Americans and the Soviet Experiment, 1917-1933

Americans and the Soviet Experiment, 1917-1933

Americans and the Soviet Experiment, 1917-1933

Americans and the Soviet Experiment, 1917-1933

Excerpt

The traditional historian is committed to the burden of making order out of events which are arranged only temporally; that is, they are not arranged at all, but simply happen. Yet because events participate in the world of causality, they usually are amenable, within the limits of existing evidence, to narrative and explanation. The historian of ideas undertakes the more uncertain responsibility of ordering materials which, existing in human minds and memories, escape the objective causal world; ideas do not happen, but develop, alter, disappear, or spread. Yet because they represent attempts to communicate and to be understood, they too are amenables to the historian's retrospective search for order, though it will be a less precise, more interpretative order.

The historian of attitudes has none of these advantages. Attitudes not only occur within men's minds, but are intellectually inferior to ideas, often being little more than a complicated form of taste. "Dirt is the badge of Bolshevism" reports an elementary attitude, but nevertheless an attitude. As a result, the data for this third type of historian tend to be undeveloped, irrational, paradoxical. To adopt the succinct definition of Wilbur Schramm, a social psychologist: "By attitudes we mean inferred states of readiness to react in an evaluative way, in support of or against a given stimulus situation."

Attitudes are predispositions to action, in other words, directly involving values. Since they are essentially dynamic . . .

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