The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Fred L. Polak


A Science in the Making

Surveys and Creates the Future

Elsevier, London, 1971


Historical models of the future translated into

coercively prescribed graphical models

1 .Curvilinear and rectilinear certainty

2. Modern sacral future-models

3. Modern profane non-future-models

HHC: Index added


Historical models of the future translated into coercively prescribed graphical models

1 .Curvilinear and rectilinear certainty

I think that the time has now come to attempt to survey the battlefield of history and of its conceptualization.  Upon closer examination it proves that it is not so much history itself that is explained and elucidated as human thought around it.  True, there seems to be an ineradicable human urge, satisfied by an endless series of philosophers of history and of the future, to overcome the course of history and, in order to conform the certainty thus conquered, to force the former into a strait-jacket, so to speak.  In order to grasp the ceaseless Becoming or essential Being of history, these successive thinkers have employed all kinds of specially devised fixations, conceptions and interpretations.  These various purposive auxiliaries of historical thought may be reproduced by or expressed in certain causal relations and constants, in fixed laws of development and structures, in clearly marked phases, stages or periods and, if possible, even in all-embracing overall systems.

If one were to try to reproduce these thought and future models with the greatest possible degree of simplification (i.e. not without abstract generalization) - an attempt which so far I have not encountered as a self-critical examination in any work on the philosophy of history - this schematic-graphical reproduction would appear more or less as follows:


(1) the cyclical representation of history, derived from cosmic metaphysics, prevailing among others in the Greeks, fully rehabilitated as the “eternal return of the identical” by Nietzsche, and - or so it seems to me - also present for instance in principle in Heidegger’s metaphysical struggle with time.

(a) This cyclical representation implies the possibility of prediction which, depending on the given temporary position or appraisal of the historical situation, can be interpreted either pessimistically or optimistically, i.e.


(b) A variant of this cyclical representation was encountered above in for instance Vico.  As Vico leaves open the possibility of renewal in the eternal, in itself invariable circular course, he therefore at the same time excludes the possibility of absolutely exact prediction.  One could depict this partly spiral interpretation of history more or less as in the left-hand sketch:

(c) In addition, the celebrated representation of the three interlocking rings in Lessing’s “Nathan der Weise” (1779) has an admittedly important historico-philosophical and notably anti-dogmatic and anti-authoritarian background, which as such also contains a non-coercive, chiefly utopian future model of tolerance and free-thinking.  And yet the form of expression chosen seems in this case to be symbolic and artistic in nature rather than to be intended as a scientific-philosophical scheme.  On the other hand Lessing was definitely strongly inspired by the Joachimite upward endeavor of the third or eternal gospel.  And to that extent there is all the same a clear connection with the historical view of the world given below under 2 which, however, in that case appears somewhat different in graphical form, e.g. circular or spiral as follows:

(2)         As the second main depiction of the development of historical motion, which repeatedly appears in varying historical forms, we are confronted again and again with a certain three-phase conception.  Set out graphically, it assumes on average the following form:


This upward trend, taking place in accordance with a three-stroke motorial movement of history, as stated, has been borrowed from Joachim of Floris.  The latter also had his much older predecessors as well as his historical successors (as for instance in the culture-dynamics of an unfolding stone, bronze and iron age or of a successive nomadic, agrarian and industrial civilization).  From him and through him this threefold and triune idea is transplanted to Lessing, and from the latter, together with Turgot, to Saint-Simon and his followers, and finally via this group to Comte’s elaborated law of dynamic development (theological, metaphysical, positivistic).


(3) As a separate main variant of this three-phase theory the historic dynamics of the dialectical view of history may be detached.  This is because the historical dynamics of these three phases, ultimately leading to progress, also incorporates decline.  The presentation in graphical form - also as an image of the figure cast before - would look more or less like this:

As is known, the scheme is that of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.  In its rectilinearity it is more angular and more pointed, but above all simpler, than the threefold upward spiral already depicted above, which after all is not so very different in essence or resultant, except that of course there is also a threefold retrogression:

Under this scheme fall two views which, while externally practically uniform, are internally practically opposite:

(a)    In origin this tripartite depiction is Biblical-theological, from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. [1]  Led to the Promised Land, the Jewish people were to be driven out of it again (diaspora) though their own fault and decline but, by virtue of the Covenant concluded with Yahweh, confirmed by the prophets, would return some day gloriously restored.  According to the gospel of Jesus (continuing the line of the Jewish prophets), in connection with the revelation of John (likewise linking up with a long series of older apoca-


lyptical representations), the old earthly time, after a satanic time of disturbances, would be recreated and completed, after the coming or return of the Messiah, in a new heavenly time. [2]  The revelation upon the mount in the desert of Sinai (Exodus 19:11) reaches its climax on the third day.  Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale.  As regards the New Testament I need only recall the symbolism of the resurrrection on the third day (cf. also Luke 13:32), the three wise men (the Three Kings) and the divine Trinity. [3]

In Christian theology neither the original tripartition nor a further refined quadripartition ultimately held their ground.  First they were narrowed down to an essential bipartition, for instance by Augustine (the present earthly state as against the Kingdom of God further spreading there, as the ultimate fulfilment of history).  Finally, history gradually developed into one independent, separate whole, the Kingdom of God then being elevated (one might almost say “kicked upstairs”) to form a matter beyond time, forming part of unearthly eternity.

