Jacques Maritain Center : Philosophy of History

Chapter 1


We must first consider the philosophy of history from the point of view of the theory of knowledge. For many years the very notion of the philosophy of history was held in bad repute, because of Hegel, who was its putative father. (Before Hegel, however, there was Vico; and before Vico, St. Augustine . . .) Hegel regarded himself as a kind of philosopher-God recreating not only human history but the whole universe. But as happens more often than not, error was the usher of truth in the human mind. Despite the errors of Hegel, and even, in a way, because of them -- because of the way in which he was led to emphasize too strongly the aspect he had discovered in things -- it is through Hegel that the philosophy of history was finally recognized as a philosophical discipline. And we are now called to a constructive task. The crucial problem to be tackled is: what can be a genuine philosophy of history?

Is any Philosophy of History possible?

1. We have a first great example of such a philosophy in St. Augustine's City of God. Here we are given an interpretation of human history in the perspective of Christianity -- an interpretation that opposed the oriental conceptions of the eternally recurrent phases of destruction and regeneration of the cosmos. Christianity has taught us that history has a direction, that it works in a determined direction. History is not an eternal return; it does not move in circles. Time is linear, not cyclical. This truth was a crucial acquisition for human thought.

St. Augustine's philosophy of history was a work of wisdom, both of theology and of philosophy, and more of theology. But in the mind of St. Augustine both wisdoms, the philosophical and the theological, worked together. And his City of God attempts to bring out the intelligible and, so to speak, trans-historical meaning of history, the intelligible meaning of the sequence or development of events in time. This is precisely the general object of the philosophy of history.

Yet we are immediately confronted with a preliminary objection: how can a philosophy of history be possible, since history is not a science? History deals only with the singular and the concrete, with the contingent,{1} whereas science deals with the universal and the necessary. History cannot afford us any explanation by universal raisons d'être. No doubt there are no "raw" facts; an historical fact presupposes and involves as many critical and discriminating judgments, and analytical recastings, as any other "fact" does; moreover, history does not look for an impossible "coincidence" with the past; it requires choice and sorting, it interprets the past and translates it into human language, it re-composes or re-constitutes sequences of events resulting from one another, and it cannot do so without the instrumentality of a great deal of abstraction. Yet history uses all this in order to link the singular with the singular; its object as such is individual or singular. The explanation given by an historian, as historian, is an explanation of the individual by the individual -- by individual circumstances, motivations, or events. The historical elucidation, being individual, participates in the potential infinity of matter; it is never finished; it never has (insofar as it is elucidation) the certainty of science. It never provides us with a raison d'être drawn from what things are in their very essence (even if it be known only through signs, as in the sciences of phenomena).

What can we answer? I would answer that the fact that history is not a science does not make a philosophy of history impossible, because it is enough for philosophy itself to be "scientific"{2} knowledge and a formal or systematized discipline of wisdom. And it is in no way necessary that the subject matter with which philosophy deals should be a subject matter previously known and worked out by some particular science. For instance, we have a philosophy of art, though art is not a science. The philosophy of art deals with the same subject matter as art, but it deals with it from the philosophical point of view and in a philosophical light. Therefore, we have a philosophy of art which is essentially distinct from art itself, and which provides us with philosophical knowledge about a matter which has not been previously scientifically elucidated. And I would make a similar observation if it were a question of the philosophy of nature. A philosophy of nature was possible before any developed scientific knowledge of nature, or when our scientific knowledge of nature was quite unsatisfactory. Thus it is that in the case of the philosophy of history we have a "scientific" object insofar as this object is the object of philosophy, but not insofar as the subject matter was previously scrutinized by some other scientific discipline.

I would say, therefore, that the philosophy of history has the same subject matter as history, which is not a science. And I might add, symmetrically, that the philosophy of nature has the same subject matter as physics and chemistry, which are sciences. But the philosophy of history has another object than history. It is concerned with an objective content -- in Scholastic terms, a formal object -- other than that of history and of the historical explanation; just as the philosophy of nature has a formal object other than that of physics and chemistry. In the case of the philosophy of nature, however, the formal object of physics and chemistry is scientific, and the formal object of the philosophy of nature is another intelligible and universal object, a more intelligible and a more universal object, in the sphere of the knowledge of nature. But in the case of the philosophy of history, the formal object of history is not scientific -- it is not universal, not necessary, not raised to the level of abstract intelligibility. And the formal object of the philosophy of history is the only abstract and universal object, disclosing intelligible "quiddities" or raisons d'être, i.e., the only "scientific" (or rather wisdom-fitting) object, in the sphere of historical knowledge.

