Marc Bloch once wrote, “feudal Europe was not all feudalized in the same degree or according to the same rhythm and, above all, . . . it was nowhere feudalized completely” ( Feudal Society ). He added, “No doubt is it the fate of every system of human institutions never to be more than imperfectly realized.”
In a landmark 1974 article, Elizabeth Brown quipped that the last comment was said “with regret only a confirmed Platonist could harbor.”
But then one wonders what the alternative is. Surely historians want to say more than “This happened; then that” or “This is the way things were done then; after that, they were done differently.” Aren’t historical changes always measured by something ? Is some sort of “Platonism” inherent in every effort to discover historical meaning? Or, better, can historians ever escape theology?