past" - George Orwell
On Tuesday, I asked you to fill in the blank - "History is ___________" and we saw lots of different responses. We heard lots of different responses from "stupid" and "irrelevant" to "just sort of there" to "something that can be misused." I talked about my own personal feelings towards history: that it is something that doesn't necessarily repeat itself - which is why some teachers say you should teach it. I feel that history is our civilization's collective knowledge about itself and other past societies on earth, and that it is one generation's job (mine, for instance) to interpret it and pass it down to the next (yours, in this case). Soon, it will be your job to continue that legacy with the next generation. But, is there an end point at which we stop passing this history down?
George Hegel had thought so. For him, the French Revolution and Napoleon's invasion of the German states in the early 1800s was that end point. Hegel felt this point was the end of history b/c the Revolution and Napoleon were upsetting the old order of aristocrat and peasant in an effort to try and forge a more "universal and homogeneous state in which lords no longer looked down contemptuously on bondsmen" and people would recognize each other for their individual self-worth (Palmer 235-6). For about 15-20 years, this era of equality lasted, and would not emerge again in a widespread fashion across Europe until after the Cold War was over. When the Cold War was over, another historian, Francis Fukayama called that time period "the end of history" as well, b/c in the battle of worldviews, democratic capitalism had defeated communism and had proven to be the best of all systems. Therefore, the search for the system of government / economy that benefits most people w/o killing or exploiting the least was determined; hence, the end of history.
As for what path history follows, Hegel believed that God determined history's outcome - it is an unchangable, set-in-stone fact.
"Spirit does not toss itself about in the external play of chance occurrences; on the contrary, it is that which determines history absolutely, and it stands firm against the chance occurrences which it dominates and exploits for its own purpose" - George Hegel 2
We can trace this back to our examination of the differences in how Indo-Europeans and Semitic cultures have viewed history throughout the ages. Hegel's view seems to fit into the Semitic scheme that history is linear w/ a beginning and end, and it stands to reason that if God can interfere with or manifest himself in our history, then it makes sense that God has fixed history for all eternity.
My personal issue with this determinist view of history is that with six billion + people on the planet, I think it also stands to reason that occasionally, history is influenced and has been changed by chance events, random, wacky things that no one had planned for or anticipated. Two perfect examples that I use come from the American Civil War: 1. Union soldiers finding General Lee's orders which show how his army is separated into 5 very vulnerable parts, easy for the Union army to pick apart and destroy (only if they had the right commander, which the Union didn't). 2. The chance encounter of Stonewall Jackson's men with his own soldiers the night of the battle of Chancellorsville - the men of a North Carolina regiment on picket duty shot Stonewall and his officers fearing that they were Yankee cavalry on a nighttime raid. Stonewall survived the gunshots, but died a week later of pneumonia.
Neither of those examples were destined to happen, but they did occur by chance, and it is safe to say that they had a cumulative effect on the war's outcome. Random events determine life or death situations all the time. Just ask some of the survivors of the Twin Towers collapse from Sept. 11, 2001. Little random things made them miss being in the building at the time when the planes hit.
However, determinist skeptics would say that these weren't random events and that God has had a hand in all of these things. At that point, I'd ask for proof other than faith.
1. Fill in the blank, "History is _________________" and explain why you answered it that way.
2. Can history have an end point? If so, what would that be and why? If not, why not?
3. Do you agree with Hegel's assertion that history is determined by God or another higher power? Why or why not?
250 Words. Due Friday (Feb. 12, 2010) at the latest.
1. Palmer, Donald. Looking at Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter, 4th ed. McGraw Hill Higher Education. New York, NY: 2006.
2. Burrell, David. "A Historian Looks at Hegel Philosophically." http://www.historicalinsights.com/dave/hegel.html Original 1991. Accessed 2/10/10.