Fred L. Polak
A Science in the Making
Surveys and Creates the Future
Elsevier, London, 1971
Chapter 5 Index
HHC: Index added
L’histoire n’est pas utile parce qu’on y
lit le passé, mais parce qu’on y lit l’avenir.
Once again about halfway along and like a crowbar thrust into the historical axis extending from Augustine to Bossuet, the theological dynamization of temporal events on earth was to lead to a violent eruption. Towards the end of the 12th century the prophetic and visionary abbot of Calabria, St. Joachim of Floris, predicted in a book on the Apocalypse as his renewed gospel an imminent breach in time. What he himself designated as a new phase in the world, beginning with a Third Testament, was to remain famous under the name given to it by one of his pupils: the “eternal Gospel”. Joachim linked the three main ages which he had discovered (viz, those of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Third Testament) with the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. His theory was that this third and last historical age of the Holy Ghost was then imminent, in accordance with the will of Providence, and was accordingly to usher in the historical last stage of perfect freedom. In that final phase the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the, dogmatic theology adhered to so far, preaching and the sacrament could be abolished as completely superfluous. All that would still hold good would be the rules of the order of St. Francis: poverty, humility, love, charity, piety and truth.
During the first half of the succeeding 13th century this revolutionary movement of the Spirituals acquired a tremendous following, until it was forcibly eradicated from Rome. However, first in the Renaissance, then later in 18th century Germany (above all thanks to Lessing), great interest in the works of Joachim and his fellow-spirits was again to develop. Lessing in his turn proceeded to exercise a particularly strong influence on the French Saint-Simonians in this direction. Joachim’s theory of the three ages was also to continue to occupy a dominant position in the philosophy of history in different forms for many centuries to come.1 I shall return below to the prognostic strain in this conception.
The 14th century was largely a quiet one, viewed in our historical context, but towards its end, and especially in the 15th and 16th centuries, the break-through from the medieval cosmography to that of the Renaissance became increasingly perceptible precisely in this respect. Logically speaking, it was simply inevitable that the newly flourishing belief in human dignity and in the closely related human task and power of determining one’s own destiny would collide with the equally firm belief in a predestined higher guidance of human fortunes. The new impact manifested itself everywhere in a gradual extrication from the static immobilization and absolutization of a theocratic thought model. A dynamization of history both created and encouraged by mankind itself could not but explode this coercive religio-philosophical model of the future at a given moment. At a given moment: in reality this process took some 350 years, from about 1500 to 1850, in a large part of which period the crowning work of the theological philosophy of history of Bossuet (the end of the 17th century) could still continue to exert a dominating influence.
This was notwithstanding a series of powerful injections, which could not but gradually cast increasing doubt on the contemplative, deterministic interpretation of history as the effect and fulfilment of God’s Plan for and with, through and against man predestined since the Creation. These doubts were originally refuted partly by means of doubt itself, as the basis of the Cartesian deductive method of reasoning, which placed only God beyond any doubt. But increasing opposition grew to this very method of reasoning too through the development and ultimately the prevalence of new empirical and inductive methods of thought for establishing fixed causal relations in reality, also in that of history. The thinkers and devisers or investigators of these new scientific methods were not always aware - any more than many of their contemporaries - of the radical and revolutionary character inherent in them, also in respect of the omnipotent direction and working of God’s will. On the contrary, not infrequently they were deeply religious themselves and regarded their scientific work as still being entirely in accordance with the doctrine and law of Providence, indeed even as an irrefutable proof of it. In many cases it was only after their death, sometimes centuries later, that the true, the deeper-rooted essential conflict between the sacral historiography applicable so far and a consistently extended profane version was discovered. After the intellectual threads had been taken up again, this transition to new thought and future models was finally to be completed quite deliberately.
One of the predecessors, and at the same time one of the greatest, whose true significance is really only beginning to be properly understood in our day, is doubtless Niccolo Machiavelli. As a rule he is known only as the author of “Il Principe”, i.e. as the founder of the later “Machiavellian” fascism, but not as the philosopher and historian, the connoisseur of Anti-
quity, as evidenced by his work on the historiography of Titus Livy (written in 1519 after his dismissal as secretary of the Florentine Council and for that reason published posthumously). Exactly a century before Francis Bacon was to formulate this new method of scientific research in his “Novum Organum” (1620) in classic fashion, it was already being fully applied by Machiavelli: not a religio-theological interpretation of history on the basis of Revelation, but in accordance with strictly empirical and objective observation, incorporated in a strictly rational consideration of the facts. Thanks to the historical, cyclical identities which he found, from which a natural law or at least regularity imperatively applicable everywhere and always could be derived, according to Machiavelli the future could be predicted with ease and precision in every historical situation on the strength of accurate research and also in view of the fact that human nature never changes.
The second great pioneer of genius was another Italian, Giambattista Vico, who published his “Scienza Nuova” in Naples in 1725 for the first time and, during the decades that followed, worked on improved editions (the last one dates from 1744). However, the book passed almost completely unnoticed at the time, and it was not until no less that two centuries later that its fundamentally renovatory significance for the philosophy of history was comprehended as a basis for a modern philosophy, viz, in 1927 by a third great Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce. It was indeed a “new science”, so new, so far ahead of its time, that Vico himself, as a pious and faithful Catholic, was hardly aware of the fact that his work dealt a death-blow to Catholic theological philosophy of history.
Indeed, how could he be aware of that? For he himself characterized his new science - without, I assume, meaning this as a concession to the Church - in a seemingly rather prolix but revealing definition as first and foremost a “rational theology of divine Providence in particular for the mondo civile, i.e. for historical world events”. 2 However, he too, as an enthusiastic admirer of Bacon, tried to follow a purely empirical procedure. On the strength of this he wrote an eternal “ideal history”, according to which the history of all peoples proceeds in characteristic schematic form. As he endeavors to demonstrate, history proves to be subject to immutable laws which must evidently have been instituted by divine Providence as lawmaker. 3 In actual fact two schemata are concerned: one is the repeatedly attempted historical tripartition, now called a divine, a heroic and a human period of history. The other again relates to a chiefly bipartite cycle of “corso” and “ricorso”, of rise and fall. In this eternal cycle, however, besides pure repetition, there also occur - and this is a new idea - historical renewals, as a result of which the cycles assume a spiral form. There is thus neither steady progress nor a return of exactly the same, but only consequently a partially possible prognosis. It is possible to forecast an upward
endeavor which inevitably ultimately changes into and recedes to a downward movement, but impossible to predict how far this will fall back or when, or therefore how and in what direction a historical recovery will set in again. On the other hand there is nevertheless such a broad planning scheme of so wide an effect and so great a flexibility, in which upon closer examination immanent motive powers within the force field of history literally “in fact” eliminate a preordained and transcendental fixed plan of movement of Providence.
Only a few years after the completion of Vico’s work in its final form (1744), “De l’Esprit des Lois” by Montesquieu was published in 1748. He too discovers, empirically and rationally, the fixed laws which he believes rule “les histoires de toutes les nations” in binding fashion. These causal and constant relations revealed by him could be regarded as the Newtonian laws of nature for history. Montesquieu too ascribes these invariable laws to the fact that God so willed them, for the preservation of the world - but now this is already by way of defence and sounds more like lip service. It is clear that, at least implicitly, the power of prediction had to be inherent in such historical laws of nature. Montesquieu consequently himself attempted various predictions on the strength of them, some correct, others incorrect.
