6. Transition and Modernity

Last and First Men 


Section 6.5.1

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

     6.5.1 Last and First Men


Our current time-frame, ca. the year 2000, now seems to be the geopolitical endgame of the Western system of nation states emerging after 1500. The five centuries since this watershed are visible as a unit of transformation, and one comparable in scope to the birth of civilization, and the passage of classical antiquity. On the scale of millennia its revolutionary breakthroughs of liberty, more even than its emergent new systems of economy, constitute an enigma of cultural evolution, a decisive movement against historical trend that is difficult to account for short of the eonic model.

The great, to many, unexpected, turning point  of the times, at the end of this period, is the collapse of the Russian Communist world system, whose outcome was an ambiguous variant of this nationalism, casting the spell of a future internationalism it was unable to achieve. This monumental convulsion in the dynamics of global modernization as the ghost of Universal Empire declared itself the end state in the outcome of modern politics and industrialism, and was so denounced as crypto-eschatological prophetic futurism, especially by those who prefer to claim the genre, and wish their own version of this Event. This juggernaut has now been replaced by resurgent fundamentalism, and the tide of Islam, and we can at least see the dilemma of globalization at work in the wake of a series of micro-transitions operating on a minimum principle.[i]

This cycle of revolution starts with the revolutions of 1848, the last and the new first in the tidal wave beginning with the American and the French Revolutions, and earlier. The liberal world gets its revolution, then the system freezes. It is the first fact of modernism  that we constantly recycle this core period of leftist surging followed by royalist restoration, action and reaction, whose pivotal years lie between 1789, and ‘last’ gasp, 1848 , the year of the Communist Manifesto This, we will see, is the point at which the world system crosses what we will call a Great Divide, and the realization of current modernism comes into being. The modern political transformation revolves around one simple issue, one only; will the trend toward liberty move to fulfill itself as equality? If it does, modernism  succeeds. If it does not, modernism fails.

The ambiguous mood of 1848, and its gloom of leftist disappointment, fills the air even now in one and the same sense of shock at revolutionary failure. Once again, the failure of capitalism  to fail results in a take off in a long Boom like that which followed this earlier period of failed revolution. Beyond this, the grand historical questions remain of the place of revolution  in the dynamics of history, its rarity before the rise of the modern world. Its place is clear and yet mysterious. Between early antiquity, and the modern transformation after 1500, freedom in its liberal meanings disappeared, after a first birth, and certainly did not reappear as a result of incremental social evolution. After 1848, the revolutionary tide was ebbing even short of the abolition of slavery, as Leftist ideas expanded into a fragmented sociology of permanent revolution. This recycling of the ‘old slogans’, ‘pieces of eighteen forty-eight’, is an appropriate starting point, or ending, in the consideration of historical discontinuity.[ii]

In all its considerations of historical materialism, leftist ideology has failed to do justice to what it rightly sees as the ‘bourgeois revolution’. But behind this surface lies the real key to Marx’s own theory. Marx is really a frustrated transcendental idealist attempting to bring the idea of freedom into the surface world of economic determinism. We have seen a better way to deal with that. It is not chance that democracy suddenly reappears in modern times, and as we will see near the ‘Great Divide’? The problem is that the system begins to jackknife against itself as the left becomes ambivalent about the hybrid system of democratic freedom and capitalism.

What constitutes democracy  remains a critical question, but even approximations will work fine with our argument. We are closing in on Kant’s Challenge, and a simple resolution of Marx’s difficulties on theory as the term ‘democracy’ floated into ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, in the losing battle for the word’s definition, whose crisis is clearly evident in the thinking of Rousseau. If we reach further backwards we see, or so some have claimed, the first, before the first, birth in the first nexus of Sumerian city-states. [iii]

First and Last Whigs We seem to be committing the ‘great blunder’ of Whiggery, quite unrepentantly. But we are doing something completely different. The discrete freedom sequence does not ‘evolve’ from the medieval period, in the notions of liberty said to be latent in the episode of the Magna Carta. Our directional thesis refers to a far larger scale, system return in the eonic sequence. Herbert Butterfield in his The Whig Interpretation of History, chides the Whig historians of the nineteenth century who saw history as a process fulfilling their political preferences. But suddenly, we are left with a question, perhaps there is a Whig Interpretation of History: but it seems to involve outsmarting the Whigs, Tom Paine style, liberalism becoming democratic liberalism. Will we be promoting the ‘telos’ of democracy in theory? We should first define the term, and determine whether a teleological system would produce what Marx thought the wrong result. The answer is a cautious ‘yes’, we see a clear directionality suggesting a teleological component. In any case, in the eonic version we discover the Whigs, sometimes known as the ‘Glorious Whigs’, to have made a mess of the question, if the outcome of the English Civil War was hardly democracy. What of the Levellers? But the Whigs were onto something, the first great breakthrough of the modern liberal world. The issue, in any case, has nothing to do with fancies about the Magna Carta. Not slow evolution but a dreadful historical discontinuity seems responsible.[iv]

The criticism of teleology, although essential, fails to explain why the impostor Freedom ever made a comeback after its ancient defeat, and did so when it did. The correlation of emergent democracy and our eonic pattern, at first seemingly random, will be found to be one of our ‘eonic effects’. 