(b) As we have seen, on the boundary between a Christian and a secular view stands Hegel, whose rational World Spirit likewise operates in accordance with a tripartite dialectical scheme used by the prophets of old.  Unmistakably on this side of the dividing line between sacral and profane, of “jenseitige” and “diesseitige” historiography stands Marx.  However, his tripartite law of development, the product of natural necessity, has retained the pseudo-theological and apocalyptical-eschatological character of a doctrine of salvation.  But this promised salvation will again and above all be realized in conformity with natural law in historical events on earth, by virtue of the materialistic trinity of the successive systems of production, with a coercively prescribed hop, skip and jump.


(4) New thought models, with corresponding images of the future, come into being in the ages of Rationalism and Romanticism, of Enlightenment and Progress.  A distinction could be made between three variants:

(a) The at first still moderate proponents of the doctrine of progress, such as Voltaire, had sufficient sense of history to remain thoroughly aware, for all their idealism and optimism, of the movements and countermovements occurring in reality.  In short, of the ups and downs in history which, if not purely coincidental, were at any rate constant, wayward and inevitable.  Hence the following graphical depiction:


that is to say a line which, though fluctuating short-term, nevertheless in the long run moves steadily onwards and upwards though history.  In the anti-clerical Voltaire there is in that respect little difference from the volitionally active pilgrimage of mankind moving ultimately towards the Christian faith, as depicted for instance by Bunyan.  As explained above, this modern historical representation was at the time strongly influenced by the classical sciences and in the 19th century in particular by Darwin’s theory of biological evolution as well.  Viewed philosophically it is, on account of its automatism leading to good, cognate with old tenets of Epicureanism and eudaemonism and ultimately even with a deflection towards existentially optimistic and volitionally passivistic quietism (see the offshoot under c).

(b) We have seen a specifically evolutionistic variant in Herder (who was not alone in this).  A simplified drawing would yield more or less the following picture:

which may be described as a spiral moving upwards in conformity with natural law, continued until the highest plane of ultimate spiritual completion of the history of mankind has been permanently reached.

(c) The third variant of the belief in progress, which has gradually become the most ordinary one, finally destroying itself by an arrogance as excessive as it was naive, has the following appearance:

the picture of practically rectilinear progression as automatically active and meaningful Progress thanks to a strange, beneficial force of social dynamics.  A visionary representation, which every professional historian (afterwards, but hardly if at all at the time) refutes as a-historical or unhistorical.  It is incidentally an almost faithful copy and equally serenely secularized parallel, the pure counterpart, of the originally religious depiction of a benevolent Providence


omnipotently active in history.  The Providence of God who, though in His supreme wisdom and omnipresence often inscrutable, undeniably leads man on earth via His own mysterious ways from darkness to bright light, perhaps extremely slowly but absolutely surely, despite or perhaps precisely thanks to purifying struggle and suffering, leads him to the ultimate finale of His glorious Kingdom. [4]

(d) An opposed pseudo-religious world view never fully developed, although for some time it exerted a not inconsiderable scientific-philosophical influence.  It was the model image of a variant going in exactly the opposite rectilinear or fluctuating direction from the preceding one:

In this depiction too some influence is perceptible of modern science.  However, while this culminated in Turgot, Herder, Comte, Marx and many others in optimistic views, even in the deepest essence and to a certain extent in Nietzsche himself, it leads here to the deepest pessimism.  This could be attached to the second law of thermodynamics.  The endlessly continued emission of heat during conversion into energy and the endeavor to compensate for this ought to lead to an ultimately maximum situation of the absolute, motionless zero, i.e. to an entropy death.  Extinction of the fires of the sun would at last condemn all life on earth to death.  It may still be argued whether in this way mankind would meet its end by an irreversible death by heat or by an inevitable death by cold.  On the one hand this possible physical terminal lies so tremendously far away, while on the other hand nuclear physics has brought atomic destruction in pregnant fashion so close to hand that the line descending straightforwardly drawn here has so far been unable to play a part of lasting importance in the philosophy of history.

However, a philosophy of culture, starting from the historical peaks of the history of human civilization, does derive some support from this view of modern cultural degeneration.  But the main impulses come from pessimistic romanticism and metaphysics, notably from the paradoxical, anti-Hegelian and negative nihilistic philosophy of Schopenhauer, making itself further felt in Klages, Th. Lessing and Eduard von Hartmann, among others.  According to Schopenhauer this world is the worst of all possible worlds and will therefore have to deny, forsake and eliminate itself.  There is also some connection with


those views of an existentialist philosophy in which Death functions not only as the repeated, irrevocable, individual end, but also finally as the ultimate victory over all life and history.


(5) A much more direct influence on the philosophy of history was exerted by biology in particular and the idea of causal conformity with natural law in general.  In the evolutionistic and anthropocentric progress models, whether moderately optimistic about historical development, or unworldly but unshakably optimistic about salvation, or optimistic about the world (as in the dogmatic, anti-humanitarian social Darwinism of Spencer) this influence, as is known, finds pronounced expression.

