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HOME > Classical Novels > Theory & History of Historiography > VIII DISTINCTION (SPECIAL HISTORIES) AND DIVISION
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The conception of history that we have reached—namely, that which has not its documents outside itself, but in itself, which has not its final and causal explanation outside itself, but within itself, which has not philosophy outside itself, but coincides with philosophy, which has not the reason for its definite form and rhythm outside itself, but within itself—identifies history with the act of thought itself, which is always philosophy and history together. And with this it debarrasses it of the props and plasters applied to it as though to an invalid in need of external assistance. For they really did produce an infirmity through their very insistence in first imagining and then treating a non-existent infirmity.

Doubtless the autonomy thus attained is a great advantage; but at first sight it is not free from a grave objection. When all the fallacious distinctions formerly believed in have been cancelled, it seems that nothing remains for history as an act of thought but the immediate consciousness of the individual-universal, in which all distinctions are submerged and lost. And this is mysticism, which is admirably adapted for feeling oneself at unity with God, but is not adapted for thinking the world nor for acting in the world.

Nor does it seem useful to add that unity with God does not exclude consciousness of diversity, of change, of becoming. For it can be objected that consciousness[Pg 118] of diversity either derives from the individual and intuitive element, and in this case it is incomprehensible how such an element can subsist in its proper form of intuition, in thought, which always universalizes; or if it is said to be the result of the act of thought itself, then the distinction, believed to have been abolished, reappears in a strengthened form, and the asserted indistinct simplicity of thought remains shaken. A mysticism which should insist upon particularity and diversity, a historical mysticism, in fact, would be a contradiction in terms, for mysticism is unhistorical and anti-historical by its very nature.

But these objections retain their validity precisely when the act of thought is conceived in the mystical manner—that is to say, not as an act of thought, but as something negative, the simple result of the negation by reason of empirical distinctions, which certainly leaves thought free of illusions, but not yet truly full of itself. To sum up, mysticism, which is a violent reaction from naturalism and transcendency, yet retains traces of what it has denied, because it is incapable of substituting anything for it, and thus maintains its presence, in however negative a manner. But the really efficacious negation of empiricism and transcendency, their positive negation, is brought about not by means of mysticism, but of idealism; not in the immediate, but in the mediated consciousness; not in indistinct unity, but in the unity that is distinction, and as such truly thought.

The act of thought is the consciousness of the spirit that is consciousness; and therefore that act is auto-consciousness. And auto-consciousness implies distinction in unity, distinction between subject and object, theory and practice, thought and will, universal and[Pg 119] particular, imagination and intellect, utility and morality, or however these distinctions of and in unity are formulated, and whatever may be the historical forms and denominations which the eternal system of distinctions, perennis philosophia, may assume. To think is to judge, and to judge is to distinguish while unifying, in which the distinguishing is not less real than the unifying, and the unifying than the distinguishing—that is to say, they are real, not as two diverse realities, but as one reality, which is dialectical unity (whether it be called unity or distinction).

The first consequence to be drawn from this conception of the spirit and of thought is that when empirical distinctions have been overthrown history does not fall into the indistinct; when the will-o'-the-wisps have been extinguished, darkness does not supervene, because the light of the distinction is to be found in history itself. History is thought by judging it, with that judgment which is not, as we have shown, the evaluation of sentiments, but the intrinsic knowledge of facts. And here its unity with philosophy is all the more evident, because the better philosophy penetrates and refines its distinctions, the better it penetrates the particular; and the closer its embrace of the particular, the closer its possession of its own proper conceptions. Philosophy and historiography progress together, indissolubly united.

Another consequence to be deduced from the above, and one which will perhaps seem to be more clearly connected with the practice of historiography, is the refutation of the false idea of a general history, superior to special histories. This has been called a history of histories, and is supposed to be true and proper history, having beneath it political, economic, and institutional[Pg 120] histories, moral history or the history of the sentiments and ethical ideals, the history of poetry and art, the history of thought and of philosophy. But were this so, a dualism would arise, with the usual result of every dualism, that each one of the two terms, having been ill distinguished, reveals itself as empty. In this case, either general history shows itself to be empty, having nothing to do when the special histories have accomplished their work, or particular histories do so, when they fail even to pick up the crumbs of the banquet, all of which has been voraciously devoured by the other. Sometimes recourse is had to a feeble expedient, and to general history is accorded the treatment of one of the subjects of the special histories, the latter being then grouped apart from that. Of this arrangement the best that can be said is that it is purely verbal and does not designate a logical distinction and opposition, and the worst that can happen is that a real value should be attributed to it, because in this case a fantastic hierarchy is established, which makes it impossible to understand the genuine development of the facts. And there is practically no special history that has not been promoted to be a general history, now as political or social history, to which those of literature, art, philosophy, religion, and the lesser sides of life should supply an appendix; now as history of the ideas or progress of the mind, where social history and all the others are placed in the second line; now as economic history, where all the others are looked upon as histories or chronicles of 'superstructures' derived from economic development in an illusory manner, while the former is held to have developed in some mysterious way by means of unknown powers, without thought and will, or producing thought and will, in fancies and velleities, like so many bubbles[Pg 121] on the surface of its course. We must be firm in maintaining against the theory of general history that there does not exist anything real but special histories, because thought thinks facts to the extent that it discerns a special aspect of them, and only and always constructs histories of ideas, of imaginations, of political actions, of apostolates, and the like.

But it is equally just and advantageous to maintain the opposite thesis: that nothing exists but general history. In this way is refuted the false notion of the speciality of histories, understood as a juxtaposition of specialities. This fallacy is correctly noted by the critics in all histories which expose the various orders of facts one after the other as so many strata and (to employ the critics' word) compartments or little boxes, containing political history, industrial and commercial history, history of customs, religious history, history of literature and of art, and so on, under so many separate headings. These divisions are merely literary, they may possess some utility as such, but in the case under consideration they do not fulfil merely a literary function, but attempt that of historical understanding, and thereby give evidence of their defect, in thus presenting these histories as without relation between one another, not dialecticized, but aggregated. It is quite clear that history remains to be written after the writing of those histories in this disjointed manner. Abstract distinction and abstract unity are both equally misunderstandings of concrete distinction and concrete unity, which is relation.

And when the relation is not broken and history is thought in the concrete, it is seen that to think one aspect is to think all the others at the same time. Thus it is impossible to understand completely the doctrine, say, of a philosopher, without having to some extent recourse[Pg 122] to the personality of the man himself, and, by distinguishing the philosopher from the man, at the same time qualifying not only the philosopher but the man, and uniting these two distinct characteristics as a relation of life and philosophy. The same is to be said of the distinction between the philosopher as philosopher and as orator or artist, as subject to his private passions or as rising to the exec............
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