The commemoration of the jubilee of one hundred and fifty years of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and Humanities gives occasion for historical reflection. It will not be a matter for surprise, therefore, that in considering the question as to which general subject might be best suited to this commemoration I have chosen a fundamental problem of the philosophy of history, the problem, namely, whether we may point to objective criteria whereby it will be possible to distinguish between so called reactionary or retrograde tendencies in history.
In the conflict of politics the opposite terms “progressive” and “reactionary” are often used in a demagogical sense. In earlier days the liberal parties laid claim to the designation “progressist”. Later on the socialist parties did the same. Nowadays the totalitarian parties demand the exclusive right to call themselves “progressist” in contrast to all the others that reject their ideology. But it stands to reason that these latter do not accept the designation “reactionary”. They, too, in general stress the progressive character of their political programs, at least in so far as they have not abandoned the belief in progress in its politico‐historical sense. This situation testifies to different views of the so called demands of historical development. Yet it is unquestionable that in both cases really historical standards or norms of historical development are at issue. Can such standards have an objective basis in the inner nature of history itself, or are they nothing more than unverifiable measures of a merely subjective appreciation of the course of a historical process? It is to this question that I shall devote some observations this morning.
It will be evident that it is not only to the politician, who seeks from a study of the course of history to understand the demands of the present and the near future, that this question is important. The historical process moves in the historical aspect of time, in which past, present, and future are unbreakably interwoven with one another. The historian, whose scientific attention is directed to the past, is equally confronted with the problem as to whether objective criteria for a distinction between progressive and regressive tendencies in history may be discovered, And here, too, this distinction is doubtless of a normative character, since the question at issue is whether there exists norms of historical development of a verifiable validity by which the factual course of historical events may be tested, For this very reason the well known Neo Kantian philosopher Heinrich Rickert, who has paid much attention to the epistemological foundations of cultural science as distinct from those of natural science, denied to the science of history any judgment concerning progressive and retrograde tendencies in the progress of historical development. In his opinion such axiological judgments exceed the bounds of both the science and the philosophy of history and should be reserved for personal world‐ and life‐views only. The question whether such an elimination of all normative viewpoints from a scientific historiography and philosophy of history is possible may be left aside for the moment.
Provisionally, it will be sufficient to establish that the normative contrast between progress and regress or reaction is closely connected with the fundamental notion of historical development.
There is hardly room for doubt that it is this very notion which enables the historian to discover inner coherences in the temporal succession of historical facts and changes. If this notion were to be eliminated, as, from a positivistic viewpoint, J.H. Kirchmann advocated last century, no synthetic insight into a process of history would be possible and historic‐graphy would degenerate into a collection of mixed reports from the past.
But the fundamental concept of development or evolution participates in the general condition of all fundamental concepts of the different branches of science: it is in itself of an analogical or multi‐vocal character, with the result that it is also used in other sciences, though in a different modal sense. In a lecture previously delivered in the section of humanities of the Academy I drew special attention to this remarkable fact. It appears to be grounded in the structure of the temporal horizon of human experience and more precisely in that of the different fundamental modal aspects of this experiential horizon which in principle delimit the different viewpoints from which empirical reality may be approached by the different special branches of science. The historical aspect is only one of these fundamental modes of experience, which in themselves do not refer to the concrete what, that is, the concrete things or events of temporal reality, but rather to the modal how, that is, the manner in which they are experienced in their different aspects.
These fundamental modal aspects of temporal human experience are arranged in an irreversible temporal order which expresses itself in the modal structure of each of them. This structure determines their modal meaning. In tracing this modal meaning we are confronted with a nuclear moment which guarantees the irreducible character of the aspect concerned. But the kernel of this modal meaning is able to reveal itself only in an unbreakable coherence with other structural moments referring backward or forward respectively to all other modal aspects which are arranged either earlier or later in the temporal sequence. Since these non‐nuclear moments in the modal structure of an aspect give expression to the universal inter‐modal coherence of the meaning of our experiential horizon, they are in themselves of an analogical or multi‐vocal character. It is only the irreducible modal kernel of the aspect in which they occur that can give them a univocal sense.
If we apply this insight to the historical aspect of our experiential horizon, it must be established, firstly, that this mode of experience is not to be identified with what has really happened in the past. Concrete events, even those which in a typical sense are called “historical facts”, function in principle in all experiential aspects. Their historical aspect can only be a particular mode of experiencing them. Secondly, it must be clear that in speaking of historical development we refer to an analogical moment of meaning whose modal sense is determined by the nuclear moment of this aspect. But what, then, is the modal nucleus of the historical mode of experience?
