Historical Realism


Although I was not raised any particular religion, I converted to Christianity in 1984. What happens with a lot of devout religious people is that after much time spent toward trying to apply and promote their religion, they find themselves becoming cynical; usually because some hypocrisy with the leadership. Although I still consider myself a very devout Christian, I spend my studies in private or with a small group Bible study. However, more and more I am trying to demonstrate a philosophy that will be compatible, not only with my own Christianity, but with most religions because it does not attempt to alter the religion. I have been calling this philosophy, Historical Realism.

Historical Realism has generally pertained to the real or accurate depiction of events and most typically in the areas of literature, art, and film. However, philosophically Historical Realism is the study of the accuracy of history. A debate within the field of philosophy is whether or not historical accounts can truly be accurate since they may not be objective. Think of the common phrase; "History is written by the victors". Because of this naivety of assuming history is accurate, Historical Realism has often been called Naive Realism. What I am attempting to do is develop Historical Realism beyond its focus only on historical accuracy and into a full-fledged worldview that can be utilized by people across cultures.

In the Internet Age, Historical Realism's naivete need not be. While the Internet and Information Ages do not completely remove the veil over accurate historical verification and comparison; the advent of these ages has allowed Historical Realism to mature.

Historical Realism, as I am presenting it will not merely be a vehicle to accurately record and depict events but by analyzing the compilation of history we can attempt to ascertain positive and negative effects so that we might avoid repeating the negative. Think of the common phrase; "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it". Or since we are trying to be historically accurate; the original phrase by British Statesman and Philosopher, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." From this point on, for brevity I will refer to Historical Realism as "HR".

Perhaps one of the flaws in earlier forms of HR was that its advocates attempted to justify HR as an objective expression or were cynical that it could really be of any objective use. The argument is, as articulated by Leon J. Goldstein in Impediments to Epistemology in the Philosophy of History:

"I distinguish what I call the infrastructure and the superstructure of history. By the latter I mean those products of the historical enterprise which are typically consumed by those readers who themselves are not historians, the accounts produced of times past, mainly narratives but not mainly such, which are intended to give their readers some idea of what some part of the human past was like. In contrast, most readers of works of history never become acquainted with the infrastructure of history, that phase of historical research during which historians apply the techniques and methods of their discipline, and by thinking historically -- whatever that proves to mean -- about historical evidence come to some conclusion about what it is most reasonable to believe took place in the historical past." -- http://www.jstor.org/stable/2505133

As you can see, the concern here by Goldstein was first whether the general reading public are actually consuming real history or merely a superstructure or superficial understanding. But even so, Goldstein seems to think that historians who apply techniques and methods only come to a reasonable belief of what took place in historical past. This relativistic mindset toward history and the knowledge it may impart has been a hindrance for the full-fledged development of HR.

If we instead realize and accept from the outset that historical knowledge is only a series of positives and negatives; or perhaps in the Computer Programming Age lingo, an "if-then conditional statement" -- the sequences of ones and zeros -- we can begin to utilize history to our advantage. This will also require the understanding that we must operate not in moral absolutes of "good" and "bad" effects but only in positive and negative effects. Positive and negative is different than "good" and "bad" (or evil) in that as we look at positive and negative it is all a matter of perspective. For example; both of these statements could be historically inaccurate:

A. European expansion into the New World was a good thing.
B. European expansion into the New World was a bad thing.

While it was certainly positive for the majority of Europeans, it was negative not only for the indigenous people (or was it?) but possibly negative to other non-European cultures since the European's power would increase due to dominance of an entire new continent. So, rather than speak of "good" and "bad"; advocates of the HR world-view need to speak more about positive and negative effect. This is not to say that there is no morality within the HR world-view. I want to introduce a fundamental principle within HR:

What is positive for most is most positive.

Immediately there should be objection to this principle on its surface. But the objection should be that historically we have many examples of events and actions carried out by the "most" against the "lesser" and those events and actions were not always positive. Think of our examples of the Europeans displacing the indigenous people within America. The "most", the Europeans came and displaced the "lesser". How was this positive for the lesser? Was it justified as positive simply because it was positive to the majority?

