All history is untrue and the more it tries to find out ’what actually happened’ the more untrue it is.  Compare the account that you might have been given of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in the history tripos at Cambridge – ‘European History from 1789 to 1914’ – as I actually was, with Tolstoy’s  War And Peace.   We might regard the first as factual and the second as fictional.  But part of ‘what actually happened’  were the experienced feelings  of the people who were actually there, and this Tolstoy does at least have a shot at capturing.  Admittedly he has to invent imaginary characters to do it, but the tripos doesn’t even try.   History is especially delusional in the way science is, because there are always huge amounts in any given case that it has not yet discovered, as the history of both attests, but because what it has actually discovered is so impressive it gives the impression that it is telling you ‘what actually happened’.  Tolstoy does more than this.  He goes on to give you a historiographical thesis on the meaning of history.  This has led many to dismiss him as a serious historian out of hand.   Where is the evidence for some metaphysical pattern in history?   But the  Gradgrindian school of finding out ‘what actually happened’  also subscribes to a metaphysic, although unlike Tolstoy it is not aware that it is doing so, the metaphysical belief that history is ‘no more than one damn fact after another’.  But this is just as much an unprovable myth as the pattern in history.   We will never know for sure whether or not history is no more than one damn fact after another.  But whereas Tolstoy knew that ultimately history can only find a metaphorical truth, the past seen through the lens of the present, the Gradgrindians don’t.   In that sense they are even farther from the real statement of the case than Tolstoy. 


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