Popper defined historicism for his own use thus: '... I mean by “historicism” an approach to the social sciences which assumes that historical prediction is their principal aim, and which assumes that this aim is attainable by discovering the “rhythms” or the “patterns”, the “laws” or the “trends” that underlie the evolution of history. ’(The Poverty of Historicism, p. 3.) To say that Modernism is historicist is to say that it sees artistic developments in the modem era as growing out of each other in accordance with rhythms, patterns, laws or trends.
In this extract from The Poverty of Historicism, Popper outlines an argument against historicism in general. It is important to note, however, that he does not argue against the ‘interested’ writing of history.
The Great Satan of Historical Certainties
"War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events."
Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz
The way out of this dilemma, of course, is to be clear about the necessity of adopting a point of view; to state this point of view plainly, and always to remain conscious that it is one among many, and that even if it should amount to a theory, it may not be testable.
In: Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Francis Frascina, Charles Harrison, Deirdre Paul. lNew York, 1987, pp. 11-13.