Friday, February 21, 2020


A Clash of Wills

Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979), The Whig Interpretation of History (1931; rpt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1965), pp. 27-28:
If we use the present as our perpetual touchstone, we can easily divide the men of the 16th century into progressive and reactionary; but we are likely to beg fewer questions, and we are better able to discover the way in which the past was turned into our present, if we adopt the outlook of the 16th century upon itself, or if we view the process of events as it appears to us when we look at the movements of our own generation; and in this case we shall tend to see not so much progressive fighting reactionary but rather two parties differing on the question of what the next step in progress is to be. Instead of seeing the modern world emerge as the victory of the children of light over the children of darkness in any generation, it is at least better to see it emerge as the result of a clash of wills, a result which often neither party wanted or even dreamed of, a result which indeed in some cases both parties would equally have hated, but a result for the achievement of which the existence of both and the clash of both were necessary.

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