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Philosophy of History
History as Permanent Self-Tests of Groups and Societies: Philosophy and
Social Sciences Versus Ideology
Nikolai S. Rozov
Institute for Philosophy and Law
The analytical and self-critical bias of
modern philosophy lets ideology expand to most significant world-view and
value areas. Hence, philosophy of history escapes such problems as meaning of
history, course of history, and self-identification in history. Ideology aggressively grasps these ideas
and transforms them into its own primitive dogmas that usually serve as
symbolical tools for political struggle or for legitimating ruling elites. This
paper shows how it is possible for philosophy, in cooperation with the social
sciences (especially historical macrosociology), to
retrieve these problems of crucial world-view significance. A universal model
of historical dynamics and the concept of values of general significance are
described and integrated within a general frame for historical meanings:
permanent self-test of human communities.
always was and evidently will be one of the main fields in the struggle
between various political, religious, ethnic, class,
gender, and other ideologies. History is the human past, that’s why a
definite interpretation of historical events forms some special evaluation,
self-identity, structures of loyalty and solidarity – the bases for political
mobilization in wide sense.
the modern ideological struggle mostly PR-technologies are used. Here history
serves as a cards pack in hands of a professional player. The religious
vision of the world and history was rather adequate for an illiterate
population before transit to secularization and mass education. Now one can
expect that mass higher education in developed countries leads to some new
social and intellectual situation when previous primitive PR-technologies
including falsification and misinterpretation of history are discredited. New
forms of more critical, more intellectual, more valid historical discourse
will emerge. It means appearance of new forms of debates on meaning, role and
evaluation of various historical events (wars, revolutions, secessions,
alliances, victories and failures). The discredited and almost forgotten
problem of meaning of history comes back.
Dogmatism and Negativism
are two dominant poles in modern comprehension of meaning of history:
dogmatic and negativist ones. According to dogmatic view there is some unique
absolute and true meaning of history which is already known (say, presented
or covered in a sacred Book) or can be revealed once and forever.
much more popular is the negativistic (= constructivist and relativist)
position: there is an endless diversity of subjective opinions on meaning of
history none of which have any validity or objectivity. Beyond these free
floating games of mind there is nothing.
media that I try to develop here is for the first glance more close to the
second — negativist view. The meaning of history is by no means any objective
platonic idea (logos, substance, thought, symbol, praphenomenon,
concept, principle, etc.) intrinsically and immanently hidden in the very
the meaning of history is (as any meaning) a mental construction of some
(Fuchs 2001). The point is to reveal the nature of this construction, its
needed features, and to know who this observer is.
last question is the clearest one. According to general liberal and
democratic principles of open society (compare with Habermas’s
ideals of free equal communication) the set of possible ‘observers’
(=creators) of meaning of history must not be restricted anyhow but it
involves potentially any community, group or individual who gives some impact
into discourse about comprehension of history (universal, national, ethnic,
provincial history, etc.).
freedom to propose own ‘meanings of history’ leads to competition between
interpretations and necessarily raises the issue of standards and criteria.
Here we can see the double role of philosophers of history: formal and
material (in terms of German, Kantian philosophical tradition).
a philosopher of history elaborates epistemologically prescriptive rules,
criteria, and standards of intellectual competition (compare with norms of
correct and meaningful propositions, clear concepts and strict logic in the Vienna Circle and following
analytical philosophy), criticizes ideological falsifications of history, can
accept the role of a discussion moderator and an arbiter in intellectual
a philosopher of history is responsible more than others to reveal (create)
meanings of history. In this case he (or she) acts already not as an arbiter
but as one of main players in the discursive arena (compare with intellectual
impacts of Herder, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Spengler, Teillard de Charden, etc.).
status of the following ideas is intermediate. I do not try to propose
standards for any interpretations
of history (that is probably impossible). I do not also suggest some new
precise formula — what should be meaning of history for everybody. Instead I
try to provide some conceptual frames and methodological means that make
possible any community to create some distinct, rational meanings of own history.
These meanings as cognitive constructions should be comparable, falsifiable
and justified in some degree.
Self-identification as a Trial:
adequacy and validity of historical interpretations depend both on subjective
values and worldviews (that are diverse and always can be questioned), and on
the knowledge of objective deep historical trends and regularities that can
be tested by theoretical history and historical macrosociology
(that are based on standard scientific justification).
to value-loaded approach the
general frame for historical self-identification can be defined as a test or
a trial (more precisely, a self-test, a self-trial) of some group, community,
society to survive and to accomplish its basic values and goals in given
historical circumstances. The main frame of such historical trial includes:
some human community (a group, an ethnos, a society like nation-state, a
civilization, the international community, the humanity as a whole);
conscious world-views, values, and goals of this community;
goals - a state and qualities of social system that are objectively necessary
for accomplishment values (b);
deep transformations, relevant laws and regularities which are necessary and
sufficient for this accomplishment (c); possibilities for action;
real actions, interactions, events and their results;
assessment by the community (a) of the actions and events (e) from the
viewpoint of the values (b), the goals (c), and the regularities (d).
