Front Page Titles (by Subject) Historicism: Individuality or Pattern? - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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Historicism: Individuality or Pattern? - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Historicism: Individuality or Pattern?
“Historicism's Revenge.” Annals of Scholarship 1(Spring 1980):15–30.
“We are all historicists now either expressly or figuratively.”
Historicism is a “Philosophy of history that dissolves all reality into the stream of historic becoming.” By this definition, “it is hard to think of anyone save Arnold Toynbee who is not a historicist.” Most historians now agree that history has to adapt itself to the changing cultural attitudes of the age. The historicist view has dissolved the “older certainties which stabilized reality outside of history…and which used to anchor the historical point of view.” Historicism, “which used to have such a bad press because of its relativistic implications and which gave historicism such an evil reputation because of its imperialistic implications” has taken a double revenge.
This “double revenge” consists in the two kinds of attempt by later historicists to overcome the earlier historicists' radical undermining of the “older certainties.” These de facto later historicists (such as Marxists) have either affirmed temporal structures from outside history to give some stability to history or “they have obscurely constructed forms or relationships or institutions from within history itself to provide a stability which history can get from no other source.” Paradoxically, both forms of historicism—the philosophical and the historiographical—have weakened “the coherence that gave some stability to history.” They did sophilosophical and the historiographical—have weakened “the coherence that by denying the validity or the applicability of the constant values which other thinkers had drawn from outside history to give a firm foundation to the general meaning or connection that they discerned in the particulars of the historical process itself.
We find two kinds of responses to historicism: one group (e.g. Croce, Collingwood, Mannheim, and Meinecke) accepts its relativistic implications and looks outside of history for stability; a second group responds by refusing relativism and looks within history for general patterns and stable structures that run counter to historical relativism.
Some members of the first group seek the connections that bridge the “irreducible individuality of historical phenomena in the constancy of logic, sociology, or political theory.” Other members of this first camp (Dilhey, Simmel, Troeltsch, and Max Weber) strove to overcome the “disenchantment” of historicism and “saw in history an embodiment of values whose overarching validity lay rooted in a transcendent realm outside of history. All the diverse members of this first camp—whether idealists, positivists, the Neo-Marxist Frankfurt school, or structuralists—view history as individualizing and heterogeneous; they depend upon stable realm outside of history for their source of coherent pattern in history.
Even Karl Popper, an outspoken enemy of historicism in his The Poverty of Historicism,” belongs to this first camp of historicists. Popper, like all positivists, has assumed the applicability of the scientific method (in the form of “covering-law model”) to history. Popper thereby affirms the “extra-historical legacy of historicism.” Popper himself has muddied the waters of what historicism is by defining it in terms of necessary developmental laws.
The second kind of response to historicism takes seriously the dissolving effect of individualizing reality both inside and outside of history and seeks to construct the coherence of history from the very individualities history. Three subtypes of response occur among those who would construct the stable patterns of history out of its individual components.
Historicism has, on the one hand, stressed the unique, individualist, and particular aspects of history, but, on the other hand, has left a vacuum as to the coherent patterns and connection among these historical particulars. It has thus stressed the sense of variety, individuality, and multiplicity in history. But paradoxically its “vacuum” or lack of connecting principles has evoked the revenge of compelling “the western mind to find rest in some kind of coherent and rational pattern.”