What philosophy needs as a basis, I may add, is the certitude of the facts, the general facts, from which it starts. Philosophy works on factual material which has been established with certainty. Now scientific facts are not the only well-ascertained facts. I remember Pierre Duhem, the celebrated physicist and historian of the sciences, insisting many years ago that the data of the senses or of common sense are in general more certain (they are less precise, and therefore they are not useful for science itself) than scientific facts. Therefore the data of the senses or of the common knowledge of man, when philosophically criticized, may serve as matter for the philosopher of nature. And similarly the data of history -- I don't refer to the recitation of the details of singular events, which is but a presupposed background, but to certain significant general facts and factual relations -- may serve as matter for the philosopher of history, because history is capable of factual certitude.

2. At this point we meet a problem which is preliminary to any discussion of the philosophy of history, namely, the problem of historical knowledge itself. What is the value of historical knowledge? Are there such things as historical truth and historical certitude? Dilthey was very much concerned with such problems. More recently Raymond Mon tackled the matter in two challenging essays{3} published before the second world war; as did Marc Bloch in his highly regarded Apologie pour l'histoire.{4} Today, more than ever, scholars are busy with the critique of historical knowledge, especially in France -- I shall cite only Paul Ricoeur's and Henri Marrou's telling books.{5}

Henri Marrou is perfectly right in insisting that historical truth is utterly different from scientific truth, and does not have the same kind of objectivity. It is truth, or conformity with being, but the demonstration of which can never be finished (it involves an infinite); it has objectivity, but a peculiar sort of objectivity, in the attainment of which all of the thinking subject as an intellectual agent is engaged.

There is perhaps a little too much of Kantianism in Marrou's approach; but his thesis is, to my mind, fundamentally true. Since history is not concerned with abstract essences to be brought out from the singular, but with aspects of the singular itself to be picked up as particularly important, it is clear that the manner in which the historian directs his attention is a determinant factor in the process. And this direction of attention itself depends on the entire intellectual setting of the subject. So the entire intellectual disposition (I do not say, except in a most indirect and remote manner, the affective disposition, for the historian is not necessarily a poet, though perhaps the perfect historian would be a poet) -- the entire intellectual disposition of the subject (the historian) plays an indispensable part in the attainment of historical truth: a situation which is totally at variance with scientific objectivity, where all that pertains to the subjective dispositions of man, except as regards the virtue of science, disappears or should disappear. For the historian it is a prerequisite that he have a sound philosophy of man, an integrated culture, an accurate appreciation of the human being's various activities and their comparative importance, a correct scale of moral, political, religious, technical and artistic values. The value, I mean the truth, of the historical work will be in proportion to the human richness of the historian.{6}

Such a position implies no subjectivism. There is truth in history. And each one of the components of the historian's intellectual disposition has its own specific truth. But the truth of history is factual, not rational truth; it can therefore be substantiated only through signs -- after the fashion in which any individual and existential datum is to be checked; and though in many respects it can be known not only in a conjectural manner but with certainty,{7} it is neither knowable by way of demonstration properly speaking, nor communicable in a perfectly cogent manner, because, in the last analysis, the very truth of the historical work involves the whole truth which the historian as a man happens to possess; it presupposes true human wisdom in him; it is "a dependent variable of the truth of the philosophy which the historian has brought into play."{8} 3. Let us return now to the philosophy of history. Its objective content consists of universal objects of thought, which are either the typical features of a given historical age or some essential aspect of human history in general, and which are inductively{9} abstracted from historical data. It seems to me particularly important to stress the part played here by induction. A number of factual data are accumulated by history, and now from these data concerning a period of history or any other aspect of history some universal objects of thought are inductively abstracted by the philosopher. But in addition, these universal objects of thought must be philosophically verified, i.e., checked with some philosophical truths previously acquired. Then we see that they involve some intelligible necessity founded in the nature of things and providing us with a raison d'être. Induction and philosophical truths are and must be joined together in order to have the objective content of the philosophy of history.