Here is where human emotionalism begins to skew historical reality. The idea that "lesser" must be accommodated has restrained advancement either via economic, cultural, or even religious restriction. However, we need to be careful that we understand what the "most" actually means and what is positive for most. For example; many political philosophies have attempted accommodate the "most" of a society and have miserably failed so much so as to make the situation for the "most" more negative. Think of Communism, Marxism and Socialism which all attempt to level the playing field and accommodate the "most" (people) within society. These political theories fail for three main reasons:

  1. They go against the natural human predilection toward independence.
  2. They attempt to supplant all socio-religious considerations of people.
  3. They actually accommodate the lowest denominator.

While historically it is true that humans have had a tribal mentality, that tribe typically is fairly close-knit and independent such as is our modern family units. A centralized governmental system imposes upon not only the individual independence but on the tribal or familial independence. Next, whenever such a centralized governmental system exists, it eventually becomes either by design or by necessity all-consuming. The State begins to supplant or replace an individual's personal social and religious considerations. We see this specifically in how many Statist societies place huge banners and statues of current or former leaders in public places, not merely as a memorial but as a main focus. Lastly, a skewed concept of accommodating the "most" leads to accommodating the lowest denominator in societies. We see this with the rise of the Welfare State where the less productive "mosts" are being supported by the more productive "lessers". This has historically resulted in total collapse of the society or outright civil war or revolution since this structure cannot be maintained.

So, when we apply the foundational principle of HR -- "What is positive for most is most positive" -- we must consider not merely the short term positives but the long term. Can it be sustained? Does it go against natural predilection? It is not merely positive for the most people but for most of the time. This is where history comes in. As we examine the positives and negatives of history, we should utilize them to develop systems and structures. There is no reason to attempt to supplant or replace religious considerations as far as they are positive for most; not just most people but most conventions. HR is not attempting to become a secular religion. In fact the "realism" part of HR understands the reality of conventions such as religion. Think of the common phrase; "It is what it is". HR only becomes stronger as more time passes because HR is based on the compilation of demonstrative positive and negative historical effects. The more history we accurately know and compare, the more we can implement the positive for the most people and the most time without attempting to displace positive conventions already in place.


As Historical Realism (HR) is developed, there is need to better define what is meant by the driving principle of What is positive for most is most positive. I would like to delve further into the ramifications of this principle. First, when we talk about positive and negative, these do not necessarily correlate to what might be considered "good" and "bad". Next, when we talk about the "most", it does not necessarily mean majority. Rather, the principle of What is positive for most is most positive is about what will improve the quality of life for the most people for the most time. When we talk about quality of life we mean such things as overall happiness, wealth, health, life-span and such. There is a possibility that while the implementation of an action improves one area for the most, it decreases another area for most. Depending on all the weighted factors, the overall effect could actually be a negative. Take for example a Welfare State that may see some immediate improvement for the "most" people being supported by the "lesser" amount of people. While it may improve the quality of life for the most people for an amount of time, eventually it would be unsustainable as it would have more consumers than producers. This does not even consider that a Welfare State, while sustained may actually decrease the overall quality of the consumers life by causing them to become dependent and lazy or by accepting only mediocre improvements whereas if they were to produce most of what they consume; their life may be enriched even more.


The concept of fairness within the human psyche will be cause to raise objections; especially if people continue to equate "most" with majority. Think of how humanity often cheers on the "underdog" or the supposed oppressed. Think of how some governments set tax brackets; taxing a more proficient producer at a higher rate while taxing a less proficient producer at a lower tax rate. It seems in many societies, that there is a notion that it is "fair" to burden one person more over another via some implicit or explicit idea that the more burdened deserves it. This is completely outside the HR principle of What is positive for most is most positive because eventually the more burdened will take his or her production and go elsewhere or stop producing as much so as to be reassigned to a lower tax bracket. This overall is not positive for the most.