Here we are confronted with a fundamental question which is eliminated in principle in the current epistemological views of the nature of scientific historiography. This is explained by the fact that in modern Western thought the historical mode of experience is no longer viewed as a specific modal aspect of empirical reality, but much rather as identical with this reality, or at least with the empirical reality of human society. This view has found expression both in De Bonald’s statement: “La realite est dans l’histoire” and in Von Ranke’s conception of the task of scientific historiography as a description of “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist”. It implies that all normative aspects of the life of human society, those, namely, of social intercourse, language, economic administration of scarce goods, aesthetic appreciation, law, morality, and faith, are historicized. In other words, we are confronted with a historicist view of temporal reality, origination from an absolutization of the historical aspect of experience. In a similar way the absolutization of the physico‐chemical aspect of energy, or of the biotic aspect, or the psychical aspect of emotional feeling and sensation have given rise to an energetistic, a vitalistic, or a psychologistic view of reality.
It should be realized that this historicist view of the world was originally projected in what was really a dialectical opposition to the naturalistic picture of reality which issued from an overstraining of the mathematical natural scientific viewpoint of classical physics. Both this naturalistic and this historicist view of reality had their common origin in the Copernican revolution of philosophical thought initiated by Descartes. Both resulted from a methodical demolition of the given structural order of human experience grounded in the divine order of creation. The modern idea of the autonomous freedom of human personality as concerns both its thought and its activity was incompatible with the acceptance of any given structural order; for a given order of creation means theonomy. The Cartesian turning to the subjective cogito as the ultimate ground of certainty was entirely in keeping with the religious basic motive of the Humanism which arose at the time of the Renaissance. It was rooted in the motive of nature and freedom, as it has been styled since Immanuel Kant.
As a secularization of the Christian conception of human liberty, the humanistic freedom motive was quite different from the classical Greek idea of the autonomy of human reason. It implied the ascription to the human mind of a creative power to project a world after its own image and to have complete control of its own future. It elevated the human personality to an absolute end in itself, which implied a radical reversal of the biblical view of the relation between God and the human ego created after God’s image. It evoked also a new concept of nature as the macrocosmic counterpart of the emancipated nature (Nature sive Deus). The Faustian striving after a complete domination of nature required a strictly deterministic picture of natural reality envisaged as an uninterrupted chain of functional causal relations which could be formulated in mathematical equations. The new mathematical physics founded by Galileo and Newton provided the scientific method whereby to reconstruct the world theoretically in keeping with this Faustian motive of domination. But nature, as an objective reflection of this motive of domination, left no room for the freedom of human activity.
Thus the religious basic motive of nature and freedom displayed, as the ultimate hidden starting‐point of modern Humanistic thought, a dialectical tension between two opposite motives. It involved modern philosophy in a dialectical process in which primacy was ascribed alternately to one of these competing motives, with the effect that the other was depreciated.
Whereas under the primacy of the mathematical science‐ideal Cartesian philosophy developed in an anti‐historical direction, the Italian thinker G.B. Vico was the first to oppose to this mathematical pattern of thought his “nuovo scienze”, the science of the history of mankind, which in an unclear way was called by him “philology”. But this new science was not at all delimited with respect to its specific modal viewpoint in such a way that the absolutization of the historical aspect of our experiential horizon was avoided. It started, rather, from the Humanistic motive of a creative freedom of the autonomous human mind which in principle seeks to break through the given structural bounds of the modal aspects of empirical reality. Vico’s fundamental thesis is that our civil world is doubtless created by men in the process of history, so that its principles must be sought in the human mind. Thus the science of history is conceived as the science of the temporal genesis of mankind, which has created itself in the whole of its cultural existence and therefore knows itself from the whole inheritance of its culture, with the result that in this science subject and object are identical.
But the temporal genesis of mankind cannot be a specific scientific viewpoint, since in principle it functions in all of the modal aspects of our experiential horizon. It is a real process occurring in the full continuous coherence of time and not merely in a specific historical aspect of the latter. Therefore it is of no avail to say that the historical view point is the genetic viewpoint without indicating the modal sense of this latter. The physic‐chemical or the biotic aspect of this genetic process is doubtless no concern of historical research in its proper sense. Vico, in fact, did not include these aspects in the field of his now science. Starting from the basic motive of nature and freedom he established (with a particular emphasis directed against the Cartesian science‐ideal) that nature has not been created by man, but only his culture. Consequently the history of mankind is restricted to the whole of mankind’s cultural activity and its results. Since the time of Vico this has become the prevailing view; for the earlier restriction of historiography proper to political history, or even to that of wars and battles, is quite arbitrary and inadequate. On the other hand, it is meaningless to oppose the latter to cultural history since apart from human culture there can be neither peaceful political life nor human wars and battles.
But is culture to be viewed as a concrete, ever‐changing temporal reality of a specific kind, or is it only an irreducible modal aspect of temporal reality? According to Vico, it is the historical realization of eternal ideas in the social life of the nations, the product of their collective mind or consciousness, the “civil world”, as he calls it. It embraces their customs, their law, their language, their fine arts, their economic relations, their religion, their scientific life, their social institutions.
