That Elie Halévy's The Growth of Philosophical Radicalism is a classic text of history and theory is a judgment repeated too often to be in doubt. But what makes it a classic? The most obvious sign—that it is widely recommended as a standard work in its field generations after its publication—raises the question of why and how a text becomes a leading work or “master” piece. Literary classics are sometimes said to fuse style, substance, and significance in a mysterious alchemy that continues to stimulate thought beyond the original context. Similarly, discussions of historical works that enlarge the imagination sometimes center on the literary qualities of these texts. Most famously, Hayden White dwells on their allegedly fruitful exploitation of a preexisting “linguistic protocol” such as tragedy or irony. White also notes, however, that a necessary condition for any work of history to resonate powerfully with its audience is that readers are subconsciously prepared to be moved by it.
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