Additional principles of historical knowledge

This page lists 38 suggested principles of history. Readers were asked to select what they considered to be the most important, valid, and useful principles of historical knowledge for students to learn. To see the list of 11 key principles chosen by readers, click here. To see Mike’s five additional principles of history, click here.

. . .

1. Taking control of the media makes it possible to brainwash large numbers of people.

2. It’s the people with the guns who make the rules.

3. When a country’s government is toppled by internal revolution or an external enemy, civil war may break out as factions in the country compete to fill the power vacuum. 

4. Democracies aren’t very good at addressing threats that won’t affect them until after the next election. 

5. Humans have long manifested an instinctual yearning to explore, to learn, and to develop new technologies to improve their lives.

6. Humans are a violence-prone species that engages in acts of individual violence and in organized acts of mass homicide (warfare).

7. Humans exhibit an instinct to exercise control over others. 

8. Humans exhibit an instinct to resist external control. 

9. Three motives for war are fear, honor, and self-interest. (from Thucydides)

10. Those who promote war tend to disparage those who resist war as cowardly or unpatriotic. (Thucydides again)

11. Rising powers have a tendency to go to war with established powers. (the “Thucydides Trap”) 

12. Powerful nations tend to prey on weaker nations.

13. Leaders try to get their way by appealing to the emotions of their followers.

14. When nations or leaders want to go to war, any excuse will do.

15. Leaders typically justify foreign invasions by claiming to be helping the people they invade.

16. Even superpowers experience limits to their power.

17. Many or most military invasions of distant lands fail over the long term.

18. Humans exhibit a propensity to fear, dislike, kill, subjugate, and discriminate against people from groups different than their own.

19. People tend to promote their self-interest and the interest of their group, so bias is all around us.

20. Humans tend to position themselves along a political spectrum that ranges from conservative to liberal.

21. Government actions tend to have winners and losers.

22. Government actions tend to produce unintended consequences.

23. Democracy can be a difficult system of government to sustain.

24. Hereditary monarchy is no insurance against civil war and insurrection.

25. Major events usually result from multiple causes, some long-term and some more immediate.

26. Economies are inherently unstable and can careen out of control if not carefully monitored.

27. Major cultures and empires have followed a general pattern of growth, flowering, and decline throughout history.

28. Too much corruption, inequality, or authoritarianism in a society (or any combination of these) can lead to public protest, rioting in the streets, or revolution (or any combination of these).  

29. Empires tend to fall when they allow themselves to become overstretched.

30. Political constitutions tend toward oligarchy (the rule of the few).

31. Effective constitutions tend to come apart if the armed forces are not kept independent of government and if the judicial system is dictated by the ruling party.

32. Lack of careful city planning tends to result in ghettoes and gangs.

33. Arrogant leaders tend to bring about their own fall and/or to be reviled after their deaths.

34. Because riches and luxury deaden social awareness, the very rich must be prevented from gaining a free hand in society.

35. Thoughtful religion can help to bring a society together; thoughtless and bigoted religion can inflame division in society.

36. Mismanagement of the environment will be paid back by loss of resources.  

37. Countries with the best-equipped armed forces may win the wars; but they often fail to win the peace.

38. Wars have lasting effects on people, governments, economies, lands, and societies.

These principles of history were suggested by followers Tefel and Fred, and by Mike Maxwell in his book Future-Focused History Teaching, and by Professor Garry Tromph, author of the book The Idea of Historical Recurrence in Western Thought.

Related information:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s