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Is having a theory of history important or relevant?

+3 votes
I'm trying to keep this open-ended, but what I am thinking about is a series of related problems, outlined here in a simplistic way:

1.Does history have a "motor"?

2.Has anyone correctly identified what it is?

3.Is it already a problem to be answering that question? Is it inherently an ideological problem?

4.Is is possible to have a theory of history without identifying a "motor"?


for dot and bornagainanarchist, here's the impetus of this question: when I say "motor" I mean, in an intentionally simplistic/mocking way, a single explanation of historical transition. Like, in Marx or Hegel, you get an account of what, dialectically, causes people to switch from one form of society to the "next" one. The reason I'm raising this here (as an "anarchist question," or a "question for anarchists") is because I'm trying to think about what relevance (if any) this has for us. That is, we are presumably aiming to bring about some sort of change. Does it matter, then, how we account for the changes that happen anyway? How do the changes we want to bring about figure into this? In that way it's related to the question, "do we need a theory of revolution?" (another thing that Marx had but that we don't necessarily).

Clearly, this is a question for everyone, not just anarchists. However, my assumption is that an anarchist answer would not be the same as everyone else's! :)

Also, to be extra clear, I'm not on the Marx team here. (though what team I Am on, I'm not sure)
asked Sep 24, 2015 by asker (9,900 points)
edited Sep 24, 2015 by asker
this doesn't really seem like a question for anarchists; doesn't mean it's not interesting, just sayin'....

but maybe i'm wrong and people will demonstrate awesome anarchist-centric ways to look at this.
it would help me if you defined "motor".
these are both fair questions -- i tried to add an answer of sorts to the end of it -- hope that helps
It's at least potentially an anarchist question, since one way of addressing it is to say that attempts to identify a single "motor of history" are essentially attempts to govern our understanding of history. Whether that rings alarm bells for anarchists will depend on whether their understanding of anarchist practice extends to issues like avoiding hierarchy in our thinking.
yea, i knew what you meant by motor. the marxist motor is the revolutionary agent, that is, the proletariat. and i guess before him the popular motor was God (still is for some).

i don't believe in a motor, for sure. i think that i agree with the premise of the third question - that alienation/ideology lurks in the big questions (maybe all of them? what is the meaning of life?)... but i don't have the mind to pursue that more just yet.
right, I was trying to clarify what I meant by motor for bornagainanarchist's benefit. sorry if unclear!

I'm not sure I can agree w/ you about what marx's motor is. I get what you mean but I think it's really class struggle in general, rather than the proletariat specifically. (he's trying to explain like literally everything, not just victorian capitalism, right?) Not to say that I agree w/ marx...

I also wonder, with your last point: is it that ideology lurks in the questions, or might it only lurk in the answers? not sure, but my feeling is that the 'big questions' have to be renewed precisely so that we can try to undo ideological assumptions (though not necessarily in order to give a final answer). this is very general.

to take a specific example, one thing that consistently worries me is how in marxism we're meant to be thinking about man-defined-as-a-producer. I feel like in order to combat that assumption we do have to raise a certain # of "big" questions (for me, these are basically foucault's questions) -- but we don't have to necessarily end with another conclusion about what man's fundamental being Actually is. (e.g., fundamentally man is sabbatical, put on earth to mess around). Instead we might want to keep renewing the investigation (kind of like how foucault says that the figure of man will be erased like a drawing at the edge of the sea)

hope that makes sense
sure it makes sense.

and you're right. marx's motor isn't the proletariat, it's the big CS. and modern marxists have moved (i think) to the motor being dialectics writ large, rather than just expressed through class...

and i think the ideology is lurking in the question, not just the answer(s), which doesn't mean it isn't good to revisit sometimes. or--to take out double negatives--it can be good to revisit any question, sometimes especially ideologically-influenced ones.
this seems right - what does CS stand for?

edit: oh, duh, class struggle. never mind!

I find it relevant and i am interested with whether technology is this motor. Also i do not find the answer "it is ideological" satisfying. I have not read enough about technology yet but Ellul's and Kaczynski's views make sense to me:

The 20th century French philosopher and social theorist Jacques Ellul could be said to be a hard determinist and proponent of autonomous technique (technology). In his 1954 work The Technological Society, Ellul essentially posits that technology, by virtue of its power through efficiency, determines which social aspects are best suited for its own development through a process of natural selection. A social system's values, morals, philosophy etc. that are most conducive to the advancement of technology allow that social system to enhance its power and spread at the expense of those social systems whose values, morals, philosophy etc. are less promoting of technology. Theodore J. Kaczynski (the Unabomber) can be essentially thought of as a hard determinist. According to Kaczynski, "objective" material factors in the human environment are the principle determining factors in the evolution of social systems. Whereas geography, climate, and other "natural" factors largely determined the parameters of social conditions for most of human history, technology has recently become the dominant objective factor (largely due to forces unleashed by the industrial revolution) and it has been the principal objective and determining factor.



If there is a motor, that should be main target of anarchist since one of the main tenet of the history seems to be destruction of individual autonomy. So it is important to define this motor or at least be sure about its nonexistence.

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