Review of Inglis, History Man

Review of Fred Inglis, History Man: The Life of R. G. Collingwood

Published in Books and Culture, Dec/Jan 2012

In An Autobiography, published in 1939 on the eve of World War II, English philosopher R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943) reflected on the historical legacy of World War I. “[A] war of unprece-dented ferocity,” wrote Collingwood, “closed in a peace-settlement of unprecedented folly, in which statesmanship, even purely selfish statesmanship, was overwhelmed by the meanest and most idiotic passions.” The war, Collingwood conceded, “was an unprecedented triumph for natural science,” a triumph that also “paved the way to other triumphs: improvements in transport, in sanitation, in surgery, medicine, and psychiatry, in commerce and industry, and, above all, in preparations for the next war.” The Treaty of Versailles had nevertheless failed, on Collingwood’s account, to restore the human side of affairs to any semblance of good order. The “power to control Nature” had overrun man’s “power to control human situations,” and the treaty gave way to a reign of natural sc

ience with the power to convert Europe “into a wilderness of Yahoos.”           ….read more