Here we are confronted with the source of modern historicism; for if history in its proper sense is the history of human culture and culture itself is a historical reality embracing all the normative aspects of temporal human life, it follows that all our norms and values and all our social institutions are nothing but the historical products of a specific cultural mind in a particular phase of its development.
This radical historicism is the dialectical opposite of the a priori Humanistic doctrine of natural law developed, more geometrico, under the primacy of the mathematical science‐ideal. In Vico this opposition was unable as yet to reveal itself as an exclusive alternative since his historicist view of temporal human life was checked and balance by his belief in eternal ideas, which are realized in the history of mankind with the inner necessity of a divine Providence. It is the same Providence which, in his opinion, also guides the cyclic course of history in its progressive and regressive movements, its “corsi” and “recorsi”. This means, with regard to the province of law in human society, that all positive law is nothing other than a positivization of the eternal principles of natural law, which in consequence are embodied in historical reality. This component of natural law is, according to him, the moment of rational truth in any legal order. The moment of cultural positivization is that of certitude and corresponds to the moment of power in history.
This latter view, that the cultural activity of man is an unfolding of power, is of extreme importance in Vico’s theory, though it is explained by him only in passing; for it will be seen that it provides the clue to the solution of our previous question, namely: what is the nuclear moment of the historical mode of experience? A satisfactory answer to this question is tantamount to a fundamental overthrow of the historicist world‐view; though this is something which Vico himself could not achieve, since a historicist view of temporal reality cannot be rendered harmless by a belief in eternal ideas, Supra‐temporal reality cannot be rendered harmless by a belief in eternal ideas. Supra‐temporal ideas of justice, beauty, goodness, and so on, are nothing but a metaphysical absolutization of normative modal aspects of our temporal order of experience, whose differences of meaning can exist only in the order of time. For it is this order of time which breaks the radical religious unity of all meaning into a successive plurality of modes. Historicism has an inner tendency to emancipate itself from any belief in eternal ideas; for human belief is also included in the temporal horizon of human consciousness and historicism identifies true time with historical time. If belief belongs to human culture, then the so called eternal ideas can only be the ideological component of a cultural in a metaphysical phase of its historical development; and accordingly they can have only a historical significance.
Historicism in its consistent form means the historicizing of our entire temporal horizon of experience and of the central religious reference point of the experiential horizon namely, the human I‐ness in its relation to other egos and to the Divine Author of all creation.
The absolutization of the historical aspect begins with the elimination of its modal structure by which its general meaning is determined and restricted. This structure cannot be changeable in time, since it is the condition which alone makes the historical mode of experience possible. Consequently it cannot be identified with a variable historical phenomenon presenting itself in this experiential mode.
We are seeking for the irreducible nuclear moment of this structure. The etymological derivation of the term “history” does not help us in our search. The word is of Greek origin and initially had the neutral sense of “investigation”. The qualifying nuclear moment of the particular experiential mode which determines the viewpoint of historical science proper is much more likely to be discovered through an epistemological analysis of the concept of culture, for we have seen that the notions of becoming and development, with the aid of which it was attempted to delimit this specific historical viewpoint, are in themselves multi‐vocal. In the last instance, it is only the cultural mode of development that can give the analogical concept of development its historical sense. It is for this reason that all gnoseological investigations concerning the specific historical viewpoint were centered on the fundamental significance of the concept of culture for the historical mode of thought.
We have also seen that historicism viewed the whole of human society in all its normative aspects as a historic‐cultural product. Consequently the absolutization of the historical aspect of experience must be closely connected with the absolutization of the concept of culture. The use of the noun “culture” may easily give rise to the erroneous opinion that here a particular kind of reality is meant, a concrete “what”. Every absolutization of a specific experiential aspect begins with an identification of this aspect with the concrete reality which has only a modal function in it. But what cannot exist is a particular kind of reality which is entirely cultural in character. Let us, therefore, replace the noun “culture” by the adjective “cultural” in order to emphasize that it is only a modal aspect of empirical reality that is meant. Taken in this modal sense, the term “cultural” means nothing more than a particular manner of formation which is fundamentally distinct from all modes of formation found in nature. It is a controlling mode whereby form is given to a material in accordance with a freely elaborated project.
A spider spins its web with faultless precision; but it does so after a fixed and uniform pattern, prescribed by the instinct of the species. It lacks free control over the material with which it works. But the cultural mode of formation must receive its specific modal qualification through freedom of control, domination, or power. This is why the great cultural commandment given to man after the creation of the world reads: “Subdue the earth and have dominion over it”. And if the genuine historical viewpoint of historiography is that of cultural development, it follows that formative power or control must also be the nuclear moment of the historical aspect which gives the analogical concept of development its proper historical sense.
The cultural mode of formation reveals itself in two directions which are closely connected with each other. On the one hand, it is a formative power over persons unfolding itself by giving cultural form to their social existence; on the other, it appears as a controlling manner of shaping natural things or materials to cultural ends.
