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The Whig Interpretation of History Paperback – September 17, 1965
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He states, "It is part and parcel of the whig interpretation of history that it studies the past with reference to the present... [this] has often been an obstruction to historical understanding..." (Pg. 11) Later, he adds, "The theory behind the whig interpretation---the theory that we study the past for the sake of the present---is one that is really introduced for the purpose of facilitating the abridgement of history." (Pg. 24) He asserts, "the application of this principle must produce in history a bias in favour of the whigs and must fall unfavourably on Catholics and tories." (Pg. 25)
He explains, "It is the thesis of this essay that the Protestant and whig interpretation of history is the result of something much more subtle than actual Protestant or party bias...Read more ›
Butterfield does have a few of his own biases, speaking in the magisterial "we" when declaring our age a secularized one, or speaking of alleged Catholic irrationality. But these are minor faults, and easily accounted for, hardly marring lthis excellent essay.
The greatest flaw in the book at this stage in its career is the lack of a historical introduction. It is no longer a contemporary book, the better part of a century old. If I were an editor at Norton, I would give serious consideration to reissuing this book with a new introductory essay. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure who the Whig historians were, and am not quite certain what the relations between being a Whig historian and being a Whig politically is. The only Whig historian Butterfield mentions by name, Lord Acton, was, as Butterfield points out, a Tory. I think I would have profited far more from this book if I had not had to spend all my time wondering precisely who Butterfield's targets were.
Essentially, this book is a critique of imposing moral judgments in historical research. It is a defense of taking each historical epoch on its own terms, and not imposing one's own moral and cultural standards on figures and situations that existed with, perhaps, a different set of moral and cultural concerns. To this degree, the book is commonsensical and noncontroversial, and can be read with a great deal of profit.
The structural problem of the book is that the entire discussion is framed in extremely polemical terms. Perhaps Butterfield was a Whig Catholic, but given the examples he constantly brings up, and the barely disguised passion he brings to the debate, one wonders if he were not a Tory Catholic. Perhaps not, but one cannot help but wonder why he is so polemical.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I bought this for a college course. I still don't know why it was written, much less assigned by the professor. Read morePublished 19 months ago by florida
I expected this book to be much longer than the large print and 132 page small size paperback I received. Read morePublished on May 10, 2014 by NYC Book Buyer
I bought this for college. Boring as hell. This book is for history majors. I didnt like it. No goodPublished on December 31, 2012 by Mr. W
An excellent warning of common historical fallacies. A must for developing a mature understanding of proper historiography .Published on April 2, 2007 by J. Mortier
I'd always fancied myself more of a Tory until I read this book. It's changed my outlook on life. I mean, in a perfect world, I'd be a Constitutional Monarchist. But hey.Published on February 15, 2006 by Kirk Davis