Reflections on History
Автор(и) : Jacob Burckhardt
Издател : Liberty Classics
Място на издаване : Indianapolis, USA
Година на издаване : 1979
ISBN : 0-913966-38-X
Брой страници : 353
Език : английски
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Another work by Jacob Burckhardt, one published posthumously, Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen, translated as Force & Freedom: Reflections on History by James Hastings, Nichols, (New York 1943, henceforward Reflections) was based on a series of lectures which Burckhardt gave between 1868 and 1871 and offers fundamental insight into his concept of history.
The first four chapters of Reflections are based on a course entitled 'Introduction to the Study of History' which was held at Basel in the winter of 1868/69 and again in 1870/71. The lectures were not concerned with events and dates but with the historical process. Through them Burckhardt explored the three major forces which shape a civilization: State, Religion and Culture. Once again he clearly rejects any claims to formulating abstract principles of history. His aim is to observe 'the recurrent, constant and typical as echoing in us and intelligible through us.'
The establishment of a state or a religion, which often entails the displacement of a previous power that has become corrupt or decadent, is frequently based on ideals to set up a new order. Inevitably, however, there arises the concern to maintain itself in authority. Power, in the end process, has a corrosive action on humanity. The role of the state fulfils the expedient of checking the factions (be they political, religious or representative of individual group interests) which would strive to gain power by means of force, and to maintain a sense of security and continuity. Religions, Burckhardt argues, 'are the expression of human nature's eternal and indestructible metaphysical need.' Both state and religion are constants which seek to maintain a stable and perdurable identity of a civilization. Change however, as Burckhardt points out, is the essence of history. The role of culture as the one variable was not an arbitrary choice on his part.
"Culture may be defined as the sum total of those mental developments which take place spontaneously and lay no claim to universal or compulsive authority.
'Its action on the two constants is one of perpetual modification and disintegration, and is limited only by the extent to which they have pressed it into their service and included it within their aims."
'Otherwise it is the critic of both, the clock which tells the hour at which their form and substance no longer coincide.
'Culture is, further, that million fold process by which the spontaneous, unthinking activity of a race is transformed into considered action, or indeed, at its last and highest stage, in science and especially philosophy, into pure thought."
'Its total external form, however, as distinguished from the State and religion, is society in its broadest sense.' (Reflections, p. 140)
Carl Jacob Christoph Burckhardt (May 25, 1818, Basel, Switzerland – August 8, 1897, Basel) was a historian of art and culture, and an influential figure in the historiography of each field. He is known as one of the major progenitors of cultural history, albeit in a form very different from how cultural history is conceived and studied in academia today. Siegfried Giedion described Burckhardt's achievement in the following terms: "The great discoverer of the age of the Renaissance, he first showed how a period should be treated in its entirety, with regard not only for its painting, sculpture and architecture, but for the social institutions of its daily life as well." Burckhardt's best known work is The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860).
Burckhardt's historical writings did much to establish the importance of art in the study of history; indeed, he was one of the "founding fathers of art history" but also one of the original creators of cultural history. According to John Lukacs, he was the first master of cultural history, which seeks to describe the spirit and the forms of expression of a particular age, a particular people, or a particular place. His innovative approach to historical research stressed the importance of art and its inestimable value as a primary source for the study of history. He was one of the first historians to rise above the narrow nineteenth-century notion that "history is past politics and politics current history."Burckhardt's unsystematic approach to history was strongly opposed to the interpretations of Hegelianism, which was popular at the time; economism as an interpretation of history; and positivism, which had come to dominate scientific discourses (including the discourse of the social sciences).
There is an interesting tension in Burckhardt's persona between the wise and worldly student of the Italian Renaissance, and the cautious product of Swiss Calvinism, which he had studied extensively for the ministry. The Swiss polity in which he spent nearly all of his life was a good deal more democratic and stable than was the norm in nineteenth century Europe. As a Swiss, Burckhardt was also cool to German nationalism and to German claims of cultural and intellectual superiority. He was also amply aware of the rapid political and economic changes taking place in the Europe of his day, commenting in his lectures and writings on the Industrial Revolution, the European political upheavals of his day, and the growing European nationalism and militarism. Events amply fulfilled his prediction of a cataclysmic twentieth century, in which violent demagogues (whom he called "terrible simplifiers") would play central roles. In later years, Burckhardt found himself unimpressed by democracy, individualism, socialism and a great many other ideas which were fashionable during his lifetime.