The Germans speak of “Personkultur” and Sachkultur”. Since all cultural phenomena are bound to human society in its historical aspect, the development of Sachkultur is in principle dependent on that of Personkultur; for Sachkultur can develop only in a historical subject‐object relationship and only human persons in their social relations can function as subjects in the cultural process of history. In addition, both Personkultur and Sachkultur presuppose the leading ideas of a project which leading figures or groups in history seek to realize in a human community. It is for this reason that the formative power of these leading figures or groups always bears a relationship of intention to such ideas. These ideas cannot be realized according to the merely subjective conception of those who propagate them. They must assume a socio‐cultural form so that they themselves may be able to exercise formative power in the relationships of society. By way of illustration I may refer to the cultural influence of the ideas of natural law and the Roman ius gentium, or to the influence of the technical ideas of great inventors, or the aesthetic ideas of great artists, or the religious ideas of the preachers of a new belief. Such ideas are not of a cultural‐historical character in themselves; but they acquire a historical significance as soon as they begin to exercise formative power in human society. They can be realized only in typical social structures of individuality which in principle function in all aspects of our experiential horizon. The empirical reality of human social life can, therefore, never be exhausted in its cultural‐historical aspect. All that is real or that really happens in human society is more than merely historical.
Having established in this way the modal nuclear moment of the historical aspect of experience, we may now turn to the analogical concept of historical development. The question we asked was whether the normative contrast between progressive and regressive tendencies in the process of historical development may be grounded in the modal structure of the historical aspect of experience. To answer this question it is necessary to examine somewhat more fully the analogical moments of meaning of this structure.
The moment of development in history refers back beyond doubt to that kind of development which we find in the biotic aspect of experience. But it does not do so directly. The cultural‐historical aspect is immediately grounded in the logical aspect, that is, the aspect of analytical distinction. Rickert assumed that the historical mode of experience is constituted by a logical category of culture by means of which, in an individualizing manner, natural reality in space and time would be related to a supra‐temporal realm of values. This cannot be right. Culture is not a logical mode of experience. Without the logical foundation of the analytical mode of distinction, however, the historical mode of experience would be impossible. And this connection between the logical and historical aspects finds expression, in the modal structure of the latter, in analogies of the fundamental logical relations of identity, diversity, implication, and contradiction. I shall refer only to the analogy of the logical relation of contradiction in the historical ode of experience. A logical contradiction takes place when an argument contains two contradictory propositions. Such reasoning is called illogical, in contrast to a logical sequence of thought. This contrast is of a normative character since an illogical argument violates a fundamental norm of logical thought.
Now it is indisputable that in all aspects of experience which are grounded in the logical an analogy of this normative logical contrast is found. This is a strong indication of the normative character of these contrasts, which means that within these experiential modes human behavior is not subject to laws of nature but to norms. I refer to the contrasts between polite and impolite decent and indecent, and so on, which function in the aspect of human social intercourse; to the contrast between linguistically right and wrong, which functions within the linguistic aspect; to the contrasts between aesthetic and unaesthetic, lawful and unlawful, moral and immoral, believing and unbelieving, which function respectively in the aesthetic, juridical, and moral aspects, and in the aspect of faith, of our experiential horizon.
The contrast, then, between progressive and reactionary movements in the process of historical development is clearly an analogy of the logical relation of contradiction. It must be grounded in the inner structure of the historical aspect, since this aspect is also founded on the logical. If it makes sense to speak of the demands of historical development – and only those who are prejudiced by the dogma that even the so called cultural sciences should refrain from any normative judgment refuse to do so – then the distinction between progressive and regressive tendencies cannot be the result of a merely subjective evaluation.
Nobody who thinks really historically will deny that from a politico‐historical viewpoint the so called counter‐revolutionary movement in the first half of the nineteenth century, which strove for a restoration of the medieval Germanic feudal regime with its undifferentiated patrimonial conception of political authority, was of a reactionary character. This judgment will be independent of the question whether or not the ecclesiastically unified culture of the Middle Ages is admired, and whether or not the memory of those times is recalled with a kind of romantic desire. But on what objective norm of historical development may this judgment be founded?
The German historical school of jurisprudence, whose philosophical conception of history was strongly influenced by Herder and Schelling, has laid particular stress on the organic character of any true historical development. Taking the natural development of a living organism as a pattern, V. Savigny and his followers supposed that every nation brings forth its culture from its won individual “folk‐mind” in a process of organic continuity connecting the present and future with the past. But in the historical tradition of a people they distinguished both living and dead elements. The former are to be utilized in further development, but the latter should be sloughed off. As long as a national mind is really productive its culture, including its political and legal institutions, is the result of natural growth and not the artificial and mechanical product of a rationalistically minded epoch. It is evident that in this view the biotic analogy in historical development is strongly stressed. Nevertheless, there can be no question here of a naturalistic misinterpretation of cultural evolution; for this is excluded by the fact that in its philosophical background this organic view of history originated in the post‐Kantian German freedom‐idealism.
In line with Schelling, V. Savigny regarded history as a dialectical synthesis of autonomous freedom and natural necessity. The latter, however, was not envisaged as a mechanical causality governed by general natural laws. After Kant the humanistic basic motive of nature and freedom underwent an irrationalistic turn. The rationalistic conception eliminated all individuality from its world‐view by reducing all individual phenomena to general laws. The irrationalistic conception, on the other hand, started from the irreducible individuality of any real whole and denied its subjection to general rules. The historical school rejected the rationalistic natural‐law view of human society with its general a priori patterns of law and state, which it thought to be applicable to any people and any age.
Every nation brings forth its own law and political constitution from the full individuality of its collective mind. It does so in autonomous freedom in the process of historical development and in an individual way. History lacks general laws. There is, nevertheless, a hidden law of providence (or “Schicksal” in a more pagan version) which directs this process in such a way that it also shows an inner natural necessity elevated above all human arbitrariness. This hidden law of the historical process, already to be found in Fichter’s philosophy of history, could not fail to assume an irrationality normative sense. And it was the Lutheran legal philosopher and statesman Fr. Julius Stahl who openly accepted this consequence. In his opinion all that has come about in a long process of historical development, under the influence of incalculable and inscrutable forces, without the interference of rational human planning, ought to be respected as a manifestation of God’s guidance in history, in so far as it does not contradict God’s revealed commandments.
This conception of God’s guidance in history was quite in line with the conservative mind of the Restoration. Apart from its romanic‐quietistic formulation, it had a great influence on the so called Christian historical theory of the nineteenth century. The latter accepted the new historical mode of thinking as a powerful ally in the conflict with the principles of the French revolution.
Meanwhile this ascription of a normative sense to God’s guidance in history was open to serious objections. These objections were amply set forth in a remarkable this is defended in 1911 at the University of Leyden by A.C. Leendertz. From the theological viewpoint this author argued that God’s guidance embraces all that happens, both good and evil. For this reason this guidance pertains to God’s hidden counsel and cannot imply any norm for human behavior. From the philosophical viewpoint Leendertz attacked the normative conception of God’s guidance in history with the Kantian argument that empirical facts and norms being to different worlds. If the factual course of history is elevated to a norm this is tantamount to a continuous acceptance of the “fait accompli”. If a governing dynasty is supposed to be justified by the fact that it had maintained its power over a long period of time, then a revolution overthrowing this dynasty is also justified after the lapse of time by a successful maintenance of its position.
This philosophical critique must fail inasmuch as it started from the Kantian separation between empirical facts and norms, which is a dualism, grounded in the dialectical humanistic motive of nature and freedom in its critical conception. It overlooked the consideration that historical facts are not given in the same way as natural events and that in the normative aspects of human experience no single fact can be established without making use of a norm. It could not do justice to the view of the historical school since that latter did not mean to elevate any merely factual course of events to the level of a historical norm. The concept of organic historical development cannot have a merely factual content apart from a normative criterion whereby to establish what is and what is not in keeping with it. Savigny’s distinction between living and dead components in the historical tradition implied a rejection of any factual attempt to revive that which has lost its historical significance in the organic development of culture. It implied, in other words, a distinction between progressive and regressive movements in history. Thus it was manifestly based on a normative criterion.
But what was this criterion? In the ultimate issue it was derived from the individuality of the national mind, viewed as the true source of national culture and as a gift of Divine Providence having value in itself. It was supposed that organic continuity in cultural development was guaranteed only by the directive potency of the “Volksgeist” which operates in conformity with the hidden law of Providence. This irrationalistic view of the norm of historical evolution can lead to very dangerous consequences, especially if it is accompanied by a historicist view of the norms of law, morality, and faith. The Nazi movement in Germany was only too ready to welcome these consequences, as was apparent from Hitler’s assertion that Divine Providence had destined the German people to be a nation of rulers.
The subjective individuality of a national character can never be a cultural norm in itself. It will always show both good and bad traits, apart from the fact that it is very difficult to establish the characteristic traits of a particular nation as a whole. And even though it is considered a gift of God, it is certainly not left unaffected by sin. If it be asked whether the historical school has not at least provided us with a clear criterion whereby we may distinguish between progressive and reactionary tendencies in the cultural process, the answer must be in the negative. The reason is that its conception of historical development clings exclusively to biotic analogies in the modal structure of the historical aspect. Since this aspect is definitely grounded in that of organic life, these biotic analogies cannot fail to reveal themselves in the modal sense of the historical idea of development. Cultural movement and evolution are inherent in cultural life, and consequently V. Savigny’s distinction between living and dead elements in the historical tradition of a nation is well founded. The historical sense of this distinction is qualified by the nuclear moment of the historico‐cultural mode of experience. Living elements are those which have as yet formative power in a human community, whereas dead elements are those which have definitely lost this power, and have for the future only a folkloristic or merely theoretical historical importance.
