tudor history and whom no one can

accuse of being a stodgy old historian,

went on to explain why he chose

that outlandish tide.

The purpose of constitutional history in

is

to study government, the

which men, having formed themselves into

societies,

manner

then arrange for

the orderly existence, through time, and in space, of those societies. therefore, like every other

form of history,

of the history of society. But

it

a

form of social

history, a

It is

form

takes particular note of the question of

— 20

The



New History and

government.

It is

Old

the

concerned with what

done to make

is

that society into a

wrong

properly structured, continuously living body, so that what goes

can be put right, so that the political action of which that society

is

capable can be efficiently and effectively conducted. Machinery, yes. But

What

also thought, the doctrine, the teaching, the conventional notions.

does the society think

its

government

is,

do to amend it? What forms of change on and so forth. 8

how does

are possible,

Constitutional history, Elton argued,

of the past because

govern

it

it

is

treat

it,

what does

it

what reforms, and so

central to the understanding

represents the efforts of a people to organize and

itself as rationally

and

effectively as

to the historical enterprise, because

it

it

can.

But

it is

also central

represents the efforts of the

historian to discover as best he can the objective truth about the past

to discover

it,

moreover, in those written documents that are the ob-

jective evidence

of the past and thus the principal resource of the

historian trying to reconstruct the past as objectively as he can.

documents have to be interpreted and

Those

reinterpreted, amplified

and

supplemented by other kinds of evidence; but they cannot be denied, falsified,

or ignored.

And

as

those documents are the bequest of the

past to the historian, so they are also the* bequest of the past to the present. Therefore, from the point of view both of the continuous ical

and from the point of view of teaching

research

work of histor-

history,

and from the

point of view of conveying to the world and to the future a sense of the past

and an understanding of the

tains, to

my

mind,

its

primacy.

most thoroughly described,

it

"It

No

else.

of government main-

fully explicated,

can be most clearly understood,

fewer absolutely open questions,

than anything

past, the study

can be most

It

it

can be leaves

it

can instruct in the use of reason better

9

can instruct in the use of reason"

— that

is

the heart of the matter.

one knows better than Elton the degree to which

past as in the present, consists in the struggle for privilege, position.

it

But he

also understands that part

politics, in the

money, power, of the

political

process consists in the attempt to restrain these self-serving motives, to create out

of them, or to impose upon them, a structure of government

that will serve society as a whole.

main

task

is

The

historian has

many

tasks,

but his

"the creation of a right mind, and a right reason."

'To

"History with the Politics Left

Out"



21

discover the truth as best he can, to convey that truth as truthfully as he

make the truth known and to enable man, b\ knowing the truth, to distinguish the right from the and

can, in order both to

learning

wrong reason" historian.

A

10



great deal

is

Elton assures us,

this,

at stake in this

is

the "simple" task of the

simple task, nothing

restoration of reason to history. This

is

scendental spirit or idea infusing history, but a

matic reason.

It is

less

than the

not Hegel's Reason, a tran-

more mundane, prag-

the reason reflected in the rational ordering and

organization of society by means of laws, constitutions, and political institutions;

and the reason implied

rian seeking to discover

that later generations

own

their

deliberately is

may be

instructed about the past that

The

tide

part of

it is

is

the future of history, as well as of the past,

at issue.

When foresee

it is

is

of Elton's address, "The Future of the Past,"

ambiguous:

Elton delivered that lecture in the

late sixties,

have foreseen the present state of the discipline. past.

of the histo-

that society, so

present and that they, in turn, will bequeath to future

generations.

that

in the rational activity

and transmit the truth about

it

and was being

as

canny about the future

Or as

he could not

perhaps he did

he was about the

In any event, his remarks are today more pertinent than ever. For

not only

tles. It is

political history that the social historian denies or belit-

reason

itself:

the reason

embodied

stitutions

and laws that permit men to order

manner

or,



in the polity, in the con-

their affairs in a rational

occasion, in an irrational manner, which other

men

perceive as such and rationally, often heroically, struggle against.

It is

on

the reason transmitted to the present by

which themselves specify the means

And

it is

way of constitutions and laws, amendment and reform.

for their

the reason inherent in the historical enterprise

itself,

in the

search for an objective truth that always eludes the individual historian

but that always (or so

it

was once thought) informs and

inspires his

work. This rationality

is

now

consciously denied or unconsciously under-

mined by every form of the new

history:

by

social history positing

infrastructure that supposedly goes deeper than

ments and

is

not amenable to reason or

will;

mere

an

political arrange-

by anthropological

his-

tory exploring such nonrational aspects of society as mating customs

and eating habits; by psychoanalytic history dwelling upon the

irra-

22



The

New History and

the

Old

unconscious aspects of individual and collective behavior; by

tional,

structuralist history

emphasizing the long-term ecological "structures"

and medium-term economic and

social "conjunctures" at the

expense of

short-term politics and individuals; by mentalite history giving greater

credence to popular beliefs than to the

"elitist" ideas

of philosophers;

by oral history relying on verbal reminiscences rather than written itself on advocacy rather than

documents; by engage history priding

mere

analysis;

by populist history seeking to recover not only the

lives

of ordinary people but intimate feelings that tend to be inaccessible

and unknowable; by the new history of every description asking questions of the past which the past did not ask of itself, for which the evidence ily

is

sparse

and unreliable and to which the answers

speculative, subjective,

are necessar-

and dubious.





must say I cannot repeat it too often that it is neither the subjects nor the methods of social history that are at issue but their dominance, which itself reflects the assumption, increasingly common in the profession, that these subjects and methods represent a higher

Again

I

form of history, more tial,

real

and

significant,

more elemental and essenis no question: one

than the old history. About this tendency there

need only look

at the

programs of the annual meetings of the American

Historical Association, or at the

newer

historical journals,

or

at appli-

cations for grants, or at the tides of recent and prospective dissertations. If the process

is

not even more advanced,

it is

because the old

many have become converts to the new history) and because some among the younger generation have resisted the allure of the new even at risk to generation of historians has not yet died out (although

their careers. It is

tempting to think of this

ysms of enthusiasm to which

as a passing fad,

way of institutionalizing such fads: it By now a generation of new historians

universities have a

tenure system.

generations as these are calculated in academia busily producing students in their image.

is

the only kind of history they

they respect. Rather than being a fad,



is

called the

— or

several

are tenured professors

For many young (and no

more graduate students, social know, certainly the only kind it more nearly resembles a revo-

longer so young) professors, and even history

one of those parox-

universities are so prone. Unfortunately

"History with the Politics Left

lution in the discipline. in

One

recalls the

Out"

revolution in education ushered

by the progressive school three quarters of

a century ago,

and

philosophy by the analytic school half a century ago, both of which

dominate

their disciplines (although they are

under attack) This only

mode of history.

in

still

beginning to come

is

or will become the

Political, constitutional, diplomatic,

tual history will survive, ies;

now

not to say that social history

is

.

23



and

intellec-

but not in the mainstream of historical stud-

they will be on the periphery, as social history once was.

In America this revolution has already

filtered

down from

programs to undergraduate schools and even high schools.

graduate

A

recent

documentary-essay question on the College Board Advanced Place-

"How and why did the women lives and status of Northern middle-class change between 1 776

ment examination and 1876?"

in

American history was

— a question

described in the bulletin of the American

Historical Association as a "mainline topic."

the in

European history examination

dealt with

11

A

similar question

methods of child rearing

England from the sixteenth through the eighteenth

Again, the point

is

on

centuries.

12

not the propriety of such questions but their promi-

nence. These examinations send out signals to high schools through-

out the country telling them what kind of history should be taught their students are to effect,

compete

if

successfully for admission to college; in

they establish something very

like a national

curriculum.

And

given the limited time available for the study of history in our high schools, the

new

subjects

do not merely supplement

the old; they

inevitably supplant them.

The

practitioners

should not

of social history

women and

will say,

And about time too. Why

children supplant kings and politicians?

Why

way ordinary people lived, loved, worked, and died take way they were governed? Such a reordering of would be eminently reasonable and humane were it not for

should not the

precedence over the priorities



the cost of that enterprise, a cost borne precisely by those ordinary

people about

whom

these historians are

most

solicitous. If ordinary

people are being "rescued from oblivion," as has been said, by the

new

from below," they are also being demeaned, deprived of that aspect of their lives which elevated them above the ordinary, which

"history

brought them into relationship with something larger than their daily lives,

which made them

feel part

of the polity even when they were not

24

The



New History and

represented in

it,

the

Old

and which made them

hard for representa-

fight so

much importance

tion precisely because they themselves attached so

to

their political status.

When

Macaulay prepared

his readers for the

famous third chapter of

of the peo— the chapter describing "the and the history of the government," the conditions of — he he would of manners, morals, and

his History ofEngland

ple as well as

work, the

history

life

culture

state

said that

"cheerfully bear the reproach of having descended history."

13

of history

But

it

as to

never occurred to

him

to

go so

below the dignity of

far

below the dignity

dwell on the history of the people to the exclusion

or even at the expense of, the history of the government.

occur to

him

to

impugn

Still less

the dignity of the people by dwelling

of,

did

it

on the

book entitled A Mad People's History ofMadness, consisting in extracts from writings by the mad, was hailed by one reviewer as "a welcome contribution to history from below." 14 It is only a matter of time before other critics will fault least dignified aspects

it

of their history.

for being insufficiently

recent

"from below," for including such eminences

medieval mystic Margery

as the

A

Kempe

instead of the truly lowly,

anonymous madmen (and mad women, one must now hasten to add) Bedlam and Bellevue. For Macaulay the "dignity of history" what an archaic ring that now has was tantamount to the meaning of history. If political events, institutions, and ideas loom so large in his history, it is because he saw them as shaping and defining the past, giving form and meanin





ing to the past as contemporaries experienced past as the historian tries to reconstruct

it,

and to the story of the

From a different perspective mode of history that deprives

it.

some Marxists have taken exception to a the past of the meaning they find in it. Thus Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese have charged that social history, by romanticizing the ordinary life

upon that

daily

is,

of ordinary people, denies the theory of im-

is

the Marxist impulse for revolution and, by focusing

life at

the expense of politics, obfuscates the class struggle

miseration that

finally, a political struggle, a

struggle for power. Against this

and depoliticization of history, they cite Engels' Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State, whose very tide calls atten-

privatization the

tion to the "decisive political terrain of historical process." Like Lenin

attacking the "Left deviationists" for objectively playing into the

"History with the Politics Left

Out"



25

hands of the counterrevolutionaries, the Genoveses rebuke those "ex"bourgeois swindle" by dwelling upon the daily

of the

class struggle.

One

ally,

lives

perpetrate a

of people instead

15

who

can sympathize with the Marxist

once his

who

and ex-Communists"

Marxists, ex-new Leftists,

finds that social historv,

has turned against him, not deliberately but unwittingly,

by distracting attention from the revolutionary struggle. sympathize with the social historian who, for

Marxism inadequate or

finds

all

rian if

and the insane.

And one may

he takes Schadenfreude

lives

much

as

a distortion

of deviants,

forgive the conventional histo-

each of them exposing the

in finding

weaknesses of the other, thus confirming what he has long is

can also

irrelevant in explaining the ordinary lives

of ordinary people, to say nothing of the abnormal criminals,

One

his radical sympathies,

of history to ignore

politics as to

said: that

make

it

the class

struggle the determining fact of history.

new history, we can better appreciate what we are in danger of losing if we abandon the old. We will lose not After several decades of the

only the unifying theme that has given coherence to history, not only the notable events, individuals, and institutions that have constituted

our historical

made

history readable

ful past

And

memory and our heritage,

— but

that loss

redefinition

and memorable

is

even more

— not only,

of man

also a conception

not only the narrative that has in short, a

meaning-

as a rational, political animal.

difficult to sustain, for

it

involves a radical

of human nature.

An eminent social historian has appealed to Aristode for the ultimate vindication of his enterprise: "There

is

no

better definition of

nature than Aristotie's, translated as he understood animal'." ical

16

What Aristotle

animal."

17

It is

said,

of course,

is

"Man

is

'Man

human

is

a social

by nature

a polit-

it:

not in the "household" or in the "village," Aristode

man

human, decisively different from "bees or any other gregarious animals." The latter, after all, also inhabit households and villages (societies, as we would now say); said,

but only in the "polis" that

is

truly

they also eat, play, copulate, rear their young, provide sustenance for

themselves (and, often, for their families), have social relations, and

develop social structures.

ment of laws and

What

institutions

of which, Aristode believed tablish a just

do not have by means of which they

— man consciously,

regime and pursue the good

life.

is

a polity, a govern-

— and only by means rationally tries to es-

The

social historian,

26



The

New History and

the

Old

rejecting any such "elitist" idea as the

stand any

life,

indeed regarding

it

good

as a

seeking only to under-

triumph of the

nation to explore the lowest depths of unreflective, irrational aspects

life,

of life, denies that

man

indeed unique, animal Aristode thought him to be

which

is

historical imagi-

to probe the unconscious,

life,



is

the distinctive,

a rational animal,

to say, a political animal.

Postscript

When

this essay

was

published in Harper's in April 1984,

first

pro-

it

I had expected. The editors solicited comments from some historians, and others volunteered their opinions, which ranged from effusive praise to unprintable vituperation.

voked even more controversy than

But

it

was not

until I received the first batch

some commending thought but had not dared privately,

arrogance, and bigotry, that

I

in saying publicly

say, others

denouncing

realized just

me

of letters addressed to

my courage

how

my

what they ignorance,

sensitive a nerve

I

had

struck.

In reprinting the essay,

I

planned to revise and expand

it

(as I

the other chapters of this volume). But since this might give unfair advantage over

my

critics, I

have

let

have

me

an

the original version stand

(except for small stylistic changes, elimination of duplication, and restoration of the footnotes

opportunity to

and the

comment on

original tide). Instead,

the

more important

I

shall take this

points raised in re-

sponse to the essay. (Only those correspondents whose

letters

were

published in Harper's will be mentioned by name.)

Because most of my interdiction

on

all

of

critics

seem to think

social history, I

that

I

am pronouncing

techniques and performed a simple arithmetic calculation. the course of the paper

I said,

no fewer than

— not

I

find that in

seven times, that

objections are not to social history as such but to

nance, superiority, even "totality"

an

have borrowed one of their

its

my

claims of domi-

to social history as

it

may

complement or supplement traditional history but to that which would supplant it. Anticipating this misinterpretation, I opened one paragraph: "Again I must say I cannot repeat it too often that it is



but their



methods of social history that are at issue dominance." But no amount of repetition seems to avail.

neither the subjects nor the

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a



.1



class



Two Nations "petit bourgeois, aspiring professional

artisans"

— or the

or Five Classes

men, other

literates,

motley assortment comprising working

53



and

B

class

"agricultural laborers, other low-paid nonfactory urban laborers, do-

women

mestic servants, urban poor, most working-class

Working

Class

A or B households"?

7

Surely these groups did not share

the same attitudes and social relations. precision, assign each

of these groups

streams, sluices, barriers, and

Neale

all

middle

class has

"done more to else.")

suggestive and valuable. hurts his case

and

crudities

— whether

8

And

it

all,

alternative

own

its

with the conventional

George

class.

thought about Victorian En-

there

much

is is

in

in

Neale\

article that

is

whether the model helps or all

curves rather than

its

both directions, make for new question of whether a mis-

better than an

unabashed and avowed

(or seven- or eight- or w-class) pool-model

is

the only alternative to a three-class box-model. Another a well-reasoned, well-documented

is

own, with

its

said that the concept of the

does not, for

is

of greater

stultify

rigidities. It also raises the

A five-class

imprecision.

dissatisfied

The question

placed or spurious precision

not, after

pool of

a

when he

and arrows pointing

straight lines

for the sake

with the category of the middle

Kitson Clark put the matter well gland than anything

Why not,

the rest?

undoubtedly right to be

is

class trinity, especially

whether from

argument

in

which the

nuances of language, rather than the direction and thickness of

lines,

bear the burden of conveying the complexities and subdeties of the social reality.

To the sociological historian,

however, language

is

a

"burden"

worst sense. Having made a great virtue of precise and definitions,

in the

explicit

he often proceeds to formulate definitions that are either so

obtuse as to be incomprehensible or so tautological as to be useless.

For the sociologist, there may be some meaning or definition

of social

ity structure

may be non of

classes as "conflict

appropriate to his purpose, which

most

distracts

historical situation

its

abstractness

to describe the

of a

phenome-

by promoting the

For the

historical situation,

At best it plays no him from attending to the

definition can hardly be helpful. it

is

general, universal, abstract sense.

historian, interested in the particularity

At worst

the

groups arising out of the author-

of imperatively coordinated associations"; 9

class in its

utility in

such a

part in his research. "actualities"

illusion that

of the

by virtue of some

such definition, he has "objectively identified" the concept of class. 10

It

54 is

New History and

The



this illusion, this

the

Old

claim of objectivity, that

is

the driving force behind

the enterprise of sociological history.