The Universal Model of
conceptualizing conditions and actions the universal model of historical
dynamics is used. The model consists of several phases which form three main
loops (fig.1). Each loop begins from the phase of social stability - an organic system of effective regimes that
allows influential groups to achieve their values and goals. Stability is
disturbed by so called basic factors of
historical dynamics (demographic, ecological, resource, social and
cultural ones). Critical force of disturbance leads to a challenge – strong discomfort of influential groups which now
must give a response i.e. must change essentially everyday behavior and/or
organize some large-scale mobilization activity. The phase of response is the main point of
divergence (bifurcation) where according to type of response one of main
The first loop just returns to the phase
of stability. The response in this case is adequate and compensator one. New stability minimally differs
from previous by minimal amelioration of some functions, institutions,
regimes that temporally softens or neutralizes the destructive effect of
historical dynamics factors. This is the path of step-by-step evolution (L.White, R.Carneiro).
The second loop is the most dramatic one.
The non-adequate response usually leads to conflicts and enforcement of challenge. If inadequacy of the
response prolongs escalation of conflicts and destruction leads to a crisis. If no fresh effective response
appears, this loop proceeds “working” as a self-destructive way to a social
abyss. Conceptually it is a special kind of positive cycle where each
destructive trend leads to next destructive trend and all they enforce each
other. Such structure was called the megatrend “Well”
(or “Abyss”). If the social system is an empire or a state, this megatrend leads to a social revolution, state breakdown and territorial
Fig.1. The Universal Model
of Historical Dynamics.
of Ancient and Medieval empires, of old regimes in modern social revolutions,
recent Soviet collapse can serve as examples of such a historical pattern (J.Tainter, Th.Skocpol, J.Goldstone, R.Collins).
The third loop is the effect of series of adequate and prospective responses (here
the model is rather close to the Toynbean original
explanation of growth of “cultures” – local civilizations). How long such
social resonance can continue? It depends on the given resource basis and
ability of new cooperative community to find new sources, i.e. to give new
adequate responses for new deficiency challenges. If new mobilizing community
is successful in providing necessary resource basis for more than 1-2
generations, the specific historical phenomenon evolves – dynamic strategies.
Here it means a bunch of cooperative activities with general objective
direction that prolongs for two and more generations and uses each
significant result as a base for new movement in the same direction. Seven
main groups of dynamic strategies include coercive, commercial,
technological, resource-transit, socio-engineer, demographic, and cultural
effective strategies are connected also into bunches. In cases of resource
abundance and new effective responses to deficiency challenges they form a megatrend “Lift” (or “Escalator” - a positive
cycle of factors but now factors of rise, growth and development). Such megatrend always includes significant institutional
reforms that open new space for effective regimes development. These
structural changes lead to a system
transformation — the irreversible ongoing transit to some new social
stage. Sic! Here historical dynamics
is connected with crucial shifts of social
evolution(K.Marx, M.Weber, W.Rostow, I.Wallerstein, E.Jones, S.Sanderson, I.Diakonoff, etc.). Sooner or later some new balance
establishes and this new stage becomes a new social stability (the beginning
of all three loops within the model).
Status of the Model —
is methodological status of the presented model? Let’s consider the classical
discussion on objectivity and interpretation. “Naturalists” defend full
objectivity of their statements while “constructivists” (also adherents of
hermeneutics, phenomenology, relativism, postmodernism, etc.) insist on
inevitability of interpretations. It is true that all general propositions on
history, historical phenomena, processes, and trends are interpretations
(“the truth of constructivism”). But not all interpretations are equal in
adequacy and validity. Some of them can be justified by various empirical
methods and logical means (the systematic comparison of historical cases,
formulating and testing hypotheses, statistics, etc.) and can be considered
as objective theoretical knowledge (“the truth of naturalism”). Also there is
a wide range of helpful preliminary ontological, conceptual, logical, and
methodological concepts and propositions that can not be tested and proved directly but serve as a necessary
intellectual basis for theoretical and empirical research.
these terms the following description of the universal model of historical
dynamics has the status of the
ontological paradigm for various theories of historical change. As far as the theories of
step-by-step evolution (L.White, R.Carneiro), collapses, state-breakdowns and revolutions
(J.Tainter, B.Moore, Th.Skocpol, J.Goldstone, R.Collins), mass mobilization, dynamic strategies (Ch.Tilly, G.Snooks), systemic
transformations and modernizations (K.Marx, M.Weber, W.Rostow, I.Wallerstein, E.Jones, S.Sanderson, I.Diakonoff, A.Przeworski,
etc.) and other dynamic theories can be tested and proved — they all support this covering ontological model.