However, this biologism of Spencer, like any other strained extreme that finds expression in a returning pendulum movement, could, as we saw, with equal ease be deflected towards another finishing-point.  As in the case of Spengler who, long fashionable, firmly held the attention of the Western world for his historico-philosophical and also physical and mathematical thought and future model.  As an impressionistic sketch of the repeated historical development it looks broadly like this:

The curve reproduces every cultural-historical drama enacted again and again.  It consists of the parts inevitably returning at all times, succeeding each other uniformly, which in essence must develop the exactly identical life-cycle of every organism.  On each occasion the beginning is birth, then follows growth, and after that adult maturity, succeeded once again by the inevitable aging and senile decadence with a gradual loss of powers.  Until, under nature’s inexorable law, merciful or merciless death finally cuts the thread of life or releases the dying organism from its suffering.

In Spengler not only is this historical cycle between the beginning and the end of each culture fixed in advance, but in his view the same applies to the distances in time between the various phases, which therefore always occupy a fixed position on a curve that is almost a pure parabola.  One could therefore determine exactly at what moment of the total course of time allotted, i.e. at what stage of rise, matured development or decline, every historical culture developing synchronously happens to be.  Moreover, in accordance with the principle of this natural uniformity (and also, when making comparable historical cross sections, simultaneity), the future course, including the ending, i.e. the degeneration and the predestined doom, could be calculated with almost


mathematical precision and predicted in causal conformity with natural law.  This is again a characteristic example of a thought model that spins itself into the cocoon of a compulsory future model but does not further emerge from this.

The strange thing is that if a large part of modern existentialist philosophy were to be converted into this imagery, essentially the same line would have to be drawn.  In this case one does not start from culture but from the identical and uniform life of every individual separately who after all, taken together, form the history of mankind.

This view is practically identical with the mythological picture used by Camus.  Man, for ever wrestling in vain, is like Sisyphus given the lifelong task of rolling a stone (a part of the globe) uphill.  Once this has almost reached the top it rolls back again in endless repetition, so that it returns eternally from the end in view to the same starting-point. [5] Historical man, released from his temporary existence not by suicide but only by death, can find his happiness only in this bitter despair.  For Jasper too all existence - as in Heidegger -is a “Sein zum Tode”, which cannot be transcended.  According to him the meaning of life, and also of history, is “Scheitern”, failure.  As a result philosophizing is learning to die; every rising-time-curve is closed off at its final lower point by ultimate death, the border-post of life.  In Sartre the ever-hopeless death.

Although in its form it has an outward resemblance, the picture emerging from the rainbow, symbolic for the Jewish people, is entirely different.  The rainbow, which linked earth and heaven, which served as Jacob’s ladder for the angels, is the inspiring symbol for the believer in his dialogical relation to his own God, accompanying him through history, leading him irrevocably to the end of earth’s time.

This picture contains the idea, as eschatological as it is utopian, of a historical gateway to a different and better future.  However, it transcends each time the finite life of the individual Jew to that of the Jewish people as a collectivity.  With a continuous, indestructible and unchangeably perspective outlook on that other world dawning some day.


2. Modern sacral future-models

However, the above illustrations do not entirely complete my brief historical review of the images of historical thought and future models.

The philosophy of existence (whether the religious or the secular version) has not yet pronounced the last word for our time.

It was almost self-evident that purely secular philosophy of history would develop further.  However, in a much more surprising fashion the theological view of history, which had already been considered dead after the zenith of Bossuet and the nadir of Nietzsche, with his “Gott ist tot”, revived.

Two leading figures acted as representatives of this new trend, separated by a wide gulf (and not only on account of their Protestant and Catholic theology or philosophy respectively), relatively soon after one another.  The first, Toynbee, long lionized (and also sharply criticized) especially on account of his imposing work “A Study of History”, as one of the last great architects of a historical system.  The second was Teilhard de Chardin, around whom a quickly growing cult of enthusiastic, albeit sometimes uncritical, veneration has developed only since his death. [6]

I have already written at some length elsewhere about Toynbee’s thought system. [7]  I shall therefore confine myself to a few notes here.

In Toynbee, as in Spengler, we find a culture-pessimistic theory which at the same time presents itself as ultra-scientific, that is to say incorporating and interpreting history as an inevitably natural and mechanistic development.  What is given with the right hand as the possibility of intervening human freedom of will, viz, contained in the now proverbial pair of concepts “challenge” and “response”, is taken away with the left hand because evidently the imperfect human faculties of readiness and ability always fall short.  In fact must fall short, because at the same time they are subject to the supreme law of constant change, already known from ancient Chinese wisdom as the uninterrupted movement between the poles of yin and yang.

Of course ten large volumes, with their brilliant composition, testifying to an impressive erudition and a splendid wealth of imagery, cannot possibly be reproduced in simple schemata without doing them an injustice, although D. C. Somervell attempted this in a particularly meritorious manner in his two-volume “Abridgement”.  Nevertheless, at least the broad trend evoked by Toynbee of repeated rise and fall of all the cultures analysed by him could be summarized in graphical form as follows:


a picture which, further shortened, can be drawn somewhat sharper (or even contracted) to form:

In essence this differs little from the cyclical, somewhat more rounded, truncated conical image or the parabolic projection of Spengler, which after all amounts practically to the same thing de facto.  Vico’s “corso” and “ricorso” can also be found in this pictorial reduction.