 We can see already, most ironically, that emergent democracy is more fruitfully bound up in a question of directionality, and that, if anything, the Marxist initiative simply derailed from this directionality. Thus Popper’s important plea for the open society  attempted to deny the existence of historical forces on the grounds of their inherent totalitarian nature, in prophecies or predictions of historical laws, in the exclusive emphasis on the power of rationality to create the future piecemeal. But unfortunately these ‘historical forces’ are very real, however difficult it might be to define them. The simplest way to consider this reality of historical forces would be to look at the discontinuity of modernism as a whole relative to greater antiquity. And ask why society ‘opened’ at all, and so briefly, in the age of Solon, and then waited so long for the renewed fulfillment of this ancient dream.[v]

The philosopher Hegel grappled with a sense of the directionality perceivable in the history of freedom, keeping in mind the ambiguity of ‘direction’ in rival linear, or cyclical, interpretations. The acuteness of his thinking is veiled in the philosopher as a metaphysical Sphinx all too liable to misinterpretations, and some earnest questions in the face of his reticence near Prussian censorship. The accusations of defending the reaction forget the brief period of the progressive Prussia. Even as he is defended from the charge of ideologist, he appears to be doing remarkably well in this role for post-Communism as the historical grand finale wished for in a new Restoration of classical liberals. Suffice it to say he, or some phantom by that name, seems to confirm Marx’s warnings, as the current bald eagle for the ‘end of history’. This concept of the ‘end of history’ has been so abused as to seem worthless.

End of eonic sequence? Our model produces a parallel, though quite different, idea of the ‘end of the eonic sequence’. This makes no definite statement about the social form of the period after the last transition, save that the self-evolution of freedom must replace that of the eonic sequence. The ominous possibility of the next ‘revolution’ (as man-made micro-action or pseudo-transition) to reach the ‘end of history’, or the end of the ‘end of history’, lurks beyond bourgeois propaganda in the mideonic wasteland of political systems deviating from the classic period of the divide.

Hegel’s metaphysics apart, his commentary on liberal modernity is classic. Hegel was an acute critic of the limits of civil society. As S. Avineri notes,

Hegel accepts Smith’s view that behind the senseless and conflicting clash of interests in civil society lies a hidden assumption which implies that everyone in society is thus being well taken care of. Poverty, which for Smith is always marginal to his model, assumes another dimension in Hegel. For the latter, pauperization and the subsequent alienation from society are not incidental to the system but endemic to it…the only problem which remains unresolved according to Hegel’s own admission is the problem of poverty.[vi]

Before the leftist tide caused social conservatives to close ranks around Adam Smith, the flaws in the emerging capitalist system were obvious to many, one of them Hegel. But should we man the barricades for Hegel’s political suggestions? His critique of the stark contradiction at the root of the emerging capitalist order makes him the direct inspiration for his well-known and less compliant successor. Hegel hesitates, Marx cuts the Gordian knot. Hegel’s seminal study of the English political economists nonetheless distorts his ‘cunning of reason’ idea, and for all his daring with teleological thinking gets it mixed with the ‘invisible hand’ thinking of the capitalist ideologists.[vii]

In The End of History  and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama steps without hesitation into this Hegelian vein, anxious to sneak the kludges of teleological idealism into the barren mechanics of sociology, and finds in liberal democracy the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution ” and the “final form of human government”. This was the Hegel of the philosopher Kojeve. The basis of the ‘end of history’ idea is open to challenge, and the idea is not present in Hegel in the fashion now imagined. A far more interesting approach might be our eonic model, with a question, to be developed, ‘Have we reached the end of the eonic sequence?’ With the eonic model, we know at once what Hegel is driving at, but can’t quite put his finger on.[viii]

