More on the End of History

In spite of ISIS, Brexit, and the farce that is currently playing in Cleveland at Convention Hall, man’s story going on now for several thousand years, and especially for the last few hundred, is one of real progress towards a goal. The meaning of Fukuyama’s End of History is not that history ends, that events, traumatic events cease to take place. The meaning is that there is just one principal direction to history, that there are no longer as many different histories as there are prophets, kings, and presidents, but that there is just the one history of man discovering himself. The end of history means only that, that finally men are hellbent on finding themselves, on finding their proper place in the universe. There may be more false starts, as we’re seeing today in Cleveland, but these false starts are not history, only mistakes, bumps in the road going forward.

Those who would not accept history’s end ought to read this passage, which I’ve just read for the first time, by Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) who is writing about Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) hellbent as he was some 200 years ago on discovering the world and his place, and subsequently the place of all of us in the world.

Here is what Agassiz writes:

Alexander von Humboldt was born in Berlin in 1769, — one hundred years ago this day, — in that fertile year which gave birth to Napoleon, Wellington, Canning, Cuvier, Chateaubriand, and so many other remarkable men. All America was then the property of European monarchs. The first throb of the American Revolution had not yet disturbed the relations of the mother country and her colonies. Spain held Florida, Mexico, and the greater part of South America; France owned Louisiana; and all Brazil was tributary to Portugal. What stupendous changes have taken place since that time in the political world! Divine right of possession was then the recognized law on which governments were based. A mighty Republic has since been born, the fundamental principle of which is self-government. Progress in the intellectual world, the world of thought, has kept pace with the advance of civil liberty; reference to authority has been superseded by free inquiry; and Humboldt was, one of the great leaders in this onward movement. He bravely fought the’ battle for independence of thought against the tyranny of authority. No man impressed his century intellectually more powerfully, perhaps no man so powerfully as he. Therefore he is so dear to the Germans, with whom many nations unite to do him honor to-day. Nor is it alone because of what he has done for science, or for anyone department of research, that we feel grateful to him, but rather because of that breadth and comprehensiveness of knowledge which lifts whole communities to higher levels of culture, and impresses itself upon the unlearned as well as upon students and scholars.

This is the end of history, that point in time when we do seem to be going in just one direction. It was the scientific revolution, more even than the French revolution and the Enlightenment that brought history to an end. For history then became the record of our movement in that one direction. Would anyone seriously defend the position that returning to the past in whatever form, be it an Empire, the rule of one, the rule of a few, even the rule of many, or the rule of a religion, Islam or Christianity, or an ideology, that any of these moments would also be “history.”

Rather wouldn’t these and other moments like them mean that we were somehow off the track, stalled, held up by our own weakness, by whatever, until real movement, progress toward our goal returned and took us along with it. Fukuyama was right. There is nowhere to go but up, towards the light, towards openness, and yes, towards truth and justice, towards a community of people sharing beliefs in the rule of law and human rights who are together making the discovery of the world and finding their place in it. Does anyone other than Donald J Trump really want to go back? To one or more of the failed living experiments of the past? You may call the progressive movement of which I speak history if you like. I prefer to call it coming into our own, and Humboldt’s life was an early example of that happening with just one of us.


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