According to this view of Toynbee’s given in abridged form, the climax temporarily crowning the rise of every cultural phase is inevitably followed by a breakdown.  In turn this passes into a period of disintegration, which then again irrevocably heralds the end.  This period of disintegration has been further stylized by Toynbee.  It takes place, with irregular flare-ups, in a rhythm of “three-and-a-half beats”.  The end, for which the death-knell has sounded after an unmistakable collapse, could therefore be represented as follows:

In our Western culture, according to Toynbee, the breakdown has already taken place, unstoppable disintegration is already active.  Must we therefore abandon all hope?  No, Toynbee stresses, transforming himself at that moment from modern historian to ancient theologian of history, and acting as a medieval theocratic Savonarola.  Just as Leibnitz has chosen the divine miracle as an auxiliary construction in advance, Toynbee uses it after the event.  People themselves can favor this miracle in well-nigh magical fashion by doing the only thing that still holds out hope of delivery and salvation, viz, by converting en masse to the true Christianity, praying fervently and uninterruptedly to God in order that history stops - like the sun for Joshua - and reverses at the last minute thanks to a divine interruption of necessary conformity with natural law.  This reversal is therefore exclusively by virtue of the Dispensation of Providence, which in this sense may possibly be mollified and should be awaited in resignation.

Whilst, as we have seen, during the deism developing in the 17th century


God was still recognized as the original lawmaker, i.e. as the Creator of the laws of nature.  He was at the same time deposed as the operator, acting in history, of a mechanism of these laws, which had meantime come to be regarded as further self-active.  From then on God too was bound to these laws of nature.

In itself it is not so surprising - nor can one make any valid objection to it - that three centuries later a leading historian again discovers an absolute and unconditional conformity with natural law in history, even though preceding attempts to do so had always undeniably failed.  However, it is all the more surprising, not to say paradoxical, in the light of the development of historical thought models, that Toynbee goes back to long gone-by, long dead and decomposed views from or even predating the Middle Ages.  He does so in order to proclaim that God is able, and probably willing for once, to put these historical laws of nature, which according to Toynbee prevail with unconditional strictness, temporarily out of operation under certain conditions.  Toynbee first goes to a great deal of trouble to demonstrate that the nature of these laws is in fact absolutely inexorable, and then concludes with the argument that for our case they are on the contrary pre-eminently “exorable” and, if God wishes, changeable this time - and this time alone.

This thought model is more coercive than any of its predecessors, and also the most strict and dogmatic.  In so many words it is prescribed to God Himself.  There seems to be no model of the future in the proper sense of the word: the forecast is, in accordance with the terminology of Antiquity, unchangeably “nefastus” (fatal, disastrous) and negative.  For the future Toynbee fixes his gaze solely on Christ and the Cross, which of course he is fully entitled to do privately.  Together with Lazarus, Toynbee rises from the grave of history.  Closing the circle, he returns completely to the doctrinaire theology of history extending from Augustine to Bossuet.  However, there is the characteristic difference that the divine completion of history is no longer an established fact a priori, but could be realized for our own time only by a New Testament miracle.  Despite the demythologization of the present time Toynbee believes unconditionally in the historical reality of such miracles.  But because he does not believe in the idealism of present-day man, he hardly believes in his heart that such a miracle can in fact still take place in reality.

However, Toynbee is also reconciled to that in advance and “sans rancume”.  For he is of the opinion that, as a historian, he has proved that every civilization is above all assigned a theological function.  All perishing cultures, and therefore ours too, in that case serve only as “stepping stones to God”.  We too now have a “civilization on trial”, with Toynbee and God together on the bench, so that a probable death sentence will not be open to appeal.  Or is Toynbee the devil’s advocate?  Toynbee confronts God with a challenge with two possible kinds of response.  Either people heed Toynbee’s urgent and divinely inspired appeal, and then as far as he is concerned God may, with a


clear conscience, cause a miracle to happen.  Or they do not listen to Toynbee, but God does, and it is up to Him to choose a culture more in the spirit of Toynbee than the thoroughly degenerate Western civilization, which should then be ruthlessly abandoned to historical downfall.  What will that new culture be like?  God may decide that for Himself in due course, although Toynbee has a number of important suggestions for Him, which God will doubtless carefully consider.  In any case, not a culture with Jewish taints!

In this sense Toynbee proclaims a new prescription, unequalled in its coercion and barely distinguishable from indoctrination and methodical brainwashing, also intended for God.  If, as is extremely probable, people ignore Toynbee’s admonishments and homilies and do not turn aside at the right time from the errors of their ways, a justly punishing God, rudely awakened by Toynbee from His good-natured snooze, may finally condemn their cultural barbarism, which deserves no better fate.  This will have to make way for civilization more pleasing to God, a true (i.e. Christian) culture.  As may be seen, the same interpretation - already given in advance - which Augustine felt that he had to give, after the event, rather more cautiously, in fact apologetically and decidedly less arrogantly, after the world-shaking, unforeseen and completely surprising downfall of the sacred but overnight barbarian Rome. Le roi est mort, vive le roi!  Let Western culture, which is damnable because it is godless and ultimately abandoned by God at Toynbee’s urging, sicken further and die its painful but deserved death.  Another and better civilization - better in accordance with the theological criteria of Toynbee - may then arise like a phoenix from its ashes after combustion by the divine thunderbolts.

