Explanatory vs. Descriptive Accounts of History
Explanatory accounts are tricky. There can be shades of truth to explanations, while descriptions are easier to falsify. For instance, consider the following explanatory accounts of the Russian Revolution:
- The Bolshevik revolution was due to the public's dissatisfaction with emperor Donald Trump's controversial one-child-per-family rule.
- The Bolshevik revolution was due to the public's dissatisfaction with Tsarism and the government's inability to adequately handle rebellion.
Both of these statements are explanatory and falsifiable. There was no emperor Donald Trump, nor did he enact a one-child policy, and historical accounts attest to this. The second is much more believable, yet no less falsifiable - it is possible that some Russian polling agency asked the public their opinion of Tsarism vs. Bolshevism or that, statistically speaking, the military of Tsarist Russia was too weak to adequately handle a violent, politically motivated terrorist group from overcoming the government.
The important characteristic of good explanatory theories of history is that they can be reasonably falsified. For instance, the American revolution was surely influenced by Enlightenment philosophy from Hobbes and Locke: this similarity can be seen in the writings of America's founding fathers. Notable examples include Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Washington, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. If one were to test the hypothesis that these thinkers were more influenced by Islam, the artwork of Brunelleschi, and Native American Shamanism, the evidence is exceedingly shallow and tangential. While it's not as cut and dried as falsifying the notion that the American founding fathers were all Rastafarians who rode mutant horses into battle against the British, it can be done.
What is the purpose of history outside of solely cataloguing interesting events?
This question is harder to answer, but may be informed by my response to the prior question regarding the value of explanatory accounts of history. Since I've established that falsifiable explanatory theories of history are at least conceivable (thus possible), it follows that there is some value in working toward an explanatory model of the "arc of history". It is important to understand which thoughts and theories influenced real political movements so that we can understand how our world came to be, both from a theoretical/philosophical perspective and a realistic and descriptive perspective. While such explanations may not be necessary to understand how history has progressed, they may help to show us why history has progressed in the way that it has.
RE: Marx, Hegel:
Marx's theories may be more falsifiable than you're letting on. Marx made explicit predictions about how the industrial revolution would pan out - and to this day hasn't been so correct in predicting that workers would seize the means of production from the elites to create a socialist utopia (this may be a bit simplistic, but was present in his writings).
Personally, I don't think either of these philosophers deserve much credit, in part because their explanations were unclear and their projections of the future were not realized.
Political theory is an iffy subject, often mixing descriptive historical accounts with moral philosophy, statistics, and social science. As a student of philosophy and history, it is important to not only ask how things happened, but why --and to develop theories that adequately (and falsifiably) address both of these points.