Again a few years later, in 1750, a couple of Turgot’s speeches were published: one on the merits of Christianity, the other a “Discours sur l’Histoire Universelle”. Turgot, belonging to the school of Physiocracy - according to which there was an “ordre providentiel” for social and economic life that was the product of natural law (or natural right) - was a great mind, also great in his ambivalence that was still typical of that age. On the one hand he still leans firmly on Bossuet’s theocratic view of history, and on the other hand he forces one of the first break-throughs towards the secularization of history. For here is the first dawning of the explicit belief in the progress of history, achieved by the development of the human spirit, and expressed in corresponding human action. This progress is clearly visible in the law of development in three stages which he was the first to apply purposively to it. However, it is equally apparent from the law which he was again the first to formulate regarding the acceleration of progress - which is again in the foreground of historical development for the first time in 200 years.
Once again nearly half a century was to pass before this thread of Ariadne through the historical labyrinth was taken up again. Condorcet, mathematician, universally enlightened spirit, one of the authors of the Encyclopedic (among the subjects which he championed were rights for women and birth control), wrote his “Esquisse d’un tableau des progrès de l’esprit humain” in 1793. He did so as a refugee, shortly before his imprisonment and his suicide as a sacrifice to the Revolution which he had
served so well. In this “testament of the 18th century” he describes the essence of human history. This is by now a completely secularized history, in which the Christian faith plays a part only as superstition.
This history is subject to fixed laws of nature to be discovered by empirical research. According to Condorcet, these prove two things. On the one hand, his optimistic thesis on lasting progress through a possible “perfectabilité” or future perfection of mankind. On the other hand, when, thanks to a Newton of history, the science of history has one day developed into a perfectly rational and exact science, his corresponding conviction concerning the possibility of replacing prophecy by prognosis, of divine Providence by human vision. However, in a later age these two undogmatic future-expectations, which completely revolutionized existing thought, were to be rejected on the grounds that they were as naive, utopian, dogmatic and absolute as the Christian expectation for the future which, for these very reasons, they had to replace. But at first this new image of- the future had an overwhelming effect.
In the half-century that followed, the stage of the philosophy of history was, however, first still dominated by the powerfully creative spirit of Hegel, inspired by the same idealism. I believe that he may be regarded as the last of a series of thinkers who, intentionally or unintentionally, were to give the final shove that overturned the theology of history. To the present day it is still uncertain whether Hegel assigned himself this role. Many thought themselves justified in automatically identifying his “Weltgericht” (which Hegel combined with “Weltgeschichte”) with a Christian judgment of God which he evidently meant at the same time. Others argued - and still argue - most strongly against this, backed by other quotations from his extensive work. Both Hegel himself and the countless commentaries in their authoritative interpretations of his theory, fluctuate in ambivalent fashion between two contradictory views.
Did Hegel deliberately try to fuse the still extant theology of history with, or replace it by, a philosophy of history that was completely independent of it? Was the World Reason just another word for God and was the Weltgeist in its dialectical-dynamic progress through history bound to or even the incorporation of the development of the Christian idea? Or, conversely, was the Hegelian Weltgeist precisely the progressive rational (and moral) development of awareness of the human self, that is to say of the above all free and freedom-seeking human spirit? But precisely because these are and will doubtless remain questions, and perhaps because all the answers in that respect are both true and false, for these very reasons Hegel is in any case a typical and certainly no longer completely dogmatic transitional figure.
The answer to the doubt contained in the above question (for an identical ambivalence was characteristic of the majority of his predecessors in thought mentioned above) is perhaps less important if we confine ourselves to the historical effect of this reasoning on the further history of history. For there is not the slightest doubt that after Hegel’s death (1831) the most influential effect came to lie among the group of younger left-wing Hegelians, above all in a period concentrated in the following decades, but with emanations over more than half a century. Members of this group - leaving aside Marx, who will be dealt with separately - included in the first place D. F. Strauss, Feuerbach, Stirner and, in a somewhat later period, Engels as well (who published on this subject after the death of his friend Marx). Now their purpose was a particularly explicit one: the historical uprooting of Christian dogma, as a rule partly to free the future development so that human freedom could change it as thought fit and, without interference from outside, reshape it for the best.
I have already stated that, starting from about 1500, it was to take nearly 400 years before sacral historiography gave way almost completely to profane historiography. The latter was a liberated historiography which could afford to replace the one final objective of the history of salvation fixed for the future by other, actual, historical trends, and also by other possible objectives pursued in reality or considered probable, possible or desirable. Orthodox theological historiography put up a stubborn resistance for a very long time, although its original tenets could not be fully maintained and it had to fall back on lines erected and reinforced behind it.
The first and principal shift lay in the fact that it was gradually obliged to share the theocentric supremacy that it had exercised for centuries with other, newly discovered powers and forces, and had likewise to try to embrace these in attempts at synthesis. The world-conquering forward march of modern science, at first mainly the trio mathematics - physics - astronomy, was one of the forces forming a particular threat to orthodox historiography. True, at first the greatest scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries, mostly still sincere believers, who also introduced the term laws of nature for their successive discoveries, such as Descartes, Huygens, Newton and Leibnitz, saw these very laws of nature as evident proof of the existence of God, to whom these laws in their opinion owed their existence without any doubt. Descartes ascribed the invariable constancy of the laws of nature to the immutable nature of God. Newton did not only base the exactly prognostic capacity of such mechanistic laws on this, he also wrote - something that is less well known - an interesting work in particular on the prophetic predictions of Daniel.
Perhaps even more important in this respect is Leibnitz, who, besides
being a celebrated mathematician, physicist and philosopher, was an equally famous historian. It is fascinating to see how even he already had to wrestle with the subject-matter so as to be able to preserve in essence the theology of history. Of course it would take us too far to describe this intellectual process here in detail. I shall simply mention two aspects that are particularly appropriate here. In the first place he could not succeed in his intention of tying up the loose ends without employing a massive artifice, viz, the requisite “wonder” of a prestabilized (fixed and postulated as permanent) harmony deliberately introduced by God. Positing this cosmic harmony introduced in advance into world history in accordance with God’s Plan compelled him, however, to draw a second logical consequence. This was to demonstrate how the evidently conflicting, complete disharmony (of evil, immorality, misery, chaos and absurdity, discord, injustice and unhappiness, in brief the suffering of men - even the pious and devout - on earth) could be reconciled with the first assumption. As a result - he was forced step by step to devise the most celebrated theodicy in history. This was an answer to the age-old question of the justification of evil in a divinely created world and furthermore an attempt to find by verification in that very situation proof of almighty God as the perfect, just, holy, merciful and loving ruler vis-à-vis His faithful subjects, sinners and otherwise. However, others were driven by the same problem to insubordinate refutation.
But the first artifice of preordained harmony, too, proved to have other consequences for theological-philosophical historical models. For it is known that in the 17th century deism acquired increasing strength. According to this rational religion, though God originally created the laws of nature with which He set the world in motion, He withdrew from “day-to-day management”, leaving them to go their own way in dominating world history without further intervention from His side. In essence this view is already contained in Leibnitz’ theory of harmony, for which he repeatedly uses the image of two clocks synchronized in accordance with God’s original instructions, with which process of synchronization He, as the creative clockmaker, has no longer to concern Himself thereafter. His pupil Christian Wolff continues this line still further: the world is a machine, faultlessly constructed by God and functioning automatically, which He leaves in peace to function further, without having to intervene personally.
