Published Volume XXXIV, Nos. 1 & 2, 2021

As social science has grown more sophisticated, so has its awareness of its own methodological shortcomings. Many of the leading journals publish extensively (sometimes, exclusively) on new devices to circumvent these difficulties. At least some social scientists, though, seem aware that they will never devise mathematical tools capable of overcoming certain ceilings on their knowledge. There is an increasing demand for other ways to ask and answer questions.

As the social sciences knock vainly against these ceilings—and as they dwindle into increasing policy irrelevance—more humanistic scholars recommend a return to history. This remedy, though, is incomplete. The old saw that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” has hidden history’s most difficult problem: its lessons are not obvious. History is too contingent, and its cases too few, for the states-man to derive general lessons with any confidence. The statesman must learn from it, but what he must learn is not often clear.

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