The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Mircea Eliade

The Myth of the Eternal Return or,

Cosmos and History

Bollingen SeriesXLVI, Princeton University Press,

Princeton, 1954, 2nd paperback printing 1974




(pp. 139-162)

Survival of the Myth of Eternal Return

Difficulties of Historicism

Freedom and History

Despair or Faith


Survival of the Myth of Eternal Return

THE problem raised in this final chapter exceeds the limits that we had assigned to the present essay.  Hence we can only outline it.  In short, it would be necessary to confront “historical man” (modern man), who consciously and voluntarily creates history, with the man of the traditional civilizations, who, as we have seen, had a negative attitude toward history.  Whether he abolishes it periodically, whether he devaluates it by perpetually finding transhistorical models and archetypes for it, whether, finally, he gives it a metahistorical meaning (cyclical theory, eschatological significations, and so on), the man of the traditional civilizations accorded the historical event no value in itself; in other words, he did not regard it as a specific category of his own mode of existence.  Now, to compare these two types of humanity implies an analysis of all the modern “historicisms,” and such an analysis, to be really useful, would carry us too far from the principal theme of this study.  We are nevertheless forced to touch upon the problem of man as consciously and voluntarily historical, because the modern world is, at the present moment, not entirely converted to historicism; we are even witnessing a conflict between the two views: the archaic conception, which we should designate as archetypal and anhistorical; and the modern, post-Hegelian conception, which seeks to be historical.  We shall confine ourselves to examining only one aspect of the problem, but an important aspect: the solutions offered by the historicistic view to enable modern man to tolerate the increasingly powerful pressure of contemporary history.

The foregoing chapters have abundantly illustrated the way in which men of the traditional civilizations tolerated


history.  The reader will remember that they defended themselves against it, either by periodica1ly abolishing it through repetition of the cosmogony and a periodic regeneration of time or by giving historical events a metahistorical meaning, a meaning that was not only consoling but was above all coherent, that is, capable of being~ fitted into a well-consolidated system in which the cosmos and man’s existence had each its raison d’être.  We must add that this traditional conception of a defense against history, this way of tolerating historical events, continued to prevail in the world down to a time very close to our own; and that it still continues to console the agricultural ( = traditional) societies of Europe, which obstinately adhere to an anhistorical position and are, by that fact, exposed to the violent attacks of all revolutionary ideologies.  The Christianity of the popular European strata never succeeded in abolishing either the theory of the archetype (which transformed a historica1 personage into an exemplary hero and’ a historical event into a mythical category) or the cyclical and astral theories (according to which history was justified, and the sufferings provoked by it assumed an eschatological meaning).  Thus - to give only a few examples - the barbarian invaders of the High Middle Ages were assimilated to the Biblical archetype Gog and Magog and thus received an ontological status and an eschatological function.  A few centuries later, Christians were to regard Genghis Khan as a new David, destined to accomplish the prophecies of Ezekiel.  Thus interpreted, the sufferings and catastrophes provoked by the appearance of the barbarians on the medieval historical horizon were “tolerated” by the same process that, some thousands of years earlier, had made it possible to tolerate the terrors of history in the ancient East.  It is such justifications of historical catastrophes that today still make life possible for tens of mil­


lions of men, who continue to recognize, in the unremitting pressure of events, signs of the divine will or of an astral fatality.

If we turn to the other traditional conception - that of cyclical time and the periodic regeneration of history, whether or not it involves the myth of eternal repetition - we find that, although the earliest Christian writers began by violently opposing it, it nevertheless in the end made its way into Christian philosophy.  We must remind ourselves that, for Christianity, time is real because it has a meaning - the Redemption.  “A straight line traces the course of humanity from initial Fall to final Redemption.  And the meaning of this history is unique, because the Incarnation is a unique fact.  Indeed, as Chapter 9 of the Epistle to the Hebrews and I Peter 3 :18 emphasize, Christ died for our sins once only, once for all (hapax, ephapax, semel); it is not an event subject to repetition, which can be reproduced several times (pollakis).  The development of history is thus governed and oriented by a unique fact, a fact that stands entirely alone.  Consequently the destiny of all mankind, together with the individual destiny of each one of us, are both likewise played out once, once for all, in a concrete and irreplaceable time which is that of history and life.” [1]  It is this linear conception of time and history, which, already outlined in the second century by St. Irenaeus of Lyon, will be taken up again by St. Basil and St. Gregory and be finally elaborated by St. Augustine.

