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Revolutions and the Making of the Modern World

From Peter the Great to Karl Marx

James Cracraft

Edited By William Benton Whisenhunt

Professor James Cracraft is an established specialist on early modern Russian history, particularly the era of Peter the Great (1682-1725), tsar and first Russian emperor. This volume gathers some of the many key articles and reviews published by him over the last forty years and more in a wide variety of scholarly venues, some of which are not readily accessible. They constitute in sum important contributions not only to Russian history broadly understood, but also to the study of history itself. The collection will include a preface by the editor and an introduction by the author, where he will sum up his decades of historical work and point to new avenues of needed research, all the while emphasizing that "history" properly understood does not exist somewhere on its own but is the creation, however imperfect, of professional historians (as "chemistry", say, is properly understood as the work, however imperfect, of professional chemists).

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17 Implicit Morality


Let us strive then to think well; that is the first principle of morality.

Pascal, Pensées, 1670

A generation and more ago the prominent modern European historian, Herbert Butterfield, declared that “moral judgments on human beings” are not only “irrelevant” to serious historical inquiry but actually “alien” to the very enterprise. He was concerned to rescue the complexities of what he called “scientific” or “technical” or “specialist” history from the facile narratives of “abridged” or “general history,” and especially from the smug progressivism and moral righteousness of the “whig interpretation of history.” He was quite emphatic: “Behind all the fallacies of the whig historian there lies the passionate desire to come to a judgment of value, to make history answer questions and decide issues and to give historians the last word.” But that “above all,” said Butterfield, “is not the role of the historian,” which instead is “to describe” and “stand impartial,” to provide “history without bias, history that is partial to nobody,” history that “can show us that all our judgments are merely relative to time and circumstance.” Butterfield did not deny that men and women, historians certainly included, live and work in a moral universe; far from it. It was only that “ethical questions concern the historian in so far as they are part of the world which he has to describe; ethical ←281 | 282→principles and ideals concern him only in the effect they have had on human beings; in other words,...

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