I admit that justification of any social ontology
(including our universal model of historical dynamics) belongs to the second-order
and is directly depends on capacity of this ontology to serve as a basis for
‘good’ explanatory theories. Are theories ‘good’ or not is a matter of
justification within the first-order context. I showed elsewhere.
that in spite of all bulk of analytical
sophistication, almost all contemporary theoretical knowledge including
ethnology, experimental psychology, political sciences and historical
sociology successfully apply standards of the Popper-Hempelian
tradition especially in the version of research programs by Imre Lakatos. So the second-order
justification of these standards is also based on the wide and blossoming
practice of theoretical research.
The majority of historians (with seldom exclusion of several great ones such
as F.Braudel and W.McNeill)
practicize traditional empirical research of some
narrow field. They are usually fully incompetent in the very theoretical
approach. They do not know and even don’t want to know what is a general hypothesis and how it is possible to test it
by systemic comparison of historical cases. That’s why their constant
idiosyncrasy towards Hempelian standards of
historical explanation still proceeds to confuse analytical philosophers of
history who restricted themselves from beginning and forever to a subordinate
analysis of only traditional empirical historiography).
of historical dynamics presented above is not just a mere
‘interpretation’ (a voluntary one
among dozens of others) but a general cognitive scheme which both
incorporates previous dynamic theories with some range of objectivity
(justification, validity etc.) and serves as an heuristics for further
formulations of hypotheses and theories.
From Self-trial and
the presented model can be used? The meaning of history occurs to be a rather
complicate cognitive construction that integrates two conceptual frames
(historical self-identification and the universal model), empirical data to
fill cells in these frames, and the relevant theories of historical dynamics.
some community to reveal (= to establish) the historical meaning of
to identify its actual position on the basis of an empirical data as a phase
in the universal model of historical dynamics (stability, challenge, crisis,
conflicts, social resonance, dynamic strategies, transformation,);
to explicate own values and goals;
know what deep objective changes are relevant to these values and goals
taking into account the known theories of historical dynamics;
to reveal what activities, responses, strategies correspond to these changes;
5) to establish (both discover and construct) the historical
meaning of self-existence as a specific trial to reach the values (2) by the
strategies (4) in the specific conditions (1) and according to theories of
historical dynamics and regularities (3).
6) to reveal the meaning of past relevant history as a series
of trials in the context of objective social changes and subjective changes
of the values and beliefs.
construction integrated both the descriptive elements (1 and theories in
3-5), the pure prescriptive elements (2) and the prescriptive elements based
on both prescriptive and descriptive ones (3-6).
viewpoint of global international
community should take into account real and potential conflictness
of goals of
nation-states (especially neighbors and competitors). Here the social
stability is treated
as the international stable peace and cooperation. Conflicts,
crises and megatrends “Well” are considered as a
slip to wars, in extreme cases – world wars.
there any invariant values and goals that can serve as normative standards?
Yes, there are so called the minimal values, or the values of general
significance (VGS) which include human life, non-violence, freedom, human
rights, justice, etc.
this viewpoint the Meaning of World History is
a permanent global trial for all communities (groups, societies,
international alliances): if they manage or do not manage (in what degree and
how) to accomplish the values of general significance while solving their own
problems, giving responses to their own challenges.
above universal model of historical dynamics and approach to comprehension of
historical meanings can serve as a conceptual and methodological base for new
highly intellectualized debates on history. These debates will still be
actual and significant for ideological struggle but they will be based
already not on PR‑tricks and cheating but on the systematic
philosophical analysis of value-ethical, ontological, and epistemological
problems, testable theories of historical dynamics and social evolution, supported
by valid empirical research.
 Fuchs, Stephan. Against Essentialism. A Theory of Culture
 Hempel, Carl. The Function of Universal Laws in History //
Journal of Philosophy, vol.39 (1942). Stinchcombe,
Arthur. Constructing Social Theories. The
 Snooks Graeme. The Dynamic Society: Exploring the Sources of
Global Change. L.-N.-Y., Routledge,
 Sanderson, Stephen. Social Transformations: A General
Theory of Historical Deverlopment. Blackwell,
 Gorman, Jonathan. Historical
Judgment. Acumen. 2007.
 Rozov, Nikolai S. An Apologia
for Theoretical History // History and Theory, 1997. Vol. 36,
 Collins, Randall. The Golden Age of
Macrohistorical Sociology. An Introduction in
his: Macrohistory: Essays in Sociology of the Long
Run. Stanford Univ.Press.
 Rozov, Nikolai S.
Constructive Axiology and Intellectual Culture in the Future // Studia Humanistica. Vol. 1. N 2, Praha,
1990. P. 55 - 72. Rozov, Nikolai S. Values in
the Problematic World: Philosophical Foundations and Social Applications of
Constructive Axiology. (In Russian, English Summary),