Fallacy of the Holistic Analogy
Sun Aug 10 20:09:35 2008
Fischer accuses metahistorians Spengler and Toynbee of creating an entire historical philosophy based purely on analogy. Spengler’s Decline of the West uses a seasonal metaphor (spring, summer, fall, winter) to describe the rise and decline of eight analogous cultures. Toynbee’s A Study of History uses a similar but less overt approach. Neither one has been well received by serious historians but they both have had tremendous influence on the culture at large. I think there is something very powerful in the use of analogy that many people find compelling. Certainly these histories are very exciting and enjoyable to read, despite their flaws.
I don’t think this kind of mythological approach to history has died out either. Its ability to communicate, inspire and perhaps even confuse has many uses. It seems to be the standard approach to history used by many journalists, politicians and pundits. Plus it still shows up in the works of academic historians and theorists like Victor Davis Hanson’s The Western Way of War and Carnage and Culture and Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. Hanson and Huntington, like Spengler and Toynbee in their time, have had a profound influence on our culture.