The course of the idea of the Hegelian ‘end of history’, the idea that history had ended in 1806 after the Battle of Jena, i.e., the principles of liberty and equality had become the ‘limits of convergence’ of the global system of Universal History, fails as linear directionality, and changes its meaning with context and is bound in the equivocation created by ambiguity between the ‘end of history’ and the ‘end of antiquity’, and Hegel himself a harbinger of a New Age, yet haunted by the memory of the Great Terror, and the wish to justify the passage to new and different futures in the collisions of that era. But the New Age is secure, and grants no further proofs of justice, as liberal systems emerge in temporal form guaranteed no Whiggish certainty by the arguments of Hegel. Anyone who uses this nearly hopeless terminology ends up mesmerized. In any case, the rise of pragmatism with its ‘naturalized Hegelianism’ makes us forget that ‘geist’ is the fuel for the motor, and a theory of evolution, de facto, and its status as a design argument is like all the rest. The lesson suggested by our discrete freedom sequence is well suggested by the founders of the American system, ‘Democracy, if you can keep it’.[ix]

Meaningful summons of Hegel requires the use of his ‘dialectic of stages’, which fell, however, into an unfortunate Eurocentrism. Freedom does not proceed from East to West, but along the mainline of the eonic sequence. And this ‘dialectic’ cannot be tacked onto a sociological argument about the influence of economics or technology on history, for it is a challenge to the very foundation of normal logic, to say nothing of physical causality. The ‘end of history’ argument in its current form proceeds from the philosopher Kojeve, in a hybrid of Hegel, Nietzche, Marx, and Heidegger. In the end one might do better to backtrack to the buried Kant whence ‘ideas for a universal history’ have sprung, to find there a more realistic sense that a teleological view of history would do better to adopt a stark realism about the future, in the progression toward the perfect civil constitution, even given the great achievements of the Age of Freedom beautifully reflected the critique of the Dialectic of Illusion.

Fukuyama thus falls back on standard historical theory, and asks, “Do all or most societies evolve in a certain uniform direction, or do their histories follow either a cyclical or simply random  path?” Fukuyama proposes to find the historical mechanism in relation to various candidate factors, e.g. the development of scientific knowledge, as a cumulative force whose development can ‘clock’ the ‘irreversibility’ of progressive time and asks, “But if history is never to repeat itself, there must be a constant and uniform Mechanism or set of historical first causes that dictates evolution in a single direction, and that somehow preserves the memory of earlier periods into the present.”

This states the problem of historical causality quite directly indeed, and in a fashion that makes the linear or uniform and the cyclical mutually exclusive. But here is the exact difficulty, for the mechanism that Fukuyama might wish could show a cyclical character beyond the modern rise of science and technology that seems to hold sway only after 1500, and as much a series of effects as drivers of the motion. And what is the relevance of Hegel  here? Hegel’s argument is not causal. The ‘mechanism’ of the ‘end of history’ is the dialectic of stages in the emergence of Freedom. Normal causality fails as a candidate for the Grand Mechanism. All such efforts amount to variants of macroeconomic models of growth, and they don’t work. Sneak in Hegel draped in the. American flag. We will soon look at the case of the missing centuries, in relation to science, to discover that science, at least so far, could not be the candidate for this generation of uniform direction, bound up itself in the dynamic history.

The great historical Mechanism that Fukuyama describes must pass muster throughout Universal History, in the record of civilization. It is not sufficient to begin with the rise of modernity and find therein the resolution of Universal History in its effects, rather than its causes. Thus, we cannot assume the implied conclusion of his ‘if’. What if history does repeat itself? Such arguments assume, perhaps, the Judeo-Christian ‘mythistorical’ discovery of linear progressive time as a fait accompli.

It is significant to consider the appearance of modern forms of Freedom (and equalization), and the Communist explosion, in its proper context, of 5000 years, the entirety of what we call ‘civilization’, unable to establish a practical equality of economic justice, except for one brief period near -600. The modern world of Freedom was the child of revolution. This led to the rise of the notion of the ‘permanent revolution’, when, in fact, a flawed system was simply becoming stable. This stability is guarded by reasonable compromises, and the unique experience of American economic and political success. But the issue remains, for the gains of freedom are never secure. The discrete veiling of this fact by those who wish to brand ‘revolution’ as a pathological aberration or the will to power is a token of the brevity of historical memory. Our memories are short if we forget the birth of a left that sprang into existence before the abolition of slavery.[x] But the original sense, and the real heart of Fukuyama’s argument, is the preservation of the gains made at the ‘end of modernism’, and an attempt to insist the technological gains of modernization should be accompanied by the gains of liberty, even as desperado traditionalist cultures wish the fruits of technology while calling liberal modernization ‘ethnocentric’. We are forced to consider this thesis to be Hegelian propaganda. Let us, however, take the thesis seriously to this degree: we might reach the ‘end of history’ if we are successful in achieving true democracy for the first time!

