Friedrich Nietzsche distinguishes three kinds of history: monumental, antiquarian and critical. In this blog I will explore how our application of these three means of studying the past have shaped the course of development today and also evaluate the merits and limitations of each.
The dominant kind of history is monumental. Monumental history looks at events of greater significance; it is the history of the ‘active and striving’ man (Neitzsche, 1880, p.4). The monumental historian therefore looks back on his achievements to move forward. The use of mass mobilization is an example of this. Ever since the success of mass-mobilization in the anti-slavery campaign, activists have been using the method to capaign, such as in the Syrian riots today. Although this shows the study to be useful to development through providing ideas for moving forward, academics such as Nietzsche and Mark Sinclair, have criticized the approach for causing ‘cultural amnesia’. Because the study only looks at what has been achieved, it ‘forgets’ smaller details that can be relevant to these achievements and and also failures that could be learnt from (Sinclair, 2004). An example of this is Bob Geldof’s Live Aid in 1985. This concert was seen as such a success, having raised at least £50 million, that it gave rise to the growth of benefit concerts which are so popular in fundraising today. However, a crucial lesson that has not been learnt comes from the failure of Live Aid to effectively distribute the money given. Donations transferred to the Ethiopian government were used in an ethnic cleansing project in which 100,000 may have been killed, yet people today still make the mistake of giving to corrupt governments and organisations (Reiff, 2005).
The second history is antiquarian. This draws conclusions only from sources that can be proved by artifacts and hence is the history of the ‘preserving and revering’ man (Nietzsche, 1980, p.19). I would therefore argue this has a better ability than monumental to accurately understand the past where there are numerous relics, but in general still has the a restricted field of vision because it fails to draw on theories, looking at facts alone. Furthermore, given too much attention to artefacts when there are too few may portray an untrue version of the past. Due to this, I would say that the antiquarian approach to studying the past would be a more effective one than monumental to apply to development today.
The final kind of history is critical. This probes all sources, applying a critical analysis, and is therefore for the man who ‘suffers’ (Nietzsche, 1980, p.4). This history Nietzsche considered to be almost always better (Brobjer, 2004). I support the idea that a critical view should be taken. A critical study is more constructive as it looks at trends, not just landmarks, and also evaluates various sources to explore the good and the bad (Emden, 2006). This allows us to use history in the most effective way because it explores more aspects. I believe this view is under used because it requires a much broader understanding of the past so is more difficult to adopt. However I argue that critical history should be a key to moving forward in development both in the present and the future.
Development’s present has been shaped by the past through the way we study history. Monumental history has been most influential to the course of development as we attempt to recreate momentous occasions in history. However, the past would be best learnt from if we applied a critical history with which we could use theories and failures from the past to create new means of development.
To conclude, studying past events has had a huge role in shaping development’s present. However, I would say that if we were to apply a critical history we could learn more from the past and hence use it in an even more constructive way.
Brobjer, Thomas. H. (2004) Nietzsche’s View of the Value of Historical Studies and Methods, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 65, No. 2 (pp. 301-322)
Emden, C. J.(2006) Toward a Critical Historicism: History and Politics in Nietzsche’s Second ‘Untimely Meditation’ Modern Intellectual History, 3:1
Rieff, D. (2005) Cruel to be Kind? The Guardian: Published online http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/jun/24/g8.debtrelief
Nietzsche, F. W. (1980) On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, trans. Peter Preuss: Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
Sinclair, M. (2004) Nietzsche and the Problem of History Richmond Journal of Philosophy 8