A book dedicated “To the hero of the Second World War”
The 20th Century Historical Outlook
The Two Aspects of History
Men are thus differentiated also with regard to their capacity for understanding History. There is an historical sense, which can see behind the surface of history to the soul that is the determinant of this history. History, seen through the historical sense of a human being, has thus a subjective aspect. This is the first aspect of History.
The other, the objective, aspect of History, is equally incapable of rigid establishment, even though at first glance it might seem to be. The writing of purely objective history is the aim of the so-called reference, or narrative, method of presenting history. Nevertheless, it inevitably selects and orders the facts, and in this process the poetic intuition, historical sense, and flair of the author come into play. If these are totally excluded, the product is not history-writing, but a book of dates, and this, again, cannot be free from selection.
Nor is it history. Nor is impartiality possible. It is the historical sense which decides importance of past developments, past ideas, past great men. For centuries, Brutus and Pompey were held to be greater than Caesar. Around 1800, Vulpius was considered a greater poet than Goethe. Mengs, whom we have forgotten, was ranked in his day as one of the great painters of the world. Shakespeare, until more than a century after his death, was considered inferior as a playwright to more than one of his contemporaries. El Greco was unnoticed 75 years ago. Cicero and Cato were both held, until after the First World War, to be great men, rather than Culture-retarding weaklings. Joan of Arc was not included in Chastellain’s list, drawn up on the death of Charles VII, of all the army commanders who fought against England. Lastly, for the benefit of readers of 2050, I may say that the Hero and the Philosopher of the period 1900-1950 were both invisible to their contemporaries in the historical dimensions in which you see them.
What then, is History? History is the relationship between the Past and the Present. Because the Present is constantly changing, so is History. Each Age has its own History, which the Spirit of the Age creates to fit its own soul. With the passing of that Age, never to return, that particular History picture has passed. Seen from this standpoint, any attempt to write History “as it really happened” is historical immaturity, and the belief in objective standards of history-presentation is self-deception, for what will come forth will be the Spirit of the Age.