But despite the reaction of the orthodox Fathers, the theories of cycles and of astral influences on human destiny and historical events were accepted, at least in part, by

1. Henri-Charles Puech, “Gnosis and Time,” in Man and Time (New York and London, 1957), pp. 48 if.  Cf. also the same author’s “Temps, histoire et mythe dans le christianisme des premiers siècles,” Proceedings of the VIIth  Congress for the History of Religion (Amsterdam, 1951), pp. 53-52.


other Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Minucius Felix, Arnobius, and Theodoret.  The conflict between these two fundamental conceptions of time and history continued into the seventeenth century.  We cannot even consider recapitulating the admirable analyses made by Pierre Duhem and Lynn Thorndike, and resumed and completed by Pitirim Sorokin. [2]   We must remind the reader that, at the height of the Middle Ages, cyclical and astral theories begin to dominate historiological and eschatological speculation.  Already popular in the twelfth century, [3] they undergo systematic elaboration in the next, especially after the appearance of translations from Arabic writers. [4]  Increasingly precise correlations are attempted between the cosmic and the geographical factors involved and the respective periodicities (in the direction already indicated by Ptolemy, in the second century of our era, in his Tetrabiblos).  An Albertus Magnus, a St. Thomas, a Roger Bacon, a Dante (Convivio, II, Ch. 14.), and many others believe that the cycles and periodicities of the world’s history are governed by the influence of the stars, whether this influence obeys the will of God and is his instrument in history or whether - a hypothesis that gains increasing adherence - it is regarded as a force immanent in the cosmos. [5]   In short, to adopt Sorokin’s formulation, the Middle Ages are dominated by the eschatological concept (its two essential moments: the creation and the end of the world), complemented by the theory of cyclic undulation that ex plains the periodic return of events.  This twofold dogma dominates speculation down to the seventeenth century, although, at the same time, a theory of

2.Pierre Duhem, I.e Système du monde (Paris, 1913-17); Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York, 1929-41); Pitirim A. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, II (New York, 1937-41).

3. Thorndike, 1, pp. 455 ff.; Sorokin, p. 371.

4. Duhem, V, pp. 223 ff

5. Ibid., pp. 225 ff.; Thorndike, II, pp. 267 ff, 416 ff., etc.; Sorokin, p. 371.


the linear progress of history begins to assert itself.  In the Middle Ages, the germs of this theory can be recognized in the writings of Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas; but it is with the Eternal Gospel of Joachim of Floris that it appears in all its coherence, as an integral element of a magnificent eschatology of history, the most significant contribution of Christianity in this field since St. Augustine’s.  Joachim of Floris divides the history of the world into three great epochs, successively inspired and dominated by a different person of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Ghost.  In the Calabrian abbot’s vision, each of these epochs reveals, in history, a new dimension of the divinity and, by this fact, allows humanity to perfect itself progressively until finally, in the last phase - inspired by the Holy Ghost - it arrives at absolute spiritual freedom. [6]

But, as we said, the tendency which gains increasing adherence is that of an immanentization of the cyclical theory.  Side by side with voluminous astrological treatises, the considerations of scientific astronomy assert themselves.  So it is that in the theories of Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Cardano, Giordano Bruno, or Campanella, the cyclical ideology survives beside the new conception of linear progress professed, for example, by a Francis Bacon or a Pascal.  From the seventeenth century on, linearism and the progressivistic conception of history assert themselves more and more, inaugurating faith in an infinite progress, a faith already proclaimed by Leibniz, predominant in the century of “enlightenment,” and popularized in the nine-

6. It was a real tragedy for the Western world that Joachim of Floris’ prophetico-eschatological speculations, though they inspired and fertilized the thought of a St. Francis of Assisi, of a Dante, and of a Savonarola, so quickly sank into oblivion, the Calabrian monk surviving only as a name to which could be attached a multitude of apocryphal writings.  The immanence of spiritual freedom, not only in respect to dogma, but also in respect to society (a freedom that Joachim conceived as a necessity of both divine and historical dialectics), was again to be professed, at at a later period, by the ideologies of the Reformation and the Renaissance, but in entirely different terms and in accordance with different spiritual views.