The

historian

— any historian — may properly be accused of hubris, of

professing to

more

better or

through rian's

know more about

it.

It is

objectively,

a historical event, to understand

an inescapable occupational hazard. For

wariness of the fallacy of hindsight, for

that fallacy

is

rian flaunts

and besetting

poraries.

his attempts to avoid

But where the

sin.

it

remains

traditional

disturbed by his presumptuousness, the sociological histoit; it is

and

his pride

he claims conveys the social poraries.

all

it

lived

the histo-

all

by immersing himself in contemporary sources,

his eternal temptation

historian

who

than those contemporaries

distinction.

reality better

He invents a language that

than the language of contem-

He freely reorders and remodels the experiences of contemHe abstracts, generalizes, theorizes for whatever purposes he

deems proper, to

elicit

whatever categories or postulates he deems

important. At every point he

is

asserting his independence of

superiority over those contemporaries

who

and

his

provide his material. In the

currendy fashionable phrase, they are his "objects"; he alone can see

them them

"objectively," scientifically; he can "construct" or "deconstruct" at will.

Yet even

contemporaries have a limited interest for the

as objects,

sociological historian,

whole dimensions of their experience being de-

nied or belittled by him.

The only

parts

of their experience he can

recognize, because they are the only parts he can use, are those that

manifest themselves externally, that are visible, measurable, quantifiable.

Their ideas, attitudes,

beliefs,

perceptions enter into his tables and

models only when they express themselves behaviorally elections, or



often said that this kind of sociological history

It is

democratic form of history; instead of "great

another

in riots, or

church attendance, or production and consumption.

— the

men"

who emerged

it is

the history of

is

the only

"anonymous" masses of one sort or

politicians, writers, leaders

in their

Sociological history has indeed

own

time as identifiable individuals.

had the

effect

of suppressing these

The question is whether it has succeeded in bringanonymous masses, whether it has not "upstaged" the

notable individuals. ing to

life

the

masses just as

it

has the leaders, whether

it

does not display toward the

masses the same condescension, the same sense of superiority,

toward

all

contemporaries.

it

does

Two Nations It is true,

who

or Five Classes



55

of course, that individual contemporaries, contemporaries

distinguished themselves in one fashion or another, cannot be

presumed to speak

anonymous

for the

masses. But

contemporaries are thus disqualified, surely

if

distinguished

a historian, generations

removed from those masses, familiar with them only through certain kinds of records that happen to have been preserved, must be immodest

indeed to think that he can understand them better than the wisest

men of

their time. Surely he

cannot afford to ignore the considered

judgments of these contemporaries. Nor can he afford to confine him-

and memoirs

self to their private letters

in preference to their essays

and books, on the assumption that truth "given away"



at the level

sciousness brings with

There

ness."

is

of

more of

it

best revealed

is

— exposed,

least consciousness, that greater

con-

the delusions of "false conscious-

something slanderous about

this

when he

that a great contemporary, precisely

ing himself most carefully and deliberately,

is

assumption.

least to

is

It

implies

at his greatest, express-

be trusted to

tell

And if the great men of the time are thus defamed, so also are anonymous people who bought their books, listened to their

the truth. all

the

them the

speeches, and otherwise accorded

may

purports to be democratic history insidious kind

When

of elitist

the discussion of class

and models of sociological

from those found

historians.

models. Contemporaries,

One

it

affair.

Over and above

all

and

proper, just and unjust, right and

most ingenious sociologist cannot tions

And

that language

moral nuances.

a highly charged

moral

is

an order of facts that

of what was proper and im-

wrong about

those relations.

translate these perceptions

— the models,

abstractions, at the time,

and

The

and con-

quantifica-

and are

still

only

language, the discourse of ordinary people as

well as the learned, of the uals.

was

men's perceptions of themselves in

— of sociology. They were rendered

intelligible, in literary

these

the economic, legal, and social distinctions

their conceptions

ceptions into the language

why

contemporary concepts into

and diagrammed, there

defies the sociological imagination:

relation to others,

in the tables

also discovers

appears, were not only acutely

class-conscious; their class consciousness

that can be quantified

most

well prove to be the

returned to contemporaries, one

is

historians cannot readily incorporate the

own

of greatness. What

history.

discovers quite different conceptions

their

title

anonymous masses is

as well as notable individ-

thoroughly, ineradicably penetrated by

l

56

The



If

we

New History and

the

Old

refuse to indulge the current prejudice against greatness,

may choose

on the

we

one of the great commentators on Victorian England, Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle was great not to consult,

subject of class,

only in himself but in his influence, and in his influence not only upon readers of

of

influential

classes

all

own

his

Disraeli, Kingsley,

particularly)

but also upon some of the greatest and most contemporaries



Mill, Arnold, Dickens, Eliot,

Ruskin, Swinburne, Thackeray.

Some of these

(Mill

were eventually put off by the blatandy undemocratic

tone of Carlyle's later writings. But the younger Carlyle helped shape the moral, intellectual, and social consciousness of early Victorian En-

gland as perhaps no other single figure did. Even criticism,

he confronted his

critics

when he provoked

with an alternative vision of society

they could not ignore. George Eliot, herself a formidable moralist, explained that even those

who

shared few of Carlyle's opinions found

the reading offSartor Resartus)an "epoch in the history of their minds." It is

an

hence:

idle

question to ask whether his books will be read a century

were

if they

would only be forest.

burnt

as the

like cutting

down

For there

is

all

grandest suttees on his funeral pyre,

an oak

after its acorns

hardly a superior or active

it

have sown a

mind of this generation

that

has not been modified by Carlyle's writings; there has hardly been an

English book written for the

been different

What

if

Carlyle

remarkable

is

is

last

had not

ten or twelve years that lived.

that Carlyle

had the

rhetoric so extraordinary that today

staunchest devotee.

We

We

also think

which the

realities

of

of

it

effect

he did in spite of a

tends to repel

all

but the

think of the nineteenth century as an age of

intolerable conformity, repressive sion.

would not have

1

it

life

as

of all individuality, enthusiasm, pas-

an age of complacency and hypocrisy, in

were obscured by

polite

euphemisms and

a

mindless adherence to convention. If anything could put such myths to rest, a

reading of Carlyle would do

He was

the

most

individualistic,

so.

indeed eccentric, of writers

— and

most outspoken. He denounced the false "gospels" of the age, the "foul and vile and soul-murdering Mud-gods," with all the fervor of a 12 Jeremiah. His invectives are famous: utilitarianism was "pig philosothe

phy"; laissez-faireism was the freedom of apes; parliamentary' reform

was "constitution-mongering"; material progress was "mammonism"; rationalism was "dilettantism." The more he denounced these false

Two Nations idols,

and the more intemperately and

or Five Classes



57

idiosyncratically he did so, using

elaborate metaphors and obscure references, presenting his ideas in the

work of German philosophy or the monk, the more attentively he was read.

guise of a newly published chronicle of a twelfth-century It is all

perhaps just as well that

much of his

audience did not understand

his allusions; Professor Teufelsdrockh, the

hero (or antihero) of

its most refined version as Professor Dung. But those who did know German, including Mill and

Sartor Resartus, translates in Devil's

Arnold, were not disconcerted by his pungent language, perhaps because they respected the moral passion inspiring

— — that Carlyle should have coined the phrase "condition-of-England It is ironic

it

it.

but only because of what historians have since made of

question."

Today this

question," which

is

is

generally interpreted as the

u

standard-of-li\ ing

taken as an invitation to quantification, the amass-

ing of statistics relating to wages and prices, production and consumption. Carlyle

understood

it

quite otherwise.

Having opened

his essay

"Chartism" with the "condition-of-England question," he followed with an extremely skeptical chapter on Tables are

like

cobwebs,

ticulated, orderly to

like

the sieve of the Danaides; beautifully

cumstance science

left

of.

out

it is

difficult to

There are innumerable circumstances; and one

may be

the vital one

on which

which ought to be honourable, the

sciences; but

basis

than others are; a wise head

is

all

turned. Statistics

ciris

a

of many most important

not to be carried on by steam,

facts are inseparable

re-

look upon, but which will hold no conclusion.

Tables are abstractions, and the object a most concrete one, so read the essence

it

"Statistics."

this science,

requisite for carrying

from inconclusive except by

a

it

any more

on. Conclusive

head that already

understands and knows. 13

To

was to ask the right questions, questions that could not be answered with the most comprehensive figures and charts. The first sentence of his essay defined the condition-of-England question as the "condition and disposition" of the working classes. If we are inclined to forget the second of these "understand" and to "know," Carlyle

said,

What gave Chartism its enduring strength, fact that it was only a new name for an age-old

terms, Carlyle never was.

he explained, was the

phenomenon: it meant "the bitter discontent grown fierce and mad, the wrong condition therefore, or the wrong disposition, of the Work-

— 58

The



New History and

ing Classes of England." :

working

had

classes?"

Old

the

The question "What

as its corollary, "Is the

working people wrong; so wrong that

rational

and even should not

under

will not,

rest quiet

the condition of the

is

condition of the English

working men cannot,

And

it?"

this raised the

further questions: "Is the discontent itself mad, like the shape

Not

-.^

the condition of the working people that

disposition, their

The answers

own

is

it

took?

wrong; but

their

thoughts, beliefs and feelings that are wrong?"

to these questions were not quantifiable because the con-

depended not on their material goods but on their "It is not what a man outwardly has or wants that

dition of people

moral disposition.

constitutes the happiness or misery of him. Nakedness, hunger, dis-

of

tress

heart

men ~~

all

was

kinds, death itself have been cheerfully suffered,

right. It

is

the feeling of injustice that

insupportable to

famous invention, the phrase "cash payment the

Carlyle's other

economists the deplorable idea that

of supply and demand relations

were best

left

men were

as surely as material

15

He

all

sole

attributed to the

subject to the principle

goods were, that human

to the impersonal forces of the marketplace, that

cash payment was the sole nexus between* man and man.

raged him was not only that tion

the

5)14

nexus," derived from the same moral impulse.

>

is

when

men were

reduced to

this

— although that would be outrage enough — but

What

out-

inhuman condithat this condi-

tion should be represented as perfectiy natural, a God-given law of nature. This

mockery of God

was blasphemous

as well as

inhuman,

of individual

men were

tainted by this

a

and of man. If the relations esy, so

were the

Carlyle

had

an upper

relations

a simple

class

and

a

of classes. Like most of

view of the lower

class structure

class, a class

of the

modern

her-

his contemporaries,

of England: there was rich

and

a class

of the

poor. Generally, again like most of his contemporaries, he pluralized

both of these, making them the "upper

classes"

sometimes he gave them a special Carlylean

and "lower

twist, as

classes";

when he spoke of

the "under class." But his special contribution to the nomenclature

— of

his distinction between the was here that the two classes, so far from being simple descriptive terms, became morally charged. And it was here that Carlyle parted company with Marx and Engels, who borrowed his aphorism about the cash nexus and quoted him on

and to the conception

"toiling classes"

classes

was

and the "untoiling." 16

It

Two Nations the condition of the working classes.

and the un toiling

classes

classes

What Carlyle meant by

was not

their Marxist equivalents: labor

or Five Classes

and

at all

capital.



59

the toiling

what might seem to be

The

toiling classes in-

the untoiling classes those of the lower

who did in fact work, and classes who did not work. So

too there were rich "master- workers"

as well as "master- idlers" (or

cluded those members of the upper classes

"master-unworkers"), and poor "un workers"

poorhouses euphemistically known

as

who

spent their da\s

"workhouses."

in

17

The implications of Carlyle's distinctions are momentous, for they mean that he was not at all the cryptosocialist that some present-day socialists would make of him. Socialists can share Carlyle's outrage at the condition of the poor, his condemnation of the idle rich, his detestation

of laissez-faire economics. They can

find in

him premonitions of

the dehumanization, desocialization, and alienation they attribute to

They can even share his respect for work, under certain The young Marx might have said, as Carlyle did,

capitalism.

ideal conditions.

"Labour

is

not a

devil,

even while encased

in

Mammonism; Labour

is

ever an imprisoned god, writhing unconsciously or consciously to

escape out of Mammonism!"

What

the Marxist cannot do, however, and

upon doing, was

to give

well as the laborer

worker rather than

work an ennobling

— provided only

20

And

this

19

"All

work ...

dictum redeemed the

Just as in the Marxist

is

noble;

capitalist, the

it),

insisted

quality for the capitalist as

that the capitalist

(the "Mill-ocracy," as Carlyle put

talist

what Carlyle was

a master-idler. Laborare est orare: this

pel according to Carlyle.

noble."

18

as

a master-

was the gos-

work

alone

is

working

capi-

much as the workingman.

schema the concept of surplus

value, or exploita-

making him the villain of morality play, so the concept of work legitimized him for Carmade of him a "captain of industry," a natural leader and a true

tion, illegitimized, so to speak, the capitalist,

that lyle



hero.

This

is

why

the struggle between rich and poor, between the upper

and lower

classes,

the-death

it

was

was not

for Carlyle the

same inexorable,

for Marx. Indeed, for Carlyle a

fatal

war-to-

symptom and

also a

cause of the prevailing misery and discontent was the fact that there

was such role,

a struggle.

made

The

idle aristocracy, abdicating its natural political

the process of government seem

artificial,

the fortuitous

product of competition and struggle. This was the true perversion of

60

The



New History and

the

Old

economy. Denying the proper function of government, the laissez-faireists subverted the proper relationship of the governed and the governors. And in the absence of such a relationship, cash payment political

became the

sole nexus connecting the rich

and the poor.

After reading the reviews of "Chartism," Carlyle remarked: "The

people are beginning to discover that

of the deepest, though perhaps the extant in the world."

21

I

am not a Tory. Ah,

Carlyle's radicalism

no! but one

now may not be ours. Nor was it

quietest,

of

all

the Radicals

own time.* But it was a form of radicalism that most of his contemporaries recognized as such. One reader of Past and that of all radicals in his

Present quipped that the

book would be very dangerous

"turned into the vernacular."

if it

not in the answers he gave to the

Carlyle's radicalism consisted

condition-of-England question but in putting the question in putting

it

in such a

form that

it

raised the

is

more banal than

into an upper

was to

and

a

raise the idea

class relations.

the idea that England, or any country,

lower

class, into rich

of class to a new

level

associating — lematic "dangerous,"

with the idea of

it

as

one reader

said

is

Noth-

divided

and poor. What Carlyle did

moral concept, a cogent instrument of legitimization and

By

and

of consciousness by giving

^moral urgency)ln Victorian England the idea of work was tion.

itself,

most fundamental doubts

about the legitimacy of prevailing doctrines and ing

were ever

22

class,

Carlyle

it

a powerful

illegitimiza-

made prob-

— what had previously been

the most natural and innocent of propositions, that England was di-

vided into two

classes.

In Sartor Resartus Carlyle described the extremes to which those two classes tise,

were being pushed. The book

Die

is

an elaborate play upon a

trea-

Werden und Wirken, by the ubiquitous Herr

Kleider, ihr

Teufelsdrockh, Professor of Allerlei Wissenschaft at the University of

Weissnichtwo. The clothes metaphor inspired Carlyle to invent two *Nor of

radicals abroad,

although they too

testified to its radicalism.

Marx and Engels

paid Carlyle the high tribute of borrowing and publicizing his phrase about "cash payment" constituting the "sole nexus of man to man."

was the only book published

in

And

Engels, reviewing Past and Present, said

it

England that year "worth reading." Although he rebuked

Carlyle for not realizing that the cause of the social evil

was

private property, his

much

"pantheism," which he took to be as outmoded

lengthier criticism

was directed

and pernicious

conventional religion. Echoing Feuerbach, Engels insisted that the old

"What is God?" had finally been answered by German philosophy: "God is Man." Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works [New York, 1975- ], III, 463-466.)

question (Karl

as

at Carlyle's

Two Nations Dandies and Drudges, the

sects,

or Five Classes

61



worshipping money and the

first

trappings of gentiemanliness, the second slaving to keep barelv clothed

and

fed.

Such

are the

two

Sects which, at this

moment,

divide the

more

unsettled

portion of the British People, and agitate that ever- vexed countrv ... In

and subterranean ramifications, they extend through the

their roots

structure of Society, and

work unweariedly

glish national Existence, striving to separate

uncommunicating masses

tradictory,

the

two

Sects will

itself from

side.

.

.

.

depths of En-

and

into

To me

isolate it

it

till

there be

none

two con-

seems probable that

one day part England between them, each

the intermediate ranks,

entire

in the secret

left

recruiting

to enlist

on

either

23

If Carlyle's final

words remind us of Marx, with

the polarization of classes

his predictions

of

— the increasing concentration of wealth on

the one hand, the increasing proletarianization and pauperization



on the other the rest of the passage recalls "the two nations." One need not go so far

Disraeli's

famous phrase

as some historians who made of that expression a "household word." 24 Nor 25 need one make too much of the fact that others used it before him. It

claim that Disraeli

is

enough to say that was "in the air."