A theology of Progress which, however, no modern theologian inspired by a sense of social responsibility would dare to adopt today.  A theology of Progress, at the same time as crude and repelling as that of classical liberalism.  A theology of the optimum laissez faire, laissez aller, which concentrates Spencer’s social Darwinism into a cultural Darwinism.  This is based on the conviction that the strongest surviving civilization definitely will and must be (after all Toynbee, as evidenced by his gospel, has tried to make this clear to God as the leader of history) the more specifically Christian or, in somewhat broader perspective, the most sanctified culture, devoted to God and elected by His will.  This is, however a rather paradoxical and unhistorical view, if only in view of atheistic world Communism spreading vigorously and the expansion of differentiated Oriental world religions coupled with the rapidly increasing growth of Asian and African populations.  All the same, this view does in fact contain a specific model of the future.  Or rather two models of the future for alternatively possible futures.  The future thus revealed is on the one hand only possible, as far as our own culture is concerned, via a barely negotiable, very narrow mountain pass at tremendous altitude, through which only one man of God can lead mankind, provided that the latter is in possession


of a valid passport stamped by him.  On the other hand, even though our culture probably has no further chance, somewhere around the corner, still veiled from the eyes of common mortals, a new cultural prospect is already beckoning.  For the time being God is still holding this back, and only Toynbee, as His sole true prophet, shows us it.

A greater contrast, in practically every respect, than with the view of Teilhard de Chardin is hardly conceivable.  The latter was not a historian and theologian, but a paleontologist and biologist.  Here there is none of the exact literary clarity of the decidedly fascinating imagery of Toynbee, but instead a style inclining towards the mystical and sometimes rather hazy in form.  In Teilhard we find no deliberate historico-philosophical design in the proper sense of the term, but an approach which, though likewise strictly and narrowly scientific, gradually broadens and merges into a phenomenological treatment.  The insight thus obtained, which Teilhard himself calls hyperphysics, is ultimately graspable only as an overall view borne by inner, cosmic experience and communicable by enthusiasm or at least affinity. [8]  Now this view is specifically and even passionately directed towards the future.  Another and better future to be realized through steady human progress.

Teilhard is in a class apart as an original thinker and an author going his own way.  It is extremely difficult to classify and delineate him schematically.  The two pillars of his view of history - for only the latter is relevant here - are dynamics and evolution.  Here we are for the time being still in our own field.  And here we therefore once again find some schematic representations of older date.  For instance, with almost striking similarity, Herder’s idea concerning an as it were spiral progress of history.  Teilhard, as always, gives this uninterrupted process of development his own names: in this case as the product of ever-new aggregation, constantly leading to integration on a repeatedly higher plane.  According to Teilhard, testifying to a modernized secular idealism of progress that is combined with renewed religious optimism, this biological evolutionism follows an unmistakably upward course, rising from a starting-point alpha to a climax omega - the completion. [9]

We also find again in his view the three-stage development which has proved to possess great viability since Joachim, Lessing, Saint Simon, Comte and Marx.  In his language Teilhard describes this development as one going first from the Paleolithic period to the Neolithic one, and from there to our own time.  In his opinion our time should be regarded, on the strength of a marked, complete caesura, as the beginning of an absolutely new time, which moreover is breaking new ground with a tremendous acceleration of the process of acceleration (Turgot).  In this time a new, higher man [10] and a new, better culture will come into being.  The higher and better is in no way, as in Toynbee, determined by Christian theology in the narrower sense.  This higher and better will be reflected in the events of history in particular by an ultimate planetary unification of all men and of their separate subcultures.  This movement goes


from pole to pole.  Just as the diversity of men and cultures in the phenomenon of the past, so the growing unity of mankind is the phenomenon par excellence of the future time and therefore for the first time of that future which is truly humane (Herder again!).

Up to here I might perhaps reproduce Teilhard’s exposition in schematic form as follows:

Now let me try at once to remove the impression that I may have created that “actually” Teilhard adds little or nothing new - except for the coining of a completely personal terminology - to ideas and images of the future existing before him.  For this is by no means so, even though the new element is often the least obvious one.  I shall mention only one addition, which is of particular importance in our context.

It was not without reason that Delfgaauw, an authority on Teilhard’s work, selected the following sentence both as motto and for further elaboration: “Nous sommes parvenus a un point décisif de l’évolution humaine, où la seule issue en avant est dans la direction d’une passion commune”.  Now one might suppose that Teilhard, as a devout Catholic, meant by this one human, forward-moving force of a “passion commune” a Christian “foi commune”, like Toynbee.  But it was likewise not without reason that during his lifetime the Catholic Church imposed a publication ban on him, on account of his supposed deviations from orthodox doctrine.  This, of course, only caused interest in his works to grow, sometimes beyond all proportion.  It seems to me that Teilhard definitely did not have a dogmatic end in view with this passionate exhortation.

