Despite this insight, Koselleck does, apparently, want to make history into a kind of "science." Here is how Hoffmann explains Koselleck's approach to history, making clear that while Koselleck strongly opposed the idea that history moves towards some predetermined future, he still sought to find patterns that could provide guidance, and maybe even predictive power. Hoffman puts it this way:
For Koselleck, all modern ideologies claimed to have the ‘laws of history’ on their side to justify violence .... Dismantling the concept of history and coming up with a new theory of how histories actually unfold – chaotic, contingent, messy and ferocious, yet with discernible patterns – was therefore the most important task for historians.
This remained a theme to which Koselleck would return time and again, up to his very last published essay. In ‘What Repeats,’ written the summer before he died unexpectedly in 2006, Koselleck claimed that we can make novel experiences only if there are structures of repetition within the chaotic stream of events that we call history. History is neither just more of the same – that is, constant and circular repetition (Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal recurrence’) – or the experience of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, in which we start over, again and again. Both repetition and rupture are conditions of possible histories.
The urge to understand what’s new motivated Koselleck to identify structures of repetition in history: geographical and climatic preconditions that, independent of humans, make all life possible; biological conditions, such as birth and death, human sexuality and generations; our institutions, for instance work and law, but also language that captures human experiences; and finally historical events themselves (such as a worldwide pandemic), which contain their own repetitive structures. Only by understanding what repeats can we discern what’s new and unprecedented in our present. As we find ourselves again in a world of global convulsions and crises, in which events have surprised many, Koselleck reminds us to sort out what repeats in a moment of rupture.
According to Koselleck, three basic oppositions structure all historical experience. Every possible history is conditioned, first, by before and after, for example the anthropological span between birth and death that makes each life singular and part of a shared experience distinct from other generations, times and experiences. The possibility for new beginnings is as much a part of the human condition as the necessity of death or the ability to kill. Second, all possible history can’t escape the political difference between inner and outer (or, in a conflict, friend or foe). Hence, Koselleck’s repeated critique of the idea that human difference can be morally resolved and not just politically mediated. Only the recognition of difference allows for compromise. Finally, Koselleck claims that the opposition between above and below, ‘master’ and ‘slave’ in the terminology of Hegel and Marx, structures all social relations in history. This isn’t to say that more equality and freedom can’t be gained in the course of events, but that social hierarchies permeate all forms of human community, generating new conflicts and hence new histories (emphasis added).