6. Transition and Modernity

A New Age Begins


Section 6 .1

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon





6. Transition and Modernity 
     6.1 A New Age Begins  
        6.1.1 From Reformation to Revolution  
     6.2 An Age of Enlightenment  
        6.2.1 The Crisis of The Enlightenment  
        6.2.2 Theory and Ideology: Das Adam Smith Problem
        6.2.3 Toward a New Enlightenment 
     6.3 The Great Divide 
        6.3.1 Revolutions Per Second: The Rebirth of Democracy 
        6.3.2 Econostream != Eonic Sequence          
    6.4 System Shutdown: Between System Action and Free Action  
       6.4.1 The Curse of Mideonic Empire?      
     6.5 1848: End of Eonic Sequence?  
          6.5.1 Last and First Men
          6.5.2 Theory and Ideology: Out of Revolution
     6.6 New Ages
          6.6.1 The (Eonic) Evolution of Religion  
          6.6.2 The 'Axial' New Age
          6.6.3 The Great Freedom Sutra 
          6.6.4 Schopenhauer and The Caveman Buddhas
          6.6.5 Coda: Amlothi's Mill

 7. Conclusion


    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     6.1 A New Age Begins


‘We are at the dawn of a new era!’ exclaimed Luther more prophetically than he himself imagined… ‘Rarely is a work undertaken out of wisdom and precaution,’ he declared, ‘but everything is undertaken out of ignorance.’ The man who initiates creative action can seldom know where his steps will lead him…But if Luther was a prime mover, the forces that soon set all Europe in motion were stronger than any single man.’ ”[i]

Returning full circle from our search for the sources of the eonic sequence we arrive once again at the dawn of modernity to find our world system taking off on schedule in the sixteenth century in one of the last diffusion frontiers left, spawning the new era that we call modernity. The rise of modern is now transparent as the third great transition in our eonic sequence. We are back at our starting point with a structure of elegant, yet mysterious, coherence that highlights two different levels at work in world history. Despite these theoretical-sounding statements, the pattern of the eonic effect, let us remind our selves, is purely empirical, however we understand it, and the sudden rise of the modern world from the sixteenth century onward is a mysterious given of world history, and completes the equal mystery of the previous two transitions we have examined.    

All the confusions of discontinuity, Eurocentrism, and secularism, disappear in the expanded scale of our eonic analysis. The rise of the modern is not a development of a Western Civilization, but an eonic transition expressing world-historical directionality of a cluster of culture complexes in a frontier effect: North Italy, Spain, France, the Protestant Crescent ( Germany, Holland, England, and soon, its sidewinder, North America). This transitional phase is over by the end of the Enlightenment, and the system rapidly starts to globalize on this new basis, in the slow shift of the center of gravity. Once again our eonic sequence hazards its globalization  on a temporary localization and the immense strain of macro-action via micro-action soon finds democratic emergentism competing with imperialism and revolution. We should note that globalization in our sense is a function of the eonic sequence, and not the same as economic globalization.

As if the last place left on the planet to stage a surprise attack against Eurasian inertia the Euro-partition created by the Reformation generates a new frontier sector that takes off in a race against time and newly expanding slavery, in the brief launch window, closing if not closed, by the rough point of the divide, before the underdog becomes a new source of domination and empire. Democracy comes roaring back, much stronger this time, abolition is achieved, and it almost seems as if the Ionian Enlightenment is in a second coming against the theocratic worlds created by the winners of the Axial period. We can add the ‘rise of the modern’, now a time-slice phase, to our list of stream and sequence intersections, resetting the directionality of the world system as it moves toward globalization.

 We can see how this transition forms a coherent unit in two rough halves as the Reformation and the Copernican Revolution leading past the Thirty Years War brings us to the new age of the Enlightenment, renewed democracy, and the Industrial Revolution. Although past the modern divide, we are still altogether in the grips of the modern transition, and culture still has the freshness of a new age in world history, despite the convulsions of the past two centuries and the onset of postmodern chaotification in the waning of the elusive factor of eonic determination.

The resemblance to the Greek transition is striking, almost like a recursion. The immense potential lost in the post-Axial chaotification of the Hellenistic seems to get a second chance. Let us note that science, including the idea of evolution, and democracy both failed the ‘survival of the fittest’ test, the case of the missing centuries, and show our clear evidence of eonic mainline reinduction. So much for Darwinian thinking. Our univalent modern transition, compared to the Axial parallelism, is severely imbalanced in one sense, leading to Eurocentric illusions, but the overall logic is clear, and the swift turn toward cultural globalization occurs promptly in the wake of the divide, thwarted by the forces of rising imperialism.

The phenomenon of Axial parallelism would be counterproductive in the modern transition, and the emergence of universalist themes is a striking feature of the Enlightenment contribution to globalization, real globalization. Alone among the great religions the Christian stream is in the eonic mainline and the swift remorphing of its Protestant trigger into the Enlightenment shows the deft effectiveness of the transitional era. Our model renders no judgment as to either the true definition of religion, or its future in the world system. In one sense, as secularists would believe, religion is a redundant category, from the view of our fundamental unit of historical analysis. But it would be naïve in the extreme to pronounce on the future passing of religion, as the host of New Age movements, to say nothing of the leftist themes of class struggle, already show the trend toward mideonic reformulation of religious fundamentals. The issue is not religion, as such, but the inability of all parties to create spiritual vehicles that are not vehicles of exploitation, or domination.