The concept of fairness comes into play only when it allows the "most" the same or fair opportunities for the most positive outcome and effect. Think of the aphorism: "A rising tide lifts all boats". By this is meant that a general improvement, while appearing to benefit the highest producers the most will also benefit the lowest producers.


While I've already demonstrated how the HR principle might be applied to economic situations, the consistent application of the principle should improve or create a positive effect when applied in other areas. Remember to balance the application with a consideration toward "most people", "most time" and without working from the lowest denominator and in a sustainable way. For example, universal, government controlled health care would seem to be a perfect application. After all, more people will have the opportunity to receive health care right? Besides the possibility of not being able to sustain a universal health care plan, there is the other factor that the universal health care being provided becomes of a lesser quality than individual payer based health care. So, while more people will have health care under a universal plan, the overall quality could decrease since there is no incentive to capture a distinct individual payer that would pay more for a better quality.

In applying the principle, there is an issue of applying it via compulsion. Forcing even a minority to accept a policy which would overall bring positive effects to them, may result in unrest thus disrupting the overall positive effect to the majority. Lastly, when applying the principle, we should not see it as forcing people to accept a one-size fits all policy. It is possible within HR, to apply modified policies on the same idea that will positively affect one group or area. This must be weighed on whether it negatively affects another group or area.

This is where the study of historical effect comes in. As we look at the policy in history we can determine its overall effect. From there we will be able to modify those things that caused negative effect so as to increase the positive.


Since Historical Realism (H.R.) is concerned with ascertaining the most positive effect for the most people and most time, it is therefore extremely important to look at as many sources as possible that might elucidate which concepts most cause this effect. The methodology of H.R. must therefore consider how to approach and gather these sources.


While all historical accounts have benefit even if the account relates a narrow perspective, not all history is the same when it comes to achieving the goal of H.R. When an advocate of H.R. approaches historical accounts he or she should consider some things about the account. Consideration of these points doesn't automatically mean the source is accurate but only that the H.R. researcher is understanding that these dynamics could be in operation in the account.

  1. Is it from a demonstratively credible source?
  2. Is it in accord with consensus accounts?
  3. What does the opposition say?
  4. Be aware of agenda or propaganda.
  5. Readily verifiable by others.

There certainly are other issues to consider when approaching historical accounts, these five points should set the researcher on a path to accuracy.

First, how can we determine if a source is credible? Notice the word demonstratively. This means can it be demonstrated that the source has provided accurate historical accounts on other topics? This will require researching data from the source that may be easier to verify. Next, it may be wondered why we should pay any consideration to consensus accounts? After all, with the notion that much history is written by the victor it is very probable that the consensus or mainstream accounts could be skewed. Exactly, but with the caution of going immediately toward conspiracy accounts we should start first with the consensus accounts. Again, this doesn't mean it is the most accurate. Consideration of the opposition, even the conspiratorial accounts is important to provide perspective and potentiality of misrepresentation by the mainstream accounts. In all of this, the researcher should be aware of agenda and propaganda. Agenda isn't necessarily a negative aspect. We are not attempting to reach a so-called unbiased conclusion since in reality nothing is really unbiased. Rather, as H.R. advocates we are attempting to go where the realistic historical cause and effect leads. Understanding and acknowledging the inherent agenda not only in historical positions but in the accounting of those positions is very important. Lastly, for sake of development; which is what H.R. will always be doing, developing a yet better understanding of the most positive for the most people and most time we need to be certain our sources are readily verifiable by others. The citation of some obscure or difficult to access source isn't helpful toward the process of development.


An H.R. researcher may find that outlining is an easily followed pattern. That is, when approaching a topic outline or bullet point whenever possible. For example, suppose you were to do a study on the most positive form of government. You might construct your research outline in this manner:

A. Types of Government

1. Feudalism
2. Communism
3. Socialism
4. Capitalism

Obviously expanding from there. It may also be helpful for development to present the types in some sort of chronological order of development. You may then want to future outline the pros and cons or positives and negative demonstrated and potential effects. Cite both common and extreme objections to the position. At the conclusion, demonstrate why one position has been most positive for most people and most time.


