The Pragmatic Revolt in American History: Carl Becker and Charles Beard

By Cushing Strout | Go to book overview

Introduction

EVER since the 19th century one of the most striking characteristics of the modern mind has been its preoccupation with history. In earlier times the historical sense was neither sophisticated nor pervasive, but now even science and religion, long-revered guardians of timeless truths, are approached historically. "To regard all things in their historical setting appears, indeed," as Carl Becker has said, "to be an instructive procedure of the modern mind. We do it without thinking, because we can scarcely think at all without doing it."1 This relatively new intellectual awareness of the historical dimension of life has been paralleled by the modern tendency toward secularization, the acceptance of the concrete world of human history as the source of ultimate values and fulfillment. The modern mind has looked to history not only as a mode of understanding but also as a final destiny. It has been primarily concerned with the secular problems posed by the workings of the historical process, and it has had the confidence to believe that those problems could be solved in and through the very process which generated them.

Liberalism, among modern historical forces, has characteristically expressed this secular commitment to control of the historical process, though, paradoxically, its confidence has been based less on the development of historical thought than on the new powers which natural science and technology have produced. Because man has learned to control nature, liberals have believed that men could achieve progress in history.

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1
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-century Philosophers ( New Haven, Yale University Press, 1932), pp. 18-19.

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