Disraeli dramatized

and popularized

a

concept

that

Disraeli also dramatized, perhaps romanticized as well, the condition-of- England question. In Coningsby, published in 1844, five years after Carlyle's

"Chartism," Disraeli referred to the "Condition-of-

England Question of which our generation hears so much." 26

months

later, in

ity for that

an address to

concept:

"Long

his constituents,

before what

people question' was discussed in the

ployed

my

pen on the subject." 27

and was evidentiy anticipating that book: that parts

reports

is

Bill

and having

already

of it sound

like a

had been introduced

begun writing

Sybil

listened to those debates (a

in that very session

of parliament)

actually inserted verbatim into his novel portions

mission, released in 1842), Disraeli 28

of the

had em-

was to be leveled against transcript of Royal Commission

of one of

Employment Comhad reason to be sensitive on this

those reports (the second report of the Children's account.

I

a criticism that

and parliamentary debates. Having

Factory

few

he claimed some prior-

called the 'condition

House of Commons,

He had

A

62

The



New History and

The message of Sybil

Old

the

and

perfectly clear

is

explicit.

Unlike Carlyle,

with his extended metaphors and heavy irony, Disraeli, even when writing fiction, was engaged in a not very subtle form of political indoctrination. If parts of Sybil read like transcripts of the blue books

(which they were), other parts sound

on

phlets

like extracts

from

a Short Course

a Young Englander, or from penny pam-

in the History of England, by

"the social problem." In the novel the crucial passages an-

nounce themselves, so to speak, by the device of capitals. Thus the mention of the two-nations theme appears Egremont, the good

aristocrat (one

identifications, as in a morality play), tified as

Stephen Morley, an Owenite

in a dialogue

tempted to

is

between

capitalize these

and "the stranger,"

who

first

later iden-

has joined forces with the

Chartists.

"Say what you

like,

our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever

existed."

"Which nation?" asked the younger stranger, "for she reigns over two." The stranger paused; Egremont was silent, but looked inquiringly. "Yes," resumed the stranger. "Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as

they were dwellers in different zones, or

if

inhabitants of different planets; ing, are fed

by a different food,

who

are as

formed by

a different breed-

by different manners, and

are ordered

are

not governed by the same laws."

"You speak of—" said Egremont, "THE RICH AND THE POOR." 29 This

final line

C

grade

of capitals

hesitatingly.

followed by a fade-out scene worthy of a

is

movie: the gray ruins are suffused by a "sudden flush of rosy

hymn

and the voice of Sybil heard singing the evening to — Virgin "a but tones of almost supernatural sweetness; light,"

is

the

single voice;

tender and solemn, yet flexible and thrilling."

This

is

Disraeli prose at

ishly romantic.

sure,

Most of

but cleverly so

its

it

— sharp,

is

worst, blatandy tendentious and

very

redeemed by a

latent irony that

effect. Sybil is, in fact,

literary strategy

is

much

acerbic, witty,

veying some provocative thought. are

30

And

better

mawk-

— tendentious,

to be

and surprisingly often con-

even the romantic interludes

makes for

a slightiy offbeat,

campy

an eminently readable book, and although the

obvious enough

— the contrast between high

society

Two Nations

or Five Classes

63



and the lowliest poor, between parliamentary intrigue and Chartist conspiracy

— there

are

memorable episodes

satirizing the

upper

classes

and dramatizing the lower. The opening scene in the fashionable club finds a group of rich, blase, and rather effete young men chatting idly about the forthcoming Derby rather likes

wine."

31

houses, are

man

with one

races,

confessing that he

bad wine because, you know, "one gets so bored with good

In the same

who

mood

are scenes featuring the ladies

of the great

think they are wielding political power (perhaps they

— the novel

ambiguous

is

at this point)

by extending or withhold-

ing invitations to their dinner parties; they vainly attempt to extract

who do

information from dim-witted lords

pumped,

On

good reason

for the very

that they

the other side of the social spectrum

fashionable

men and women

ably. Disraeli has

been

the condition of

England

— terms that

own

When

I

freest,

and the

youth

soured

spirits

so, for

overdramatizing

and overidealiz-

this

religious race

and

all

good old

days.

As

if

she were

re-

English people once was; the truest, the

upon

their crimes

and the

I

best- looking, the hap-

the surface of this globe; and think of

and

their slavish sufferings, their

all

their stunted forms; their lives

without hope;

their deaths

Disraeli uses interchange-

and properly

bravest, the best-natured

them now, with

all.

in pre- Reformation times, Sybil reflects:

remember what

and most

at

the reality that these

in the nineteenth century

criticized,

ing the condition of England in the calling her

is

are being

are so abysmally ignorant of: the reality

of THE PEOPLE, or THE POOR

piest

know they know nothing

not

may well

feel for

without enjoyment, and

them, even

if I

were not the

daughter of their blood. 32

Even

if

the extravagant rhetoric, with

truest, the freest, the bravest

all

those superlatives

— do not forewarn us

— the

that Disraeli intends

the passage to be read mythically and allegorically, the last sentence

should surely

we know

alert

us to that possibility; for at this point in the story

that Sybil

is

not, in fact, "the daughter of their blood," that

from being of "the people," she oldest and noblest families. far

is

the descendant of one of the

Apart from such mythicized representations of past and present tentionally mythicized, as

I

(in-

read Disraeli), there are scenes that, how-

ever exaggerated, reveal important and frequendy ignored aspects of social reality.

For

all

his fantasies

and extravagances,

Disraeli

had

a

64

New History and

The



clear perception

Old

the

of different conditions and kinds of poverty.

He

dis-

tinguished, for example, between rural and industrial poverty, between

manufacturing and mining towns, between the ordinary working poor

and an underclass that was almost a race apart, brutalized, uncivilized, living in a virtual state of nature. There is a precision in these distinctions that the historian

may

well respect.

The historian may also profitably read the exchange between the good aristocrat Egremont and the Chartist Gerard in which each cites statistics

much

about the condition of England, the one proving that

better, the other

concluding

(like Carlyle

much

it is

worse, than ever before, with Gerard

before him) that in any event

it is

material conditions that are at issue as the relations of

not so

men

much

with one

another. The Owenite Morley makes the same point: "There is no community in England; there is aggregation^ but aggregation under circumstances which make it rather a dissociating than a uniting principle."

33

when he goes

only

It is

"obsolete" that Gerard balks. "the

method of

What we want "but

plies,

When tion,"

I like

Community." stretching

my

under the

labels

feet

not to Sybil,

who

is

on

35

m^ own

34

hearth."

Gerard

re-

he

is

Gesellschaft, historians listen

dismissed as a medievalist and

community

do

as

much

for

mankind

as the

Neither Morley nor Gerard has any hankering

for a preindustrial age;

both want only to humanize and

socialize

under the conditions of industrialism. The one character

whose occupation

fraud, if a kindly one; this

fortune by tracing

would-be noble of the

are right,"

a medievalist and romantic, but to the Owenite,

monasteries ever did."

the novel

you

careful to assign this speech about

believes that "the railways will

relations

as

isolation; therefore antisocial.

of Gemeinschaft and is

home

between "community" and "aggrega-

When Disraeli does it,

romantic. Yet Disraeli

is

"I daresay

sociologists distinguish

respectfully.

who

home

a rude age;

is

so far as to denounce the

"Home is a barbarous idea," Morley says,

vilest

it is

is

the antiquarian Hatton,

— inventing,

families,

to exalt and perpetuate the past

if

need be

who made

in

is

a

his

— the lineage of noble and

and who himself turns out to be the brother

and lowest of me(rabWe7)

If Disraeli's cast

of characters Includes good

aristocrats as well as

factory owners as well as bad. To be sure, the owners happens to be the younger son of an old, impoverished landed family. And it is this heritage that makes him so

bad,

it

also includes

good

best of these factory

Two Nations

or Five Classes

65



exemplary a character: "With gentle blood in his veins, and old English feelings,

he imbibed,

at

an early period of his career,

concep-

a correct

tion of the relations which should subsist between the employer and

He

the employed.

between them there should be other

that

felt

than the payment and the receipt of wages."

36

not a conscious echo of Carlyle's "cash nexus,"

of that sentiment

lence

factory

town

is

more than

a

it

little idyllic; is

also

account of

everyone

(In the

same

happy, healthv,

is

a factory

is

is

Age of

reminds him. "Have you seen Manchester?")

past," Sidonia

two

Disraeli's

nations, like Carlyle's

plicated than they appear at

first

sight

two

classes, are

and an

are

moral

class contains a

idle class, so Disraeli's rich contains a responsible

and an

For the indolent club-lounger

by the

irresponsible element.

idea of drinking politics as a

upper

37

more com-

— again, because they

as well as descriptive categories. Just as Carlyle's

toiling

is

town.

novel Coningsby, he has Sidonia inter-

spirit, in his earlier

rupt Coningsbys reveries about the glories of Athens. "The

Ruins

model

this

noteworthy that what Disraeli

idealizing, contrary to the conventional impression,

is

to the preva-

testifies

it

at the time.) Disraeli's

moral, and content. But

ties

(If the last sentence

bad wine, or the

game devised

ladies

for the exercise

of their female

has nothing but contempt. Riches, position,

"only one duty Just as (work

— to secure the

social welfare

was the legitimizing

titillated

of the salons

power

who

look on

wiles, Disraeli

are said to have

of the people."

principle for Carlyle, so

38

duty was

Where Carlyle, puttingfa preheroes among the "Mill-ocracy," the

the legitimizing principle for Disraeli.

mium on work, found most of his

captains of industry, Disraeli looked primarily to the landed aristocracy

who

in his mythical rendition

of English history

traditionally func-

tioned in this responsible, moral fashion. Although Carlyle and Disraeli

chose to eulogize and mythicize different groups

classes,

rule

they agreed that

it

was the

responsibility

— humanely, jusdy, compassionately, but

of the lower

classes to

among the upper

of the upper

rule

classes to

— and the obligation

be ruled. The main plot of Sybil centers on the

attempt of the lower classes to find salvation in and by themselves, to

own resources, to develop leaders own and seek power on their own behalf. This was the aspira-

try to cure their condition

of their

with their

tion of the Chartists, represented by Gerard, the purest

men,

who

after his

and noblest of

dies in the course of a wild, bloody, poindess rampage. Only

death

is

Sybil disabused of her "phantoms," as

Egremont

66



The

New History and

delicately puts

it

— her

Old

the

do no wrong and the two "the gulf is impassable." 39 the poor can Sybil

is

rich

no

right,

and that between the

generally taken to be the heroine of the book.

a distinctly flawed character

The unequivocal hero wants to obtain, intervention of

as

is

he

—"the most

Egremont, the good and wise says, "the results

and

really

is

is

I

40

that the welfare of the people can best

declares that "the rights of labour

living wealth

who

difference

as the Chartists advise,

first

.

.

.

as sacred as those

of

of the

interests

that the social happiness of the

object of a statesman, and that, if this were

not achieved, thrones and dominions, the

and empires, were

were

less cryptically,

were to be established, the

ought to be preferred;

millions should be the

What

ever read."

but by exercising power on their behalf. Elsewhere, if a

aristocrat,

interpreted by others as "sheer Radi-

be ensured not by transferring power to them,

property; that

is

of the Charter without the

democratic speech that

Egremont means, of course,

Egremont

As such, she

— the heroine, perhaps, but not the hero.

machinery." That cryptic statement bewilders some

its

characters in the novel

calism"

and good, that

illusion that the people are wise

alike worthless."

pomp and power

of courts

41

know what to make of Disraeli, and The distinguished historian G. M. Young, who was old-fashioned enough (and old enough) to draw upon his Contemporaries did not always

historians

know

still less.

own memories and those of his acquaintances, asked one elderly Gladstonian why his generation was so profoundly distrustful of Disraeli. The answer surprised Young. It was, the old man said, because of "his 42 early Radicalism." Whatever one may think of the practicality of Disraeli's

kind of radicalism, or of

radical at

all,

pounding

it,

that

its

desirability,

or whether

it

was

or even whether Disraeli was entirely serious in pro-

one cannot deny that

it

did color his

own

thinking and

of contemporaries about him.

More important than

Disraeli's solution

of the

social

problem

— the

nation unified under the direction of a "natural" aristocracy dedicated to the "social welfare"

— was

which the two

his

conception of the problem

itself:

a

were diverging so rapidly that they were perilously close to becoming "two nations." Many contemsociety in

poraries

who

classes

did not subscribe to his ideology,

who found him

either

too radical or insufficiently radical, shared his view of the social condition.

And

it

was

this

view



this

model, so to speak

— that was enor-

Two Nations mously

influential, that

and

social reality

Disraeli

of the

made

the

"two nations"

or Five Classes



67

image of the

a graphic

powerful symbol of discontent.

a

and Carlyle

are only

two of the many

helped shape that

social reality

Victorians

whose

reality as well as reflect

vision

If one

it.

is

looking for class models, surely their two- nation and two-sect models

worthy of consideration

are as

might contemplate the James Mill



as

three-class

model

reluctantly

reluctantiy because utilitarianism

vidualistic theory loath to assign

or

any the historian may devise.

any

reality to

was

a

Or one

advanced bv

profoundly indi-

such "fictions"

as society

Yet even Mill could not entirely dispense with some idea of

class.

although he did shun the word. In his schema the people were

class,

divided into an "aristocratical body," a "democratical body," and a

"middle rank," the

latter

being the repository of virtue, intelligence,

and leadership. Matthew Arnold's three

same

as Mill's,

different conception

a middle class features

classes

were substantively the

but his characterizations of them made for a radically

of

of

society. Positing

"philistines,"

and

an aristocracy of "barbarians,"

populace combining the worst

a

of both, he obviously had to look elsewhere for

gence, and leadership

Without

— to a

image of the

this

either his idea

of the

state capable

classes

virtue, intelli-

of transcending these

classes.

one cannot begin to comprehend

state or his analysis

of the

social reality.

There are obviously other ways of drawing upon the contemporary consciousness of less

eminent

memoirs, to

class,

not only by inquiring into

men who had reflect

sulting a variety

upon

all

the eminent and

occasion, in books, articles, speeches, or

their times

and experiences, but

also

of other sources that dealt with the same

by con-

more

issue

obliquely, less self-consciously: novels, tracts, newspaper accounts,

parliamentary debates, Royal Commission reports, legislative administrative measures.

sources

— two or three

A

acts,

and

few obvious models emerge from these

classes, for the

most

part, often

with each

class

pluralized ("working classes," for example), suggesting an acute sense

of the it

fluidity

and complexity of social

relations.

Whatever the model,

almost invariably contained a strong moral component. The classes

themselves were described in moral terms, and the relations

them were presumed to have failing to exhibit the

judgment). Just as

among

a moral character (or were criticized for

proper moral character, which was

we would not today

(or

itself a

moral

most of us would not, even

68

The



New History and

the

Old



age, sex,

social relations that did

not take

today) define familial relations in purely behavioral terms habitat, financial ties

— so the Victorians would have found inadequate

any purely behavioral description of

and obligation, propriety and

into account such moral facts as duty responsibility.

where much of sociological history goes grievously astray. Even those works that avoid the more egregious fallacies of misplaced This

is

precision, excessive abstraction,

and obfuscatory language tend to be

insufficiently attentive to the quality

teenth-century England.

It

of mind that permeated nine-

may seem odd

that historians should

fail

to avail themselves of such obvious sources of evidence as the ideas and

of contemporaries

beliefs

ordinary

men



until

— of the great men of the time

one

as well as the

realizes that to take seriously that evidence

would be to jeopardize the enterprise of sociological history as it is generally conceived. Intent upon creating a scientific, objective history, these historians think

it

necessary to purge the social reality of the

values that interfere with this "value-free" history. It is

not only

this ideal

moral imagination.

of

positivist history that

It is also a distaste for

inimical to the

is

the particular kind of moral

imagination that prevailed in nineteenth-century England. Today

moral concepts are to some degree suspect; they as

condescending, subjective, arbitrary.

agreeable

when

applied to class

And

all

modern ear the more dis-

strike the

they are

all

— when the poor were described

(as

they habitually were in the nineteenth century) as "deserving" or "undeserving," or spectable"

their intention thrift,

To as

the working classes were divided into the "re-

of fostering among the lower

of

the latter-day historian this moral temper suggests a failure of as well as

of compassion. One author has characterized

an ideological "deformation" produced by the "distorting lens" of

the middle class, a deformation so pervasive sciousness of the

working

classes themselves.

the moral imagination of the Victorians

*

classes the virtues

temperance, cleanliness, and good character.

understanding it

when

and the "unrespectable," or when reformers announced

stood and described

as

is

it

43

even affected the con-

From

this perspective

not something to be under-

an essential part of the

social reality,

but some-

thing to be exposed and criticized from the vantage point of the historian's

superior understanding of that

assumed to be best understood

reality.

in "objective"

And

the reality itself

— which

is

is

to say, eco-

Two Nations nomic

or Five Classes

— terms, without reference to such "subjective"

69



ideas as moral

character.