But these biotic analogies are of a retrospective character. They refer backwards in order of time to an earlier aspect of our experiential horizon which lacks a normative character. Development in the modal sense of organic life, which is grounded in physic‐chemical processes, is not ruled by norms, but by biotic laws of nature. In the biotic aspect of time the development of a multi‐cellular living organism displays only the natural phases of birth, ripening, adolescence, age, and decline. But in historical development a normative human vocation reveals itself, a cultural task committed to man at the creation. This task cannot be fulfilled except in the anticipatory direction of time, in which the historico‐cultural aspect of the temporal order depends its modal meaning by unfolding its anticipatory moments in referring forwards to post‐historical aspects.
Therefore the nuclear moment of the cultural mode of development, namely, formative power, itself has a normative sense, since it implies a normative cultural vocation, as is apparent from the divine cultural command to subdue the earth. Even the most terrible misuse of power in our sinful world cannot make power itself sinful, nor can it detract from the normative sense of man’s cultural vocation.
Until the cultural aspect of a human community discloses the anticipatory moments of its meaning, it shows itself to be in a rigid and primitive condition. The same holds good for those normative aspects which are grounded in the cultural, namely, the linguistic aspect of symbolic signification, the aspect of social intercourse, the economic, aesthetic, juridical, and moral aspects, and the aspect of faith. Primitive cultures are enclosed in small and undifferentiated communities which display a strong tendency towards isolation. As long as such primitive communities maintain their isolation in history there can be no question of cultural development in the sense in which it is taken in historiography proper.
They display a totalitarian aspect, since they include their members in all the spheres of their personal life, and the temporal existence of the individual is completely dependent on membership of the family or sib respectively and of the tribal community. There is not yet room for a differentiation of culture in the particular spheres of formative power, those, namely, of science, the fine arts, commerce and industry, politics, religion, and so on. Since such undifferentiated communities fulfill all the tasks for which, on a higher level of civilization, particular organizations are formed, there is only one single undifferentiated cultural sphere. A rigid tradition, deified by a pagan belief, and anxiously guarded by the leaders of the group, has the monopoly of formative power. The process by which such cultures are developed shows, in fact, only biotic analogies of the phases of birth, ripening, adolescence, age, and decline. The duration of their existence is dependent on that of the small popular or tribal communities by which they are sustained. They may vanish from the scene without leaving any trace in the history of mankind.
The situation in the historical development of opened‐up cultures is quite different. From the ancient cultural centers of world history, such as Babylon, Egypt, Palestine, Crete, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, essential tendencies of development passed over into medieval and modern Western civilizations. They fertilized the Germanic and Arabian C=cultures and this fertilization has given rise to new forms of civilization. This opened‐up cultural development has been freed from rigid dependence upon the living conditions of small popular or tribal communities. It does not move within the narrow bounds of a closed and undifferentiated cultural community, but, like a fertilizing stream, it is always seeking new channels along which to continue its course.
The process whereby a culture is opened up always occurs in a conflict between the guardians of tradition and the pro‐pounders of new ideas. The formative power of tradition is enormous, for in a concentrated form it embodies cultural treasures amassed in the course of centuries. Every generation is historically bound to former generations by its tradition. We are all dominated by it too much greater degree than we realize. In a primitive closed culture its power is nearly absolute. In an opened‐up culture tradition is no longer unassailable, but it has the indispensable role of guarding that measure of continuity in the cultural development without which cultural life would be impossible.
In the struggle with the power of tradition the progressive ideas of so called molders of history have themselves to be purged of their revolutionary subjectivity and adjusted to the modal norm of historical continuity. Even Jacob Burckhardt, who was strongly affected by the historicist relativism, held to this norm of continuity as a last guarantee against the decline of all civilization. It is, of course, nothing but an illusion to imagine that a cultural revolution can destroy all bonds with the past and begin with the revolutionary year one.
The opening‐up process of culture is characterized by the destruction of the undifferentiated and exclusive power of primitive communities. It is a process of cultural differentiation which is balanced by an increasing cultural integration. It is affected by the bursting of the rigid walls of isolation which have enclosed the primitive culture and by submitting the latter to fruitful contact with civilizations which have already been opened up.
Since Herbert Spencer the criterion of differentiation and integration has been accepted by many sociologists for the distinction between more highly developed and primitive societies. The process of differentiation was viewed as a consequence of division of labor, and an attempt was made to explain it in a natural scientific manner. But I do not understand the term “cultural differentiation” in this pseudo‐natural scientific sense.
