Whig History and Lost Causesrnby Jeremy BlackrnIt is totally misleading to present history as if its course was inevitable.rnThe past cannot be understood if the elements ofrnchance and contingency are ignored. To assume that what happenedrnwas bound to happen—the teleological interpretation ofrnhistory—takes away the options facing individuals, groups, andrngovernments in the past. It is analytically suspect, and alsornmorally suspect, because it is wrong to argue that the past belongsrnto the victors. That is a version of the “might is right” approach,rnthe criminals’ charter of history, that reduces to impotencernand inconsequence those who were, and are, weak orrnunsuccessful.rnBoth British and foreign history are littered with developmentsrnthat were anything but inevitable. I will refer to some ofrnthe most important later, but first must note that the purposernof such an exercise is not simplv to turn individual episodes onrntheir head but, more generally, to call for a fundamentally differentrnapproach to history. The traditional Whiggish stancernwas one way of tackling what many saw as the purpose of historv:rnexplaining how “we came to be here.” This commonly assumedrnthat “we” was unproblematic, that the identity and coherencernof the English and the French were clear-cut. Therernwas also a clear assumption that the course of history was a matterrnof progress, that a degree of triumphalism was appropriate;rnthe past as a suitable and heroic reflection of the present. DisjeremyrnBlack is a professor of history at the University ofrnDurham, England. His many books include Eighteenth-rnCentury Europe andThe Politics of Britain 1688-1800.rncussing the past in terms of present values and concerns was arncharacteristic of this work. British popular historians explainedrnhow Britain had come to have a Protestant identity, respect forrnproperty, the rule of law, and a self-confidence combining a patrioticrnsense of national uniqueness with an often xenophobicrnattitude toward foreigners, especially Catholics.rnHistory of this type presented a clear and obvious past, onernthat was ordered by the fact that it clearly prepared the way forrnthe present. Thus British history was a seamless web thatrnstretched back to Magna Carta in 1215 and the constitutionalrnstruggles of the barons in medieval England, and forward to thern19th-century extension of the franchise. These were seen asrnarising naturally from the country’s development, indeed as beingrnthe natural character of the progress of its people, an analysisrnthat reflected the influence of Social Darwinism, ideas ofrnhuman advancement that stemmed from the influence ofrnCharfes Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the past is neverrnclear and rarely simple, which is the lesson that emerges mostrnobviously from historical scholarship over the last century.rnThere have been and always will be competing schools ofrnthought, but they share a sense that the past is controversial,rnthat the debates of the past over policies and events can be repeatedrnin modern controversies over their analysis.rnAll too frequently, this level of controversy is neglected inrngeneral works and textbooks. This is understandable becausernwriting such books involves a difficult process of selection, andrnthe dictates of space encourage a schematic interpretation.rnMajor events, or rather events that appear full of importancern20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn