The Discovery of History

The New Oxonian

From The Morality of History (© 2014) R. Joseph Hoffmann

The fundamental discovery of the Enlightenment was the discovery of history or rather, of a historical consciousness. History had, of course, been written for two millennia. The Hebrews wrote it. The Greeks wrote it. The Romans wrote it. Often it was intertwined with interest in legend and legendary beginnings, making important men into great men or demigods; making bloody battlefield victories into providential triumphs; making stubborn evangelists and confessors into saints.

The idea of a history that could be detached from the parochial interests of writers and patrons cannot flourish when the patrons are kings and popes, who want history told in a certain way, a way consistent with giving glory to the sovereign, or glory to God and his holy church. The idea of a history faithful to impartial description and free of the demand for exaggeration and…

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