teenth century ,by the triumph of the ideas of the evolutionists.  We must wait until our own century to see the beginnings of certain new reactions against this historical linearism and a certain revival of interest in the theory of cycles; [7] so it is that, in political economy, we are witnessing the rehabilitation of the notions of cycle, fluctuation, periodic oscil1ation; that in phi1osophy, the myth of the eternal return is revivified by Nietzsche; or that in the philosophy of history, a Spengler or Toynbee concern themselves with the problem of periodicity. [8]

In connection with this rehabilitation of cyclical conceptions, Sorokin rightly observes [9] that present theories concerning the death of the universe do not exclude the hypothesis of the creation of a new universe, somewhat after the fashion of the Great Year in Greco-Oriental speculation or of the yuga cycle in the thought of India (see above, pp. 113 ff.).  Basically, it may be said that it is only in the cyclical theories of modern times that the meaning of the archaic myth of eternal repetition realizes its full implications.  For the medieval cyclical theories confined themselves to justifying the periodicity of events by giving them an integral p1ace in the rhythms of the cosmos and the fatalities of the stars.  They thereby also implicitly affirmed the cyclical repetition of the events of history, even when this repetition was not regarded as continuing ad infinitum.  Even more: by the fact that historical events depended upon cycles and astral situations, they became intelligib1e and even foreseeable, since they thus acquired a transcend-

7. Sorokin, pp. 379 ff..

8. Cf. A. Rey, I.e Retour eternel et la philosophie de la physique (Paris, 1927); Pitirim A. Sorokin, Contemporary Sociological Theories (New York, 1928), pp. 728-41; Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, III (London, 1934); Ellsworth Huntington, Mainsprings of Civilization (New York, 1945), especially pp. 453 ff.; Jean Claude Antoine, “L’Eternel Retour de l’histoire deviendra-t-il objet de science?,” Critique (Paris), XXVII (Aug., 1948), 723 ff.

9. Sorokm, p. 383, note 80.


ent model; the wars, famines, and wretchedness provoked by contemporary history were at most only the repetition of an archetype, itself determined by the stars and by celestial norms from which the divine will was not always absent.  As at the close of antiquity, these new expressions of the myth of eternal return were above all appreciated among the intellectual elites and especially consoled those who directly suffered the pressure of history.  The peasant masses, in antiquity as in modern times, took less interest in cyclical and astral formulas; indeed, they found their consolation and support in the concept of archetypes and repetition, a concept that they “lived” less on the plane of the cosmos and the stars than on the mythico-historical level (transforming heroes, historical events into mythical categories, and so on, in accordance with the dialectic which we defined above, pp. 37 ff.).


The Difficulties of Historicism

THE REAPPEARANCE of cyclical theories in contemporary thought is pregnant with meaning.  Incompetent as we are to pass judgment upon their validity, we shall confine ourselves to observing that the formulation, in modern terms, of an archaic myth betrays at least the desire to find a meaning and a transhistorical justification for historical events.  Thus we find ourselves once again in the pre-Hegelian position, the validity of the “historicistic” solutions, from Hegel to Marx, being implicitly called into question.  From Hegel on, every effort is directed toward saving and conferring value on the historical event as such, the event in itself and for itself.  In his study of the German Constitution, Hegel wrote that if we recognize that things


are necessarily as they are, that is, that they are not arbitrary and not the result of chance, we shall at the same time recognize that they must be as they are.  A century later, the concept of historical necessity will enjoy a more and more triumphant practical application: in fact, all the cruelties, aberrations, and tragedies of history have been, and still are, justified by the necessities of the “historical moment.”  Probably Hegel did not intend to go so far.  But since he had resolved to reconcile himself with his own historical moment, he was obliged to see in every event the will of the Universal Spirit.  This is why he considered “reading the morning papers a sort of realistic benediction of the morning.”  For him, only daily contact with events could orient man’s conduct in his relations with the world and with God.