This view has two implications: firstly, God’s creation is good, evil is simply the imperfect work of man (an argument to support the theodicy). Secondly (an unintentional undermining of the theology of history), the laws of nature are given autonomy within the framework of a natural order instituted by God for that purpose. However, men can dominate that natural order by discovering its laws and then learning to use these for their own power (according to Bacon’s motto). However, via the techniques of science this will ultimately mean the end of both the theology of history and the
theodicy connected with this. For once again there rises here, against an originally divine power, a power which, though derived from the former one, is nevertheless very individually human.
Things had not yet quite reached that stage. In the same 17th century Spinoza devised his deeply religious and profoundly philosophical ethical system for good and loving human life. This ethic was “more geometrico”, i.e. built up on the principles of geometry. In Spinoza’s opinion this mathematical-intellectual synthesis led to the purest and most blessed love of man for God (amor Dei). However, for him the Bible was a book like any other historical work. Neither religious worship nor theological history could retain their conventional meaning vis-à-vis his critico-historical and anti-dogmatic attitude, either as religious or as philosophical thought models, coercive or otherwise. On the contrary, his work formed a daring impetus, and this time a deliberate one. Revealed faith remains, but only so far as it is locked in the heart of man, that is to say, in Spinoza’s view, as a natural and rational morality. He was firmly convinced that the State should serve not in the last place to ensure spiritual freedom, including freedom of thought and opinion. Socrates redivivus!
Come to that, theology itself did not ultimately succeed either in escaping the triumphant successes of modern science. What one could not permanently banish, on God’s supposed authority, one could better build in lastingly, to the greater glory of God. A certain John Craig won for himself in 1699 a (viewed in retrospect rather ridiculous) place among the immortals as one of the leading representatives of the “physico-theological” school.
En passant I can only mention here the intermediate position of so complicated a figure as Kant. Inspired by a work from 1784 by his former pupil Herder, of which he incidentally wrote a rather sour review, he - the philosopher, and among other things physicist and astronomer - also engrossed himself in the science of history and in history (a subject in which he was otherwise not greatly interested). His essay, from that same year 1784, was called: “Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltburgérlicher Absicht”. Even the formidable All-Zermalmer proves here to be a child of his age after all. According to Kant history is determined by something like laws, comparable to the discovered laws of nature, and in accordance with a “Plan of Nature”. In his view this was the only way to explain how it is possible that stupid people (even philosophers, he states, are not wise in everyday life), without knowing these laws or this plan, let alone understanding them, were led to progress in spite of themselves. Kant stated that the revelation of such a teleological plan of nature, unfolding itself in history, would be the task of a new Kepler, while further establishing the necessity of the laws contained therein would call for a second Newton. True, according to Kant himself, this idea of a teleological plan of nature
cannot be proved, but unless we operate with it we cannot understand history.
In Kant’s opinion progress in history comes about in spite of man and his unknowing, irrational actions. But, according to plan, this process gradually leads to a type of man acting more rationally, gifted with greater intelligence and more moral freedom. Only two remarks will be made on this:
Kant does not designate all-wise Providence, and even less so innately good man, as Rousseau does, as the potential prime mover of this law of development - on the contrary, bad, imperfect, wordly man is instrumental. But, and that is my second remark, Kant nevertheless concludes on the strength of his argument that an optimistic prognosis is called for. And despite a fundamental difference of argumentation, this prognosis still displays considerable internal resemblance to the eschatological history of salvation, progressing towards the future. When all is said and done, his natural order and a divine order are not “poles apart”, and the difference between a Plan of Nature and a theological Plan of God seems perhaps little more than a difference in terminology (which had already entirely disappeared with Spinoza’s “deus sive natura”, God, that is Nature). Which of course in no way detracts from the fact that Kant too must definitely be regarded as one of the transitional figures from sacral to profane philosophy of history.
Somewhat arbitrarily I should like to conclude this series (which is definitely not meant to be exhaustive) of these transitional figures from a still prevalent to a newly dawning thought model, whom I regard as the most important ones in this context, with an author of quite a different kind, a historian by profession, Alexis de Tocqueville. His two-volume main work, “De la Démocratie en Amérique” (1835-40) is of importance here for several reasons. In the first place, as a modern work, still highly readable, which also introduces the New World as a phenomenon into history. In the second place, to show that far into the first half of the 19th century the spirit of Bossuet was still extremely alive after more than 150 years in a leading writer who now gives the central position precisely to democracy (following on the historical periods of Enlightenment, Revolution and Progress). According to Tocqueville the stepwise development of the equality of conditions of life is a matter of Providence and possesses all the characteristics of a divine dispensation: it is universal, it is lasting and it frustrates all human opposition; every event and every person serves its progress. Consequently, to him every attempt to hold back democracy and its steadily continuing development means fighting against Providence and “against God Himself”.
However, there is a third aspect that attaches to this proposition that seems significant in this connection. Given the starting-point that the development of democracy cannot be halted on account of its providential necessity, the possibility of forecasting the coming historical development in this respect also follows explicitly in Tocqueville. Admittedly, like so many
theologians before him, he trips up over the old question of how this providential necessity determined as fate can be reconciled with the free will of men who either want to hinder democracy or want to foster its cause (precisely because Tocqueville, to avoid a fatal outcome, vigorously advocates the latter). However, greater minds have racked their brains on this to no avail. For this very reason, too, Tocqueville is a transitional figure, because he is very well aware of this ambivalence, or rather contradiction. Nor is it material here whether this or other prognoses of Tocqueville proved right or wrong in the event. What seems to me of importance is that Tocqueville proves to be a great advocate of historical prognostics.
Like Montesquieu and Turgot, Voltaire helped to write the Encyclopédie, the great pacemaker of the scientific (D’Alembert), anti-orthodox (Diderot) and rationalistic philosophy of history, and therefore repeatedly banned. This philosophy of history came into being during the 18th century in Germany too. One of the most advanced figures in this direction was Wilhelm von Humboldt. A pregnant quotation from one of his works, testifying to his advanced historico-prognostic attitude of mind, runs as follows: “Von dieser Seite betrachtet, liesse sich die ganze Weltgeschichte in der Vergangenheit und Zukunft gewissermassen mathematisch berechnen...”
Of course Voltaire, but also Vico and Comte, and finally Hegel in particular, find a very important continuation in Proudhon. I have deliberately used the word “important”, because this author is usually viewed either within the limited bonds of the history of development of socio-economic doctrines, or as the man who was the subject of annihilating criticism by Marx (although strongly influenced by him), viz, as socialist avant-la-lettre (i.e. before Marx’ message). But Proudhon means much more than is suggested by just about his only aphorism that has come down to us: “la propriété, c’est le vol”. As evidenced by his principal economic work and his many other writings (collected in 26 volumes!), he is one of the most important thinkers in the context envisaged here. As such he also forms an essential link in the development of the philosophy of history. While for instance both Jaspers and Collingwood make no mention at all of Proudhon, Löwith has - in my opinion quite rightly - devoted a separate and fascinating section to him among the thirteen persons whom he discusses individually. 4 I shall borrow some of the information that follows from this section, giving it my own interpretation.
Proudhon’s express intention was the systematic, complete replacement
of divine Providence by human forethought and foresight. Instead of the ultimate end of history revealed by God and of the theological progression of history towards that predetermined completion, Proudhon wanted to give the central place to man himself and make him entirely independent. In his view man himself had been elected to set objectives for the movement of history towards the realization of progress. 5 On the basis of these causal objectives impelling history onward, the desirable development could be determined independently, and moreover the probable development can (and must) be predicted.
