The expression "contemporary history" is probably self-contradictory, because what is
contemporary is not history, and what is history is not contemporary. Sensible historians
usually refrain from writing accounts of very recent events because they realize that the
source materials for such events, especially the indispensable official documents, are not
available and that, even with the documentation which is available, it is very difficult for
anyone to obtain the necessary perspective on the events of one's own mature life. But I
must clearly not be a sensible or, at least, an ordinary historian, for, having covered, in an
earlier book, the whole of human history in a mere 271 pages, I now use more than 1300 pages for the events of a single lifetime. There is a connection here. It will be evident to
any attentive reader that I have devoted long years of study and much original research,
even where adequate documentation is not available, but it should be equally evident that
whatever value this present work has rests on its broad perspective. I have tried to remedy
deficiencies of evidence by perspective, not only by projecting the patterns of past history
into the present and the future but also by trying to place the events of the present in their
total context by examining all the varied aspects of these events, not merely the political
and economic, as is so frequently done, but by my efforts to bring into the picture the
military, technological, social, and intellectual elements as well.
The result of all this, I hope, is an interpretation of the present as well as the
immediate past and the near future, which is free from the accepted cliches, slogans, and
self -justifications which mar so much of "contemporary history." Much of my adult life
has been devoted to training undergraduates in techniques of historical analysis which
will help them to free their understanding of history from the accepted categories and
cognitive classifications of the society in which we live, since these, however necessary
they may be for our processes of thought and for the concepts and symbols needed for us
to communicate about reality, nevertheless do often serve as barriers which shield us
from recognition of the underlying realities themselves. The present work is the result of
such an attempt to look at the real situations which lie beneath the conceptual and verbal
symbols. I feel that it does provide, as a consequence of this effort, a fresher, somewhat
different, and (I hope) more satisfying explanation of how we arrived at the situation in
which we now find ourselves.
More than twenty years have gone into the writing of this work. Although most of it is
based on the usual accounts of these events, some portions are based on fairly intensive
personal research (including research among manuscript materials). These portions
include the following: the nature and techniques of financial capitalism, the economic
structure of France under the Third Republic, the social history of the United States, and
the membership and activities of the English Establishment. On other subjects, my
reading has been as wide as I could make it, and I have tried consistently to view all
subjects from as wide and as varied points of view as I am capable. Although I regard
myself, for purposes of classification, as a historian, I did a great deal of study in political
science at Harvard, have persisted in the private study of modern psychological theory for
more than thirty years, and have been a member of the American Anthropological
Association, the American Economic Association, and the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, as well as the American Historical Association for many years.
Thus my chief justification for writing a lengthy work on contemporary history,
despite the necessarily restricted nature of the documentation, must be based on my
efforts to remedy this inevitable deficiency by using historical perspective to permit me
to project the tendencies of the past into the present and even the future and my efforts to
give this attempt a more solid basis by using all the evidence from a wide variety of
As a consequence of these efforts to use this broad, and perhaps complex, method, this
book is almost inexcusably lengthy. For this I must apologize, with the excuse that I did
not have time to make it shorter and that an admittedly tentative and interpretative work
must necessarily be longer than a more definite or more dogmatic presentation. To those
who find the length excessive, I can only say that I omitted chapters, which were already
written, on three topics: the agricultural history of Europe, the domestic history of France
and Italy, and the intellectual history of the twentieth century in general. To do this I
introduced enough on these subjects into other chapters.
Although I project the interpretation into the near future on a number of occasions, the
historical narrative ceases in 1964, not because the date of writing caught up with the
march of historical events but because the period 1862-1864 seems to me to mark the end
of an era of historical development and a period of pause before a quite different era with
quite different problems begins. This change is evident in a number of obvious events,
such as the fact that the leaders of all the major countries (except Red China and France)
and of many lesser ones (such as Canada, India, West Germany, the Vatican, Brazil, and
Israel) were changed in this period. Much more important is the fact that the Cold War,
which culminated in the Cuban crisis of October 1962, began to dwindle toward its end
during the next two years, a process which w as evident in a number of events, such as
the rapid replacement of the Cold War by "Competitive Coexistence"; the disintegration
of the two super-blocs which had faced each other during the Cold War; the rise of
neutralism, both within the super-blocs and in the buffer fringe of third-bloc powers
between them; the swamping of the United Nations General Assembly under a flood of
newly independent, sometimes microscopic, pseudo-powers; the growing parallelism of
the Soviet Union and the United States; and the growing emphasis in all parts of the
world on problems of living standards, of social maladjustments, and of mental health,
replacing the previous emphasis on armaments, nuclear tensions, and heavy
industrialization. At such a period, when one era seems to be ending and a different, if yet
indistinct era appearing, it seemed to me as good a time as any to evaluate the past and to
seek some explanation of how we arrived where we are.
In any preface such as this, it is customary to conclude with acknowledgment of
personal obligations. My sense of these is so broad that I find it invidious to single out
some and to omit others. But four must be mentioned. Much of this book was typed, in
her usual faultless way, by my wife. This was done originally and in revised versions, in
spite of the constant distractions of her domestic obligations, of her own professional
career in a different university, and of her own writing and publication. For her cheerful
assumption of this great burden, I am very grateful.
Similarly, I am grateful to the patience, enthusiasm, and amazingly wide knowledge of
my editor at The Macmillan Company, Peter V. Ritner.
I wish to express my gratitude to the University Grants Committee of Georgetown
University, which twice provided funds for summer research.
And, finally, I must say a word of thanks to my students over many years who forced
me to keep up with the rapidly changing customs and outlook of our young people and
sometimes also compelled me to recognize that my way of looking at the world is not
necessarily the only way, or even the best way, to look at it. Many of these students, past,
present, and future, are included in the dedication of this book.
Washington, D. C.
March 8, 1965
Carroll Quigley "Tragedy and Hope"
Carroll Quigley "Anglo-American establishment"