The Way It Was, and Is

Reference work entry

The old, old question is back on the agenda. Can history teach us anything? Do the experiences of the past provide lessons for the present and the future?

There are those who argue that history can be used, or abused, to support any action or inaction. There is always a justifying precedent or a lesson to be learned if you search hard enough in the archives. At best, history is a false friend. ‘There has never been a time,’ argues Tony Blair, ‘when, except in the most general sense, a study of history provides so little instruction for our present day.’ There speaks the true radical. Until Blair came along, his Labour party had been weighed down and made virtually impotent by a slavish regard for its Marxist-Socialist tradition. For Blair, history was a brake on fresh thinking, the knee-jerk antidote to change.

The counter view holds that to ignore history is to deny something that is fundamental to our understanding of ourselves and our place in the wider scheme of things. Recently,...


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  3. James J. Sheehan, The Monopoly of Violence: Why Europeans Hate Going to War. Faber, 2007Google Scholar
  4. Johan Tosh, Why History Matters. Palgrave, 2008Google Scholar

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