Janus' Home

17

cultures. The degree to which an individual values the past determines his present actions. For Burckhardt, it is "the vision of both past and future [that] distinguishes human beings and animals," yet Hegel's optimistic vision of mankind's future would deny individuals a reason to hold onto the past.47

Abandoning the past would signal mankind's self-negation for Burckhardt. He viewed the revolutions and conflicts of his day as the product of a civilization becoming increasingly ignorant of its foundation and sought to counter the trend through a new sort of education. However, his argument for the necessity of making the past a personal possession accessible to many individuals, needs qualification: Burckhardt's Swiss background often colored his view of the rest of Europe, as he exhibited markedly aristocratic sympathies.

Despite his shortcomings, Burckhardt succeeded in one essential aspect. His view of historical study as a very real and fundamental social force provided a solid critique of Hegel's depersonalized view of history and set an example for future historians. No longer could historical study be viewed merely as an academic pursuit. Burckhardt argued that a society's view of history influenced its future actions. Whether or not individuals possessed some personal understanding of the value of their past would determine the means through which they would realize their future. Hegel's optimistic view of the future lacked any such idea of accountability. His history needed no restraints because the "spirit" ultimately determined all outcomes, while the historian merely served to describe a predetermined series of events beyond human control. Burckhardt reestablished the historian as a legitimate intellectual. He called on historians to revitalize the past and to teach history with an aim to connect the lives of their contemporaries with the world of the past. In doing so, historians would help shape the way in which people viewed their world and influenced the way in which people live.


47. Ibid.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17