It is thus significant that many now sense what they call a ‘postmodern’ age. Our interpretation shows the reason, and the paradox of progress surging, progress in paradox. This term is superfluous in our model and postmodernist periodization tends to create confusion, whatever our views on its philosophies, where a ‘dialectic of the Enlightenment’ is simply par for the course. As a critique of teleological ideologies postmodernist thinking is significant. But we might just as well critique a lack of a true universal history, equally able to produce a ‘postmodern’ assessment of our historical dynamics.

Our interpretation deftly bypasses the illusions of Eurocentrism and we see that the eonic sequence is moving on a far greater scale than that of individual civilizations, if only it can become disentangled from the local medium of its long-range action. Our system can generate change in the core, but cannot control its peripheries, the undoubted reason such an explosive left arose so quickly in the wake of our transition to challenge the instant distortions of globalization. Our modern transition is not the triumph of ‘Western Civilization’ but a pivot on the way toward globalization. And this globalization is not the same as economic development. That is true by definition in our account, but clearly economic action rapidly becomes the key player in this instance. If we compare the three centuries of the ancient Axial transitions, plus the two centuries immediately in their wake, then look at the modern instance, as five centuries from the onset of modernity, we see it is not surprising and no accident to find the current preoccupation with empire and pseudo-globalization of economic exploitation. It is almost too mechanically precise for comfort.

Well past our divide period, the world system is now in the throes of its reversal toward the whole, and our model is ready with its balance of two universal histories in the dialectic of universalism and diversity. Chauvinist or Eurocentric accounts of our modern transition (e.g. the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition, etc,…) will be swiftly disabused of their sense of centrality as the system slowly but surely changes its center of gravity. In fact, the first shift in that center of gravity occurred early on in the American sidewinder. The latter would do well to consider the gifts of time, not overestimate one’s brilliance, and not fall behind as the globalization process continues. We should not forget that, while our use of the term ‘evolution’ is at risk of an ethnocentrism reflecting the transition zones, its scope in reality is universal, and moves to garland the fruits not only of its prior stages, but of the universal dimension of evolution in the greater community of man irregardless of its coordinates in relation to the eonic sequence.

By our analysis, instead of a postmodern, we are in a post-transitional period, a better way to put it, still close to onset of a great New Age of world history, whose potential we must hope will not end betrayed as have prior stages of civilization. If postmodern philosophies echo and descant the very Enlightenment they critique, then they join that canon in reasonable fashion. But if the idea is to replace the modern transition with a new New Age negating the rise of the modern, the odds against success are very great, unless simple decline is a possible candidate. Although in a postmodern period the rise of the modern and the Enlightenment are under attack and the critique of imperialism and empire seems to replace the discourse of democracy, our emphasis on the early modern is the right one, in terms of the overall ‘eonic evolution of civilization’.

Our transition is taken as the dawn of a New Age. The mythology of New Ages is unending, but our eonic mainline gives us a useful way to set the record straight and we can categorize the modern transition as the dawn of a New Age in some hope to still the commotion here. Although our use of the idea of a ‘New Age’ is informal, and has no theoretical status, we can, for all intents and purposes, depict the third transition as rapidly emerging modernism in terms of a ‘New Age’, the third in visible world history, the more so as its challenge to the outstanding religions of antiquity is so reminiscent of the ‘relative transformations’ of the Axial period. Beware of those pronouncing the Enlightenment a failure and proclaiming the new New Age for some guru or others ambitious to exploit a postmodern strategy.

We have almost whimsically taken on the lore of cyclical theories, to challenge the Spenglers and Toynbees. Our data shows the correct grounds for this, but does not allow us any empirical generalization. So we merely observe the factual mystery of a cyclical phenomenon first visible in the era of early Egypt and Sumer. We must be clear we are speaking of cyclical progression, empirically given as with economic cycles, and not cyclical recurrence in some metaphysical phantasm of cycles. The cyclical progression of ‘Mondays’ in a sequence of weeks is not the same as the cyclical recurrence of their interior events. One reason to produce a ‘cyclical’ theory at all is to challenge the prophets of doom and decline who will attempt to point to some ‘decline  of the West’ as a postmodern comeback against modernity. This view reconciles perfectly the ‘opposed’ linear and cyclical views of history and gives new meaning to ideas of evolutionary progress. Our viewpoint reconciles the so-called linear and cyclical views of history into one concept.

The center of gravity of our modern post-transition might well change, but this is not an issue of the imperial powers of the first and early inheritors of the modern system. It is good to be wary of the Toynbean formulation. Toynbee begrudged the modern world the breakthrough Enlightenment, and seems to find at the point of globalization the need for religion as some phantom of the internal proletariat. We are wise to this game. These religions are mostly mideonic sludge at this point, and don’t correspond to the Axial source.