What means were required for this process of intellectual transformation? As in Voltaire, but now more sharply formulated, a total conversion of theological into absolutely secular historiography, i.e. also including man’s influence on history. However, while for instance a Condorcet and a Voltaire, although radically anti-clerical, are usually still regarded as deists, Proudhon tends to be classified as a pronounced “atheist” and even specifically as a revolutionary, anti-theistic fighter. Judging by the letter of his pronouncements this is certainly not surprising - and yet not the final truth,
God is Evil - according to Proudhon in another aphorism - and Lucifer is Good. For, the explanation runs, the Christian God robs man (we would today perhaps say Promethean and Faustian man) of his own free will, active creativity and liberated, theologically unburdened foresight. Lucifer is Good, as the good genius of rebellion and revolution. Proudhon regards revolution as the indispensable medium in the centuries-long struggle of human power against divine supremacy. According to Proudhon the Christian faith has merely replaced pagan Fatum by Providence, which determines human destiny (and fate) just as completely and arbitrarily. The time of total and final emancipating “défatalisation” which is unavoidably revolutionary on account of theological and reactionary resistance, Proudhon preaches, has now dawned as a milestone of history, is ready at hand.
Deliberately and vehemently anti-Christian, that was how this charged call to general bourgeois resistance in various works was interpreted by his contemporaries. Persecuted on account of it, he had to flee to Belgium (just as Voltaire, banished from France, lived in England and Prussia before settling in Switzerland). Many of the free thinkers and freethinkers mentioned in the preceding pages as opposing coercive thought and future models suffered this fate in their day, while if they were rehabilitated at all, this happened one or more centuries later. This is interesting from the point of view of both psychology and the sociology of knowledge, because with these coercive thought models too there is evidently an almost natural cycle of action, reaction and renewed action, which is greatly reminiscent of a Hegelian-Marxian dialectic. The anti-dogmatist should always be on his guard too, lest he fall into dogmatics or tempt his possible successors to do so. This applies a fortiori when, as has happened with Proudhon, the re-
habilitation goes so far that the atheists are restored to respectability and neatly incorporated in a highly modernized but nevertheless not de-dogmatized Christian theology. For instance Joachim became a recognized precursor of the Reformation, whilst Hegel, as we have already seen, became a proclaimer of Christian doctrine. And in the same manner Copernicus and Galileo were finally restored to grace, though attempts at having them canonized have not (yet) succeeded. Later we shall see how Christian theology eagerly pounced on atheistic existentialism and on the God-is-dead proclamation, likewise appropriating these two contrary intellectual trends to its own use. In the long run, strangely enough, nothing attracts dogmatism like anti-dogmatism. Evidently in a number of cases this anti-dogmatism forms the best springboard for renewed dogmatism!
It cannot be denied that in the Proudhon “affair” points of contact for this attempt at religious synthesis can be found. In essence his attacks are in particular anti-theological (i.e. against his own contemporary theology), notably against the current theological philosophy of history. His attack on God too, if I may put it this way, is almost impersonal and specifically aimed at one given image of God, the image of God ruling everything and His attributes of almighty, omniscient and all-wise Providence in that function. This is, in Proudhon’s opinion, a caricature of humanity and human dignity. It is completely irreconcilable with his image of man. Human beings are equal to one another and, precisely in this respect, at least equal to God. Man is lord and master of his own fate, entitled and obliged to determine his own free destiny. Man is called upon to make a free choice concerning his future, and he is capable of doing so. He himself possesses the power of prognostic foresight and of directing this future that still lies open before him.
Nowadays, perhaps, this is a view which, at least for most progressively minded persons, is gradually and increasingly becoming almost self-evident, but in Proudhon’s time it was an almost entirely revolutionary one, which did not begin its gradual and cautious development until the course of the 17th and above all the 18th century. Even the revolutionary, radical Proudhon still observed this caution. He could not do without the hypothesis of God, he says (cf. Voltaire’s “if God did not exist, he would have to be invented”). But Proudhon goes further; he compares himself with the ancient Christians, and is therefore really a deeply religious man. If one peels away the rhetoric, one finds behind the philosopher Proudhon a moving and passionate theologian, in fact in the deeper and certainly in the modern sense a Christian theologian.
The “Christian robbery of man”, viz, the theft of his pre-eminently human determination of his own destiny, Proudhon argues, can certainly not be blamed on God. On the contrary - still according to Proudhon - God presents to man the figure of Job as a most pitiful and significant example
of absolute passivity and of human tragedy resulting from inconceivable, unacceptable and intolerable ignorance. This reprehensible tragedy is recognizable by a completely needless, irrational and senseless suffering. It is not due to God’s will or intervention, Proudhon goes on, that mankind is confined to a passive wait-and-see attitude and serene resignation with regard to historical dynamism.
It is, I think, fair to say, as did in fact happen afterwards, that the torch of Christian eschatology of salvation was possibly handed on precisely and in particular by atheists like Proudhon, Marx and Nietzsche, or at least the flame was kept alive or a dying spark revived. What Proudhon aimed at in so many words was the founding of a “foi nouvelle”, of a new, if one likes pseudo-theological doctrine of salvation which would later be elevated to the optimistic philosophy and religion of progress.
From Proudhon and Hegel historical lines of thought of contradiction, conversion and identity run to Marx. Such a tremendous amount has been rightly written about Marx that it seems to me quite superfluous to enlarge on this central figure. The laws of dynamic-dialectic development formulated by Marx, applicable with the strict necessity of nature to history, are well known, as are the two mainstays of this argument, on the one hand that the Being of men determines their consciousness and on the other hand that men make their own history. It follows from the first that improvement of the social situation and the environment, or improved education, will improve human thought. From the second it follows that it is not an abstract God - or any other providential mythical power - that predetermines human destiny but that in concrete reality, men themselves fully determine this, where necessary with the aid of revolution.
As far as is known from his extensive work Marx - like Comte - never really accounted for the epistemological and also strictly logical collision between a rigidly deterministic conformity to natural law and the freedom of man to determine his destiny, which is therefore open and still undetermined. Whether or not deliberately, he flung this as a “polyinterpretable” (Jan Romein) and eagerly picked bone to his executors, as befits an obscure, New-Old Testament prophet. Marx also deliberately avoided a more precise delineation of the image of the future that he evoked, which many regard as his strongest point and others as his Achilles’ heel. However this may be, a forecast broadly based on his laws of economic and technical development, and applicable to at least the near future, was definitely present. Rightly in my opinion, he has been described in this respect as pro-
claiming a secularized prophecy or a profane Messianic gospel. Indeed it cannot be denied that the theocentric and sacral philosophy of history is for the first time replaced by a new anthropocentric philosophy of history with its own doctrine of salvation worthy of human beings. Such a profane, humanistic doctrine of salvation is characteristic of the views of the younger Comte and of Proudhon, and also of those of historical materialistic Marxism and of evolutionistic idealism of progress. The future is now the exclusive product of human manufacture.
From Hegel and Marx, and also from the Young Hegelian critics of religion, clear trend lines run to the intellectual giant in whom practically all that had gone before culminated for the time being and from whom practically all that follows seems to flow back: Nietzsche. Without any understanding of Nietzsche the contemporary philosophy of history and of culture is entirely incomprehensible. What lies at the heart of the new ideas that he propagated, what is the cause of his influence and of his failure? Is it perhaps one and the same cause, operating in opposite directions? As we approach the present day, in which Nietzsche’s tremendous influence is still active, I must go somewhat more deeply into this, although I shall of course confine myself as much as possible to the connection with thought and future models. For Nietzsche fundamentally and consistently rejects all thought and future models that were or had been applied to human history.
