This work is intended as a study in the history of ideas, and, although a specific theme is pursued, I hope that its total effect will be to shed some light on "historicism," which has been described by Friedrich Meinecke, in his classic Die Entstehung des Historismus (1936), as "the greatest spiritual revolution Western thought has undergone." Although Meinecke's claim has been contested, and the validity of the underlying assumptions of historicism seriously questioned, much of our thinking is still shaped within the framework of historicism.
The meaning of the term "historicism" varies slightly in the hands of different writers, but in the main it represents a view of history wherein it is held that individual events are unique, time is irreversible, and the whole is permeated with a process of change and development. In a recent anthology touching on this subject, Hans Meyerhoff, as editor, remarks: "Process and individuality, change, the transiency of time and the concreteness of historical facts have remained the cornerstones of historicism." (The Philosophy of History in Our Time [Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959], p. 11.) Again, in criticizing it, Geoffrey Barraclough has said of historicism: "It substituted the concepts of development and individuality for belief in the stability of human nature and in reason." (Ibid., p. 29.)
As history grew into a specialized discipline in the last century, its subject matter was narrowed to human history alone.