How could Hegel know what was necessary in history, what, consequently, must occur exactly as it had occurred?  Hegel believed that he knew what the Universal Spirit wanted.  We shall not insist upon the audacity of this thesis, which, after all, abolishes precisely what Hegel wanted to save in history - human freedom.  But there is an aspect of Hegel’s philosophy of history that interests us because it still preserves something of the Judaeo-Christian conception: for Hegel, the historical event was the manifestation of the Universal Spirit.  Now, it is possible to discern a parallel between Hegel’s philosophy of history and the theology of history of the Hebrew prophets: for the latter, as for Hegel, an event is irreversible and valid in itself inasmuch as it is a new manifestation of the will of God - a proposition really revolutionary, we should remind ourselves, from the viewpoint of traditional societies dominated by the eternal repetition of archetypes.  Thus, in Hegel’s view, the destiny of a people still preserved a transhistorical significance, because all history revealed a


new and more perfect manifestation of the Universal Spirit.  But with Marx, history cast off all transcendental significance; it was no longer anything more than the epiphany of the class struggle.  To what extent could such a theory justify historical sufferings?  For the answer, we have but to turn to the pathetic resistance of a Belinsky or a Dostoevski, for example, who asked themselves how, from the viewpoint of the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic, it was possible to redeem all the dramas of oppression, the collective sufferings, deportations, humiliations, and massacres that fill universal history.

Yet Marxism preserves a meaning to history.  For Marxism, events are not a succession of arbitrary accidents; they exhibit a coherent structure and, above all, they lead to a definite end - final elimination of the terror of history, “salvation.”  Thus at the end of the Marxist philosophy of history, lies the age of gold of the archaic eschatologies.  In this sense it is correct to say not only that Marx “brought Hegel’s philosophy back to earth” but also that he reconfirmed, upon an exclusively human level, the value of the primitive myth of the age of gold, with the difference that he puts the age of gold only at the end of history, instead of putting it at the beginning too.  Here, for the militant Marxist, lies the secret of the remedy for the terror of history: just as the contemporaries of a “dark age” consoled themselves for their increasing sufferings by the thought that the aggravation of evil hastens final deliverance, so the militant Marxist of our day reads, in the drama provoked by the pressure of history, a necessary evil, the premonitory symptom of the approaching victory that will put an end forever to all historical “evil.”

The terror of history becomes more and more intolerable from the viewpoints afforded by the various historicistic philosophies.  For in them, of course, every


historical event finds its full and only meaning in its realization alone.  We need not here enter into the theoretical difficulties of historicism, which already troubled Rickert, Troeltsch, Dilthey, and Simmel, and which the recent efforts of Croce, of Karl Mannheim, or of Orrtega y Gasset have but partially overcome. [10]  This essay does not require us to discuss either the philosophical value of historicism as such or the possibility of establishing a “philosophy of history” that should definitely transcend relativism.  Dilthey himself, at the’ age of seventy, recognized that “the relativity of all human concepts is the last word of the historical vision of the world.”  In vain did he proclaim an allgemeine Lebenserfahrung as the final means of transcending this relativity.  In vain did Meinecke invoke “examination of conscience” as a transsubjective experience capable of transcending the relativity of historical life.  Heidegger had gone to the trouble of showing that the historicity of human existence forbids all hope of transcending time and history.

For our purpose, only one question concerns us: How can the “terror of history” be tolerated from the viewpoint of historicism?  Justification of a historical event by the simple fact that it is a historical event, in other words, by the simple fact that it “happened that way,” will not go far toward freeing humanity from the terror that the event inspires.  Be it understood that we are not here concerned with the problem of evil, which, from whatever

10. Let us say, first of all, that the terms “historism” or “historicism” cover many different and antagonistic philosophical currents and orientations.  It is enough to recall Dilthey’s vitalistic relativism, Croce’s storicismo, Gentile’s attualismo, and Ortega’s “historical reason” to realize the multiplicity of philosophical valuations accorded to history during the first half of the twentieth century.  For Croce’s present position, see his La storia come pensiero e come azione (Bari, 1938; 7th rev. edn., 1965).  Also J. Ortega y Gasset, Historia como sistema (Madrid, 1941); Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (trans. by Louis Wirth and Edward Shils, New York, 1936).  On the problem of history, see also Pedro Lain Eniralgo, Medicina e historia (Madrid, 1941); and Karl Löwith, Meaning in History (Chicago, 1949).