In their place he offers us what he is firmly convinced are other, better and literally soul-saving attitudes of mind, though, as we shall see, once again the only true ones. This was a reason for inflated veneration or humiliating vilification, in the polarity that seems inevitably to fit prophets like a cloak that can be turned inside out. And it was also a cause of tragedy, for him personally as a renewing philosopher and Messianic proclaimer of glad tidings, but also for the whole of mankind, in the sense that the newly opened access to an eagerly awaited future proved to make this future (as the result of an impenetrable and insurmountable vacuum at the same time introduced behind it) as elusive and incomprehensible as the ever-unattainable horizon, or a fata morgana evidently reflecting nothing whatsoever of coming events.
No philosophy of history dealt with so far found favour in Nietzsche’s eyes, not even the philosophy that formed the avant-garde in this respect. But least of all could he accept the Christian philosophy of history. In a number of works he tries his best to demonstrate that Christianity has slowly but surely been eroded and devalued to what is only a weak and hollow moral theology, an emptied Christian ethic of which both the moral and the theological value, which in any case have no historical effect or emulation, are also completely unacceptable. Nietzsche, in his “Fröhliche Wissenschaft”, is the first to state that God is dead. There never was a creation, and there will never be a completion. The eschaton, the Christian
hope of ultimately redeeming salvation, is nothing but a treacherous myth. History has no beginning and no end, no sense and no purpose, no significant, purposive, surveyable connection. A finalistic, teleological movement of history, running according to a preconceived plan, is nonsense, non-existent.
But equally so the secular expectation of a historical development in the direction of a natural or other evolution is, in his opinion, nothing more than a dreamy utopia and complete illusion. He rejects both idealistic progress and fatalistic ruin. There are no values or norms applicable in advance 6 to which history conforms, there is not a single real or ideal prospect. This is the beginning of nihilism, usually misunderstood or deliberately abused.
In other words there is nothing, no value, salvation or ideal. Nothing that sets the trend, improves, elevates, redeems. And yet throughout his life Nietzsche was obsessed by the problem that shattered the peace of his soul (a problem in origin both religious and humanistic), namely whether man could arrive at another and better future, how, despite everything, he could re-create this future for his salvation. Nietzsche, a passionate opponent of strict logic, which he saw as choking all original thought, aesthetic beauty and Dionysian poetry, could not of course, as we shall see, avoid a logical contradiction that nevertheless equally dissolved his own system. This was the inescapable, uprooting contradiction caused by his first demonstrating in great detail, with an accumulation of reasonable arguments, that any future salvation that may be expected is fundamentally unthinkable and, viewed philosophically, is entirely pointless, and then, after this complete demolition, showing precisely the - in his opinion - only possible and accessible way to such an essentially identical and equally ideal construction.
Nietzsche’s sharp mind was not unaware of this antinomy, but he believed that he had found a sound solution for it. This may be reconstruction in the main by combining in particular the main themes from “Also sprach Zarathustra” (1883-85) and his last major philosophical work, “Der Wile zur Macht” (1888).
Man must first wrest himself completely free by the action of his own will from all dogmatism and fanatical prejudice, from all despotic, coercive ideas and tyrannical, sacral or profane ideas of the future. In an unsparing iconoclasm he must demolish all these, eradicate them root and branch. Only then will he be truly free, will the true future be open to him. In itself and to this extent this approach is highly conceivable. A clean sweep is made. But to what end? Nietzsche too, after Marx, also says: “You have nothing to lose but your chains”. Marx needed as midwife for the birth and growth of his natural law of development only some material aid to start: class struggle, revolution and dictatorship. Nietzsche in his turn required only
enough spiritual insight to reject both the existing God and the existing man. The human will to power, brought to a historical climax, is, by a fantastic manoeuvre, replaced by a complaisance that emasculates itself in heroic fashion, the pure negation precisely of the ultradynamic, hypersensual and evil lust for power which he first designated as essential. Free will is suddenly and exclusively instituted and converted by a wave of his magic wand into the absolute passivity of a “yes and amen” pronounced in mass obedience.
Now, if once the process of evolution follows this twisting path precisely set out by Nietzsche, he, like Joachim, then introduces a third, historical phase. When for that purpose he causes the password to fall from a clear blue sky and resound for man, both the reprehensible Biblical “thou shalt” and the contemptible pagan “I will” will, he prophetically assures us, ultimately be permanently succeeded by a ravishing cosmic “I am”. True man, Superman, has then been born, been created by Nietzsche. However, this future salvation depends on man first making a spontaneous-forced journey to Canossa. To that extent this new metaphysics and new gospel also form a new utopia which, however, as he himself says, always amounts to a fatal illusion.
His pseudo-Greek solution limps, for the same reasons as the Greek god Hephaistos, cast out of Olympus by the wrathful Zeus on account of an “aberration”. Just like Hephaistos, Nietzsche then builds an unbreakable metal cage and places in it the man first liberated by him, and liberated for that purpose. He has this man, imprisoned and sunk in the deepest vale, addressed and admonished by Zarathustra from the infinite heights of his oriental mountain-top. But the ultimate future resulting from this preaching, and designated as manifest for man, seems at all times untimely.
For, when all is said and done, Nietzsche simply replaces the one coercive model for a religious doctrine of salvation by another which, completely unrealistically and illogically, offers neither freedom and redemption nor deliverance and future. Like so many philosophers before him, Nietzsche is prepared to make the way free but on no account to keep it free. Man may only want what Nietzsche wants. “La critique est aisée, l’art est difficile” is a pronouncement which is by no means always true as far as the first part is concerned. However, the art of the second part would be a good deal less difficult if one did not repeatedly commit the same fault (it almost seems to be a law of the psychology of thought or the sociology of knowledge) which one has previously criticized - often rightly - most strongly: a dogmatic attitude of mind. That Nietzsche, like many whom he attacked, not without cause, failed after drastic demolition in a constructive approach, can only be regretted, but it continues to be highly instructive and fascinating. But it is a decidedly tragic fact that in so doing he too, the great liberator, like so many predecessors and followers, completely
immobolizes men again, or at least tries to tame and train them with cracks of the whip like wild circus animals and having done so, again lays down the law to them in dictatorial fashion.
It may be useful to pause here and consider the idea of the “law” just mentioned. This concept of law has itself evolved through the ages with the course of history and with the development of successive thought models. It is immediately clear that the stupendous development of modern science, and in particular its discovery of the classical laws of nature, could not but exert a tremendous influence on all other fields of science. Its nomothetic-physical thought model everywhere became the thought model pure and simple. Now as these classical laws of nature were above all characteristic laws of motion, it is equally evident that attempts were made to use these Copernican, Keplerian and Newtonian laws of motion to find historical laws of motion and development for the dynamic force field of history which, if not identical with the former group, then, insofar as already sui generis, were at least comparable with these exemplary laws of nature.
That is to say, laws of the same universal validity, strictness, absolutely without exceptions and of inescapable necessity. Only in that case could one, as in science, use such a thought model at the same time as a model of the future, thanks to the strictly determining causal conformity with natural law. For then the historical laws of motion and development found in that way would, as fixed laws of historical dynamics, have the same certain predictive or prognostic power. Thought models can in themselves already become coercive forms of thought within their relative frame of reference when they, as the best possible, are compulsorily imposed for the optimum practice of science. However, they also become coercive models in the absolute sense as soon as they begin to apply as pertinent models of the future too. Their character of as it were natural, absolute inescapability and necessity, sparing nothing and nobody, traps all future events in an iron net of cause and effect, in a frozen fixation from earlier to later.
