Reading for Friday, June 19
The class in history continues. I always love Tolstoy’s examples that he uses to illustrate his philosophy, and this is no exception.
What drives a train? he gives us three answers – none of which really work – to explain that historians are a bit like this with history. We’re either looking at symptoms of history (like looking at smoke coming out a train), or we make up a cause we can’t prove (like a Demon driving a train) or we invent some force that still needs another explanation.
The particular force that Tolstoy is most keen on debunking is the concept of power. Basically, he asserts that we need an explanation of history that takes into account the movements of every single human being.
The problem with most historians, argues Tolstoy, is that they use the concept of power to explain the movement of the masses. Instead of having every single person contributing to the flow of history, historians imagine a handful of “great men” who wield power, and thus the movements of all the masses are controlled by the power wielded by this handful of men.
Obviously, this is not what Tolstoy believes in – in fact, he goes so far as to say it’s paper money that’s fine until it’s proved to be worthless. (An interesting insight back into the days when a paper currency not backed by some sort of gold standard was considered a bit suspect.) The argument shall continue . . .