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Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History by…

Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History

by Richard J. Evans

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An excellent work of history. The author does judge the value of counterfactuals to history, as expected, concluding that it offers little. But he also goes far beyond that to study just what it is that has led to the rush towards speculation about what might have been. This is an enterprise mostly conducted by the political right, to show the power of free will and heroic individuals; Margaret Thatcher would have approved. ( )
  elimatta | Feb 21, 2014 |
Evans is ruthless, forensic and totally convincing in demolishing this pretext, finding instead an even greater determinism, where the autonomous actions of a handful of great men set in motion enormous, immutable forces. Free will is only the free will of leaders.

Counterfactuals are the byproduct of a paranoid nostalgia specific to the right, where "greatness" is forever being sabotaged by leftists, liberals or whoever.
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What would have happened had Britain not entered the First World War but stood aside as a neutral non-belligerent? What might the result have been had Britain concluded a separate peace with Nazi Germany in 1940 or 1941? How would the British have behaved had they lost the Battle of Britain and been conquered and occupied by the armed forces of Hitler's Third Reich? Altered Pasts is a fascinating discussion of the historical and cultural significance of imagining the road not taken. From its beginnings as an Enlightenment parlour game to its relationship with modern-day conspiracy theories, Richard Evans charts the social and political implications of counterfactual history and its capacity for being a mirror on the present.… (more)

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