Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Following on from a thought last week, I noticed as I was reading the introduction to Peter Wilson's book on the Holy Roman Empire one more source of conspiracy theory-type thinking: the prevalence of theory over actuality.  Wilson bemoans the way in which historiography of the Holy Roman Empire has run into various dead ends over the years just because the Empire didn't fit in with the prevalent theories.  In the twentieth century especially, post-colonial theory has made the very name of 'Empire' a nasty word, and introduced a whole lot of assumptions about what empires are really like - and never mind that very few of them really match up with the reality of the Holy Roman Empire.  The theory tells us that empires in general behave in this way, so this empire in particular must have behaved in this way - and if it doesn't look like it did, then it must have just been doing it behind the scenes.

In short, a preference for abstraction over detail, and generalisation over the particular, can lead us to keep on making flawed assumptions about what is really going on in any given instance.

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