Much rather I have in mind a differentiation in the typical structures of individuality of social relationships. In the cultural‐historical aspect of these relationships this process of differentiation finds expression in the rise of a rich diversity of typical cultural spheres, each of which is characterized by a leading function of a distinct normative modality belonging to a post‐historical aspect of experience. Differentiated cultural spheres, such as those of science, the fine arts, commerce and industry, politics, religion, and so on, can be realized only on the basis of the opening‐up process of history. But this does not mean that the typical structures of their individuality are themselves of a variable historical character. Since these structures determine the inner nature of the differentiated relationships of society and their typical cultural spheres, they must belong to the order of creation in its temporal diversity which is also the order of our experiential horizon. It is only the social forms in which they are realized that vary in the process of historical development.
The irrationalistic trend in historicism started from the absolute individuality of any socio‐cultural community. But this trend overlooked the typical structures of individuality which determine the inner total nature of these communities and which, as such, cannot be of a variable historical character, Nevertheless it is true that the process of cultural differentiation and integration is at the same time a process of increasing individualization of human culture, in so far as it is only in a culture which has been opened up and differentiated that individuality assumes a really historical significance. It is true that in primitive closed cultural areas individuality is not lacking. But in consequence of the rigid dominance of tradition this individuality retains a certain traditional uniformity, so that from generation to generation such closed cultures display in general the same individual features. It is for this reason that historiography in its proper sense takes no interest in these cultural individualities.
As soon, however, as the process of differentiation and integration commences the historical task of individual cultural dispositions and talents becomes manifest. Every individual contribution to the opening up of the cultural aspect of human society is a contribution to the cultural development of mankind which as a world‐wide perspective. Accordingly the individuality of cultural leaders and groups assumes a deepened historical sense.
It is the opening‐up process of human culture also which alone can give rise to national individualities. A nation viewed as a socio‐cultural unit should be sharply distinguished from the primitive ethnical unity which is called a popular or tribal community. A real national cultural whole is not a natural product of blood and soil, but the result of a process of differentiation and integration in the cultural formation of human society. In a national community all ethnical differences between the various groups of a population are integrated into a new individual whole which lacks the undifferentiated totalitarian traits of a closed and primitive unit of society.
It was, therefore, an unmistakable proof of the reactionary character of the Nazi myth of blood and soil that it tried to undermine the national consciousness of the Germanic peoples by reviving the primitive ethnic idea of “Volkstum”. Similarly, it is an unmistakable proof of the retrograde tendency of all modern totalitarian political systems that they attempt to annihilate the process of cultural differentiation and individualization by a methodical mental equalizing (“Gleichschaltun”) of all cultural spheres, thereby implying a fundamental denial of the value of the individual personality in the opening‐up process of history. The counter‐revolutionary political movement in the first half of the nineteenth century which strove for a restoration of the feudal regime in its broader sense, with its undifferentiated patrimonial conception of political authority, was doubtless also of a reactionary character. It wished to restore a political system which was incompatible with the national integration and the idea of the state and which for this reason was doomed to disappear as soon as the progressive line of politico‐historical development the latter were realized, In the opening‐up process of history any undifferentiated particularism in political power formation should be overcome since it contradicts the norm of politico‐historical differentiation and integration. This norm, however, is not of a merely modal historical character since it is oriented to the typical structural principle of the state as a res publica which in its historical aspect implies a monopolistic organization of the power of the sword serviceable in the public interest of the body politic.
Since the opening‐up process of the cultural‐historical aspect occurs in the anticipatory of progressive direction of the temporal order, it must be possible to indicate the anticipatory moments in which the dynamic coherence of meaning between this aspect and the subsequently arranged normative modes reveals itself. To begin with, the progressive opening‐up process of history is characterized by the manifestation of a linguistic anticipation. The linguistic aspect of our experiential horizon is that of communication by the medium of signs which have a symbolical meaning. In the opening‐up process of historical development facts assume a historical significance which gives rise to a symbolical signifying of their historical meaning.
Hegel and Von Ranke held that history proper did not start before the need arose to preserve the memory of historical events by means of chronicles, records, and other materials. The so called Kulturkreislehre in ethnology, which seeks to trace genetic continuity in the cultural life of mankind from the so called primeval cultures of pre‐history on to civilizations at the highest level of development, has denied that the presence of memorials can be of any essential importance for the delimitation of the historical field of research. As Frobenius has said, history is action, and in comparison with this how inessential is its symbolical recording!
The truth is, however, that such a depreciation of the rise of historical memorials as regards their significance for the historical development of mankind testifies to a lack of insight into the modal structure of the opening‐up process of culture. For the rise of such memorials is an unquestionable criterion of the historical opening up of a civilization. It cannot by inessential that in primitive societies historical memorials, or at least reliable oral historical information, are lacking and that only mythological representations of the genesis and development of their culture are found. The relatively uniform course of their process of development has not yet given Mnemosyne any material worth recording as memorable in a really historical sense. An as yet closed historical consciousness clings to the biotic analogies in cultural development and inclines to a mythological interpretation of its course under the influence of a primitive religion of nature.