We already found such strict historical necessity in the 16th century in a predecessor like Machiavelli, then more generally in the 18th century in Montesquieu, Turgot and Condorcet, and afterwards especially in Comte. Hegel and Marx, culminating as a cosmic natural law in Nietzsche. True, the after the event always proves to be a historical creed, or even simply wishful thinking, wrapped to greater glory and authority in the scientific cloak of a natural law inevitably unfolding in future events and thus foreseeable and predictable in its panoramic development. If the prediction
proves incorrect a posteriori, then the natural law claimed a priori also loses all foundation. The soufflé served collapses into an indigestible mess.
But now we must go a step further back. Scientific study in the wider sense did not confine itself to the cosmological motion of the heavenly bodies or of the earth around the sun. Explorers went round the earth too. They brought into being geography, ethnology, and later anthropology. Moreover, they gave birth to systematic research into the historical movement and development of all life on earth: natural history, geology, biology and genetics were added to the sciences. As a result of this manifold development the names of Linnaeus, Mendel and Darwin, among others, entered history. But they too fructified historical thought with new thought models. For they led to a further dynamization and historicization of the world-picture. In particular Darwin’s theory of evolution had an effect on historico-philosophical thought that it would be difficult to overestimate.
This almost overwhelming influence extended in quite different and in some cases entirely opposite directions. To mention two extremes: Spengler versus Spencer. Oswald Spengler, by origin a mathematician, greatly influenced in his philosophy by Nietzsche, transplanted biology into the history of human civilization. Its expression in cultures was therefore irrevocably bound up with the law of life and death, or origin and decay. This, thought Spengler, occurred with an “eternally returning sameness” and accordingly a “simultaneousness” comparable throughout all history of certain congruent stages of development of cultural rise and inevitable fall, all entirely in accordance with the biological life-cycle. Perhaps the work would never have left scholars’ studies if there had not automatically been an inherent part of this strict natural law and necessity which was of an unassailable prognostic nature and which therefore logically and consistently extended to our own Western culture too (“Der Untergang des Abendlandes”).
In direct opposition to this fatalistic pessimism, Spencer had already extended the biological theory of evolution to a socio-historical Darwinism which, however, preached an equally fatalistic but for that very reason irrepressible optimism. If nobody at all were to interfere with the process of social development (no State intervention and certainly no philanthropy, let alone social legislation on behalf of the under-privileged or any kind of protection of or aid to the socially weak), the optimum and maximum development of history would automatically begin. For the progress of human society and of national and international historico-political events would spontaneously bring into action, under the relentless pressure of the merciless struggle for life, a natural selection in the general interest, i.e. also in everyone’s interest, with as tempting fruit the extremely desirable survival of the fittest. The supposed do-gooders were therefore in actual fact evil-doers!
The theory of evolution induced renewed philosophical reflection on the problem of a possibly preconceived or inherent end (telos) as a (teleological) creatively active driving force for progress in the continuing history of mankind. The adoption of this, in origin, biological thought model by the vitalism or neo-vitalism of for instance Dilthey, Driesch and Bergson (“elan vital”) will not be dealt with here, since it forms a sideline in respect of the philosophy of history.
It is in the philosophy of history that one finds the most important reflection of biological Darwinism, namely in the form of a marriage between this evolutionism and rationalism, which had developed strongly in the 17th and 18th centuries. This was indeed a “manage de raison”. The intellectual child of this union which, rapidly reaching adulthood, was to reign almost supreme in the 18th and still in much of the 19th century was, as is generally known, christened at the time as the doctrine (or the idea) of historical Progress. It was also designated as the immanent idealism of progress, though afterwards it came to be deprecatingly characterized as naive optimism of progress. As I have dealt with this new thought model and, at the same time, dominating philosophy of life elsewhere at length and may refer the reader to that work, I should merely like to add here what stamps this thought model as a specific model of the future too.
I shall thus not concern myself with the question of birthright, viz. whether we ought to assign this to for instance the Abbé St. Pierre, to Jonathan Swift or to Fontenelle. The last-mentioned certainly has a claim, because (in the celebrated “quérelle des anciens et des modernes”) he exerted a decisive influence on the conclusion reached in those days that, in respect of Antiquity, progress had in fact been made (a balance that was not to tip in the other direction until about two centuries later, with Nietzsche). As we have seen, this trend was resolutely continued towards the future in France by Turgot, Condorcet and Proudhon.
What they added forms the very essence of the crystallizing new model of the future, viz, the changing of the guard at the gate to the future. It was no longer divine, ruling Providence that formed the sole guarantee and also, thank God, was exclusively responsible for the other and better future. Human forethought and foresight now proceeded to take over this task entirely independently. Progress, since then written with a capital P, now was conversely no longer God’s work but, equally exclusively, man’s work. This Progress was no longer transcendental, operated as it were from above and almost inscrutably in favor of historical events. Progress, as an im-
manent force in the dynamics of history, was as autonomous as it was manifestly active. It was the force incarnate of a mankind that had reached adulthood, had become increasingly more rational, knew what it wanted in a progressive direction, what one could and therefore must do on a rational basis.
It is perhaps as well to warn at this point against two possible misunderstandings. One could be engendered by the impression that the final victory of profane over sacral historiography had been won, the other by the belief that the historical philosophy of human rational progress is accepted as such without reservation by all professional historians. Neither view is correct.
Even after Bossuet, whose theological historiography concluded and crowned the 17th century, sacral historiography never completely abandoned its point of view. It is true that the sober, extremely influential historian Leopold von Ranke, whose influence emanated in the 19th century and later, abandoned the theocratic, purposive movement of history with the admonition that the historian’s task is simply to investigate objectively and factually “wie es eigentlich gewesen sei”, without pronouncing on the deeper significance of the event, let alone on any kind of progress measured by human standards. On the other hand, his personal Christian philosophy of life is evident from his equally celebrated pronouncement made qualitate qua: “jede Epoche ist unmittelbar zu Gott”. Even in our day this found an echo in Herbert Butterfield, with his historic statement on history: “every instant is eschatological”. Finally, Toynbee’s ten-volume “A Study of History”, dating from the twenty-year period from 1934 to 1954, like his other work, is again pre-eminently Christian-sacral historiography, to which I shall return separately.
As regards the other point, that of profane historiography viewed in the light of rational progress, for instance Jacob Burckhardt was already strongly opposed in the 19th century not only to the concepts meaning and progress but also to a continuation of the historical lines from the past to any future, whether or not intended for eternity, but in any case unknowable. In our day K. R. Popper, for example, has opposed even more sharply and most disapprovingly the historical idea of a future, continued progress as such. On the other hand the British historian E. H. Carr, though particularly sceptical with regard to naive optimism of progress, is very positive in his attitude towards the historical dimension of the future as such.
It is of course easy after the event to amuse ourselves with the group of professional historians who firmly believed in a historical progress-directedness. For instance, there is the witty quotation from Cam, who in one sentence ironically reprimands sacral and profane historiography - insofar as the latter also admits to an ever-progressive movement - prevailing in the 19th century: “This was the age of innocence, and historians walked in the Garden
of Eden, without a scrap of philosophy to cover them, naked and unashamed before the god of history”. Carr himself regards history as an attempt at synthesis between past and future. It is certainly not the future-directedness as such that arouses his displeasure, but the idea of progression that this contains in advance. And indeed there was ever-increasing exaggeration in that very respect.
