Foucault argued (at least according to this video) that it’s the unconscious, or the things that don’t even occur to us, that shapes our history…or episteme…which contrasts with Thomas Kuhn’s paradigms, or the things that scientists are consciously aware of, which shapes historical outcomes, or shapes the zeitgeist of scientific thinking, or whatever. Just watch the video.
In the video, the speaker discusses how, in a Foucaultian view, the emphasis on individuals in historical development is misplaced. For instance, it’s entirely possible that Germany was going to lose the WWII, regardless of what Hitler and the Allies were going to do. While it’s entertaining to consider the possibility of Germany winning the war (in reference to Man in the High Castle, although it would NOT be entertaining in real life), their long-term strategy along with resistance from communism and liberal democracies would have meant an almost certain eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. To use the word ‘zeitgeist’ again in its Hegelian form, it wasn’t necessary for Winston Churchill SPECIFICALLY to stand up to Hitler to defeat him…if it wasn’t going to be Churchill, it would have been someone else. But it was Churchill, therefore he captured the ‘zeitgeist’, or spirit, of the age. But still, it didn’t have to be the heroes of an age to produce given historical outcomes, they are the result of unconscious and/or sociological consequences.
(For the record, I don’t completely agree with that view)
I’d just like to point out that the era in and around the 20th Century marked the end of “military victory” as a means of “political victory”. You can win ALL of the battles, but still lose the war. Military leaders, and the politicians that support them, have to concern themselves with the “hearts and minds” of both the vanquished AND the people of their own nation. War isn’t as palatable as it once was and that is, in part, due to the rise of the “common man” (perhaps more on that later) who once had to do the fighting on behalf of the political class.
But it’s these “unconscious” developments that shape history.