Ranke’s understanding of the philosophy of historyJune 27, 2021
Ranke, one of the typical representatives of the historicism movement, foresees that history is a unique branch of science, therefore it should be examined separately from philosophy and art.
According to Ranke, who describes history as a process of change, historical events are unique and reflect the original spirit or thought of the period they belong to. For this reason, understanding history will only be possible by understanding the original spirit or thought of that period. Although Ranke’s philosophy of history is influenced by the Hegelian and Romantic views of his period, it differs from these movements in important points. In those years, historians around Hegel at the University of Berlin argued that history could only reach a conceptual unity through philosophy. Ranke, who opposed these views along with historians such as Savigny, Eichhorn and Niebuhr, argued that historical truth is meaningful in itself and that the interpretation of history by philosophical methods will detract the historian from objectivity.
While accepting Hegel’s view that “history is the reflection of universal truths”, he argued that this can only be understood as a result of empirical analysis. On the other hand, although he adopted the argument of the originality of nations and states put forward by the Romantic tradition, he did not include subjective concepts such as “power of the people” and “human will” in his research. According to him, history cannot be reduced to the struggle between “good” and “evil”, the competition between nation-states and the search for balance of power ensures the flow of history.
A moderate conservative, Ranke expressed his political views, particularly influenced by Friedrich von Gentz, in his articles in the journal Historisch-Politische Zeitschrift. King of Prussia IV. Supporting the conservative policy followed by Friedrich Wilhelm, he argued that Germany could establish a nation-state only under the leadership of Prussia. Based on the argument of the originality of nations and states, Ranke argues that nation-states create their histories in line with their own cultures and traditions. Therefore, he does not consider it possible for a movement similar to the French Revolution to take place in Germany. According to him, a moderate reform policy should be followed within the constitutional structure in Germany.
Ranke’s “16. In his books titled “People and Rulers of Southern Europe in the 17th Century and the 17th Century”, he argued that political stability could only be achieved through the establishment of nation states. Ranke shares the same view with Hegel, who sees the state as an ideal institution. For him, church and state are “positive” developments in history. Ranke’s conservative political view and religious attitude led him to seek a balance element in history, and also influenced him to adopt the belief that the truth of God underlies the authenticity of history.
Ranke, who was criticized by some historians for not giving importance to social and economic events and for treating history only as the history of states, left the understanding that history is a unique branch of science to contemporary historiography, as well as developed the seminar system used in history education. The scientific research method he developed is today accepted as one of the basic research methods of contemporary historiography.