In a very important passage from his fundamental work “Le Phenomene Humain” Teilhard gives a clear commentary on Comte’s motto: “savoir pour prévoir, prévoir pour pouvoir”, namely as follows: “Pouvoir plus pour agir plus.  Mais, finalement et surtout, agir plus afin d’être plus”.  In my opinion the most complete antithesis to Toynbee’s theology of history occurs here.


Toynbee rejects every response that does not go completely back with him to the incarnation of God in Christ.  In his opinion every other answer is absolutely ineligible and ineffective, either because it is archaic (pagan) or futuristic (un-Christian).  Every human action directed towards the future that is not governed - and exclusively so - by the letter of the New Testament (according to his interpretation) is doomed in advance to inevitable failure, as a fatal departure from the only doctrine of salvation and from his Savior, the sole governor of history.  This point of view, inexorably adhered to by Toynbee and, according to him, by God, holds good without any distinction.  This negative condemnation befalls not only the martial “savior with the sword” but equally every other tried secular solution denounced by Toynbee as an irrational and irretrievable aberration.  For instance solutions characterized by Toynbee in accordance with the platonic model of the “philosopher masked by a king” and also of “the creative genius as a savior”.

The pair of concepts “challenge and response”, in which the appropriate response is provided by a “creative minority”, as depicted by Toynbee himself in particularly lucid fashion, nevertheless evidently relates only to pre-Christian cultures.  With regard to the Christian culture he abhors every human, volitionally creative exercise of secular power for the purpose of determining one’s own destiny, even if it is on a philosophical basis.  Toynbee collides most sharply with what he typifies and ridicules as “the savior with the Time Machine”.  This approach is not only pernicious and completely hopeless, but moreover causes lasting, immense harm.  The future is that of the Christian doctrine of salvation or, at least for us, is completely non-existent.

In the ancient conflict, running like a thread though the present considerations, between divine supremacy and a developing, future-oriented, consciously creative human power, with the supreme control of historical dynamics at stake, Toynbee comes down firmly on the side of the former, offering no other alternative.  This view is thus at the same time an extremely illuminating and completely classical example in the purest form of the antithesis between dogmatics and prognostics discussed in this work and still existing today.  That is also the reason why my opposition or protest has been somewhat sharper here than is usually the case.

Teilhard, on the other hand, building instead on the radicalism of Proudhon, attempts a viable synthesis between these two extremes of divine and human power, and also between material and spiritual progress.  Furthermore, strangely enough, he tries for the first time in history, as far as I know, to establish a synthesis between sacral and profane historiography.  As against the transfiguration and transcendence so strictly forbidden by Toynbee, effectuated thanks to the “futurism” practised by man and intended for man, for Teilhard human liberty and volitional activism are precisely indispensable instruments of at once historical and cosmic progress.  It is these highest qualities of human dignity which, according to Teilhard, will lead par excellence to the ultimate


transformation, desired and promised by God, of the completion of history to be pursued by man himself and to be achieved sometime in the future.  Essential and fundamental both to human existence and to this future to be realized is man’s purposive determination of his own destiny.  In this way Teilhard opens up a very broad ecumenical path of evolution through human power to the future, which can also be trodden by unbelievers.


3. Modern profane non-future-models

Toynbee and Teilhard, however greatly opposed to each other in their theology of progress, nevertheless do agree in one respect.  For modern historians they both represent as a rule a point of view that has already been overcome, an anachronism.  Not so much on account of their theology, but above all because of their mechanism cloaked in scientific garb, which moreover is set in motion by the finalistic drive of a doctrine of salvation.  In its deepest essence criticism is directed towards their methodology, however schematically it may be arranged, whether it is that of a semi-cyclical movement going continuously up and down or that of a steady forward motion, stamped in advance “Progress”.  Nor does it matter whether this concerns progress towards God, or towards true humanity, or towards a man perfected in the image of God, in whom God is reflected and in whom He recognizes or finds Himself, while man finds himself again in Him, finds the way back to Him.

Of course a set of motives can be pointed to for the new turn in thought.  They are in close interaction with the development in, of and through history itself.

In the first place history, in particular that of the last fifty years, as already touched upon above, has not exactly supplied proof of the idea of an incessant, irresistible Progress.  In fact actual historical progress has shattered the optimistic ideal picture of automatic progress.

In the second place past history, and even more so that which is now foreseeable, testifies to a steadily increasing dynamization, to an ever-greater acceleration, comparable only to the effect of an avalanche.  Change has become the essence of the movement of history, the characteristic of human existence.  The changeable now seems the only and eternal unchangeable.  Change, increasingly designated as revolution in a steadily growing number of fields, with an ever-wider range of action, increased intensity and close-knit interdependence.  In this process the grasp on the future is increasingly slackening.  Historians are already over-occupied with incessant reconstruction of the equally changeable past.  Social scientists are already unable to make much sense of their analysis and diagnosis of the present.  There seems to be increasing confirmation of the prophetic words of the cynical statesman Walpole: “the wisest prophets make sure of the event first”.