Could humanity regress completely, find itself reviving slavery, theocracy, aristocratic society? Unfortunately it could, because it has, the more so as its experimental ‘communist’ fail-safe itself deviated and proved an abysmal failure, precisely on this score. Armed with Darwinism regression is already underway! What then is the source of freedom? Part of our confusion is the assumption of pure linear advance, and the viewpoint this creates, that particular forms, cultural states, or periods are islands of random  rationality adrift in time. Our study might attempt to give a better meaning to the term ‘end of history’, as the passage of a divide, and, more basically, a phenomenon related to what we will call eonic transition. And our study might highlight, and possibly reconcile, the contradiction in these linear views of progress into which the cyclical factor would threaten to return, and in the process make us less sanguine about the inevitability of any simple form of short-term political directedness.  



   Web:  chap6_5.htm


[i] Stephane Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), Andrzej Walicki, Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), George Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (New York: Praeger, 1961), August Nimitz, Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to Democratic Emergence (Albany: State University of New York, 2000), Alan Gilbert, Marx’s Politics (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1981), Richard Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels: Marxism and Totalitarian Democracy 1818-1850 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974), David Steele, From Marx to Mises (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1992).

[ii] Melvin Krantzberg (ed.), 1848: A Turning Point?, (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1959). L. B. Namier calls the year a ‘seed-plot of history’, one that survived its own failure and the moral revulsion of revolutionary disorder, Trevelyan calls 1848 “the turning point at which modern history failed to turn”, In the Beginning: The Advent of the Modern Age (New York: Macmillan, 1994) by Jerome Blum. Peter Stearns, 1848: The Revolutionary Tide in Europe (New York: Norton, 1974).

[iii] W. G. Forrest, The Emergence of Greek Democracy: 800-400 B.C. (New York: Macgraw-Hill, 1966), H.W.F. Saggs, Civilization Before Greece and Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press Univ Press, 1989), p. 34, a consideration of the issue of ‘democracy’ in the early period of the Sumerian city-states before the rise of kingship after the first creative period of the beginning of civilization. The original suggestion springs from Theodore Jacobsen’s “Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotamia”, pp. 167-70 in W. L. Moran (ed.), Towards the Image of Tammuz (1970). Cf. also Jennifer Roberts, Athens on Trial (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).

[iv] Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (New York: Scribner, 1951). Craig Thomas, There to Here: John Locke and His Influence on 300 Years of Political Theory (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991).

[v] Hal Draper, ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ from Marx to Lenin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), Michael Harrington’s Socialism (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972). That the virulence of the Communist Left sprang in part from the virulence of the Tsarist reactionary right and the disastrous conservatism of the Russian nineteenth century is brought home in The Shadow of the Winter Place: Moscow’s Drift to Revolution, 1825-1917 (New York: Viking, 1976). For an account of the Decembrists, cf. Adam Ulam, The Bolsheviks (New York: Macmillan, 1965).

[vi] Shlomo Avineri, Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), “Poverty and the limits of Civil Society”, p. 147. Steven Smith, Hegel’s Critique of Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

[vii] Harold Mah, The End of Philosophy, the Origin of ‘Ideology’ (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). James White, Karl Marx and the Intellectual Origins of Dialectical Materialism (New York: St. Martin’s, 1996). Steven Marcus, Engels, Manchester and the Working Class (New York: Norton, 1974), Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), M. Steger & T. Carver, Engels After Marx (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999).

[viii] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992). Jon Stewart, The Hegel Myths and Legends (Evanston, Il.: Northwestern University Press, 1996). Fukuyama ’s interpretation is influenced by the works of the philosopher Alexander Kojeve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (1969). Cf. also, Shadia Drury, Alexander Kojeve, The Roots of Postmodern Politics (New York: St. Martin’s, 1994). Cf. also After History? Francis Fukuyama and his Critics, Timothy Burns (ed), (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994). Cf. “The Tower of Babel Rebuilt”, Peter Fenves traces the Kantian origins of the ‘end of history’ idea and the reservations of Kant in his “An Old Question Asked Anew”. George Kelly, Idealism, Politics, and History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969). For a discussion of Kojeve on Kant and Hegel, cf. Patrick Riley, Kant’s Political Philosophy (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983), Bhikhu Parekh, Marx’s Theory of Ideology (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1982).

[ix] For all the efforts to debrief Hegel by the Left Hegelians, none can seem to match the acutely ‘demystified’ Schopenhauer. But Hegel, in ponderous magnificence, leaves a philosophic daguerrotype, ‘cliché’ with idealist flash, much better than Hollywood , of the surging moment of Napoleon riding through Jena . It is never noticed, that the ahistorical Schopenhauer has a potentially superior inverted philosophy of history hidden behind his rejection of progress and a science of history. Note quietly the hidden resemblance of ‘will’ and ‘geist’, then the many (inferior) involutionary triadisms of ‘will’, and their concocted divinities.

[x] Cf. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (New York: Oxford, 1966), Slavery and Human Progress (1984), David Brion Davis.





Last modified: 09/28/2010