Front Page Titles (by Subject) A Historian Between Paradigms - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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A Historian Between Paradigms - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
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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A Historian Between Paradigms
“J.B. Bury's Philosophy of History: A Reappraisal.” The American Historical Review 82 (1977): 896–919.
J.B. Bury, British classicist and Lord Acton's successor as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge (1903), eludes facile stereotypes. In his theories of historical explanation and cognition, he resembles neither a positivist enamored of “covering laws” nor an idealist repelled by historical generalizations. Bury personifies the “crisis” of paradigms in early twentieth century historiography in his historical ambivalence, eclecticism, and “groping toward new formulations.” Caught between the rival paradigms of nineteenth-century German “scientific” historiography and the older native tradition of British “literary” historiography, Bury displays the tension of allegiances in his “working faith” as a historian. Bury's faith transcended his own value-free scientific notion of historical “development” by embracing the value-laden notion of human “progress” as the march of reason and liberty.
Historical explanation poses hermeneutic and nomological alternatives: Do unique events and human volition in history mean that causal explanations are impossible (the hermeneutic paradigm)? Does historical understanding, on the other hand, require a positivist search for covering laws that describe and predict causal patterns (the nomological paradigm)? Bury chose an intermediate position. Although his 1903 inaugural address celebrated “The Science of History” and praised the German-inspired critical method, Bury disavowed that valid historical generalizations were predictive or deductive laws. But causal patterns are discernable in aggregate human behavior and serve a heuristic value. The historian seeks to weave individual facts into a connected tapestry of meaning and systematic theory.
To what extent did Bury believe that the historian's methods provide “objective knowledge”? On this question of the nature of historical cognition Bury again took an intermediate position. He acknowledged the seemingly insuperable impediments to understanding alien cultures. The historian's present subjective feelings may distort the past. Bury balanced this appreciation of the role of how subjective paradigms limit perception with his hope for the emergence of “a new method of historical psychology” that could overcome such limitations. The historian's imprisonment in his own mental and emotional paradigms need not permanently obscure historical knowledge.
Bury perplexes us by vacillating between his credo of historical impartiality and his occasional praise for a partisan point of view. The key to this enigma is his fitful accommodation to the British historiographical tradition which assumed that superb literary style was wedded to a parti pris, such as Gibbon's or Macaulay's. In a similar manner, the tug of a rival value-laden paradigm impelled him to interpret “development” to mean “progress” in the direction of reason and individual liberty. History, Bury advocated in “The Science of History,” should become “a more and more powerful force for stripping the bandages of error from the eyes of men, for shaping public opinion and advancing the cause of intellectual and political liberty....” Bury, however, did not regard such liberal progress as a historical necessity. Human volition and contingencies undermine deterministic inevitability.