The manifestation of symbolical or linguistic anticipation in the opening‐up process of the historical aspect of experience is indissolubly linked to a manifestation of cultural intercourse between different nations which are caught up in the stream of world history. Cultural intercourse in this international sense is an anticipatory moment in history referring forwards to the opening up of the modal aspect of social intercourse with its specific norms of good breeding, courtesy, and so on. A manifestation of such cultural intercourse means that a national culture is opened up to the formative power of foreign cultural activity, so that there is a continuous mutual exchange of cultural life between the nations. Since without such a free cultural intercourse the historical opening‐up process cannot make headway, any attempt by a totalitarian regime to impede or exclude this free cultural contact must be considered reactionary. The normative criterion lying at the foundation of this judgment is not of a merely subjective character since it proves to be grounded in the modal structure of the historical opening‐up process. This may be verified by observing the consequences for a highly developed nation of cultural isolation. It is for this reason that such reactionary measures of a totalitarian regime cannot be sustained in the long run.
Since the process of cultural differentiation leads to an increasing typical diversity of cultural spheres, there is a constant danger that one of these spheres may try to expand its formative power in an excessive manner at the expense of the others. Indeed, since the dissolution of the ecclesiastically unified culture which prevailed in medieval Western civilization there has been a running battle between the emancipated cultural spheres to acquire the supremacy over each other.
In the opening‐up process of history, therefore, the preservation of a harmonious relationship between the differentiated spheres of culture becomes a vital interest of the entire human society. But this cultural harmony can be guaranteed only if the process of historical development complies with the normative principle of cultural economy which forbids any excessive expansion of the formative power of a particular cultural sphere at the expense of the others. Here the aesthetic and economic anticipations in the historical aspect reveal themselves in their unbreakable inner coherence. Both principles, that of cultural economy and that of cultural harmony, appeal to the inner nature of the differentiated cultural spheres as determined by the typical structures of individuality of the circles of society to which they belong. It is my conviction that these structures of individuality are grounded in the order of creation, whereby due bounds are assigned to every temporal entity in accordance with its inner nature. In the opening‐up process of human culture, as soon as these bounds are ignored through an excessive expansion of the formative power of a particular cultural sphere, disastrous tensions and conflicts arise in human society. This may evoke convulsive reactions on the part of those cultural spheres which are threatened, or it may even lead to the complete ruin of a civilization, unless counter‐tendencies in the process of development manifest themselves before it is too late and acquire sufficient cultural power to check the excessive expansion of power of a particular cultural factor.
It is in such consequences of the violation of the principles of cultural economy and harmony in the historical opening‐up process that a juridical anticipation in history comes to light. At this point we find ourselves confronted with the Hegelian utterance: “die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht”. I do not accept this dictum in the sense in which Hegel meant it; but that the violation of the normative principles to which the opening‐up process of the cultural aspect of history is subject is avenged in the course of world history may be verified by observing the consequences of such violation. When finally the question is asked what is the deepest cause of disharmony in the opening‐up process of history we come face to face with the problem concerning the relationship between faith and culture and with the religious basic motives which operate in the central sphere of human life. The disharmony in question belongs, alas, to the progressive line of cultural development, since it can only reveal itself in the historical opening‐up process of cultural differentiation. In a primitive closed culture the conflicts and tensions which are in particular to be observed in modern Western civilization cannot occur. As a consequence of the fact that any expansion of the formative power of mankind gives rise to an increasing manifestation of human sin, the historical opening‐up process is marked by blood and tears, and it does not lead to an earthly paradise.
What, then, is the sense in this entire extreme endeavor, conflict, and misery to which man submits in order to fulfill his cultural task in the world? Radical historicism, as it manifested itself in all its consequences in Spengler’s Decline of the West, deprived the history of mankind of any hope for the future and made it meaningless. This is the result of the absolutization of the historical aspect of experience; for we have seen that the latter can only reveal its significance in an unbreakable coherence with all the other aspects of our temporal experiential horizon; and this horizon itself refers to the human ego as its central point of reference both in its spiritual communion with all other human egos and in its central relationship to the Divine Author of all that has been created.
In the ultimate issue that problem of the meaning of history revolves on the central question: Who is man himself and what is his origin and his final destination? Outside of the biblical basic motive of creation, the fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ, no real answer is, in my opinion, to be found to this question. The conflicts and dialectical tensions which occur in the process of the opening‐up of human culture result from the absolutization of what is relative. And every absolutization takes its origin from the spirit of apostasy, from the spirit of the civitas terrena, as Augustine called it.
There would be no future hope for mankind and for the whole process of man’s cultural development, if Jesus Christ had not becomes the spiritual centre of world history. This centre is bound neither to the Western nor to any other civilization, but it will lead the new mankind as a whole to its true destination, since it has conquered the world by the love revealed in its self‐sacrifice.
Article from reformationalpublishingproject.com