The Verdict of History

It is quite common to appeal to the verdict of history to judge some social arrangement. If something has been a success in history, then that would seem to help validate it. Obvious failures in history seem to lack validity.
This sort of appeal to history’s judgment is what Karl Popper called “historicism.”
1-Often the verdict of history is far from clear; probably most things are not clear cut successes or failures in history.
2-History should not be the only or final judge of values.
So, a partial historicism is OK, but a full-blown historicism is wrong.
Currently, the verdict of history seems to be that democracy and civil society are at least partly validated, and many of their rivals and alternatives invalidated.
But history is not the only court of appeal; we also need to ask the court of human nature whether some social arrangement is acceptable.

[Ernest Gellner endorses “partial historicism” in Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Alternatives (London: Penguin, 1994).]


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