E. H. Carr: historian of the future





The career of E. H. Carr (1892–1982) provides a singular, and often baffling, illustration of the tensions and paradoxes involved in being one of twentieth-century Britain’s leading intellectuals. Through his little book What Is History?, he probably did as much as any other single figure to shape reflective assumptions in the second half of the century about the nature of historical knowledge, especially among sixth-formers and university students, yet he had not been educated as a historian, nor did he ever hold an appointment as a teacher of the subject. He was the principal British founder of what was to become the dominant “realist” school in the study of international relations, yet in the latter part of his long and productive life he disparaged the discipline and kept his distance from it. Throughout the Cold War, he courted intellectual and political isolation by championing the achievements of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union, yet he was largely untouched by Marxist theory.

There are comparable paradoxes in the manner in which Carr occupied his various roles. Some of his most-noticed writing took the form of leading articles for the acknowledged voice of Establishment opinion in the middle of the century, The Times, of which he was Assistant Editor from 1941 to 1946; yet his contributions were regularly denounced by ruling politicians and administrators alike, who saw them as dangerously subversive of national policy. In the 1960s and 1970s he was hailed as something of a lost leader of the intellectual Left, yet he was dismissive of the “abstract analysis of Marxist texts” he saw characterizing the New Left Review of the period, preferring to publish his own views in the far more mainstream Times Literary Supplement....


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