Ideas in History

The confidence in progress that bureaucrats proclaim in directing historical change was undermined by the absence of a directional law in the realm of historical necessity. History was a series of discrete events rather than intelligible laws inherent in any temporal and material process from which someone can uncover and discern. As Nisbet wrote, change was contingent, episodic, and variable. There were constants in human nature but they were “of little help in accounting for variables” to explain historical change. (SC, 298) The multiplicity of factors that caused historical change were too numerous for the bureaucrat to capture and manipulate for the state’s ends. Like progress, the notion of a directional change in history as discovered and guided by an elite was a faulty one at best and a destructive one at worst.

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