Another thing that must be considered when researching what is most positive for most people and most time is what might be called historical lag. This is the effect where history seems to go fairly unchanged for a longer amount of time. There have been periods within history where the opportunity of change was suppressed by varying factors. To assume that a position was positive for the most time simply because it was in effect for a longer period must be balanced with the notion that historical lag may have existed. For example, there is a large period where dictatorial or monarchical government systems were in use, perhaps longer than any other type of system. This does not immediately mean that these systems were the most positive because they existed for the most relative time.

Perhaps one way to determine if historical lag may exist with a specific position or era is to assess if there was advancement of positive effect for the most people during this period. For example, we can look at technological advancement and determine if there has been much development between eras. Again, development is not always positive. Some people may think the development of gunpowder was a negative development as it dramatically changed the concept of urban protection of living within the confines of city walls. Security was decreased because walls were easily breached. However, before the development of gunpowder, the concept of walled-cities remained common. This may be an example of historical lag and should be considered before an H.R. concludes that the most positive form of community is within a walled city because is has been the longest recorded type of urban community.


The H.R. researcher should be ready to accept whatever the methodology concludes. This is not the same as being "open-minded". As a matter of fact, be wary of the notion of being "open-minded" as it has been often utilized by those people seeking to manipulate others. They will ridicule those who do not follow along as "closed-minded", "narrow-minded", "intolerant", or even "bigoted". Rather, the H.R. researcher should be focus-minded as in focused on the demonstrative most positive effects for the most people and most time. Going outside this focus will cause the H.R. advocate to possibly veer into forms of irrationality or at the very least historical inaccuracy.


A phrase is that "statistics can be made to say anything"; that is statistics can be spun to depict a certain picture. Or even worse yet, a person could present supposed "statistics" without any support and if they present those statistics long enough, people tend to believe them. For example, during the early 1980s in America as the HIV/AIDS virus began to become more prevalent there was a media campaign telling Americans that "Aids is everyone's problem" (ref). But statistically is this a true statement? Certainly, any disease can affect the entire population even if only a small segment is physically affected. The effect could be the financial strain, the fear it may cause in general. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) governmental data for 2008, you will notice that of the known estimated 1,178,350 Americans 13 years or older living with AIDS; 580,000 of them contracted AIDS via male-with-male sex. Another 55,200 contracted AIDS via male-with-male sex and intravenous drug use. Yet another 205,500 contracted AIDS via intravenous drug use without any specification as to their sexual habits. So, clearly, at least 71% of the people in America living with AIDS contracted it via very specific life styles. Of the remaining 29%, from the data provided, it is unclear how they contracted the disease. These statistics were even higher in the 1980s. The point is, without any moral judgment attached, is that HIV/AIDS is NOT "everyone's problem" if we mean that everyone has the same potentiality of contracting it. The statics have been overshadowed by the propaganda.

Therefore, we must operate with caution when looking at statistics. How were they gathered? What is the sample and the control elements? What process, questions, or methods were used to gather the data?

A pollster may skew statistics one way or another depending how a question is asked. For example when presenting a completed poll on two politicians we may see statistics that show that 95% of the respondents chose politician A over politician B. Why? What questions were asked? Or even more specifically what two politicians? What if politician A was Abraham Lincoln and politician B was Adolph Hitler? Now we can see how statistics can be manipulated to generate a certain result.

This is just to caution the researcher to be careful with statistical data. Make sure the statistics were properly gathered and by a sampling that represents the most broad representation. And even then, be cautious that statistics, even when done properly may not really show a true picture. There could be elements not even considered that affect the end result, which could even change since the statistics were collected.

Historical Realism must approach statistical data with a fair amount of skepticism so as to allow for further data to change those results. By no means avoid utilizing and citing statistics, but be as aware as possible how that data was collected and the track record of the people collecting that data.

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