angle it be viewed, remains a philosophical and religious problem; we are concerned with the problem of history as history, of the “evil” that is bound up not with man’s condition but with his behavior toward others.  We should wish to know, for example, how it would be possible to tolerate, and to justify, the sufferings and annihilation of so many peoples who suffer and are annihilated for the simple reason that their geographical situation sets them in the pathway of history, that they are neighbors of empires in a state of permanent expansion.  How justify, for example, the fact that southeastern Europe had to suffer for centuries - and hence to renounce any impulse toward a higher historical existence, toward spiritual creation on the universal plane - for the sole reason that it happened to be on the road of the Asiatic invaders and later the neighbor of the Ottoman Empire?  And in our day, when historical pressure no longer allows any escape, how can man tolerate the catastrophes and horrors of history - from collective deportations and massacres to atomic bombings - if beyond them he can glimpse no sign, no transhistorical meaning; if they are only the blind play of economic, social, or political forces, or, even worse, only the result of the “liberties” that a minority takes and exercises directly on the stage of universal history?

We know how, in the past, humanity has been able to endure the sufferings we have enumerated: they were regarded as a punishment inflicted by God, the syndrome of the decline of the “age,” and so on.  And it was possible to accept them precisely because they had a metahistorical meaning, because, for the greater part of mankind, still clinging to the traditional viewpoint, history did not have, and could not have, value in itself.  Every hero repeated the archetypal gesture, every war rehearsed the struggle between good and evil, every fresh social injustice was


identified with the sufferings of the Saviour (or, for example, in the pre-Christian world, with the passion of a divine messenger or vegetation god), each new massacre repeated the glorious end of the martyrs.  It is not our part to decide whether such motives were puerile or not, or whether such a refusal of history always proved efficacious.  In our opinion, only one fact counts: by virtue of this view, tens of millions of men were able, for century after century, to endure great historical pressures without despairing, without committing suicide or falling into that spiritual aridity that always brings with it a relativistic or nihilistic view of history.

Moreover, as we have already observed, a very considerable fraction of the population of Europe, to say nothing of the other continents, still lives today by the light of the traditional, anti-”historicistic” viewpoint.  Hence it is above all the “elites” that are confronted with the problem, since they alone are forced, with increasing rigor, to take cognizance of their historical situation.  It is true that Christianity and the eschatological philosophy of history have not ceased to satisfy a considerable proportion of these elites.  Up to a certain point, and for certain individuals, it may be said that Marxism - especially in its popular forms - represents a defense against the terror of history.  Only the historicistic position, in all its varieties and shades - from Nietzsche’s “destiny” to Heidegger’s “temporality” - remains disarmed. [11]  It is by no means mere fortuitious coincidence that, in this philoso-

11. We take the liberty of emphasizing that “historicism” was created and professed above all by thinkers belonging to nations for which history has never been a continuous terror.  These thinkers would perhaps have adopted another viewpoint had they belonged to nations marked by the “fatality of history.”  It would certainly be interesting, in any case, to know if the theory according to which everything that happens is “good,” simply because it has happened, would have been accepted without qualms by the thinkers of the Baltic countries, of the Balkans, or of colonial territories.

phy, despair, the amor fati, and pessimism are elevated to the rank of heroic virtues and instruments of cognition.

Yet this position, although the most modern and, in a certain sense, almost the inevitable position for all thinkers who define man as a “historical being,” has not yet made a definitive conquest of contemporary thought.  Some pages earlier, we noted various recent orientations that tend to reconfer value upon the myth of cyclical periodicity, even the myth of eternal return.  These orientations disregard not only historicism but even history as such.  We believe we are justified in seeing in them, rather than a resistance to history, a revolt against historical time, an attempt to restore this historical time, freighted as it is with human experience, to a place in the time that is cosmic, cyclical, and infinite.  In any case it is worth noting that the work of two of the most significant writers of our day - T.S. Eliot and James Joyce – is saturated with nostalgia for the myth of eternal repetition and in the last analysis, for the abolition of time.  There is also reason to foresee that, as the terror of history grows worse, as existence becomes more and more precarious because of history, the positions of historicism will increasingly lose in prestige.  And, at a moment when history could do what neither the cosmos, nor man, nor chance have yet succeeded in doing - that is, wipe out the human race in its entirety - it may be that we are witnessing a desperate attempt to prohibit the “events of history” through a reintegration of human societies within the horizon (artificial, because decreed) of archetypes and their repetition.  In other words, it is not inadmissible to think of an epoch, an epoch not too far distant, when humanity, to ensure its survival, will find itself reduced to desisting from any further “making” of history in the sense in which it began to make it from the creation of the first empires,, will confine itself to re-


peating prescribed archetypal gestures, and will strive to forget, as meaningless and dangerous, any spontaneous gesture which might entail “historical” consequences.  It would even be interesting to compare the anhistorical solution of future societies with the paradisal or eschatological myths of the golden age of the beginning or the end of the world.  But as we have it in mind to pursue these speculations elsewhere, let us now return to our problem: the position of historical man in relation to archaic man, and let us attempt to understand the objections brought against the latter on the basis of the historicistic view.


