(The Impossibility of) Acting upon a Story That We Can Believe

Rethinking History 22 (1):105-125 (2018)
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The historical sensibility of Western modernity is best captured by the phrase “acting upon a story that we can believe.” Whereas the most famous stories of historians facilitated nation-building processes, philosophers of history told the largest possible story to act upon: history itself. When the rise of an overwhelming postwar skepticism about the modern idea of history discredited the entire enterprise, the historical sensibility of “acting upon a story that we can believe” fell apart to its constituents: action, story form, and belief in a feasible future outcome. Its constituent parts are nevertheless still hold, either separately or in paired arrangements. First, believable stories are still told, but without an equally believable future outcome to facilitate. Second, in the shape of what I call the prospect of unprecedented change, there still is a feasible vision of a future (in prospects of technology and the Anthropocene), but it defies story form. And third, it is even possible to upon that feasible future, but such action aims at avoiding worst case scenarios instead of facilitating best outcomes. These are, I believe, features of an emerging postwar historical sensibility that the theory and philosophy of history is yet to understand.
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Archival date: 2018-03-05
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