seek not, and thou shalt find anyway

In I suppose much the same way that pregnant women suddenly see other pregnant women everywhere, today I chanced upon a little more clarity on historical materialism in (of all places) one of Chesterton’s magnificently snide essays — ‘The Sun Worshipper’, the one that begins as follows:

There is a shrewd warning to be given to all people who are in revolt. And in the present state of things, I think all men are revolting in that sense; except a few who are revolting in the other sense.

hah! Anyway, in Chesterton’s words, historical materialism is, “roughly, this: that all the important things in history are rooted in an economic motive. In short, history is a science; a science of the search for food.”

and he continues, outrageously droll:

Man would not have any history if he were only economic. Cows have an economic motive, and apparently…only an economic motive. The cow eats grass anywhere and never eats anything else. In short, the cow does fulfil the materialist theory of history: that is why the cow has no history. ‘A History of Cows’ would be one of the simplest and briefest of standard works. But if some cows thought it wicked to eat long grass and persecuted all who did so; if the cow with the crumpled horn were worshipped by some cows and gored to death by others; if cows began to have obvious moral preferences over and above a desire for grass, then cows would begin to have a history.

They would also begin to have a highly unpleasant time, which is perhaps the same thing.

History as science — now I am beginning to understand how the Annalists both reacted against but were inextricably tethered to the Marxist tradition. The trouble with laws is that they are both explanatory and prescriptive, and I suppose the latter quality is what went so totally wrong with communism in practice.


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