Freedom and History

IN HIS rejection of concepts of periodicity and hence, in the last analysis, of the archaic concepts of archetypes and repetition, we are, we believe, justified in seeing modern man’s resistance to nature, the will of “historical man” to affirm his autonomy.  As Hegel remarked, with noble self-assurance, nothing new ever occurs in nature.  And the crucial difference between the man of the archaic civilizations and modern, historical man lies in the increasing value the latter gives to historical events, that is, to the “novelties” that, for traditional man, represented either meaningless conjunctures or infractions of norms (hence “faults,” “sins,” and so on) and that, as such, required to be expelled (abolished) periodically.  The man who adopts the historical viewpoint would be justified in regarding the traditional conception of archetypes and repetition as an aberrant reidentification of history (that is, of “freedom” and “novelty”) with nature (in which everything repeats itself).  For, as modern man can observe, archetypes themselves constitute a “history” insofar as they are


made up of gestures, acts, and decrees that, although supposed to have been manifested in illo tempore, were nevertheless manifested, that is, came to birth in time, “took place,” like any other historical event.  Primitive myths often mention the birth, activity, and disappearance of a god or a hero whose “civilizing” gestures are thenceforth repeated ad infinitum.  This comes down to saying that archaic man also knows a history, although it is a primordial history, placed in a mythical time.  Archaic man’s rejection of history, his refusal to situate himself in a concrete, historical time, would, then, be the symptom of a precocious weariness, a fear of movement and spontaneity; in short, placed between accepting the historical condition and its risks on the one hand, and his reidentification with the modes of nature on the other, he would choose such a reidentification.

In this total adherence, on the part of archaic man, to archetypes and repetition, modern man would be justified in seeing not only the primitives’ amazement at their own first spontaneous and creative free gestures and their veneration, repeated ad infinitum, but also a feeling of guilt on the part of man hardly emerged from the paradise of animality (i.e., from nature), a feeling that urges him to reidentify with nature’s eternal repetition the few primordial, creative, and spontaneous gestures that had signalized the appearance of freedom.  Continuing his critique, modern man could even read in this fear, this hesitation or fatigue in the presence of any gesture without an archetype, nature’s tendency toward equilibrium and rest; and he would read this tendency in the anticlimax that fatally follows upon any exuberant gesture of life and that some have gone so far as to recognize in the need felt by human reason to unify the real through knowledge.  In the last analysis, modern man, who accepts history or claims to


accept it, can reproach archaic man, imprisoned within the mythical horizon of archetypes and repetition, with his creative impotence, or, what amounts to the same thing, his inability to accept the risks entailed by every creative act.  For the modern man can be creative only insofar as he is historical; in other words, all creation is forbidden him except that which has its source in his own freedom; and, consequently, everything is denied him except the freedom to make history by himself.

To these criticisms raised by modern man, the man of the traditional civilizations could reply by a countercriticism that would at the same time be a defense of the type of archaic existence.  It is becoming more and more doubtful, he might say, if modern man can make history.  On the contrary, the more modern [12] he becomes - that is, without defenses against the terror of history - the less chance he has of himself making history.  For history either makes itself (as the result of the seed sown by acts that occurred in the past, several centuries or even several millennia ago; we will cite the consequences of the discovery of agriculture or metallurgy, of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century, and so on) or it tends to be made by an increasingly smaller number of men who not only prohibit the mass of their contemporaries from directly or indirectly intervening in the history they are making (or which the small group is making), but in addition have at their disposal means sufficient to force each individual to endure, for his own part, the consequences of this history, that is, to live immediately and continuously in dread of history.  Modern man’s boasted freedom to make history is illusory for nearly the whole of the human race.  At most.