To

history that

restoration of moral imagination in the writing of

call for a



it is

impose

in the writing

of

all

most sadly lacking

his

own



history, but is

it is

in sociological history

not to give license to the historian to

moral conceptions on history. This has been the im-

pulse behind yet another fashionable school of thought, that of the

"engaged" or "committed" historian. In

this view,

all

pretensions of

objectivity are suspect, the only honest history being that

which can-

didly expresses the political and moral beliefs of the historian.

At the

opposite pole, in one sense, from the sociological mode, this kind of

"engaged" history shares with sociological history

a

contempt for the

experiences and beliefs of contemporaries and an overweening regard

wisdom and judgment of the historian. What is wanted is not so much the exercise of the

for the

historian's

moral

imagination as a proper respect for the moral imagination of those

contemporaries he exercise

is

professing to describe. /This, to be sure, takes an

of imagination on the

tolerance for beliefs that

moral principles rationalizations

historian's part

may not be

as such, so that

It is a

modesty. seriously,

own, above

all

a respect for

social facts that are so

from contemporaries those eco-

obvious to the historian. is

called for, indeed an exercise in

— the perceptions, and opinions of contemporaries — be taken

It asks

as

of interest, or deformations of vision, or evidence of an

modest undertaking that

principles,

a sensitivity to ideas, a

he will not dismiss them too readily

intellectual obtuseness that conceals

nomic and

his



nothing more than that moral data

be assigned the same

reality, as facts

ideas, beliefs, as

about production and

consumption, income and education, status and mobility. The historian

is

in the fortunate position

of being able to do what the sociologist fact- value dichotomy that has plagued

cannot do; he can transcend the sociological thought.

The values of the

past are the historian's facts.

should make the most of them, as the great Victorians did.

,

He J

J

The "Group": British Marxist Historians

«A \ J V V

hy was there no Marxism

in Great Britain?"

all

revolution,

Why,

letariat" alien

1

Why,

A recent issue

in the first country to

and

no

in the first country to

worthy of the name, was the very word "proThese questions have been the staple of

exotic?

explain the "miracle of its

Why,

social revolution?

Halevy

early in the century tried to

modern England":

the ability of England, by

historical inquiry at least since Elie

of

unique institutions and

to

traditions,

change, conciliate interests, and mitigate conflict. is



in the country that gave birth to the industrial

was there no

create a proletariat

There

4

the conditions for a mass Marxist movement, was there

such movement?

virtue



of the English Historical Review poses yet again one of the

perennial problems in English history.

meet

.

accommodate

2

another question, however, that has not often been asked.

Why, in a country so resistant to Marxist socialism, have there been so many eminent Marxist historians? And not as mavericks but as members of a respectable and influential (although not, to be sure, domi-

nant) school.

And

influential precisely in the field

of English history,

offering Marxist interpretations of a history that has been notably

inhospitable to

Marxism

Part of the answer

lies

as a political ideology.

in a fascinating

English intellectual history. learn

70

and little-known episode

in

we have come

to

only recentiy that

something of the origins of English Marxist historiography and

to appreciate been.

It is

The

how

story

well organized and consciously ideological

it

of the "Communist Party Historians' Group" (or

has

"col-

The "Group" lective," as

it

has also been called)

comes from the

it

memoirs,

3

the

is all

interviews, essays, and,

more

and

principals themselves

interesting because

their disciples

most recendy,

71



— from

a full-length book.

In 1983 one of the most influential historical journals in England

opened

its

one-hundredth

history of Past

and

Communist

British

recalling

its

founding

1952: "The

in

war with a members of the

Present begins in the years of the cold

group of young Marxist of the

by

issue

historians, at that time

all

Party and enthusiastic participants in the activities

'C. P. Historians'

Group' which flourished notably

1946 to 1956." Those young historians were,

in the years

in fact, old "friends

and

comrades":

They thus had the quadruple bond of a common each other since the

common

1930s), a

late

had known

past (most

political

commitment,

a

passion for history, and regular, indeed intensive, contact at the meetings

of the Historians' Group

which they debated the Marxist

at

interpreta-

tion of historical problems and did their best, in the military jargon then

favoured in Bolshevik

most

circles,

suitable to historians.

to Svage the battle of ideas'

on the

'front'

4

This account comes to us with the authority of three distinguished historians rians'

who were

founders both of the

Group and of Past and Present

and E.

J.

journal.

Hobsbawm

(Today Hill

Hilton and board.

The

Historians'

— and who

Communist

— Christopher

are

still

Hill,

Party Histo-

R. H. Hilton,

active in the affairs

of the

president of the Past and Present Society, and

is

Hobsbawm are chairman and vice-chairman of the editorial fourth founder of the journal and the oldest

Group, Maurice Dobb, died

A memoir

member of the

in 1976.)

by Hobsbawm, "The Historians' Group of the

nist Party," describes the organization that

Commu-

played "a major part in the

development of Marxist historiography" and thus

in "British historiog-

raphy in general."* The Historians' Group, he reports, was one of

many *It

professional

is

and

fitting that this

cultural

groups operating under the aegis of the

memoir should have been published in a Festschrift for A. L. (in 1978 when the volume was published)

Morton, one of the founders of the Group and still

the chairman.

Morton had

a special role in the founding, since

of the Group was the revision of his

People's History ofEngland, a

unscholarly book. Published by the Left

dozen printings

in

England and

as

many

Book Club

one of the

just before the war,

translations

initial

purposes

popular but embarrassingly it

went through

a

and editions abroad. The Group was

soon diverted into other tasks and never completed the

revision.

72



The

New History and

the

Old

National Cultural Committee of the party

— "from the

Party's point

of

view, the most flourishing and satisfactory" of them, attracting not

only professional historians but also party leaders and union organizers.

5

The founding of Past and Present was only one episode

"battle of ideas" (the

"B of I,"

mission of the Group. anniversaries

It also

it

was

familiarly

known)

that

in the

was the

organized conferences and celebrated

(1848 was commemorated by

Communist Manifesto

Marx and

6

as

a

dramatized version of the

in Albert Hall) ; arranged for translations (of

Engels, Lenin and Stalin, and such latter-day Marxist

luminaries as Gramsci); assigned historical projects to be carried out by individual

volume

members; and published, among other works,

collection

Democracy and the

themes

now

a four-

volume of essays, Labour Movement, that foreshadowed many of the of

identified

historical

documents and

a

with Marxist history.

The Group included some of the best-known historians in Britain Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, George Rude, Dorothy Thompson, Royden Harrison, John Saville, Victor Kiernan, George Thomson, Raphael Samuel. (Among those no longer alive, and remembered fondly and respectfully by the others, are Maurice Dobb and Dona TofY, whose membership in the party went back almost to its origin.) Hobsbawm comments on the curious fact that so many talented Communist intellectuals chose to become historians.* Just as curious is the fact that so many talented historians chose to be Communists not only in the thirties, when the depression, the Spanish Civil War, and the rise of Nazism made Communism seem, to many intellectuals, the last hope of civilization, but after the war, when they found the Western democracies more menacing than the Soviet Union and Stalinism more congenial and sympatoday: E. P.



thetic

In

than capitalism. its

early years,

Hobsbawm

recalls,

the

members of

the

Group

from schismatics and heretics," even from Marxists and Marxist sympathizers who had no party creden7 tials. With the advent of the Popular Front in 1951, they became less

"segregated themselves

sectarian.

strictly

(The founding of Past and Present

reflected this turn in the

*In fact, in the 1930s there was an equally prominent group of Communist scientists. Cambridge alone boasted J. D. Bernal, J. B. S. Haldane, Lancelot Hogben, Hyman Levy, and Joseph Needham. When the Modern Quarterly, the organ of the Communist Party, was founded in 1938, more than half of the editorial board were scientists.

The "Group"

Con-

party line.) In 1956, after Khrushchev's speech to the Twentieth gress

denouncing

year,

many historians however,

ations,

and the Soviet invasion of Hungary

Stalin, left

the party.

as well as their

their confreres in France,

later that

They retained their personal commitment to Marxism

Hobsbawm

73



associ-

— unlike

observes, where the break from

the party generally resulted in a disaffection with Marxism.

himself has remained in the party, and the Historians

1

Hobsbawm

Group continues

to this day.

During the whole of

Hobsbawm Stalinism"),

as 8

the

members of the Group saw no

roles as historians

Our work

that time (including the period described by

the "Stalin- Zhdanov- Lysenko years" of "ultra- rigid

and

as historians

as

between

conflict

their

Communists.

was therefore embedded

in

our work

which we believed to imply membership of the Communist

as xMarxists.

Partv.

We

It

was

as commitment and loyal, active and committed a group of Communists as any, if only because we felt that Marxism implied membership of the Party. To criticize Marxism was to criticize the Party, and the other way round. 9

inseparable

from our

activity

political

.

.

.

were

Indeed, their loyalty to both Marxism and the party was such that even

Hobsbawm, in retrospect, finds them excessively zealous. "There is no doubt that we ourselves were apt to fall into the stern and wooden style of the disciplined Bolshevik cadres, since we regarded ourselves as such."

Thus

their

arguments on

specific historical subjects

such

as the

English Revolution were "sometimes designed a posteriori to confirm

what we already knew to be necessarily 'correct'." If their work did not suffer more from the "contemporary dogmatism," he explains, it was because the authorized Marxist versions of history dealt with real prob-

lems and could be discussed seriously ("except where the political authority of the Bolshevik Party and similar matters were involved");

because there was no party line on most of British history and the

of Soviet historians was largely alty

and militancy were not

officials

in

unknown

any doubt prior to 1956" so that party

were well disposed to them; and because

* Hobsbawm himself mentions Soviet historians

who were

it.

a "certain old-

translated

the Group. Both Hill and Hilton were familiar with Soviet scholarship

were much influenced by

work

to them;* because "our loy-

and were known to

on

their subjects

and

74

The



New History and

the

Old

made it possible to criticize and modify some of the orthodox doctrines. 10 It was in this milieu that some of the distinctive theories of British fashioned realism" in the party

Marxist history were

formulated: about the nature of feudalism

first

and absolutism, the development of capitalism, the character of the English Civil War, the relation of science and Puritanism to capitalism,

on

the effect of industrialism classes, the

nature and role of the "labor aristocracy."

contributed to the

of the

the standard of living of the working

common

new social

people

history

The Group

also

— history from below, the history

— which became,

as

it

were, a fellow traveler of

Marxist history.

To

a

young American

must seem a heroic

age,

radical historian looking

when

radical history

had

back on that time,

it

a coherent doctrine, a

cohesive community, and a political purposiveness he might well envy.

This

is

one gets from The British Marxist Harvey J. Kaye. 11 The five historians who are the subjects study, all members of the original Group, are meant to suggest certainly the impression

Historians by

of this

the range and diversity of Marxist scholarship, their shared concerns

and themes, and above of "scholarly and

Maurice

Dobb

political is

Group. "The major cially,"

all

their

commitment

consequence."

to a kind of history that

is

12

generally regarded as the founding father of the historical

Hobsbawm has

said,

work which was

to influence us cru-

"was Maurice Dobb's Studies

in the Devel-

opment of Capitalism which formulated our main and central prob13 lem." Published in 1946, the Studies coincided with the formation of the Group, but long before then

leading Marxist "theoretician."

He

Dobb had

established himself as a

had joined the

British

Communist

was founded, and made the first of many visits to the Soviet Union three years later. From 1924 until his retirement in 1967 he was a Lecturer and then a Reader in Economics at Party in 1922, shortly after

it

Cambridge, where he became the mentor of generations of nists

and Communist sympathizers.

(It is

curious

now

Commu-

to read of the

debate in 1932 in which he argued for the motion, "This house sees

Moscow than Detroit"; his opponent on that occasion Kitson Clark, who later became one of the most eminent of

more hope was G.

in

non-Marxist English historians.) 14

Dobb

described his Studies as a

work

in "historical economics,"

15

The "Group"

and

it is

this historical

in

75

dimension, the application of Marxist economic

theory to the development of capitalism, that

among



made

it

so influential

the Marxist historians. Describing the emergence of capitalism

England,

Dobb

identified the

two

"decisive

moments"

in

its

devel-

opment: the "bourgeois revolution" of the seventeenth century, and the "industrial revolution" of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth

As

centuries. "crisis"

a prelude to these

of feudalism

the transition to capitalism.

something taking

like

moments, he posited another: the which set the stage for

in the fourteenth century, 16

In retrospect one can see in this schema

an agenda for the historians in the Group, with Hilton

up feudalism,

Hill the English Revolution,

Thompson industrialism. Dobb

and

Hobsbawm and

relieved the others of the

out details of the Marxist analysis, such

as the primitive

need to work accumulation

of capital and the concept of surplus value, and provided them with

more

From

the perspective of a non-Marxist, or even of a later generation

of neo-Marxists,

Dobb

represents a stringent

minism ("economism,"

way

it

seemed

at the

controversy between

was Sweezy view.

a

sophisticated and respectable version of Marxist economics.

He

who

as Marxists

now

mode of economic

call it).

Yet

this

deter-

was not the

time to members of the Group. In a famous

Dobb and

the American Marxist Paul Sweezy,

it

appeared to be taking the more narrowly economic

criticized

Dobb, among other

with serfdom rather than defining

it

things, for equating feudalism

as a particular

mode of produc-

and for failing to recognize that the expansion of trade had undermined the feudal system of production- for-use and prepared the way tion,

for the capitalist system

of production-for-exchange. In

his reply

Dobb

argued that the dissolution of feudalism resulted from the internal contradictions of the social relations of production rather than from

growth of commerce and towns, and that Sweezy's was a static 17 Kaye sees conception of feudalism which neglected the class struggle. in this debate a conscious attempt on the part of Dobb (and of Hilton, Hill, and Hobsbawm, all of whom came to his defense) to move away the

from "a narrow economism to a broader politico-economic perspective" and to redefine class as a "historical phenomenon, as opposed to merely an economic or sociological category."

18

younger than Dobb, joined the Communist Party while a student at Oxford before the war. He spent most

Rodney Hilton,

a generation

76

New History and

The



of his professional career

the

Old

at the University

of Birmingham and was an

member of the Group until he

left

the party in 1956, after which

he remained closely associated with

his

former comrades.

active

plained

As

a

how

he came to take feudalism

communist

I

was

medieval peasants and craftsmen

and

of the time.

social context

The

as his subject:

seemed

sensible to begin with

— of course within the general economic I

expected to

found myself too much involved

society as a whole.

has ex-

interested in the potentialities for resistance to

exploitation of the subordinated classes. It

times, but

He

move forward in the study

to

modern

of medieval

19

radical nature

of

his enterprise (radical in

both senses of that

word) can be appreciated only by comparison with the prevailing theories

of English feudalism. For

his thesis requires

not only the injection

period more often thought of as relatively

of the

class struggle into a

stable,

but a redefinition of the very concept of feudalism. The conven-

tional non-Marxist ject



view

— to oversimplify

a vastly complicated sub-

between the lord and

sees feudalism as essentially a relationship

his vassals,

were not

with a

social structure reflecting values

and functions that

not primarily; economic. By shifting the

necessarily, certainly

focus to the lord and his peasants, Hilton creates a feudal system that

was an "exploitative relationship between landowners and subordinated peasants, in which the surplus beyond subsistence of the

whether in direct labour or

money,

in rent in kind or in

under coercive sanction to the former." 20 The peasants, passive victims of this process,

and the

social order, far

were

active agents

from being

static

and

is

transferred

far

from being

of their

stable,

latter,

own

history;

was ridden by

was this struggle, punctuated by recurrent peasant that was the "motor," or "prime mover," of medieval society

class struggle. It

uprisings,

and the principal cause of the

"crisis"

of feudalism.

21

This would seem to be an obvious Marxist interpretation of feudal-

was not Marx's own interpretation; thus Hilton was, in in a doubly revisionist enterprise. The class struggle Marx focused on in feudalism was the struggle between the landowning aristocracy and the nascent bourgeoisie, not that between the aristocracy and peasantry. Indeed, Marx doubted whether the peasants ism. Yet

effect,

it

engaged

even in modern times (and a a class. In a

Middle Ages) constituted The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis

fortiori in the

famous passage

in

The "Group"

who their mode

77



Bonaparte, he defined a class as formed by those

"live

economic conditions of existence that separate

of life, their

and

interests

their culture

from those of the other classes, and put them

in hostile opposition to the latter."

not form a

class," for

under

they

By

that definition the peasants

live in similar

"do

conditions "but without

entering into manifold relations with one another," acquire their subsistence

"through exchange with nature rather than

society,"

in intercourse

and beget "no community, no national bond and no

with

political

them the character of a class, Marx saw them as the "simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes." 22 Nor was Engels, contrary to common opinion, more appreciative of the class character of the peasantry. In his Condition of the Working agricultural Class in England he described the preindustrial workers laborers as well as handloom weavers as intellectually and socially

organization." Instead of attributing to





inert.

