Herbert Butterfield, fully Sir Herbert Butterfield

Herbert
Butterfield, fully Sir Herbert Butterfield
1900
1979

English Historian and Philosopher of History, best known for "The Whig Interpretation of Historyh" and "Origins of Modern Science"

Author Quotes

It is not the mere existence of unusual criminals that [has] ravaged our world; for the arrangements of society (whether national or international) ought always to presume that some of these will be lurking somewhere. The gates have been opened to evil in part because of a terrible discrepancy between human ideals and actual possibilities -- terrible heresies concerning the nature of man and the structure of the historical universe. Christianity, even if it cannot persuade men to rise to the contemplation of the spiritual things, embodies principles which may at least have the effect of bringing the dreamers down to earth. Because it confronts the problem of human sin, it can face our difficulties and dilemmas without evasions -- without the fundamental evasiveness of those who believe that all would be well with the world if it were not for a few unspeakable criminals, always conveniently identified with the political enemy of the moment.

Of all the intellectual hurdles which the human mind has confronted and has overcome in the last fifteen hundred years the one which seems to me to have been the most amazing in character and the most stupendous in the scope of its consequences is the one relating to the problem of motion.

The academic mind can eat away the very basis of its own assurance produce contortions when it tries to bend over backward allow itself to be dismayed by the picture it has created of relentless historical process.

The raconteur knows too well that, if he investigates the truth of the matter, he is only too likely to lose his good story.

The so-called 'scientific revolution', popularly associated with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but reaching back in an unmistakably continuous line to a period much earlier still. Since that revolution overturned the authority in science not only of the middle ages but of the ancient world—since it ended not only in the eclipse of scholastic philosophy but in the destruction of Aristotelian physics—it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements, within the system of medieval Christendom ... It looms so large as the real origin of the modern world and of the modern mentality that our customary periodization of European history has become an anachronism and an encumbrance.

The study of the past with one eye upon the present is the source of all sins and sophistries in history. It is the essence of what we mean by the word unhistorical.

The very fact of its finding itself in agreement with other minds perturbs it, so that it hunts for points of divergence, feeling the urgent need to make it clear that at least it reached the same conclusions by a different route.

Those people work more wisely who seek to achieve good in their own small corner of the world... than those who are forever thinking that life is in vain, unless one can do big things.

[The Whig interpretation of history]... is the tendency in many historians to write on the side of Protestants and Whigs, to praise revolutions provided they have been successful, to emphasize certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present.

But the greatest menace to our civilization today is the conflict between giant organized systems of self-righteousness -- each system only too delighted to find that the other is wicked -- each only too glad that the sins give it the pretext for still deeper hatred and animosity.

Concerning alchemy it is more difficult to discover the actual state of things, in that the historians who specialise in this field seem sometimes to be under the wrath of God themselves; for, like those who write of the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy or on Spanish politics, they seem to become tinctured with the kind of lunacy they set out to describe.

I am unable to see how a man can find the hand of God in secular history unless he has first found an assurance of it in his personal experience.

It [the scientific revolution] outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements, within the system of medieval Christendom. . . It looms so large as the real origin of the modern world and of the modern mentality that our customary periodization of European history has become an anachronism and an encumbrance.

In the kind of world that I see in history there is one sin that locks people up in all their other sins… the sin of self-righteousness.

Butterfield, Empire is neither built nor maintained without some strokes of hard policy and with the generation of deep resentments. And if we are sometimes exasperated by officialdom even at home, can we imagine what must be the reaction of awakening minds in regions where the officialdom represents the foreigner, and the foreigner is in the country also to exploit it?

We are all victims as well as agents of the historical process.

Author Picture
First Name
Herbert
Last Name
Butterfield, fully Sir Herbert Butterfield
Birth Date
1900
Death Date
1979
Bio

English Historian and Philosopher of History, best known for "The Whig Interpretation of Historyh" and "Origins of Modern Science"