12 It is well to make clear that, in this context, “modern man” is such in his insistence upon, being exclusively historical; i.e., that he is, above all, the “man” of historicism, of Marxism, and of existentialism.  It is superfluous to add that not all of our contemporaries recognize themselves in such a man.


man is left free to choose between two positions: (1) to oppose the history that is being made the very small minority (and, in this case, he is free to choose between suicide and deportation); (2) to take refuge in a subhuman existence or in flight.  The “freedom” that historical existence implies was possible - and even then within certain limits - at the beginning of the modern period, but it tends to become inaccessible as the period becomes more historical, by which we mean more alien from any transhistorical model.  It is perfectly natural, for example, that Marxism and Fascism must lead to the establishment of two types of historical existence: that of the leader (the only really “free” man) and that of the follower, who find, in the historical existence of the leader, not an archetype of their own existence but the lawgiver of the gestures that are provisionally permitted them.

Thus, for traditional man, modern man affords the type neither of a free being nor of a creator of history.  On the contrary, the man of the archaic civilizations can be proud of his mode of existence, which allows him to be free and to create.  He is free to be no longer what he was, free to annul his own history through periodic abolition of time and collective regeneration.  This freedom in respect to his own history - which, for the modern, is not only irreversible but constitutes human existence - cannot be claimed by the man who wills to be historical.  We know that the archaic and traditional societies granted freedom each year to begin a new, a “pure” existence, with virgin possibilities.  And there is no question of seeing in this an imitation of nature, which also undergoes periodic regeneration, “beginning anew” each spring, with each spring recovering all its powers intact.  Indeed, whereas nature repeats itself, each new spring being the same eternal spring (that is, the repetition of the Creation), archaic


man’s “purity” after the periodic abolition of time and the recovery of his virtualities intact allows him, on the threshold of each “new life,” a continued existence in eternity and hence the definitive abolition, hic et nunc, of profane time.  The intact “possibilities” of nature each spring and archaic man’s possibilities on the threshold of each year are, then, not homologous.  Nature recovers only itself, whereas archaic man recovers the possibility of definitively transcending time and living in eternity.  Insofar as he fails to do so, insofar as he “sins,” that is, falls into historical existence, into time, he each year thwarts the possibility.  At least he retains the freedom to annul his faults, to wipe out the memory of his “fall into history,” and to make another attempt to escape definitively from time.  [13]

Furthermore, archaic man certainly has the right to consider himself more creative than modern man, who sees himself as creative only in respect to history.  Every year, that is, archaic man takes part in the repetition of the cosmogony, the creative act par excellence.  We may even add that, for a certain time, man was creative on the cosmic plane, imitating this periodic cosmogony (which he also repeated on all the other planes of life, cf. pp. 80 ff.) and participating in it. [14]  We should, also bear in mind the “creationistic” implications of the Oriental philosophies and techniques (especially the Indian), which thus find a place in the same traditional horizon.  The East unanimously rejects the idea of the ontological irreducibility of the existent, even though it too sets out from a sort of “existentialism” (i.e., from acknowledging suffering as the situation of any possible cosmic condition).  Only, the East does not accept the destiny of the human being as final and irreducible.  Oriental techniques attempt above all to’

13. On this, see our Patterns in Comparative Religion (English trans., London and New York, 1958), pp. 398 ff.

14. Not to mention the possibilities of “magical creation,” which exist in traditional societies, and which are real.


annul or transcend the human condition.  In this respect, it is justifiable to speak not only of freedom (in the positive sense) or deliverance (in the negative sense) but actually of creation; for what is involved is creating a new man and creating him on, a suprahuman plane; a man-god, such as the imagination of historical man has never dreamed it possible to create.


