Tag Archives: Herder

On the Idea of History

Note added, March 10–11, 2021. The bulk of this post concerns race in the theory of history, particularly the theory attributed to Johann Gotfried Herder (1744–1803). Not having read Herder for myself, I rely on the accounts of

  • R. G. Collingwood in § 2, “Herder,” of Part III of The Idea of History (1946),

  • Michael Forster in “Johann Gottfried von Herder,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (summer 2019).

Somebody like Herder may introduce race as an hypothesis to explain history, but ultimately the hypothesis fails, by denying us the freedom that is essential to history as such. Nonetheless, Forster defends Herder as having

an impartial concern for all human beings … Herder does also insist on respecting, preserving, and advancing national groupings. However, this is entirely unalarming,

because, for one thing, “The ‘nation’ in question is not racial but linguistic and cultural.”

Change Collingwood’s word “race” to “linguistic and cultural grouping” then. I think his conclusion remains sound: “Once Herder’s theory of race is accepted, there is no escaping the Nazi marriage laws.”

Continue reading