This post will change the course of history

It is a common trope of historians to refer to certain events that "changed the course of history".

This trope comes forth with straight face and all seriousness, as if something of great import is being said, and that it is an indisputable fact that none can question.

There is a very real problem with it, however. It relies upon a fallacy.

Unfortunately for historians, history as they understand it has no predetermined path, no matter how much we wish it did.* All of history was not designed to produce Canada, for example. that the British wrested it from France, largely due to problems on the Continent, not in the New World, was not something predestined to happen.

In fact, with just a nudge here or there, things could have turned out differently. Spain could still rule the New World, England could be but a minor island and France could be part of the Prussian empire.

For that matter, with the advances in administration he made, G-diddy could have made it so we lived in a Mongolian vision of the world.

The point is, history is the study of what happened, not what the writer thinks should have happened. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door, he did not change the course of history. It was not an irrevocable path that the catholic church would rule for all time.

Nor was it necessarily going to happen that some priest would make the mistake of reading the Bible and actually try to apply that instead of the man-made traditions that had grown up around it.

That it happened is enough. It did not change history, nor change the course of history. It is simply an event which frankly bears more importance than some unknown peasant baking a loaf of bread on some random day.

Yes, some events are more important for the majority of the human race than others. Sometimes they are results not anticipated based on what came before. Sometimes they surprise people with the direction further events take.

But they did not change history. They simply became history.

By the way, this is one reason military history is so flawed. Some feel that the Romans might have won Adrianople had the Goth cavalry not surprised them with its unexpected return.

Irrelevant. The cavalry DID return. It did not change the course of history, it was the course history took.

So next time someone tells you about an event that changed the course of history, just ask them what course history was supposed to take.

* All of the above presupposes a view that, while God can guide events as He sees fit, the free choice He gave man allows events to proceed in ways meaningfully affected by those choices. This does not render God powerless but rather admits to His ability to guide events in the ways He sees fit, above and beyond our comprehension.

1 comment:

Riot Kitty said...

So one wonders what the course of history would have been without this post!