Despair or Faith

HOWEVER this may be, our dialogue between archaic man and modern man does not affect our problem.  Whatever be the truth in respect to the freedom and the creative virtualities of historical man, it is certain that none of the historicistic philosophies is able to defend him from the terror of history.  We could even imagine a final attempt to save history and establish an ontology of history, events would be regarded as a series of “situations” by virtue of which the human spirit should attain knowledge of levels of reality otherwise inaccessible to it.  This attempt to justify history is not without interest, [15] and we anticipate returning to the subject elsewhere.  But we are able to observe here and now that such a position affords a shelter from the terror of history only insofar as it postulates the existence at least of the Universal Spirit.  What consolation

15. “It is only through some such reasoning that it would be possible to found a sociology of knowledge that should not lead to relativism and skepticism.  The “influences” - economic, social, national, cultural - that affect “ideologies” (in the sense which Karl Mannheim gave the term) would not annul their objective value any more than the fever or the intoxication that reveals to a poet a new poetic creation impairs the value of the latter.  All these social, economic, and other influences would, on the contrary, be occasions for envisaging a spiritual universe from new angles.  But it goes without saying that a sociology of knowledge, that is, the study of the social conditioning of ideologies, could avoid relativism only by affirming the autonomy of the spirit - which, if we understand him aright, Karl Mannheim did not dare to affirm.


should we find in knowing that the sufferings of millions of men have made possible the revelation of a limitary situation of the human condition if, beyond that limitary situation, there should be only nothingness?  Again, there is no question here of judging the validity of a historicistic philosophy, but only of establishing to what extent such a philosophy can exorcise the terror of history.  If, for historical tragedies to be excused, it suffices that they should be regarded as the means by which man has been enabled to know the limit of human resistance, such an excuse can in no way make man less haunted by the terror of history.

Basically, the horizon of archetypes and repetition cannot be transcended with impunity unless we accept a philosophy of freedom that does not exclude God.  And indeed this proved to be true when the horizon of archetypes and repetition was transcended, for the first time, by Judaeo-Christianism, which introduced a new category into religious experience: the category of faith.  It must not be forgotten that, if Abraham’s faith can be defined as “for God everything is possible,” the faith of Christianity implies that everything is also possible for man.  “. . . Have faith in God.  For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.  Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11: 22-24). [16]  Faith, in this context, as in many others,  means absolute emancipation from any kind of natural “law” and hence the highest freedom that man can imagine: freedom to intervene in the ontological con-

16. Such affirmations must not be complacently dismissed merely because they imply the possibility of miracle.  If miracles have been so rare since the appearance of Christianity, the blame rests not on Christianity but on Christians.


stitution of the universe.  It is, consequently, a preeminently creative freedom.  In other words, it constitutes a new formula for man’s collaboration with the creation - the first, but also the only such formula accorded to him since the traditional horizon of archetypes and repetition was transcended.  Only such a freedom (aside from its soteriological, hence, in the strict sense, its religious value) is able to defend modern man from the terror of history - a freedom, that is, which has its source and finds its guaranty and support in God.  Every other modern freedom, whatever satisfactions it may procure to him who possesses it, is powerless to justify history; and this, for every man who is sincere with himself, is equivalent to the terror of history.

We may say, furthermore, that Christianity is the “religion of modern man and historical man, of the man who simultaneously discovered personal freedom and continuous time (in place of cyclical time).  It is even interesting to note that the existence of God forced itself far more urgently upon modern man, for whom history exists as such, as history and not as repetition, than upon the man of the archaic and traditional cultures, who, to defend himself from the terror of history, had at his disposition all the myths, rites, and customs mentioned in the course of this book.  Moreover, although the idea of God and the religious experiences that it implies existed from the most distant ages, they could be, and were, replaced at times by other religious forms (totemism, cult of ancestors, Great Goddesses of fecundity, and so on) the more promptly answered the religious needs of primitive humanity.  In the horizon of archetypes and repetition, the terror of history, when it appeared, could be supported.  Since the “invention” of faith, in the Judaeo-Christian sense of the word (= for God all is possible), the man who has left the


horizon of archetypes and repetition can no longer defend himself against that terror except through the idea of God.  In fact, it is only by presupposing the existence of God that he conquers, on the one hand, freedom (which grants him autonomy in a universe governed by laws or, in other words, the “inauguration” of a mode of being that is new and unique in the universe) and, on the other hand, the certainty that historical tragedies have a transhistorical meaning, even if that meaning is not always visible for humanity in its present condition.  Any other situation of modern man leads, in the end, to despair.  It is a despair provoked not by his own human existentiality, but by his presence in a historic universe in which almost the whole mankind lives prey to a continual terror (even if not always conscious of it).

In this respect, Christianity incontestably proves to be the religion of “fallen man”: and this to the extent to which modern man is irremediably identified with history and progress, and to which history and progress are a fall, both implying the final abandonment of the paradise of archetypes and repetition.