The 19th century was the heroic age of the historian. Thentriumph of the historical method, according to one periodnsource, had “revolutionized not only the sciences of law,nmythology and language, of anthropology and sociology, but itnhas forced its way even into the domain of philosophy andnnatural science.” The concentration on primary records, the usenof the comparative mode, the commitment to scientific objectivitynand the elaborate flowering of “the gift of historicalnthinking”—a methodology systematized with near-religiousnpurpose by the German Leopold von Ranke—were thenelements of this intellectual credo. Exhibiting that peculiarnform of imperialism found among the academic illuminati, thendiscipline’s acolytes soon extended their claims far beyondnscholastic circles. “All our hopes of the future,” wrote one practitionernof the new science, “depend on a sound understandingnof the past.”nxl-midst the nations of Anglo-Saxon heritage, the classicalnliberal interpretation of history generally held sway. LordnActon, who had transplanted “the German method” acrossthenChannel, gave this approach its most confident exegesis. Fornhim, the history of the world since 1500 was the narrative ofn”the universal spirit of investigation amd discovery,” which hadnovercome recurring efforts at reaction and had finally prevailednduring “the reign of general ideas” of the latter 1700’s. “Thenunexpected tmth, stranger than fiction,” he stated, was thatnthe Revolution of Sieyes “was not the min but the renovation ofnhistory.” Knowledge of the past, Acton declared with aplomb,nwas always “the safest and surest emancipation.”nIn contrast to old Tory philosophers such as Edmund Burke,nhowever, Acton insisted that such a temporal faith was not thenenemy of true religion. “[T]his constancy of progress … innthe direction of organized and assured freedom,” he wrote, ” isnthe characteristic fact of Modern History, and its ttibute to thentheory of Providence.” Acton believed that the wisdom ofnDivine mle appeared in “the improvement of the world” andnin the steady advance toward “achieved liberty.” He insistednthat where there existed” a fair level of general morality, education,ncourage and self-restraint,” where human judgmentsnwere delivered by canons of “evident morality” and where ansociety’s intellectual custodians pledged “never to debase thenmoral currency or to lower the standard of rectitude,” thennecessary prerequisites for freedom and progress were secured.nA contemporary late 19th-century figure, however, saw thenweakness inherent in this otherwise compelling explication ofnthe past and future, and he came to contemplate the latter withndread. Jakob Burckhardt, writing in the little Swiss city ofnBasel, diagnosed an amoral aspect of modern liberalism thatnwould slowly erode the “evident morality” and cormpt “thenstandard of rectitude” which Acton, perforce, assumed to bengivens. Drawing on the theories of Rousseau, Burckhardt notednthat European democrats seeking equality and human perfec­nChronicles of Culturen• HISTORY & LIFE •nCOMMENTnnntion had breached those values—the inner acceptance ofnauthority, the respect for tradition, the readiness to restrain individualnappetites for the common good—which alone allowedndemocracy to work. The “terrible intellectual nullity” ofnradicalism, he stressed, had left laws and even constitutionsnvulnerable to any demagogue who might claim a new “right ofnman.” As a result, all matters in the democratic age dependednon the whims and manipulations of public opinion. “Anythingnis possible in Europe since the Paris Commune [of 1871],”nBurckhardt wrote, “chiefly because there are everywhere good,nsplendid liberal people who do not quite know the boundariesnof right and wrong and where the duty of resistance and defensenbegins. It is these men who open the doors and level the pathsnfor the terrible masses everywhere.” [Emphasis added]nLooking toward the coming century, Burckhardt saw thenprobable results: the sacrifice of liberty to standardization and anbogus equality; a gradual lowering in the caliber of politicalnleadership; pacifist rhetoric among democrats who werensimultaneously building military despotisms; increasingndependence by the masses on the state; the rise to authority ofn”criminal cliques” that would “completely ignore law, prosperity,nprofitable labor and industry”; and a populace thatnwould “no longer believe in principles but will, periodically,n. . . [believe] in saviours.” In this age, Burckhardt suggested,n”liberal Protestantism” would evaporate and the reformednpastors would “scatter like dust as soon as people fall into realndistress.” Only the conservative churches, he suspected, wouldnoffer any resistance to the coming onslaught of the totalitarians.n