Hayden White’s Philosophical History

Hayden White’s philosophical history is usually approached as a theory and history of historical consciousness capable of being true or false. In this paper I argue that it is better described as the instrument and effect of a cultural politics aimed at the subordination of empirical historiography to a rival intellectual subculture. This subculture first emerged in 1780s Protestant Germany in the form of Kant’s metaphysical anthropology. But it was the reception of Kantianism in the Protestant colleges of the Northeastern United States, and thence in American pragmatism, that formed the version of this subculture that would shape White’s metahistory. White’s pursuit of the transcendental structures of historical consciousness should itself be understood historically, as an activity internal to the forms of moral and intellectual grooming maintained within a particular academic subculture.