A Second Axial Age? It is an historical given that the eonic effect was perceived at first in its second step, the so-called Axial Age. Thus it is also possible to take the eonic pattern as an unassembled puzzle, with its major piece, or pieces, the data and perception of the so-called ‘Axial Age’, as a study in itself. The pattern in this aspect was described by the philosopher Karl Jaspers, who summarized a series of perceptions by many scholars stretching backward into the nineteenth century.

The problem is that the phenomenon of the Axial Age finally makes no sense in isolation. Thus we have a sequential and synchronous pattern whose connection is not at first clear. Later the logic of globalization  will suggest one solution to the overall pattern of selected hotspots showing eonic transformation, according to a minimum principle. The sudden synchronous appearance of cultural innovation in Rome , Greece, the Middle East, India and China in a period centered on -600 is inexplicable under conventional assumptions. Standard causal reasoning about the ‘evolution of cultures’ fails because of the simultaneity of relative advances in these separated areas. The phenomenon does not emerge by slow evolution from the prior state of these separate cultures. There is some kind of global factor operating independently of particular civilizations.

Looking at this Axial phenomenon we are confronted with an inexplicable mystery. But one clue to the riddle lies in seeing that this period is not unique, but one in a series. The resolution of the mystery comes to us quickly, as long as we are not distracted by the interpretations of the Axial period solely as a spiritual age of religions. We ask, are there any other periods like this? The great clue is the remarkable resemblance of the Greek Axial interval and the sudden rise of modernity from 1500 to 1800. Moving in the opposite direction, can we find a similar period of rapid innovation and sudden advance? We don’t have far to look. We suddenly see that the birth of civilization, and the rise of modernity are different phases of a larger pattern, with the Axial Age in the middle. Seeing the rise of the modern as a kind of second Axial Age suddenly makes sense of the data. In fact it is a third, at least, the extraordinary rise of Dynastic Egypt and early Sumer being a giveaway. We are forced to consider that the Axial Age is really a step in a sequence, and moving backwards and forwards we suddenly discover the full pattern. We can see three turning points equally spaced, with an interval of about 2400 years, clear evidence of a cyclical phenomenon.

The question of the Axial Age has spawned a new historical myth of a spiritual age producing the world’s great religions. The fact that Buddhism (and Jainism) are ‘atheistic’ while the Israelite Axial interval spawns a theistic religion makes any simple interpretation highly problematic. The case of Greece is then downplayed because it doesn’t fit the religious pattern (it actually shows a last great flowering of polytheism along with the seminal emergence of a critique of such). The pattern is far more complex than an association with transcendental mythologies. If there were ever an age of ‘revelation’ it has to be the Greek case, whose multidimensionality is spectacular. Out of the blue, a frontier area relative to the Middle East undergoes a prodigious flowering. Note the extraordinary synchrony of the core Old Testament period of the Prophets, and Archaic Greece. Then note how the Indic zone recycles itself in Buddhism, Jainism, etc, stripped of all local associations with ‘Hinduism’ (a highly vexed term). In fact, ‘Hinduism’ itself recrystallizes as almost a new religion. Our historical dynamic thus transcends the content enclosed in the remarkable ‘Axial interval’.

The problem is the extraordinary parallelism that places the ‘Axial’ period beyond anything to do with religion. This is also the era of the birth of democracy, science, and the proto-secularism of the modern period. These are all pups from the same litter in what must obviously be a form of multitasking parallel evolution, a shotgun effect exploring different possibilities. The Axial Age appears at first to be unique, but then shows itself as a step in a more general pattern, perhaps a sequence? With this question the real antecedent and continuation suggest themselves, the birth of civilization, and the rise of modernity. One problem is that we see a naturalistic phenomenon in the ‘evolution of religions’ and in general a dynamic that has nothing to do with religion at all.

 We can discover the significance of both the Axial Age and of modernity  by asking a question, Is there a second Axial Age? The rise of the modern world is simply another ‘axial’ transformation, disguised behind its secularism. The formulation of Karl Jaspers remains ambiguous on the question of the rise of the modern. The reason is the stumbling block created by misleading definitions of ‘secularism’. Darwinism, atheism, scientific positivism, Nietzschean anti-modernism, the calamities of the First World War and the Holocaust, are all taken in evidence to either define the secular or castigate it. This misses the point entirely. The ‘secular’ is suddenly obvious as the type of society emerging from the early modern, ca. 1500 to 1800. This is a complex dialectical spectrum (as was the Axial Age), not an ‘ism’ defined by some watered down version of scientism or the Enlightenment. Thus the ‘secular’ for us is not a philosophy, but a temporal interval in a larger sequence, with a geographical sourcing area, showing a complex dialectical center of gravity around religious transformation (the Reformation), the Scientific Revolution , emergent economic modernism (capitalism, and its potential counterpoints, e.g. socialism), the Enlightenment (and its potential/actual counterpoints, e.g. the Romantic movement), re-emergent democratic experiments, and much else. A kind of postmodern fog has already settled over our perceptions on this point.  



   Web:  chap6_1htm


[i] Lewis Spitz, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements (1971), p. 301.





Last modified: 09/28/2010