"Comfortable

in their silent vegetation," enjoying a "patriarchal

relation" with the squirearchy, aware only cerns, they

beings."

were not a

class.

of their

petty, private con-

Indeed, "in truth, they were not

human

They became truly human only when the industrial and agdrew them into the "whirl of history" and thus

ricultural revolutions

into the class of the "proletariat."

war

in

tion,

Germany." But

his

23

Engels did

book of that

later

speak of a "peasant

tide deals with the

Reforma-

not the medieval period; and the "peasant war," led by the

gious "chiliast" (as Engels describes him)

Thomas

Miinzer,

is

reli-

said to

foreshadow not a proletarian revolution but a bourgeois one: "The social

upheaval that so horrified

actually never

went beyond

its

Protestant burgher contemporaries

a feeble, unconscious

and premature

tempt to establish the bourgeois society of a later period."

at-

24

Hilton, by engaging the feudal peasants in a class struggle, endowed them with the essential historical attribute of a class, thus bringing them into the forefront of history and making them worthy of sym-

He also gave them a measure of "class consciouswas an imperfect class consciousness, to be sure, only intermittentiy achieved and all too often negative (expressing itself in hatred of the landlord) and conservative (reflecting the "dominant ideology" of pathy and respect. ness." It

it was also informed by a "memory" of ancient and customs, and this gave the struggle of the peasantry both dignity and historical meaning.

the ruling class). But rights

78



New History and

The

The next

historical

the

Old

"moment'' was appropriated by Christopher

Hill preceded Hilton at Balliol by several years

tion gained a coveted Fellowship at All Souls. in the Soviet

Union and joined

the British

and upon

Hill.

his gradua-

He spent a year studying

Communist

Party in 1936.

After a brief teaching stint at Cardiff, he returned to Balliol in 1938 as

Fellow and Tutor. During the war he was transferred from the army to the Foreign Office, presumably because of his knowledge of Russian

and of the Soviet Union. While

at the

Foreign Office he wrote Two

Commonwealths, a comparison of the United

Kingdom and

the Soviet

was published under the pseudonym K. E. Holme, the own name. 25 He resumed his lectureship at Oxford after the war and served as Master of Balliol from 1965 until

Union;

it

Russian equivalent of his

his retirement in

1978.

Hill's studies in the Soviet

tions lish

Union had focused on

Soviet interpreta-

of the English Civil War, and

his first important essay, The Engwas written under the influence of the Russian histo-

Revolution,

rian E. A.

Kosminsky

(to

whom

Hilton too was

tide suggests the theme: the English Civil

movement

great social

like the

much

War was

indebted).

The

a revolution, "a

26 The French Revolution of 1789."

revolutionary nature of this thesis can be s'een by comparison with the classic

Whig

interpretation, in

as a struggle for constitutional

"excesses" of the period

make

England. For Hill the Civil

which the Civil War appears primarily and religious liberty, and in which the it

an "interregnum" in the history of

War was

a "class

war" between

a despotic

king representing the "reactionary forces" of landlords and the Church,

and Parliament representing the commercial and the towns, the

yeomanry and "progressive gentry"

industrial classes in in the countryside,

and the enlightened elements among the masses. As class struggle,

by violence, and a new and place."

a result

of that

"an old order that was essentially feudal was destroyed capitalist social

order was created in

its

27

This thesis provoked controversy not only torians but also

among non-Marxist

among those Marxists who had located the

his-

beginnings

of capitalism in the sixteenth century. Debated for years within the

1948 when the Group endorsed Dobb's interpretation of the Civil War, which was a

Historians' officially

Group, the

issue

was resolved

in

modified version of Hill's. Hill then incorporated that version in a edition

of The English Revolution published the following

year.

new

A third,

The "Group" slightly

times,

amended makes

edition appeared in 1955; reprinted half a dozen

it

now given

may not have been

clear that while the revolution

consciously willed by the bourgeoisie,

promote the

79

in print. In the current version (and in essays written

it is still

since), Hill



interests

its

effect

of the bourgeoisie. 28

a religious as well as

was nonetheless to

Similarly, Puritanism

economic and

is

dimension; but in

social

the revised essay, as in the original one, the "religious squabbles" are set in the

context of the class struggle.

29

While Hill's later writings on cultural and intellectual subjects are far more erudite and subde than that early essay, they remain within the framework of Marxism as he understands it. The World Turned Upside

Down

views the English Revolution as not only a successful bourgeois

revolution but also a failed democratic revolution, an abortive revolu-

common

tion of the

Masked

political

of

religion, the Levellers

espoused

political

Diggers communism, and the Ranters, although lacking

equality, the

any

people to subvert the bourgeois supremacy.

in the language

or economic agenda, preached and practiced a doctrine of

free love that

was

truly revolutionary: "a negative reaction to nascent

capitalism, a cry for

human

brotherhood, freedom and unity against

the divisive forces of a harsh ethic."

So too the

30

Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution exposes the

economic and

social functions

of the

scientific, legal,

ideas that constituted the "intellectual origins"

and

historical

of the revolution. Thus

Walter Raleigh prepared the way for the revolution in "the optimism

and forward look of Parliament";

of property

his belief in private enterprise, in empire, in

Edward Coke contributed

in themselves

and

to the "confidence of the

in private enterprise";

men

and Francis Bacon

caught "the optimism of the merchants and craftsmen, confident in

new-found ability to control their environment, including the and political environment." 31 This view of Bacon is a much muted version of Hill's earlier account of him, in which he appears as a

their

social

"progressive" thinker foreshadowing that other notable progressive,

Lysenko. In 1951 Hill wrote:

Bacon inaugurated the bourgeois epoch colleagues are inaugurating the

the obstructive

in science as

new epoch

dogmas of bourgeois

Lysenko and

today. In the Soviet

his

Union

science have to be brushed aside, to

the indignation of the logic-choppers,

if socialist

science

is

to devote itself

whole-heartedly to the relief of man's estate: so Bacon was fighting

80

The



New History and

against the prejudices a priesdy

Old

the

and dogmas of an

dogmas which

effete civilisation,

academic caste continued to preach although they manifestly

impeded the development of

industrial science. Bacon's conception

of the high

science, in striking contrast with that

science in

its

of

of bourgeois

priests

decadence, was materialistic, utilitarian and profoundly

humane. 32

Although Hill

on

left

the

Communist

Party in 1957, he

Group

the discussions in the Historians'

have ever known."

of them

Thompson describes him

England."

34

Group

new dimension

to the

Hobsbawm

England

him

in those early

historical consciousness in

And Hobsbawm credits him with turning the

the Historians'

36

as the greatest stimulus

"formidable theoretical prac-

[who] restructured whole areas of

titioner

Eric

as a



looks back

as "the greatest stimulus I

Others pay tribute to him

Recalling the influence Hill had on

all.

years, E. P.

33

still

to "the social history of ideas"**

attention of

— thus giving

a

B of I.

has been called the "premier" Marxist historian in

of

in part because

his

continuing relationship with the

Communist Party (he is still a member of the Historians' Group and on the editorial board of Marxism Today the official organ of the y

party), in part because activities.

He

of

his far-ranging scholarship

and far-flung

himself has attributed his political views and cosmopoli-

tan interests to his personal history, which makes

it all

the

more

regret-

table that he has given us so tantalizingly few details about that his37 tory. are told that his grandfather, a Russian Jew, emigrated to

We

England

in the 1870s,

but not

or why his father and Austrian Hobsbawm was born in 1917. in Vienna; in 1931 Hobsbawm

when

mother moved to Alexandria, where

Two

years later the family settled

moved

to Berlin and in

youth organization

1933 to London. Having joined

in Berlin,

a

Communist

he associated himself with the party

as a

schoolboy in London, selling Communist Party pamphlets and improving his English (and his Marxism) by reading a popular book by

Dobb,

On Marxism

Today.

At the

congenial political atmosphere.

Cambridge," he active

later recalled;

university he found himself in a

"We were

38

member of the Communist

and

like

all

Marxists as students at

many of them, he was an

Party. After serving in the education

corps during the war, he returned to Cambridge to complete his studies,

then took a position

mained

at the

University of

until his retirement in 1982.

London where he

re-

— The "Group"

Hobsbawm's main

area of research

is

81



nineteenth-centurv English

labor history. Impatient with institutional history, he has devoted him-

such subjects as the

self to

effect

of the Industrial Revolution on the

standard of living of workers, the relationship between the working

and Methodism, and the nature of the "labor

classes

new

aristocracv." In

on the conventional Marxist view, or has given orthodox Marxism a somewhat different reading. Thus where Marx, and Lenin even more, attributed each case he has brought

empirical evidence to bear

the "reformism" of the English labor labor aristocracy,

Hobsbawm

racy in the organization

His theses are

still

movement

emphasized the

to the strength of the

of the labor

role

aristoc-

39 and radicalization of the labor movement.

the subject of controversy

among

Marxist as well as

non-Marxist historians, but they have reinvigorated some well-worn

and have given Marxism

topics

Hobsbawm

also

itself a

opened up new

new

lease

on life. Marxism with

frontiers for

the

concept of "primitive rebels," a term that he takes to comprise "social bandits" of the

Robin Hood

type, "secret societies" like the Mafia,

peasant millenarian movements, urban mobs, and religious labor sects.

40

To

the orthodox Marxist, the continued existence of these

primitive or "archaic" groups

is

an anomaly.

Hobsbawm, by

giving

them the status of rebels and bringing them together as a "social movement," has legitimized them and made them part of the Marxist schema. Instead of being aberrations, even counterrevolutionary deviations, they are represented as the "adaptation

modern

capitalist

economy

3'

— "pre-

of popular agitations to a

political"

movements, which do

not themselves aspire to political power but do promote a "political

made this century "the most revolutionary in work that has endeared Hobsbawm to a generation

consciousness" that has 41

history."

It is this

of radical historians committed to "history from below," the history of the

"anonymous masses," who

are seen as leading lives

times not so quiet) desperation and rebellion

who

express their alienation and

by means of criminality and other forms of

Many of these

historians are attracted

of quiet (some-

"social deviancy."

by the nonpolitical

(at least

overtly political) nature of this rebellion. For a leading

Marxist historian, however, the great achievement of that he has kept faith with the political

American

Hobsbawm

is,

make

to

make

is

mission of Marxism. "To be

'Hobsbawmian' means to be Marxist," Eugene Genovese has that

not

said

the "politics of class struggle" central to history, and to

"historical materialism" central to

Marxism.

42

82



The

New History and

Hobsbawm himself, brought

first

describing Primitive Rebels as "a political as well

work, has explained the conjunction of circumstances

as a historical"

that

Old

the

this subject to his attention in the 1950s: his exten-

Mafia; his reading of Antonio Gramsci, a

munist Party,

movement";

Mau Mau

who were familiar with the founder of the Italian Com-

with Italian Communists

sive acquaintance

who made much

of

an invitation to speak

this

kind of "nonpolitical protest

on the European precedents

for the

uprisings in Kenya; and the Twentieth Congress of the

Communist

Party in 1956, which inspired a revaluation of the role of

the party and the "bases of revolutionary activity." All of these events,

Hobsbawm says,

are reflected in the implicit

a "strongly organized party"

is

message of the book, that

necessary, although there

is

no "one

43

railroad" leading to the desired goal.

1956 prompts Hobsbawm to observe that the chief effect of that momentous year was to "set us free to do more history, because before '56 we'd spent an enormous amount of our time on

The

reference to

political activity." tive,

as well as

that he has

The

Yet he himself has continued to be

politically ac-

both within the British Communist Party and abroad

America the

44

Europe)

— which makes

been so productive

known and,

in

the

America

at

a

any

commentator on rate, the

most

(in

Latin

more remarkable

as a historian, a journalist,

pseudonym of Francis Newton) best

it all

even (under

jazz.

45

influential

of this

Thompson. The youngest of them (he was born in 1924), he had joined the party and barely begun his studies at Cambridge when he was called into service. The war itself was more traumatic for him than for the others, his older brother (who had also been a Communist at Cambridge) having been executed by the Nazis group

is

E. P.

while fighting with the Bulgarian partisans. officer

Thompson

himself was an

during the war and afterward spent some months

as a railroad

construction worker in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Returning to

Cam-

bridge to complete his degree, he met and married another historian

who was



Communist indeed, a more active member of the Group than he. As an extramural lecturer at the University

also a

Historians'

of Leeds, he devoted half activities; his

his time,

by

chief responsibility, as a

his

own

estimate, to political

member of the Yorkshire

district

committee of the Communist Party, was to organize opposition to the Korean War. In 1956 he emerged as one of the leading "dissident

The "Group"

New Reasoner and of its more influenthe New Left Review. He was forced off the board of the

Communists," tial

83



successor,

founder of the

a

when

Review in 1962

came under the control of the faction led by At Warwick University in the sixties,

it

Tom Nairn.

Perry Anderson and

he became involved in the radical causes that convulsed that highly politicized university; he later resigned to devote himself to scholarship

and

politics.

may appear member, Thompson displayed In retrospect

it

that even in his years as a loyal party

may

"deviationist" tendencies. Yet this

be more a matter of style than substance, the expression of a literary

and poetic

sensibility (he

him from

distinguished

no accident

more

who had

Thompson

46 visionism'."

the

originally intended to be a poet) that

book was

a

It is

biography

the double virtue of being a poet and a

When it was published, however, in As

to the Popular Front, the party

and

first

himself claims to see in this book a "muffled

consistent with the party line.

spiritual

prosaic historians in the Group.

Marxist might say) that his

(as a

of William Morris, Marxist.

had

political ancestor

back

far

had

as

1955,

it

was

're-

entirely

1934, even before the turn

tried to appropriate

Morris

as its

by redeeming him from the "myth" of

romantic medievalism and establishing him

as

an indigenous Marxist

Communist.* In 1976,

shortly before the appearance of the second

edition of his biography,

Thompson commented on

argument" that tradition Stalinism.

still

of Morris

But

(as I

do) entailed unqualified resistance to

still

did not entail opposition to Marxism; rather,

it

nothing in the

is

and

first

edition highlight

edition of that

the earlier edition:

en-

book to suggest any

made

in the

what Thompson himself calls the "Stalinist 48

it

the

a lost vocabulary in the Marxist

"resistance to Stalinism." Indeed, the deletions

Communism"; 49

"To defend

large in his thinking.

tailed rehabilitating lost categories 47 tradition."

In fact there

the "Morris/Marx

looms so

second

pieties"

of

the endorsement of the cliche "All roads lead to

posthumous induction of Morris into the Communist Party ("Were Morris alive today, he would not look far to find the

the party of his choice"); * After

World War

Commons

in a

the assurance that Morris' Utopian vision of

the struggle for Morris' soul was fought

on

the floor of the

House of

heated exchange between Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party, and

Willie Gallacher,

party

II

50

Communist member of Parliament, each of whom claimed Morris

and ideology.

for his

The

New History and

84



"A

Factory as

the

Old

Might Be" had already been realized in the Soviet Union ("Today from the Soviet Union with stories of 51 the poet's dream already fulfilled"); the long quotation from Stalin It

visitors return

that supposedly confirmed Morris' views

the advance to

"the 'party of a

52

Communism"; the new type' of Lenin



in Socialist theory, the

Svhich

is

to pierce the

by providing

a "blue-print

of

suggestion that Morris envisaged a party

of militant cadres educated

vanguard of the working

class,

the spearhead

armour of Capitalism'." 53 Yet even the Morris of

the revised edition, shorn of these "Stalinist pieties,"

is still

a staunch

Marxist revolutionary, committed to "scientific Socialism" and repelled

by Fabianism, reformism, and "semi-demi-Socialism." 54 (The revised edition

was

also

shorn of some of the philistinism characteristic of

socialist period: "Poetry is tommy- rot," and "Modern tragedy, including Shakespeare, is not fit to be put upon the modern stage.") 55 In his account of Thompson, Kaye inexplicably omits any discussion of the book on Morris. Yet without it one cannot truly understand Thompson's most celebrated work, The Making of the English Working Class. Published in 1963, it is still the most influential book produced by any member of the Group. Kaye echoes the opinion of many radical historians when he says that it is probably "the most important work of 56 social history written since the Second World War." If its tone owes much to Morris, its thesis is more boldly Marxist than anything pro-

Morris in his militant

posed by previous generations of radical and maintains that by 1832, even before the

rise

socialist historians.

