More musings on history from Butterfield

2015/11/05 § Leave a comment

It would be true to say of all of us—and it would be particularly true in our case because we happen to be living in a democratic state—that not merely by our votes but by our actions and by all the interplay that goes on between us we are engaged in a work of history-making—engaged in weaving that fabric of events upon which the histories of the future will have to write and speculate. It is necessary, however, to remember that the pattern of the history-making which we shall carry out will not be the product of my will or of yours or indeed of anybody else’s, but will represent in one sense rather what might almost seem to be a compounding of these wills or at least of their effects—something which sometimes no single person will either have intended or anticipated. And even so the pattern will be complicated by certain other factors super-added—factors which it is sometimes difficult for the historian either to analyze or to explain. Nobody ever sat down with a plan in mind and said, ‘Go to—let us now produce a thing called the capitalist system’, or ‘Let us have an industrial revolution’; and those who came nearest to planning the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution threw up their hands with horror when they saw the things which actually took place—swearing that they had never intended to produce anything like this.1

1 Butterfield, Herbert, Christianity and History (United States of America: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1950), 95-6.


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