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.