For

it

of Chartism, England had

witnessed the emergence of a single "working class" (in contrast to the

"working fully

classes"

of common usage)



a class that

was

fully

developed,

conscious of its class identity and class interests, consciously com-

mitted to the class struggle, politically organized to carry out that struggle,

and ideologically receptive to an

social system.

alternative

There was no actual revolution

in

economic and

England, the argu-

ment goes, only because the counterrevolutionary forces succeeded in repressing or suppressing it. But the revolution was a latent historical reality, even if it was only intermittendy manifest. Put so baldly, the does not put the

book so

it

thesis

is all

so baldly; indeed,

influential.

too it is

easily disputed.

not the thesis

What has caught

generation of radical historians

is

But Thompson

itself that

has

made

the imagination of a younger

the passionate tone of the book, the

The "Group* variety

of sources, and the latitude given to the

the "working class"

Thus

crucial concepts.

taken to include "the Sunderland

is

85



sailor, the Irish

navvy, the Jewish costermonger, the inmate of an East Anglian village

workhouse, the compositor on The Times'^

by

"working

— and manv others who,

would not normally be consigned

social status or occupation,

single

7

sciousness are found in William Blake's

the class struggle

poems

as well as in folk ballads;

deduced from abortive uprisings, sporadic

is

to a

of working-class con-

class." Similarly, expressions

rick-

burnings, Irish nationalist conspiracies, and clandestine plots; political

organization eties,

is

attributed to Luddite machine- breakers, secret soci-

and trade unions; and

a revolutionary alternative to capitalism

is

seen in any hostility to industrialism, any nostalgia for an old "moral

economy" or yearning for a new moral order. In this long, eloquent, richly documented work, these anomalies and contradictions have the perverse effect of appearing to validate a thesis that seems all the more persuasive precisely because

What

contradictions.

moral passion of the author,

working

class as

which he

quoted that

it

has

it.

A

those anomalies and

all

these disparate elements

it

is

commitment

his overt, personal

he conceives

identifies

can contain

it

finally unites

the

to the

and to the revolutionarv cause with

sentence from his preface has been so often

become

the rallying cry of the cause: "I

am

seeking

to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete'

hand-loomer, the 'utopian'

artisan,

and even the deluded follower of

Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity."

More than any

other part of his thesis,

it

is

58

the concept of class

consciousness that has attracted a host of disciples and emulators. All

of the historians in

this

group (with the exception of Dobb) have

departed, to one degree or another, from the

more rigorous

classic

Marxist model, which relegates consciousness to the superstructure

and which

from and determined by reflecting that mode. But

sees the superstructure as derived

mode of production and class relations none of the others has made consciousness so the

concept of

class

— while

at the

same time

integral a part

insisting

upon

of the

the material

base of consciousness itself and the materialistic nature of the historical process.

And none

Marxism

against both the conventional historian

sively materialistic

Marxist

has been so polemical in defending this version of

who

finds

who

finds

it

exces-

and deterministic, and the Athusserian or Leninist it excessively empirical and moralistic.

86

The



New History and

Old

the

Thompson's great appeal is to the currently fashionable "humanMarxism, the Marxism (or "neo-Marxism," as is sometimes said) supposedly deriving from the young, or early, Marx. Yet Thompson istic"

himself, while

sometimes referring to the

much of him,

perhaps suspecting that the

quite what he has been made out to

Marx, does not make

early

young Marx was not

real

Thompson

be. Instead,

claims to

be recovering a "lost vocabulary" in the Marxist tradition, a vocabulary that in

Marx himself "was

partly a silence

and unrealized mediations."

59

— unarticulated assumptions

One wonders what Marx would

made of Thompson's vocabulary or of

have

his intention to "rescue" the

"deluded follower" of Joanna Southcott, the religious mystic and mil-

who

lenarian

inveighed

the

against

"Whore of Babylon" and

prophesied an apocalypse of destruction and salvation. In one of the

most memorable

sections of the

book Thompson

describes the "psy-

of counter-revolution," the "chiliasm of despair" and

chic processes

"psychic blackmail" that characterized this period of "emotional disequilibrium."

60

Yet for

psychoanalytic overtones, his account

all its

is

only a more sophisticated version of the "opium of the masses" theme.

So too

his description

of Methodism

— the "psychic ordeal" by means

of which "the character- structure of the rebellious pre- industrial labourer or artisan was violently recast into that of the submissive industrial

worker"



61

is

modish rendition of the

a

familiar

view of

Puritanism as an instrument of capitalism. Since The

Making

(as

it is

tury,

where he

economy." ties,

62

known

familiarly

son's historical research has taken

him back

to admirers),

Thomp-

into the eighteenth cen-

finds the "plebians" trying to restore an older "moral

But more of

his energies

especially the nuclear

have gone into

political activi-

disarmament movement, and into lengthy

and heated polemics. In a hundred- page "Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski" (complete with seventy-five footnotes), he berated the distinguished Polish philosopher for abandoning

munism. And

in a series

of essays amounting to

Marxism and Com-

a good-sized volume,

he charged Perry Anderson and the other English "acolytes" of Louis Althusser with a moral obtuseness and "intellectual agoraphobia" reminiscent sity

and

of Stalinism. 63 turgidity,

"Holy Family"

(the

To some

may

recall

readers these polemics, in their inten-

Bauer brothers)

(The Poverty of Theory, the

Marx and Engels against the and the "Sainted Max" (Stirner).

those of

title

of Thompson's volume,

is

obviously

The "Group"



87

meant to evoke The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx's attack on Proudhon.) Thompson and Anderson have since been partially reconciled, brought together under the umbrella of nuclear disarmament. Anderson praises

Thompson as "our finest socialist writer today," while Thompson, who

now

contributes to the

New

Left Review, calls

him of the

and partially absolves

sin

Anderson

a

"comrade"

of Althusserianism. 64

The controversy between Thompson and Anderson, both claiming to be Marxists, raises once more the old questions about Marxist history. What does it mean to be a Marxist historian? How "revisionist" can Marxist historians be

example

— and

still

— about the

materialist conception

remain Marxist?

To what

extent

of history, for

must Marxism be

taken into account in understanding and evaluating their work? What, in short,

To ing

is

the relevance of their Marxism?

address

less

of these questions adequately would require noth-

all

than a treatise on Marxism and historiography. But some of

them have been

implicidy, sometimes explicidy, answered by the

historians themselves,

ist

relevant, that they are

who

insist that their

Marxism

is

Marxindeed

not merely historians but Marxist historians.

A

work of history must be evaluated on its own merits rather than by reference to some external theory or philosophy, may choose to disregard such assertions. Indeed, some of the most severe critiques of Marxist histories have been scrupulously

non-Marxist, believing that every

empirical,

analyzing specific

generalizations.

65

tion of Marxism, as if that like

an ad

facts

Some have gone

and sources, assumptions and

so far as to disallow any considera-

would be improper and

invidious, rather

hominem argument.

H. Hexter, reprinting a long and devastating critique of Hill's Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England, removed the single parenthetical reference to Marxism on the ground that it was "irrelevant" and "ungracious," and that the critique stood or fell quite independentiy of Hill's "substantive philosophy of history." The flaws J.

in the

book, he

says,

system," which has thesis

can be ascribed to something

files

for the categories

and

but none for those that might confute

it.

like a faulty "filing

facts that

support the

Yet a few pages

later

"We

have here not a casual error, misquotation, misunderstanding, the sort of thing that happens to all of us, but system-

Hexter explains, atic

error

and symptomatic

error, error that suggests a systematic flaw

88

The



in a

New History and

man's habit of looking

and habitual ideology

is

Old

the

at evidence."

Surely an error so systematic

of a system and habit of thought

a reflection

— rather than

66

a system

And

of files.

surely

it is

— an

neither irrele-

vant nor ungracious to invoke Marxism in a serious analysis of a book in

which the author himself says that he

of a bourgeois revolution

.

.

.

ing the English Revolution."

The

idea that

it is

67

invidious to consider the "substantive philosophy"

of a Marxist historian

what the Marxist

finds the "Marxist conception

the most helpful model for understand-

is

itself invidious, for

historian takes

most

Does

seriously.

justice to the historian to ignore the theories self

refuses to take seriously

it

it

really

do

and philosophy he him-

invokes in support of his thesis? (Each of these historians has

quoted, sometimes copiously, from Marx, Engels, Lenin, and, in their

One of the happy

works, Stalin.)

earlier

published memoirs

to release us from the convention that holds

is

improper to allude to these historians so central to their work,

if

selves as Marxists, surely

we

There

is

by-products of the recently

as Marxists. If they find

they think

can do no

it

important to identify them-

less.

one other subject that can be explored more candidly, now

that the Marxist historians have taken the lead in doing so.

intimate (dialectical, a Marxist

would

say) relationship

— between writing about the

and acting

and

politics

Whatever differences Thompson has with Anderson,

past

would dispute Anderson's comment

historical

works

is

That

is

the

between history

ent.

that he

it

Marxism

in the pres-

it is

that each of

not

likely

Thompson's

"a militant intervention in the present, as well as a

professional recovery of the past."

68

Nor would he

or any of the other

Marxist historians take issue with the editors of Visions of History (a

volume of interviews with Thompson, Hobsbawm, and other historians),

who commend

inform their practice

as historians"

dictum that the task

is

it."

69

Marxist history,

"not only to interpret the world but to change it

would appear,

is

a continuation

other means. It is this

idea of history

specific ideas

about

radical

way "their politics and for their commitment to Marx's

these historians for the

class

and

mode of production and nominator of Marxist

more than anything class struggle,

social relations

else

of politics by

— more than any

consciousness and culture,



that

is

the

common

de-

history. Marxist historians can be revisionist

The "Group"

about almost everything separate politics

from

Marxist canon, but thev cannot

else in the

history.

89



They cannot abandon, or even hold

in

abeyance, their political agenda of changing the world while engaged in the historical task

of interpreting

The Marxist would say, and quite work a political bias of some

their

it.

righdy, that

all

upon

experiences of the historian inevitably intrude history, that the very process

historians reflect in

sort, that the ideas, interests,

the writing of

of selecting sources, presenting

writing a coherent account necessarily presumes

and

facts,

and

some conception of

reality, some order of values, that precludes objectivity. He might also go on to say that the Marxist, in being candid about his bias (unlike the "bourgeois" historian who would conceal it, possibly even be ignorant of it), is giving the reader the opportunity to judge it and make allowance for it. But this is to shift the burden of responsibility from the writer to the reader. The issue is not whether the reader can make the proper discriminations and judgments (he is generally not in a position whether he has to do so), but whether the historian has done so made an effort to control and correct his bias, to look for the evidence that might confute his thesis, and, no less important, to construct a thesis capable of confutation. The Marxist, on the other hand, is so



assured of the truth of his thesis truth

— that the

temptation, as



its

political as well as historical

Hobsbawm

says,

is

to invoke argu-

posteriori to confirm what we already knew to be 70 necessarily 'correct'." By the same token (Hobsbawm elsewhere ad-

ments "designed a mits) the Marxist

is

inclined to avoid arguments and facts that he

knows to be true lest they undermine the orthodox doctrine or divert him from his polemical task.* The Marxist theory of history, moreover, is so comprehensive its great appeal is that it makes sense not of this or that part of history but of the whole of history that the historian committed to it has to find it confirmed at every decisive "moment" of history. Any significant exception would be a denial of the whole, since the theory itself is a





* In reconsidering his earlier essays on the labor aristocracy,

had deliberately obscured for reasons

among

Hobsbawm

explains that he

disagreements with the Leninist thesis "both because he was,

which seemed good

then heterodox those who,

his

at the times

of writing, reluctant to

stress

views which were

Marxists, and because he preferred to engage in polemics against

on anti-Marxist grounds, denied the

existence or analytical value of the concept of

a labour aristocracy in nineteenth-century Britain" {Workers, p.

249n).

90

The



New History and

Where

whole.

the

Old

the "eclectic" or "empirical" historian (pejorative words

in the Marxist vocabulary) tries to

terms seem appropriate to

it,

understand each subject in whatever

finding evidence of a class struggle in one

event but not in another, giving priority to economics in one period

and to religion

in another, the Marxist historian

termined schema that applies to

may be

if

Marxism

some

— and to be meaningful

basic sense

it

has to

to be a meaningful part of his enter-

itself is

politics as well as history. It

a prede-

periods and events. That schema

modified, qualified, "revised," but in

be retained prise

all

bound by

is

for the present as well as the past, for

burden that the Marxist

a formidable

is

historian carries.

In addition to the burden of ideology, the Marxist

burden

— the incubus, some would come to think of — of it

editors of the interviews explain that

one of

repression of the cold

war

era affect

Communist

"How

"How

Party affect you and your work?" Hobsfelt

"very con-

and shied away from writing

One reason he was a nineteenth-century historian, he conwas because one could not be an orthodox Communist and

write about the period after the founding of the

And he which

also explained that the

it

Group had

had given much thought

the British lems"; the

in



Communist

Party.

abandon one project to 1952 and 1953 a history of to



movement because the period since the founding of Communist Party "raised some notoriously tricky probbook that was eventually published, in 1956, terminated in

the British labor

1920, the year the party was founded. affected Past

and Present

as well.

72

(This inhibition seems to have

A reviewer of the hundredth anniver-

sary issue pointed out that in the thirty years since

had been no "overt discussion of communism," and Stalin appeared only in 1979.)

If admirers

what

did the intellectual

it.

fessed,

on

did the political

himself has said that for "obvious reasons" they

strained about twentieth-century history"

about

The

you and your work?" 71 But they

did not think to put the corollary question: repression of the

party.

their questions could be

put only to the older generation of historians:

bawm

saddled with the

is

its

founding there

that the

first article

73

of the Group are reluctant to confront the question of Communist Party entails by way of discipline and

loyalty to the

more loath to confront the question of what Union entails which is, after all, the sine qua

conformity, they are even loyalty to the Soviet



The "Group"

non of membership

in the party.

Kaye

each of the historians joined the party

carefully notes the dates

and when most of them

But apart from passing references to the events of 1956 that break, there

world or

is

litde

a party

twenties until his

it.

Union during the period of their membership. for more than half a centurv, from the early death in 1976; Hobsbawm's membership covers a

member

from the

early thirties to the present; Hill

and

Thompson

for

Hilton were members for about twenty years, and

A good deal of history is contained within those memoir Hobsbawm observes that "it was among the

fifteen.

rians that the dissatisfaction

chev speech 74

left

led to the

or no discussion of what was happening in the

different half-century,

In his

when

in the Soviet

Dobb was

about

91



at the

dates.

histo-

with the Party's reactions to the Khrush-

Twentieth Congress of the

CPSU first came into the

more remarkable that the historians had them what the informed public had long since known. Both as historians and as party members during the thirties and forties, they had more reason than most to be aware of the

open."

This makes

it all

the

to wait for Khrushchev to

tell

highly publicized purges and

the executions and mass imprison-

trials,

ments, the precipitous changes in the party line requiring comrades to

be Bolsheviks one week and Popular Fronters another, pro-war and anti-Fascist

two

one day and anti-war and pro-German the

years while their country

was

at

next.

war with Germany, they had to

defend the Hider- Stalin pact. Asked in a recent interview

about the pact,

Hobsbawm

replied,

lutely loyal to the Party line."

That absolute

For almost

"Oh,

like

most people

how

he

felt

was abso-

I

75

The heyperiod some of

loyalty persisted for a decade after the war.

day of the Historians' Group from 1946 to 1956, a

them still recall with much satisfaction, was also the era that Thompson calls "High Stalinism." It was a time when intellectuals, scientists, and artists, to say nothing of politicians and political dissidents, were the victims of systematic purges; when Lysenkoism was the official doctrine of state, and when not only Darwinism but other manifestations of "bourgeois science," such

as the theory

of

relativity,

were pro-

when the apotheosis of Stalin took bizarre forms long before Khrushchev exposed the "personality cult"; when the trials in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia recalled the Moscow trials of the scribed;

thirties;

and when the "Doctor's Plot" of 1952-1953 was accom-

panied by an anti-Semitic campaign in the course of which a hundred

92



New History and

The

Old

the

or more Jewish intellectuals were shot. These were, after

not naive party

bawm

and

scientists

members they

artists,

tacitly

who

all,

historians,

through these events. As

lived

sanctioned them, and even now, Hobs-

they "look back without regret on their years in the

says, 76

Group."

In describing the meeting of the

Hobsbawm

qua

historians

Group

after

Khrushchev's speech,

remarks upon the special sense of responsibility historians:

"The

fact

is

that historians

felt

by the

were inevitably

forced to confront the situation not only as private persons and com-

munist militants but, crucial issue

and why

it

as

it

of Stalin was

were, in their professional capacity, since the literally

had been concealed."

tested that they

one of history: what had happened

He

quotes one

Soviet interpretation of current

affairs,

pro-

and that they "must become

dorses that judgment. "Historical analysis," he politics."

Hobsbawm

of present too." In retrospect

historians in respect

of Marxist

member who

had "stopped being historians" when they accepted the

reflects,

"was

en-

at the core

77

member of the Group has undertaken that historical analysis. One can understand why Hobsbawm, who has chosen to remain in the Yet no

party, has not

done

so. It is

more

difficult

to understand the reticence

of those historians who have left the party. "I commenced to reason," Thompson prefaces a volume of essays, "in my thirty-third year [1956, when he left the party], and despite my best efforts, I have never been able to shake the habit off." his reason free rein lest

it

78

But even

now he

seems reluctant to give

give comfort to the enemy. Although he has

been more vigorous than the others in denouncing Stalinism, he has

done so only

in a polemical context.

considerable historical talent to bear

What he

has not done

upon such momentous

is

bring his

subjects as

the relationship between Stalinism and Leninism, or Leninism and

Marxism, or Marxism and the "Libertarian Communism" he

now pro-

on not following the "well-worn paths of apostasy," on not becoming a 79 "Public Confessor and Renegade" as if it would be disreputable to write a scholarly work on twentieth-century Communism or even a candid memoir of his experiences in the party. Kaye concludes his account of the British Marxist historians by fesses.

