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:
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.