For some went considerably further with regard to the active process of progress than the generally accepted view, with a reasoning that was decidedly most attractive in its simplicity and effectiveness. In this view the inherent force of Progress, which pushes and pulls the Past towards the Future, was not only of unparalleled strength but was moreover entirely independent. Independent of a sovereign God and of rational man, if necessary going against unwise decisions or actions by man forming impediments. In this way the idea of Progress was absolutized. It was believed to work in a manner which was almost mystical but which, viewed matter-of-factly and realistically, was incessant and irresistible, operating through, for and, where necessary in spite of irrational and obstructive men, without there being in theory any kind of bounds for this in the future, or any which could in practice be set for this Progress, marching inexorably forward despite everything. A new, coercive, dominant and determinant model of the future had been born.
Even today it is often not sufficiently appreciated just how great the significance and the reach were of what was in fact no less than the almost overwhelming intellectual transition from a religious eschatology that had prevailed almost undisputedly for nearly twenty centuries to a new, soon all-prevailing pseudo-religious eschatology. The Land of Promise and the future final fulfilment were transposed to earth again and into the historical course of time with a tremendous, no less than revolutionary change of spirit. Perhaps this change of spirit was the only possible one at that time. People had become so used and attached to a divine doctrine of salvation that when the predicate divine was replaced by human they did not dare at the same time to interfere with the datum of the doctrine of salvation as such. Taking two new steps would evidently in those days have been one too many, more than could have been tolerated then. Indeed, the dogma of the historical doctrine of salvation in its new secularized version had even to be radically sharpened and exaggerated to enable it to continue successfully during this transitional phase. The comparative analogy seemed good, the superlative still better!
According to the view of the theology of history, Jesus’ appearance meant that the final state had already begun in essence. Viewed precisely from the historical standpoint, this became increasingly difficult to accept. How did the historical fall of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome tally with this Christian view? And what about the disastrous history of the world in the historical age, preeminently a Christian one, before and after the Reformation, and the ever-increasing worldly, predatory pursuit of money and power? How could the spreading
technical materialism and comfort, the capitalistic craving for wealth, acquired by robbery, exploitation, abuse of power, plundering and injustice, be reconciled with the suffering, the asceticism, the poverty and self-deceit of the early Christian preaching, with the attitude of mind of the catacombs, the martyrs and the Franciscan principles? In that way doubt even grew about the “historical” Jesus as the Son of God, while on the other hand the historical image, and at the same time pre-eminent example, of the rational and moral Socrates as a milestone of continued progress of Western civilization continued to stand firm against the wild waves of history.
Accordingly, as against the claimed progress and predestined final fulfilment of religious Revelation, via Enlightenment and Rationalism, it was now possible to draw up a synchronous but secular revelation. This revealed a continuous progression and an ultimate historical fulfilment, equally to be glorified, thanks to a continuing development of human reason (which was consequently elevated in a revolutionary period to Goddess Reason). Not only was there the secularized but otherwise completely identically oriented objective concerning the final denouement of the historical world drama with an “all’s well that ends well”. But, moreover, how much simpler, clearer, “more enlightened” and “more rational” was this substitution. The impenetrable, arbitrary and therefore apparently capricious action and intervention of divine Providence made history, by definition, entirely incalculable and unpredictable. Moreover, it had gradually come to be realized that there was not the slightest certainty any longer even about the time of the promised Redemption descending at a given historical moment, including the new heaven and earth and the lion lying down with the lamb. There was not even any certainty as to whether such a conception of the end of time and the last things could still rightfully be maintained. Its place was now taken by a history of the future malleable and governable by human action, not only a Progress that could be sensed, but also and above all one that was reasonably predictable and even capable of exact calculation, continuously and systematically unrolled towards a final destination established by one’s own future-directed determination of one’s destiny.
On the analogy of Jesus’ suffering as a substitute for the suffering of all mankind, the firmly convinced belief in this rational Progress, as a task now taken over by man himself of deliberately and purposively making his own history, itself became a substitute religion for mankind. The indestructible Sehnsucht for inner certainty was again fully satisfied. The now shaky certainty of man believing in Revelation was now exchanged en masse for the new proud and definite certainty of man gifted with Reason, at least as regards history, which from then on was to be governed by rational man himself. This was made possible partly by the fact that Christian theology felt obliged to stand further aloof from secular historical events, no longer identifying itself positively and actively with social structures developed therein. Too much
crime and injustice had been committed, or at least had been concealed, in the name of the Christian Church. Further, according as the expectation of salvation concerning the return of Christ and the Kingdom of God on earth had had to be shifted ever further away from earthly time to a distant horizon of supermundane eternity and rather meaningless transcendency, the nearer was the coming and the more open the way for another, highly promising but, in appearance at least, more historically concrete doctrine of salvation.
The increasingly ebbing self-confidence of Christianity, the occurrence of more and more doubt, fear, uncertainty down to despair (Kierkegaard and his influence, extending far beyond the narrower Christian circles) had of course inevitably to penetrate historico-theological interpretation. All the more quickly and strongly was the growth of the authority of and confidence in a spiritual force working towards the Progress of mankind immanently and autonomously within history.
However, this idealism of progress, as it shot up, also drew nourishment from other and older spiritual roots. We must first glance briefly back at these. Otherwise we shall not be able fully to grasp how it was possible that gradually a practically silent revolution, but almost complete movement and replacement, was able to take place. This was a spectacular and fundamental shift, going from the original, “jenseitig”, supermundane and transcendental, invisible final destination of history, regarded as a natural law, to a “diesseitig”, mundane, tangible final destination of history ascertainable by reason but equally elevated. This practically unbelievable transformation proceeded almost imperceptibly. The initially unforeseen endproduct of this course of development, which in turn was regarded as a natural law, was, however, no less than revolutionary. Christian conversion with repentance and penance was replaced by rational conversion with inspiration and instruction.
Above all instruction! For it soon became a supplementary condition of the progress to be achieved, i.e. of the progressive perfection of mankind, that the course of human reason through history could be considerably accelerated and improved. It was also rational to develop Reason to its optimum. This was of course possible by education. In this development phase the idealism of Progress is coupled with Romanticism, especially in Germany, where this view was to culminate in idealistic philosophy, crowned by Hegel’s World Reason (beginning of the 19th century).
However, this was by no means self-evident. In France, for instance, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, child of Enlightenment and father of Romanticism, proclaimed almost exactly the opposite. In his “Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts” of 1750 - the same year in which Turgot published his speeches on progress - he regards modern sciences and art as decadence. Admittedly, he proves to be an enemy of Revelation, but not of divine Providence as such, a Providence which, however, according to Rousseau, stands entirely outside historical time 7 and does not justify itself until the Hereafter. In historical
time he sees the opposite of progress. He is an avowed enemy of reason and of all rational volitional activity. In his conviction as a sombre culture-pessimist all the misery in the world is attributable precisely to the use (abuse) of human freedom of will.
And yet the same Rousseau (“Emile”) is regarded as one of the classic founders of education and modern pedagogy. But that is precisely opposite and contrary to the German view given above.
As the reader will be aware, Rousseau does in fact advocate a transition from enlightened rulers to enlightened people, notably by education. However, this is an in principle reactionary education (only for rich boys, the girls belong at home). The paternalistic, autocratic educator must restrict all liberty, cut short all free expression of will by the pupil and, above all, foreseeing everything, must take the vacant daily place of Providence (from the cradle to the wedding night and even thereafter). No pupil educated according to this thought model and coercive system could ever have developed into a Rousseau.