In his

"Open

Letter" to Kolakowski he prides himself



reaffirming the intimate relationship between politics and history

which

is

their guiding principle. In this respect,

he

says,

they go be-

The "Group"





93

beyond the Marx who wrote that "the social draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future," that the revolution "must let the dead 80 More than Marx, they believe that the past is a bury their dead." "well of conclusions from which we draw in order to act," and that

yond Marx

at least

revolution of the nineteenth century cannot

"We must

action itself requires a "historical education." for

whom

struggle

is

a

experiences of those for yesterday." History,

81

who

The same tell

whom lesson

was a determined drawn by the editors of

struggle is

us that the radical historians "have

about the past and

its

of the members of the Group ally, actively

trines



or, indeed,

relationship

omission

the

necessity Visions of

to teach us

thirty years since

by the historians ideologies.

by them of the

Nor

is

no

82

most

scholarly

who were

person-

has there been any

by those doc-

histories inspired

of the philosophy of history that posits an intimate

between "praxis" and theory,

is all

is

the party. Yet there

left

Communism

committed to those

serious reevaluation

much

historical

bearing on the work of liberating the present."

We still await that "historical education." It study of Marxism or

educate those

determined necessity today with the

more conspicuous

politics

in the light

and

history. This

of developments

in

France, where eminent historians have confronted, seriously and candidly,

tions

both

their experiences in the

of Marxist history.

Marxism

is still

83

For

Communist

Party and the implica-

their English confreres,

a forbidden zone.

"Here

lie

dragons

.

it .

would seem, ."

.5.

Social History in Retrospect

Twenty-one T.

years after the publication of the Origin of Species,

H. Huxley

reflected

on the "coming of age" of that momen-

tous work. History warns us heresies

.

.

.

and to end

that

it is

the customary fate of new truths to begin as

as superstitions; and, a^ matters

now

hardly rash to anticipate that, in another twenty years, the tion,

stand,

new

it

is

genera-

educated under the influences of the present day, will be in danger

of accepting the main doctrines of the Origin of Species, with as little reflection, and it may be with as little justification, as so many of our contemporaries, twenty years ago, rejected them.

1

Because Huxley was one of Darwin's most ardent

warning about the titioners

fate

of the new

contemplate their

of "new truths" has a

social history

own coming

for social history;

it

may

well ponder his words as they

of age. The year 1965 was

was then that two

influential

books were published, Lawrence Stone's The

and Peter

Laslett's

The World

disciples, his

special poignancy. Prac-

We Have Lost.

Crisis

and

a

good one

controversial

of the Aristocracy

Both authors have

had occasion to reconsider the genre of history so eminently sented by these books and by their

94

own

careers.

since

repre-

Social History in Retrospect

Reflections of a

95



Chastened Father

In The Past and the Present Lawrence Stone, a founding father of the

new

history, takes stock

essays

of

his progeny.

and reviews, turns out to be

less a

The book,

celebration of a

than a memorial to a golden age, a "heroic phase," that past.

2

If the

eulogy,

memorial sometimes sounds more

because Stone,

it is

like

a collection

of

coming of age

is

already in the

like a

dirge than a

Huxley, seems to suspect that the brave

heresy of his youth has degenerated into a mindless orthodoxy, and that

some of

his precocious children

have grown into swaggering,

blustering adults. Yet Stone, again like Huxley, does not despair of his

wayward offspring. His mission

is

its

excesses

and excrescences, and to

vation" that was the pride of the creative periods in the history

For

his reaffirmations

all

them from

to separate

able comrades, to rescue the doctrine

from the

their undesir-

doctrinaires, to

remove

restore the "cutting edge of inno-

new

history in

one of the most

of the profession. 3

and protestations, Stone may well be

sus-

pected by his colleagues of giving comfort to the enemy. Certainly no traditional historian has so effectively sions,

exposed the

fallacies,

preten-

and assumptions of quantohistory, or been so curdy dismissive

of the "disaster area" of psychohistory. 4 This rejects quantification

or psychoanalysis



is

not to say that Stone

in the appropriate place

to the appropriate degree. But he does insist

and

upon their limitations and

Above all, he warns of the reductivism inherent in the attempt make of history a social science. Contemplating the sad state of

dangers. to

the social sciences these days, he suggests that "it might be time for the historical rats to leave rather than to scramble aboard the social scientific

repair."

ship which seems to be leaking and undergoing major

5

In counseling these rats to leave the sinking ship of social science,

Stone

is

not urging them to return to the old history, but rather to

board the newest ship in the armada of the new history, the flagship sailing

under the banner ofmentalite

popular

beliefs, attitudes,

collective?

Dedicated to the study of

customs, sentiments, and modes of behavior,

mentalite history models itself

on

a humanistic anthropology.

Stone

himself has enlisted in this enterprise. His book The Family Sex and ',

England has an epigraph from Clifford Geertz, the anthropologist who is the guru of this school: "The problems, being

Marriage

in

96



The

New History and

the

Old

existential, are universal; their solutions,

The road

being human, are diverse

.

.

.

to the grand abstractions of science winds through a thicket

of singular

facts."

7

The more famous phrase of Geertz (quoted so often

and so inappropriately that he must be

of

heartily sick

upon

description": the technique of bringing to bear

it)

is

"thick

a single episode

or situation a mass of facts of every kind and subjecting them to intensive analysis so as to elicit every possible cultural implication.

8

In espousing this kind of cultural -social- anthropological history,

Stone repudiates both the pseudoscientific methodology and the deterministic ideology of

economic and

social

much of

the

new

history.

He

critical

is

of the

determinism of the Marxists, the materialistic

determinism (economic, geographic, demographic) of some of the An-

and the econometric and sociological determinism of the

nalistes,

'The culture of the group," he

Cliometricians. will

of the individual, are potentially

of change

asserts,

"and even the

important causal agents

at least as

impersonal forces of material output and demographic

as the

9

growth." They might even, on occasion, be the primary and determinant causes of change. Contraception, for example, uct of a state of mind as

it is

So too the Puritan

cal inventions."

is

"as

much

a prod-

of economic circumstances or technologiethic

was

a

"by-product of an

unworldly religious movement" long before there was any economic

need for

a

new work ethic. 10 Moreover,

in this cultural realm, elites

and

even individuals are often more influential than the masses in shaping history,

and shaping

have risen and

fallen

in the fortunes

by those ical

who

in political

ways

due to fluctuations

of war"

— an obvious

as well as social. "Civilizations

in political authority

fact

and

shifts

overlooked, Stone observes,

preen themselves on being in the vanguard of the histor-

profession.

11

Stone goes so

new

it

far as to

suggest that there

historians, a "revival

of narrative,"

a

is

under way, among some

prime example being

manuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou, an account of life the Pyrenees in the early fourteenth century.

12

Em-

in a village in

(Among his other exam-

of the new narrative

mode are Eric Hobsbawm's Primitive Rebels Thompson's Whigs and Hunters.) But here Stone seems to be playing with words, the "narration of a single event" being more analytic or structural than narrative; at most it can be described as episodic 13 or microscopic. Certainly it is not what Gibbon, Macaulay, or Ranke

ples

and E.

P.

would have understood by narration



a story

developed chronologi-

— Social History in Retrospect

over the course of years, so that the end of the period

cally

sense, in

much

not so

If Stone,

still

who

is

"moment"

stopped

normally chooses his words

break, as he sees

in

meaning of

"Narrative," he explains,

"narrative,"

is

a

it

end

its

is

— the end of the

seems to be

to dramatize the

"scientific" history. 14

It signifies

scientific pretensions,

the economic and materialistic determinism of the

marks "the end of an era"

is

"shorthand code-word."

of the analytic methodology, the

revolution, the

order to capture

carefully,

between mentalite history and

it,

ex-

Hegelian

in the

photograph.

violating the obvious

rejection

a story as a

which the course of history

essence, as in a

sig-

is

from the beginning. In Montaillou we have

nificantly different actly the opposite,

97



new

revolution.

history.

13

As

in

a

and

And it many a

being heralded not by some malcontent of the

old regime but by one of the original revolutionaries. In Stone's other

works tion;

The

of the Aristocracy; The Causes of the English Revolu-

Crisis

Family and Fortune; The Family, Sex and Marriage

lished himself as a skillful practitioner of the

and

the Present

he emerges

as

one of

its

new

— he has

history. In

most severe

estab-

The Past

critics.

The long methodological essays in the first part of that book will attract the most attention, and deservedly so. Yet in some respects the shorter reviews that make up the second part are even more revealing. Dating from the 1960s and 1970s, they deal with books that Stone regarded at the time as exemplars of the reviews today, one

is

beginning. Even in the

by

first

a vigilant skepticism.

word

to describe

new

history.

Rereading these

impressed by the rigor of his criticism from the flush

of revolution,

('Tempered"

some of

his reviews,

is

his zeal

was tempered

perhaps not quite the right

not reprinted here, which are

notably intemperate in tone and almost vigilante in pursuit of error.) It is

curious to find the same pattern repeating

after another.

The book

is

first

placed in

its

itself in

largest

16

one review

framework and

pronounced a major contribution to a most important subject. The reviewer then professes to be overwhelmed by the imaginativeness and boldness of the thesis, the number of facts and variety of sources brought to bear upon it, and the ingenuity of the author in weaving

them

all

together. Before long that glowing tribute gives

detailed critique

which

little is left

way

to a

and reasoning, by the end of 17 or "seminal work." masterpiece" of the "flawed

of thesis,

facts, sources,

98



The

New History and

Old

the

Some of Stone's most devastating critiques, moreover, social-science type

are not

of the

of history but of the mentalite genre. In the case of

Philippe Aries' History of Childhood and David Fischer's Growing Old in

America,

it is

the

methodology and data

that Stone finds inadequate or

faulty.

In E. P. Thompson's Whigs and Hunters and Christopher Hill's

Society

and Puritanism

in Pre-Revolutionary England,

it is

the Marxist or

neo-Marxist ideology that selects and distorts the evidence to preconceived ship

thesis.

and Democracy,

is

it

the

wrong

Bossy's English Catholic Community,

questions that are asked. In

it is

J.

the absence of all the "external

events" of the old history, which can be ignored by the risk

the

fit

In Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictator-

new only

at the

of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

One

does not want to leave the impression that Stone

harsh. Indeed, he seems often to

go out of the way

is

unduly

to be generous, to

give each book, at least at the outset, the benefit of the doubt, to credit it

with serious intentions.

may be

It

that his

own

expectations are an

invitation to disillusionment. In any case, his criticisms are usually justified.

Again and again, toward the end of

the question his reader

must be

asking:

often he regretfully concludes that

along than

we were

before

Where

we

his reviews,

are

are 'not

Stone puts

we now? And all too that much farther

all

— except, and here Stone

nal faith, that an important subject has been raised,

reaffirms his origi-

one that would not

have been raised by the traditional historian and that some day dealt with

more

satisfactorily

Stone has raised so that

it

may be

many

than

issues

churlish to ask

it

particular.

still

more of him. He has made

This

is all

the

more noteworthy because

man of the

new

he makes

with his mentor, the

clear, is still

a large

new history of ideology in general

he himself is not only a it

far.

and has dealt with them so candidly

point, for example, of the role in the

and of Marxism in

has been so

may be

historian but a

left;

his heart,

socialist historian

R. H.

Tawney, even though he can no longer subscribe to most of Tawney's historical theses. It is also noteworthy that in spite of his socialist sympathies, Stone has not been history. Crisis of the Aristocracy

is

cowed by largely

the animus against

devoted to one such

elitist

elite,

382

noblemen by his count. Family, Sex and Marriage deals mainly with the gentry and upper-middle classes, on the assumption that modern feelings about the family ("affective individualism," as Stone calls

it)

Social History in Retrospect

them and

originated with

down

filtered

that has been predictably attacked as paternalistic,

And An Open Elite?

bound." 18

of a country house of a

of the aristocracy) that

elitist

a thesis

and "culture-

defines that elite so narrowly (in terms

most of the gentry and some

size that excludes it is



to the lower classes

99



questionable whether such a definition can

sustain any significant conclusions about social mobility.

Yet more should be said about the ideological impulse behind the

new

history.

constitutional,

similating

as

If,

it

tends to ignore or

belittle political,

and diplomatic history (or attend to them only by

them

into the categories and

and

also ignores

Stone admits,

methods of

belittles intellectual history.

Stone joins the pack, deriding "traditional

And

as-

social history),

it

here, unfortunately,

intellectual history

5

as a

'

"kind of paper-chase of ideas back through the ages (which usually

ends up with either Aristode or Plato)," and complaining that "great

books" This all

is

quotation marks) are studied in a "historical vacuum."

(in

a bit

of philistinism unworthy (and untypical) of Stone. But

too typical of the historian

may indeed

who

is

it is

suspicious of "elitist" ideas that

trace their lineage to Plato or Aristode,

presume to characterize some books

that does

19

and of a

as great

discipline

books (without

the invidious quotation marks).

In this respect mentalite history content to establish

itself as

study of "mental structures" values,

and

states

mental structures

of mind"

known

20

one of the worst offenders. Not

is

an independent discipline devoted to the

— —

"feelings, emotions, behavior patterns, it

feels

obliged to denigrate those other

as ideas, especially ideas that

emanated from

the best minds of the time. Stone complains of the "hubris" of the historian.

21

But surely

it is

to be dismissive of great books is

and great

better reflected in second-rate

rate ones.

And

it is

new

the grossest kind of hubris for the historian

and

thinkers, to think that reality

third-rate thinkers than in

first-

surely a peculiar sense of historical relevance to

think that everything about a

book

is

worth studying

— the technology

of printing, the economics of publishing, the means of distribution, the composition of the reading public

— everything,

that

is,

except the

book itself. This cavalier attitude toward ideas, which sometimes verges on a positive animus against them, derives from the same populist or Marxist ideology that elsewhere Stone deplores (and ideas in the

that others have used to discredit his

own

work).

Stone points out that the tendency of quantitative history to

let

the

— 100



The

New History and

data dictate the subject

The

trite.

the

Old

too often produces subjects that are

all

mentalite historian

falls

trivial

or

into the opposite trap of choosing a

subject regardless of the availability or reliability of the data. It takes

no wonhave answers. The

great imagination, even for the traditional historian, to formulate derful questions to

which he would dearly love to

historical record, unfortunately, like the geological record,

ously inadequate,

missing links

we

of gaps and

subjects



what was once

penchant for subjects

the "states of

problem

it

for

all

historians,

by deliberately focusing

political, institutional, diplomatic, intellectual less

adequate records, and which can be sub-

called (the very expression

"canons of evidence." The a

a

is

historian minimizes

which do have more or jected to

notori-

flaws, infuriatingly lacking in the

are always seeking. This

The old

old and new.

on those

full

is

new history,

that,

mind" of the

now

seems archaic)

especially mentalite history, has

by definition, produce few such records; "inarticulate masses" are too

subde and

private to lend themselves to the kind of evidence that survives the ages. It is a

challenging task that confronts the

understand

why the

an exciting game to ferret

is

new

history,

and one can

most ambitious are attracted to it. It out whatever facts one can, however and

brightest and

wherever one can, and to make of them whatever one can, by way of deduction, generalization, extrapolation, supposition, intuition, imagi-

Only a crotchety old historian would throw a damper on the by pointing out that the results, more often than not, are thoroughly speculative and problematic "impressionistic," as the quantitative historian would say. Yet even among the new historians nation.



festivities

there

is

game

evidence that the

is

turning sour.

Where

theses can be contrived out of the smallest facts (and the

of

facts), there is

wonder

that the

obviously

new

much room

the largest

most tenuous and it is no

for controversy,

historians are even

more contentious than

the

old.

As Stone would say this leave us?

He

at this point in

thinks

arrogant about what

it

it

one of his reviews, Where does

leaves us with a chastened

can accomplish,

tory,

more rigorous methodologically, and more

cally.

He

rest

history, less

of the old

his-

pluralistic ideologi-

also predicts that with the revolution over, the

will consolidate its gains

The

new

less intolerant

new

history

and make some overtures to the opposition.

of us, mindful of the course of other revolutions, may be

less

Social History in Retrospect



101

sanguine. Several generations of historians (as generations go in the university) have a stake in the it.

