Journal of World History 11.1 (2000) 118-120
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Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social and Civilizational Change
Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social and Civilizational Change. Edited by Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. Pp. xii + 274. $65 (cloth).
Macrohistory and Macrohistorians is an attempt by the editors, Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah, to define an academic discipline out of the enduring intellectual fascination with explaining the development of human society from the earliest times to well beyond our own times, and to legitimize their endeavor with intellectual biographies of historians and others who have engaged in similar activities. The result is a volume that covers--and carves out--a lot of ground, but in doing so also presupposes and imposes limitations on established academic disciplines that their practitioners may not agree to.
Macrohistory is defined as diachronic and nomothetic--as opposed to synchronic and ideographic. With these four categories, each at three levels, the editors define twelve different "sciences" dealing with human conditions. The diachronic and ideographic sciences are biography at the personal level, history at the social-systems level, and world-systems history at the world-systems level, with microhistory (and genetic psychology), macrohistory, and world macrohistory as their nomothetic counterparts. The synchronic and nomothetic sciences are psychology, sociology/politiology/economics, and international relations, while interviews, anthropology, and yearbooks are synchronic and ideographic.
The macrohistorical method--which includes microhistory--monopolizes the diachronic and nomothetic. Macrohistorians search for patterns or "laws" and the causes of change through time, and they do not respect borders in time, including the line for "now." This distinguishes them from historians, but when the book claims that historians may say we cannot learn from the past, its credibility fades. Historians make use of patterns as a help in understanding the verbal and nonverbal remains of human activity and as an aid in comparative and integrative history, and these patterns and other historical experiences may be used in daily life to understand the present and advise on the future.
After the introduction about macrohistory the book has a long chapter presenting twenty macrohistorians and ends with four essays by the editors on macrohistorians compared, on macrohistorians combined, on macrohistory as metaphor for personal microhistory, and, finally, on world macrohistory.
The choice of macrohistorians starts with three premoderns and [End Page 119] ends with Gaia, and right before that the feminist Riane Eisler writes about herself. In between are fourteen male Euro-Americans from Vico to Gramsci, and one Indian man, Sarkar. The editors admit that the sample may not be perfect and mention a few other names, but they also claim that "it does cover the most important macrohistorians in Western, Indic, Islamic, and Sinic civilizations as well as the feminist and Gaian viewpoints" (p. 11). I have great respect for Sima Qian (Szu-Ma Ch'ien) and Ibn-Khaldun as representatives of the Sinic and Islamic civilizations but, at least for the Sinic, the omissions are so important as to invalidate this claim by the editors.
Sima Qian is, like Augustine, viewed rather as a representative of a tradition. He finished his work around 100 b.c.e., but the presentation takes us to June 1989 c.e.! And to make Sima Qian the originator of the cyclical theory of history is to overlook the fact that the linear presentation found in earlier Chinese classics had been decisively challenged already before Sima Qian in the syncretism of Dong Zhongshu (Tang Zhong-Shu, p. 13). The cyclical--helical may be more appropriate--view of historical development permeates official Chinese historiography throughout the imperial era, but the linear structure for all humankind in three stages, ending in the "great similarity" (or better, the great harmony, datong), became prominent in the macrohistories of some of the Chinese reformers of late imperial times, most prominently the leader of the aborted 1898 reforms, Kang Youwei.
Among the macrohistorians there are few proper historians. Most of them are versed in classical studies, in philosophy and law, or in social...