Meanwhile the progressing natural sciences have developed new thought models, which also serve as an example for the practice of science as such.  Certainly for the science of history too, which has never been able to terminate the lengthy struggle for acknowledgment of its scientific status in a general recognition.

For the science of history this struggle has at any event resulted in the sacrifice of two things very dear to it.  Both the objectives and the values have had to be cast out.

The modern natural sciences owe their phenomenal growth - since Bacon - to the empirical observation of facts.  The historian too could therefore only pronounce on factual causes and effects, or factual connections between change and the movement of history, in a scientifically sound manner.  So-called predestined or implanted objectives of the movement were not factually observable nor active in accordance with scientifically establishable and verifiable laws.  The objective of progress had therefore to be rejected by a self-respecting science of history, both in the sense of a movement towards future salvation in accordance with sacral history and in the sense of a well-considered evolution by virtue of profane history.

Finally, how could one appraise change in any kind of scientifically acceptable and reliable way?  The long dispute between the “anciens” and the “modernes” on progress was not, it was now found, essentially capable of settlement on the strength of any objective criterion, nor will that ever be possible.  There is no exact measuring instrument which could already clearly divide today’s change and movement into the retrogression and progress, decline or prosperity.  Let alone - according to the continued present-day argumentation and interpretation - that future development could be appraised as such in advance with any kind of precision (instead of prophecy).  Come to that, any appraisal is itself subject in its turn to historical change and fluctuation.

Philosophically speaking, the consequence of all this was that one was as it were impelled at the same time towards two extremes touching one another in accordance with a principle of polarity, both far backwards towards a certain type of philosophy of Antiquity and as far as possible forwards in an encounter with the modern philosophy of existentialism.

Backwards to Heraclitus, the spiritual father of the continuity of eternal Becoming, to struggle and conflict as the sources of moving progress, of endless progress, without a given significance, and certainly not provided with any definite purpose for the future.

Back, too, to the Old Testament and the pessimism of Eccliesiastes “there is no new thing under the sun”.  Back, willy-nilly, to the New Testament too and to the doctrine of original sin and the resultant ever-lasting (until redemption) imperfect, unchangeable human nature, which excludes a priori all change in the sense of progress during the still remaining time of history.


Forwards, returning to the same starting-point in a secularized sense, tying in with existentialism: hopeless Becoming, unchangeable despite all change, as nothing more and better than a “Sein zum Tode”.  Coupled with the eternal return and continuation of evil, meanness and injustice in this world.  There too is no change for the good that could ever be regarded as fundamentally possible, no essential improvement or even stepwise progress.

Of all the historical schematic representations shown above, only two therefore remain on the whole after this slimming process:

(a) a fairly level, practically horizontal line of developing progress, around which only continual fluctuations of greater or smaller amplitude occur, which in the longer run can be smoothed out again, for instance more or less like this:

(b) a somewhat different picture is presented by the following representation.  This again revives, though in highly abridged form, the idea of the pursuit of equilibrium taken from nature (seasons, tides, recovery after natural disasters, woman’s periods, the succession of the generations, birth and death etc.).  In the legal system and the administration of justice, too, there is a constant search for equilibrium between opposed interests, parties and problems.  It is thought that in the turmoil and the movement of history (revolution and consolidation, the conflict between progressive and conservative, war and peace, etc.) a repeated disturbance of equilibrium is likewise followed by a restoration of balance, as a result of which the scales may tip to the other side (may, but not must), i.e. as follows:

As will be clear, in this alternating interplay of movements the line drawn under (a), which on average remains level, would be continued and only the fluctuations around the “natural” equilibrium have been taken as somewhat larger (and longer-lasting) here, also with a greater range of the opposed action and reaction.

To that extent, then, one could attribute both schemata to a position of realistic pessimism or even fatalism with regard to Becoming in time towards the future.  A faint spark of hope can still be cherished in that variant of the same view that possibly (certainly not necessarily) a somewhat higher ceiling could be reached in the restoration of balance (although it could also come to adopt a lower position immediately or some time afterwards).

In the latter eventuality the picture looks about like this:


(c) But, apart from these unprecluded possibilities of reaching a higher (unfortunately also a lower) level, there is no predictability on this score.  As a result we can hardly give this the label even of a highly tempered optimism; it would be more exact to say that it is a typical present-day realism with a future-asceticism.

I shall confine myself to a couple of examples to illustrate this final argument, which apparently rather peters out with regard to the future models in our contemporary thought.

In the first place that of the rightly famous Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, known above all for his studies of the Renaissance, a typical transitional figure towards our century.  It is Burckhardt who consistently and resolutely rejects all theological, philosophical, Marxist or evolutionistic interpretations of history as “hineininterpretieren”, as unsound and speculative.  In his view history has no beginning, no development according to natural law, no progress or end.  The essence and the only sense of history are continuous change.  The real philosophy of history is therefore dead.

Insofar as this view lends itself to schematic reproduction, it could only be reproduced as a non-uniform, entirely fancifully undulating endlessly continuing line:

A basic tenet of Burckhardt’s is that the future can never be derived from the historical past by rational inferences or via extrapolations.  Moreover, in his opinion modern time is separated from Antiquity precisely in that respect by an unbridgeable gap.  Not only because we no longer consult oracles or, being rational people, no longer turn to soothsayers and prognosticators to learn or to be able to foresee the future, but also and above all because - according to Burkhardt - we also no longer regard these practices as desirable or wholesome.