What

others

may

new

criticize as

history as they have

methodological

laxity,

come

to know-

they regard as

what others look upon as ideological indulgence, thev take as an act of moral commitment. Stone mav think that the new

creativity;

pride in

historians have captured the

and

commanding

heights of the profession

carried out the basic objectives of their revolution. Like

however, they

ful revolutionaries,

still

all

success-

see themselves as embattled

besieged, having to fend off the forces of darkness and reaction.

many more

take

voices like Stone's, voices

ranks, to convince

them

able simply because it is

it is

that the

new

history

from within

and

It will

their

own

not necessarily admir-

is

new, nor the old contemptible simplv because

old.

Recovering a Lost World

When

The World

We Have Lost was first published

in

1965,

the kind of review in the Times Literary Supplement that

driven a

less stalwart

it

received

would have

author to despair. The lead review (anonymous,

two pages of detailed, relentiess criticism. That review, and others no less severe, may have contributed, paradoxically, to the eclat enjoyed by the book in academic circles; surely only an important work could be worthy of such extensive criticism. In any event the book throve on controversy. as all

reviews in the journal then were),

it

consisted of

22

It

was reprinted and

translated, reissued in a

almost twenty years after

its

new edition

in

1971, and,

original publication, Peter Laslett has

prepared yet another edition.

The

latest edition,

with Further Explored added

revised but unrepentant version of the

first.

23

remove some of the mistakes pointed out by references to

new

It

as a subtitie,

has been

critics,

emended

a

to

and amplified by

evidence and documentation culled from the abun-

dant literature on the subject in the past two decades. In respects,

is

however, the original theses are reaffirmed. The

the author's) resilience

may be explained by the

fact that

it

all

essential

book's (and

(and he) are

Cambridge Group for the History of Structure, which prides itself on being on the

part of a collective enterprise, the

Population and Social

"cutting edge" of the discipline. This

may

also account for the severity

102

of the lar

The



New History and

initial

the

Old

response, which was directed not only against diis particu-

book but

against the

mode of history it represented

— demographic,

sociological, quantitative, "scientific."

By now the new history has become sion that

it is

in the

so well established in the profes-

mainstream rather than on the cutting edge. Yet

practitioners retain a defensive spirit, as if they

minority.

Have

Thus one passage

were

in the original edition

Lost appears in the present edition, but

now

its

a beleaguered

of The World in the

We

form of

a

quotation:

Why

is

it

that

we know

much about

so

Empire, the growth of Parliament, and

its

the building of the British practices, the public

and

pri-

vate lives of English kings, statesmen, generals, writers, thinkers and yet

Why has do not know whether all our ancestors had enough to eat? almost nothing been done to discover how long those earlier Englishmen lived and how confident most of them could be of having any posterity at all? Not only do we not know the answers to these questions, until now we never seem to have bothered to ask them? 24 .

"Not one of these plaintive queries," Laslett comments, priate now," and some of them (about the length of life, are "entirely inappropriate"

.

.

"is as

appro-

for example)

— presumably because they have been an-

swered. Lest this be taken as cause for complacency, he hastens to add that the situation

is

far

from

satisfactory.

We are still not always asking

the right questions and are only beginning to appreciate their implications for trial

"human

England.

association altogether" rather than just for preindus-

25

In this passage and the subsequent

comment may be found

the

strengths and weaknesses of the book: a boldness that makes excessive

claims to originality (some of these questions had in fact been asked before); a confidence that

is

not always warranted (some of the an-

swers are notably inadequate) an ambitiousness that gives ;

tions that are unanswerable (about is

also apparent that

much of the

"human

rise to

ques-

association altogether"). It

controversy generated by the book



comes not from these kinds of questions about longevity, fertility, or diet in preindustrial England but from another order of questions, the answers to which cannot be found in the extensive files of parish registers assembled by the Cambridge Group or in the sophisticated



statistical

techniques

it

has devised.

Social History in Retrospect

Of those



103

questions that are amenable to quantitative analysis, some

are so complicated that the answers

remain mired

in formulas

and

distinctions that defy easy generalization; for these Laslett refers us to

the

more

detailed studies

of

Wrigley and R.

his colleagues, E. A.

S.

Schofield. Others are more readily summarized, and here Laslett takes

the opportunity to correct

from trial

literary sources.

26

England married

Shakespeare, twelve.

The

The

prevalent "misbeliefs" that derive

an early age comes to us with the authority of

at

who had

some

idea, for example, that people in preindus-

Juliet

marry

fourteen and her mother at

at

statistical evidence, however, shows that the average age of

marriage for the gentry and nobility was close to twenty, and for the

population as a whole nearer the midtwenties. Similarly, the vision of the peasantry disporting themselves in the hay, as in

Nighfs Dream,

not borne out by

is

month following

these revelries. (But

as Laslett says, that

which suggests that the

statistics

was

it

in

A

of births

May

Midsummer in the ninth

rather than June,

Shakespeare had them disporting themselves,

Laslett

may have been

wrong month.) Nor was

looking

at birth statistics for

the illegitimacy rate higher in the late

seventeenth century, as Restoration dramatists would have us believe.

Nor was

starvation (actual starvation as distinct

common

from malnutrition)

was extremely rare. was Nor infant mortality, even among the poorest families, nearly so high. Nor was the "extended household" the norm in preindustrial

nearly so

times; except for

family

was

as has

been supposed; indeed,

some of the

as typical

then as

it

aristocracy, the one-generation nuclear

it is

today.

Nor was

the family so large as

has been thought; late marriage and prolonged breast-feeding effectively limited the

Tudor

poem

times, as a

number of

children.

much-quoted but

Nor were

there factories in

entirely fanciful

contemporary

suggests; nor, for that matter, were there any until the eigh-

teenth century.

These and other findings are of great importance, and are indebted to Laslett

labor that

went

historians

and the Cambridge Group for the enormous But they are not what made the book so

into them.

controversial initially or

Much more

all

what sustained

provocative have been

its

interest in

it

over the years.

theses about the "one-class soci-

and the "English Revolution." 27 When Laslett characterizes preindustrial England as a "one-class society," he does not mean, as some of ety"

his critics

have suggested, that

it

was an

egalitarian or classless society,

104

The



New History and

the

Old

but rather that there was only one class.

Within

the landowning

class,

effective

ranging from the upper aristocracy to the lower

this class,

gentry, were considerable differences of status, wealth, and power, but also considerable mobility; outside

who were

it

were the great bulk of the people

too heterogeneous and powerless to qualify

putting the nobility and the gentry in the same

lenged the prevailing views of this period

ory of an emergent capitalist racy,

as a class.

class, Laslett

has chal-

— not only the Marxist

class in conflict

with the feudal

but those non-Marxist theories that posit something

By

the-

aristoc-

like a class

struggle between the "rising" and "falling" gentry.

The concept of a

one-class society also rules out the familiar idea of

the "English Revolution," a term Laslett

would

like

erased from the

vocabulary of historians (together with that other misnomer, the "rise

of the middle

class"

)

Marxists understand

The English Revolution,

.

it,

as Marxists

applies primarily to the Civil

regarded as the beginning of the revolution of the middle the aristocracy, a revolution that culminated in the

of 1688. Laslett

was

is

and neo-

War, which

is

class against

Whig

Revolution

here denying two distinct propositions: that there

a social revolution

which pitted the

aristocracy against the gentry

and that

(or middle, or capitalist, or bourgeois class);

a political revolu-

tion necessarily involves a major change of economic and social power.

During the whole of this period of supposed revolution, with great

and the

plausibility, the social structure

solidarity

of "political society." If Laslett finds

remained

of nobility and gentry gave them a

Laslett argues

essentially intact

virtual

monopoly

28

no evidence of

a social revolution in the seventeenth

century, he finds ample evidence of one in the late eighteenth and the

nineteenth centuries.

was

far

more

And

this revolution, the Industrial

totally altering the scale

stroying the rural

it

to a huge, impersonal structure, by de-

community together with

by subverting religious

ratizing the polity

faith

and

brought

Laslett also proposes to dispense with

"Puritan Revolution," the "Scientific Revolution," the "Revolu-

as the

tion in Government,"

and the

it.

by democ-

society, industrialism

*In refuting the idea of an "English Revolution,"

happy with

the bonds that sustained

traditional authorities,

and transforming

such other revolutions entirely

By

of life, by removing work from the domain of

the family and transferring

it,

Revolution,

cataclysmic than any kind of "English Revolution."*

like.

He retains the "Industrial Revolution," although he is not

Social History in Retrospect

we have

about the demise of the old world, "the world

lost."

penultimate chapter, "After the Transformation," describes the

world

as

it

took shape in England

Recalling the most dismal pictures

more

a century or

The new

in the early twentieth century.

drawn by the most

pessimistic his-

of early- industrial England, Laslett has the English

torians

105



after the Industrial

proletariat,

Revolution, seeming to confirm

the Marxist law of "immiseration." Working-class children, for ex-

ample, are described as "scrawny, dirty, hungry, ragged, verminous,"

and

their parents as "perpetually liable to social and material degrada29 Laslett concedes that this picture may be overdrawn. If, as a

tion."

contemporary study showed, almost half the workers were below the poverty

line,

over half must have been above

study also suggested), a large item in

was the

six shillings a

week

Moreover (as bringing them below that it.

that line

(one-sixth of their income) spent by the

on beer (thirty-one pints). But Laslett does not permit these facts to detract from his portrait of a pauperized and degraded working class, whose condition, he claims, did not materially improve until the advent of the welfare state after World War II. average family

It is

curious that Laslett should accept so readily the kinds of stereo-

types about the

"new world" he

is

properly suspicious of in the case of

the "old world." Industrialism did, obviously, transform society in

myriad ways

— but not

totally

and not

twentieth century poverty was far ally,

than

it

had been

less

cataclysmically.

By

the early

degrading, materially and mor-

in the early industrial period;

and

social

economic mobility, the opportunity to escape from poverty, was greater than

it

had been

it)

was

a happier

world for the poor than

would

a "one-class" society, in

which the poor were too poor and too powerless to constitute all.

far

in the preindus trial period. In this sense a

two-class or three-class society (or five-class, as other historians

have

and

a class at

Moreover Laslett himself, correcting some misbeliefs about prein-

dustrial

England, suggests that in crucial respects

— the nuclear

family,

the size of the household, the age at marriage, the incidence of illegiti-

macy like

— the world we have

our

believe.

lost

was not

entirely lost, that

own world than many "literary" historians He reminds us, for instance, that aged parents

times did not normally die in the

bosom of their

view of that world might suggest, but alone

it

was more

have led us to in preindustrial

family, as a romantic

in their cottage

or in the

poorhouse.

These examples of continuity between the old and new worlds may

106

The



New History and

the

Old

be more persuasive than Laslett's examples of change. Thus he a crucial feature life-span" that

of the old world

once characterized

in contrast to the all

cites, as

new, the "human

"temporal" matters

— the death of

the master-baker, for example, resulting in the end of the bakery.

other temporal

affairs

a far longer span than

is

Yet

indeed

life-span,

customary today; land tenure and material

goods (even modest ones, such

on from generation

human

exhibited a longer than

30

as quilts

and furnishings) were passed

to generation, in contrast to the mobile, dispos-

own

So too Lasletf s description of the "minuscule" scale of life in the old world must be qualified by his claim that urbanization grew more rapidly in England in the "five generations of pre- industrial times" than in any European country able,

at

and consumable habits of our

any time.

31

London

itself

doubled

its

time.

population in the

the seventeenth century and almost tripled

Nor was

it

half of

first

by the end of the century.

the metropolis as alien from the rest of the country as

may be

supposed; by the early eighteenth century, Wrigley estimates, one adult in six

had had some

direct experience

there for at least a short time.

In spite of

much

of London

life

by

living

32

evidence to the contrary, the effect of The World

We Have Lost— indeed,

of

its

very title—L is to induce a nostalgia for

'Time was when the whole of life went forward in the family, in a circle of loved, familiar faces, known and fondled objects, all to human size. That time has gone for ever. It makes us very 33 different from our ancestors." Laslett insists that this is not the familiar paean to a Golden Age, that the loving family circle might well have that lost world.

comprised tyrannical dren.

But even here he

fathers, resentful mothers,

lapses into nostalgia.

"Who

and exploited

of a limited company or of a government department

as

an apprentice

could love his superbly satisfactory father-figure master, even a bully

and

a beater, a usurer

and

a hypocrite?"

chil-

name

could love the

were

if he

34

These are not the kinds of observations one expects from a quantitative historian.

the years.

Yet they

may

help explain the appeal of the book over

And not only of this book but of this genre of history, which

invokes the authority of science while indulging in the rhetoric of nostalgia. Social history,

become

when

a sentimental one.

it is

not a dismal science, can

easily

Case Studies in Psychohistory

of psychohistory The impugned, critic

his



is

criticisms

some

at

can be "psychoanalyzed away."

tuseness: denial, repression, resistance, evasion, anxiety, rage.

he

it is

A

ob-

illicit."

of disclaiming any such intention, Peter Gay

sinuates precisely this: tion,"

his

One em-

inent psychohistorian professes to find this tactic "tempting but in the course



His motives can be

peril.

panoply of psychoanalytic concepts can be invoked to explain

But

^

in-

the historians' "emotion-laden acts of rejec-

must

from interpreting In the preceding sentence he has the "overwhelming

says, that the psychohistorian

as "resistances."

refrain

majority of historians" confronting Freud with "reasoned skepticism, ill-concealed anxiety, or cold rage."

1

Earlier

still,

that skepticism

is

de-

picted as a series of "aggressive defenses" or "defensive maneuvers" set

up by the

fearful historian: "If he

wall to the enemy, he can

fall

offer further resistance; if the forth, right

down

military

obliged to surrender the outermost

back on the second

second

to the fortress in

awaits the invader."

The

is

falls,

set

of bulwarks to

the third remains, and so

which the

historian nervously

2

metaphor

recalls the

hoary image of the "warfare of

and religion" once used to describe the forces of light battling the forces of darkness. The psychohistorian may find, like the historian of science before him, that scholarship is not well served by such science

images.

He may

the historian

is

also find that

two can

play at that Freudian game: if

portrayed as nervously, defensively resisting the truths

of psychohistory, so the psychohistorian

may be

portrayed as ner-

107

108

New History and

The



the

Old

vously, aggressively psychoanalyzing history for private reasons of his

own.

It is

a "zero-sum

and profiting history

game," profiting neither party to

least

of

this dispute,

all.

The following case studies are offered in a spirit of "reasoned skepticism," on the assumption that psychohistory is prepared to be judged by the canons of historical evidence and proof.

Edmund Burke: An Ambivalent

Conservative

Edmund Burke is usually thought of as the archetypical conservative. And with some cause. An uncompromising enemy of the French Revolution in particular and of revolution in principle, an unregenerate

defender of the established order in England and of establishments in general, a brilliant rhetorician

who

deliberately clothed his ideas in



what were even then the most provocative of words prescription, presumption, prejudice, and superstition Burke would seem to have



impeccable conservative credentials. Yet some

liberals,

and

radicals as

They keep trying to rehabilitate him. And if they cannot quite claim him as one of their own, they impugn his conservatism, suggesting that he did not mean what he said or that he only said what he did in response to the exigencies of the moment. These attempts to revise and reclaim Burke (to ubersetzen und ver-

well,

cannot leave

besseren

is

at that.

German translators of Shakespeare are said to have no new thing. A century ago John Morley, himself an

him,

boasted)

it

as

unexceptionable

liberal,

wrote not one but two appreciative studies of

Burke, and such eminent rationalists and positivists

and William Lecky praised him

lavishly. In

as

Henry Buckle

our generation we have

been presented with several portraits of Burke that depart even more a new edition of the ReflecConor Cruise O'Brien gives us a Burke cryptorevolutionist, whose arguments in

from the conventional image. Introducing tions

who

on the Revolution in France, is

nothing

favor of the

less

Whig

than a

Revolution were an implicit argument for an

Irish

whose

pas-

revolution to overthrow the Protestant ascendancy, and

sionate opposition to the French Revolution liberated a "suppressed

revolutionary part of his tionist appears in

own

personality."

3

Another kind of revolu-

Ruth Bevan's Marx and Burke:

where the protagonists

A

Revisionist View,

are said to share a similarity in the structure of

Case Studies in Psychohistory their

thought that

typed" differences.

is

far

more

Burke.

,

It is

109

obvious "stereo-

significant than their

4

A still more revisionist work 5



doubly

is

Isaac Kramnick's

revisionist, for

as well as politically.

The

it

reinterprets

The Rage ofEdmund

Burke psychologically

subtitle informs us that this

is

the "Portrait of

an Ambivalent Conservative." But the text more often presents him

as 6

an "ambivalent radical," which has a somewhat different implication.

Kramnick argues, because he was ambivalent. There were, he says, "two Burkes," one identifying

Burke was sexually

with the

politically ambivalent,

aristocratic, privileged order, the other

radical class, the first deriving

nature, the other conflict

we

from the masculine, aggressive

between these two Burkes originated

situation

and resulted

in

an identity

made

to

fit

this

political party,

not the stake

is

all

and

paradigm. As the

first

he raised issues that are

of this

is

his

The

side.

sick of his

tension

.\n