Rousseau’s call for “back to nature” was definitely also of value and influence from the point of view of the philosophy of history. One might say as an inverted “model of the future”, directed towards the past. More stress was laid on the historical intrinsic value of old, also primitive peoples (Rousseau’s “bon sauvage”), as well as that of the dark Middle Ages, and needless to say also of the Renaissance, which after all was to a considerable extent precisely a revival of Antiquity and its values.
However, the nostalgic tendency towards the distant past clearly perceptible in Rousseau (who thus in more than one respect was spiritually akin to Nietzsche) was chocked, above all by the development of German Romanticism, which did ally itself with the optimistic rationalism of Progress, i.e. was in fact specifically and deliberately keyed to the future. It was in particular G. E. Lessing (not to be confused with the later, pessimistically minded philosopher of history Th. Lessing, murdered in 1933 by the Nazis) and Herder who contributed towards this reversal in the 1780’s.
Lessing breaks through the dogmatic theology of history. Continuing to build on Joachim, he sees history as an advancing revelation and realization of the “eternal gospel”, which thus finds its completion in a third, Joachimite age. In essence the established Christian revelation is consequently eroded and replaced by a human, increasing rationalism, though still founded on a broad religious basis. This progress of mankind is due to rational education in accordance with this eternal gospel and, according to Lessing, finally leads to the moral perfection of man.. This reasoning was also entertained in France, especially via the Saint-Simonians. In Germany this line continued to Schelling and Nietzsche.
This break-through and also continued effect (despite the partial rejection by Kant) became even stronger thanks to the works of Herder. In his philosophy the dominion of reason in history explicitly occupies the foreground.
Another premise is the aim of history marching onward with the aid of this reason, viz, the development, taken to its end, of what he calls “humanity”. This once again clearly humanistically directed orientation means a final break with the theological view of history. According to Herder, nature forms a kind of matrix, from which higher organisms repeatedly evolve up to the appearance of man (a biological-philosophical theory of evolution). Then man gifted with reason serves in his turn as an independent link in this evolution for the repeated attainment of spiritually more elevated phases. Every phase is predestined, in accordance with a teleological plan, to prepare a following, improved phase and so on, until the ultimate completion in the foreseeable future. In that ideal final state the laws that have already been existing eternally will have completely revealed themselves in earth’s history. In his optimistic-idealistic view true humanity unfolds in this way (with a parallel reduction of destructive demonism), namely “nach inneren Naturgesetzen einer sich aufklärenden Vernunft und Staatskunst”.
This is a pronouncement worth underlining. As one of the great and also one of the truly free spirits, Herder therefore likewise submits to the thought model then prevalent of the strict conformity of historical events with natural law. This lends lustre and coercion to it as an unconditionally reliable prediction of the future, Thus here too the historical circle is drawn and completed again. Not because God wants this completion, but because this aspiration towards the highest level of human values is contained inside human history and is active towards that end entirely under its own power. And without any opposing forces whatsoever being able to hamper this upward surge of development temporarily, let alone permanently. Once again a thought model, however elevating, nevertheless reveals itself as a coercive model of the future.
It would be most interesting to place such thought and future models in the schematic-graphical form that their devisers themselves evidently did not see as coercive, let alone distorted. Before I try to show in graphical imagery how images of the future ossify into obligatory models of’ the future and assume the shape of linear strait-jackets for the human mind, I should, however, like to outline a few other and last model variants. It is almost self-evident that, just as happened against the benevolent and all-wise Providence governing our destiny, at a given moment rebellion and resistance had to occur against the substitute idea of Progress. This was especially so when this was on the one hand overdrawn in an excessive and ultra-rationalistic manner into the irresistible, uninterrupted, automatically advancing Progress, which calmly ignored even all irrational opposition, and even obvious relapses, with closed eyes, or at least with blinkers on. While, on the other hand, the naivety and the irrealism of this idealistic but head-in-the-sand depiction - as had formerly been the case with the theological interpretation of history - were at least as obviously exposed. For undeniably the scandal and the rock of offence were publicly revealed precisely by the concrete reality of this horrible onward
march of history, devoid of any true progress. For quite apart from the fact that the lion did not lie down with the lamb, the swords were not beaten into ploughshares, the blind could not see and the lame could not walk, weaping and lamentations never ceased to be heard, just as of old. Torture, crime, murder and misery, injustice, inhumanity and evil, wickedness, blood and terror, cruelty, revenge and salacious sadism remained characteristic of this earthly vale of tears and thus of the human evidently unchangeable condition and situation. That the exaggerated optimism and rationalism of progress could not but consequently swing to the other extreme of culture-pessimism, irrationalism and anti-rationalism (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Ludwig Klages, L. Frobenius, Oswald Spengler, Th. Lessing, Eduard von Hartmann), further continuing from there up to modern existentialist philosophy (with its great influence on the philosophy of history) was a reversal in thought to be expected of “necessity”. Swinging as an extreme, by definition, likewise one-sidedly, to the other side. And of course again and pre-eminently dogmatic at and for that other side.
In the above we have witnessed the dramatic struggle between divine and human power, with now one and then the other gaining the upper hand temporarily. When human power at long last seems to be winning, it quickly grows into a self-satisfied mood of human superiority. However, this new fundamental attitude of the “bourgeois satisfait” already contains the germ of an immense new reversal and setback. If Progress forms an automatism, active in accordance with an immanent, historical force dictated by natural law, the application of human power is in essence completely superfluous. But when it is irrefutably evident that progress is neither automatically active nor even a real thing, human power gets the blame - which is in itself not incomprehensible - and the time is ripe for a predominant mood of human impotence.
From the point of view of the theology of history and the philosophy of history a number of the lines separately given above converge and merge in the world of ideas of Heidegger and Sartre. First of all, from Proudhon runs the line of human forethought and foresight, which Heidegger incorporates as central concepts in his “besorgen” of the world, of “Fursorge” towards one’s fellowman. Another line leads mainly from Kierkegaard, that of elementary fear, spiritual sickness, existentialist despair, indissolubly bound up with a lonely, temporary existence, face to face with inevitable future death. And finally from Nietzsche comes the power-seeking ego, cast into and struggling in the existing world, which, as in Ecclesiastics, is subject to an endless, uniform repetition of history.
Heidegger’s conclusion, resulting in the only possible recipe of life for adventurous, risky and dangerous human existence, is again - comparable with that of Nietzsche and also of Jaspers - that of the amor fati of the Stoa. In the existentialist philosophy of Heidegger the questions about the sense of human existence are interwoven as a Sein zum Tode with those about the
sense of history and of Being in general. He once again postulates the essence of time (and also of future time) to answer these questions.
In the view of Sartre and his disciples, again characterized as atheistic, these trend lines are taken to their logical extreme and also to their furthest, seemingly ultra-pessimistic consequence. The absolute unchangeable and incorrigible history of mankind, in his view, contains only boredom and disgust, meanness and horror, without any hope of relief. This is a struggle always and eternally doomed to failure right from the start. There is no divine Providence caring for mankind and ultimately leading man along the right path. But equally there is no prospect, as rational, moral work of man, of any Progress to be realized at any time. There is never any favorable prospect achievable for and by man. Human existence is without hope, without any other prospect in the historical course of time than Death, which at the same time is for everyone the eternal return to the identical, to the bottomless abyss of absolute Nothingness. This futureless image of the future, applicable to man as such in his passage through history, is equally a coercive model of the future.