The future, Burckhardt argues, is and must be “blind”.  “Eine vorausgewusste Zukunft ist em Widersinn”.  Here we have the characteristic change in attitudes of mind.  Here we no longer find a coercive future model but, conversely, an equally coercive non-future model,

Burckhardt is convinced that the historian must leave the future entirely to the future.  Prognosis is nonsense, i.e. from the historical point of view both impossible and undesirable and giving an effect opposite to the one desired.


On the other hand, precisely on the strength of his historical studies, Burkhardt testifies to a pronounced culture-pessimistic view with regard to the present and the future, a conviction founded on great knowledge of his subject, which has largely contributed towards his fame.  This view of the future, for this is after all implied in it, can in my opinion only be reconciled with his pertinent abstinence with respect to the developing future as a return to the Stoic doctrine of resigned acceptance and “amor fati”, which runs in a straight line from Nietzsche to the modern existentialist philosophy.

Over half a century later this view of history is still fundamentally unchanged in R. G. Collingwood.  His argument is that history has neither sense nor purpose.  His book, entitled “The Idea of History”, is aimed straight at all historians like Löwith, whose work in its English edition was entitled “The Meaning of History”, or Jaspers, who had still spoken of a “Ziel der Geschichte”, and in actual fact against all philosophers of history.  Only Vico is complimented by this author.  True, Vico’s fundamental cyclical-historical scheme, like any other scheme based on a natural law, was untenable, but at least he adhered explicitly, on account of the renovations which he observed and regarded as probable in principle, to what Collingwood regards as an imperative basic principle, viz, that the true historian never prophesies.

Eschatological historiography (up to and including Toynbee) forms a particular black sheep for Collingwood.  “Eschatology is always an intrusive element in history”.  Not on account of the doctrine of salvation itself, but because of the false introduction and incorrect injection into the science of history of a prognostic (in this case theological) substance.  “The historian’s business is to know the past, not to know the future; and whenever historians claim to be able to determine the future in advance of its happening, we may know with certainty that something has gone wrong with their fundamental conception of history. [11]

In other words, there is no inherent historical development as Progress.  Even less so is there a possible prognosis of any kind of continuous historical process, but on the contrary an ever-proceeding discontinuous and therefore unforeseeable change and renewal. [12]  Is, then, no historical progress at all possible?  Collingwood is in no way prepared to exclude this in advance, although his concluding section contains a detailed argumentation of the problems and practically insurmountable difficulties of recognizing it.

Strangely enough, the title of that section is “Progress as created by Historical Thinking”.  Not until the last sentences of the very last page [13] does the intention of this heading become clear to some extent.  If we want to do away with something that is wrong, his argument runs, and replace it by something better, there is a considerable risk that, while we may destroy something, we may not be able to substitute something else, a better working system, for it.  For instance: let us assume that it is desirable to abolish capitalism.  Now how can we prevent a state of affairs in which, blinded by hatred, we act destruct-


ively and not constructively or, alternatively because we may love the system so much, only offer resistance to this process?  In both cases only change would occur, but no progress.  Collingwood offers the simple solution for this: only by good historical insight into and understanding of the growth of a system existing from the past up to the present day shall we be capable of creative progress (viz. of the capitalist system) (“a knowledge of the past conditioning our creation of the future”).

To the fancifully undulating line of Burkhardt Collingwood therefore adds here a piece in the final instance in a rather arbitrary and somewhat improbable fashion:

Here, therefore, the “evolution créatrice” is placed in the hand of the professional historian, and in his hands only.  Moreover, these hands are tied, insofar as the historian might want to think ahead and look ahead on behalf of these conditions of progress which he is to create for the future.  For this is strictly forbidden.  Let us imagine how it will be: with his back turned permanently on the future, systematically compelling the spirits of the past to appear with regressively directed will-power, contemplating the navel of the present and of the established order with fixed, fearless gaze, this historian will proceed to supply us with a completely satisfying explanation of possible future progress.  Thanks to his conservative and abstaining attitude towards the future, we may now apparently expect from him the decisive answer to the two main questions that have to be settled as priorities with regard to every progressive change: where will the movement now developing in history take us?  What can we, may we and must we do in this respect?  The naive optimism of progress has here been converted into a much naiver optimism tied to the reconstructed past.  Without a purposive commitment in the future-dimension the model of the future evaporates in a one-sided historical fashion into a dogmatic non-future model.  At best it narrows into a model of the present anchored to exploration of the past and extended from the latter:


The last piece of the historical line may therefore equally well have the following appearance, i.e. remaining practically the same, or even dropping further; however, a deliberate radical reformation and improvement of the existing pattern of society could hardly be expected by this process.

If, conversely, we were to try again to trace the graphical models given here back to their original fundamental thought and future models, this could be done by means of a common formula: “The image is the message”. [14]  To remain in the modern idiom, I could add: the medium is the dogma.  But definitely not as the mobile, supplying massage, but as the immovable and also unmoved mummy.