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Historical Theory

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In the early decades of the 19th century Hegel revolutionised the understanding of world history, placing it at the widest vantage point of the bourgeois era. Under Christianity and feudalism the theological conception that history was the manifestation of God’s plan monopolised social philosophy. The 'great man' and occasionally 'great woman' view of historical change was popularized by the 19th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) who wrote 'the history of the world is nothing but the biography of great men'.

But one day, when the banks are thoroughly weakened and the rains long and heavy, the river floods, bursts its banks, and may take a new course. Although the heads of states apply definite policies, and peoples and individuals consciously pursue their own aims, historical actuality does not fall into line or accord with their plans. b) The nature of the production relations of a society is explained by the level of development of its productive forces (the Primacy Thesis proper).Towards the end of his life, Engels commented several times about the abuse of historical materialism.

Cohen argues in Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence that a society's superstructure stabilizes or entrenches its economic structure, but that the economic base is primary and the superstructure secondary.The next big advance in scientific understanding of history came with the rise of bourgeois society and the discovery of other regions of the globe associated with its commercial and naval expansion. Humans are inevitably involved in productive relations (roughly speaking, economic relationships or institutions), which constitute the most decisive social relations. Theory is metahistorical also in that in its strongest versions it applies to the entire discipline of history, all time periods, and specialized topics. The first really rational explanation of the historical process as a whole was given by the outstanding Greek historians from Herodotus to Polybius. National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.

His “new science” of history sought to discover and apply “the universal and eternal principles—on which all nations were founded, and still preserve themselves”. The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. Surplus from agriculture was distributed to the citizens, who exploited the slaves that worked the fields. Philosopher of science Karl Popper, in The Poverty of Historicism and Conjectures and Refutations, critiqued such claims of the explanatory power or valid application of historical materialism by arguing that it could explain or explain away any fact brought before it, making it unfalsifiable and thus pseudoscientific.At certain decisive moments in history, during periods of great conflict, the actions of 'great historical men' can align with the 'spirit of the age' to bring about a fundamental advance in freedom. T]here is only one other point lacking, which, however, Marx and I always failed to stress enough in our writings and in regard to which we are all equally guilty. They believed that history had an intelligible character and that the nature and sources of its laws could be ascertained. So long as the ascending bourgeoisie was on its way to supremacy, its most enlightened ideologists had a passionate and persistent interest in boring deeply into economic, social and political realities.

These defects prevented Hegel from arriving at the true nature of social relations and the principal causes of social change. All the different types of historical explanation cast up in the evolution of man’s thought survive today. When a given relation of production no longer supports further progress in the productive forces, either further progress is strangled, or 'revolution' must occur.Slave society is considered by historical materialists to be the first class-stratified society formed of citizens and slaves.

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