I shall give but one example here. One of the axiomatic laws that I shall consider in Chapter II is the quite general and simple law according to which wheat and tares grow together in human history. It means that the advance of history is a double and antagonistic movement of ascent and descent. In other words, the advance of history is a two-fold simultaneous progress in good and evil. This is a law of basic importance, it seems to me, if we are trying to interpret human history. Now such a law is first an inductive law drawn from observation, from a certain number of factual data about human history. But induction alone is not enough to constitute the formal object of the philosophy of history. It must be stabilized, so to speak, by philosophical reflection founded in human nature. In the present case, it is possible for the philosopher, once induction has warned and stimulated him, once it has attracted his attention to this fact of the double antagonistic movement -- it is then possible for the philosopher to discover a root for this inductive fact in human nature. If we meditate on the simple notion of a rational animal, we find that progress toward good -- some kind of progress toward good -- is implied in the very concept of reason. Reason is by itself essentially progressive. Therefore, a being endowed with reason must necessarily, in some way or other, be progressive, not immutable, and progressive in the sense of progressing toward improvement, toward good. But, on the other hand, the notion of progress toward evil is implied in the essential weakness of a rational being which is an animal. If we think of this notion -- a rational being which is not a pure spirit, but which is an animal, a being immersed in sensibility and having perpetually to make use of the senses and of passions and instincts -- we see that such a being is necessarily weak in the very work and effort of reason. And this weakness will have more and more ways of manifesting itself as human possibilities increase. For all that, the law in question is not an a priori notion. My point is that neither induction alone nor philosophical deduction alone are sufficient. They must complement one another. I don't believe in a merely aprioristic philosophy of history, founded either on purely philosophical insights or on dialectical exigencies. But if we have these two lights together -- the inductive light of facts and the rational light of philosophical analysis -- both together fortify and strengthen one another. And both together constitute, in my opinion, the proper objective content of the philosophy of history, i.e., intelligible data and connections which have been drawn from facts by induction, but which are checked and verified by a rational analysis.

4. A further point has to do with the place of the philosophy of history in the whole realm of philosophy. Here I would like to recall a general principle in Thomist philosophy: it is in the singular, in the individual that science terminates. Not only does science begin with or start from the individual, but it terminates in the individual, completing therein the circle of its intelligible motion. This is why we have need of the senses, not only to draw from them our ideas of things, but also for the resolution of the judgment, which at least analogically must take place in the senses. As St. Thomas puts it, ". . . the judgment of the intellect is not dependent on the senses in such a way that it would be accomplished through a sense organ, but rather it is dependent on them as on a final terminus with reference to which the resolution of the judgment takes place."{10} And again he writes: ". . . the end in which the knowledge of nature is achieved is above all (cf. Aristotle, De Coelo, III, 7) that which is perceived by the senses. Just as the cutler seeks the knowledge of the knife only in view of the work he has to do, or in order to make this particular knife, so the wise man seeks to know the nature of the stone or of the horse only in order that he may possess the reasons of the things which the senses are aware of." Note well Thomas' insistence on this final return to the senses, this final application of the abstract knowledge, with all the universal truths it grasps in things, to the particular known by the senses -- this particular stone, this particular horse. "And as the judgment of the craftsman about the knife would be deficient if he did not know the work to be done, so the judgment of the wise man about the things of nature would be deficient if he did not know the objects of the senses,"{11} i.e., the singular attained by the senses.

Thus, we might say that some kind of return to the singular takes place at each degree of knowledge -- not always in the same way, of course, but analogically, according to the various levels of knowledge. And I would now suggest that a similar return to the singular must also take place with respect to philosophical knowledge as a whole. If this remark is true, we would have the philosophy of history as a kind of final application of philosophical knowledge to the singular, to that singular par excellence which is the course of human events and the development of history.

diagram number 1 (page 13)

Let us illustrate this point in a diagram. We start from the level of experience, i.e., the level of the singular. Now the human mind ascends above this level toward various degrees of knowledge and abstraction. We have first the sciences, which look for rational regularity in the very world of experience but are not yet philosophy. At a higher level we have the philosophy of nature. And at the supreme level of natural wisdom, of philosophical wisdom, we have metaphysics. But I would stress that the curve is not finished -- after ascending it descends, it has to come down. And here we have first moral philosophy, which depends on metaphysics but is much more concerned with the concrete and existential -- the existential conduct of man. Then, in brackets, we have history, facing the sciences.{12} And finally, I propose, we have the philosophy of history as the final application of philosophical knowledge to the singular development of human events.

In a sense, the philosophy of history, though it knows the singular through more abstract and more universal concepts than history does, descends more deeply into the singular than history itself. What I mean is that there are two different approaches to the singular. History approaches the singular at the level of fact and factual connections. It is a kind of direct intellectual approach to the singular, and for this very reason it grapples with the inexhaustible. The singular is being besieged, squeezed more and more closely, by the particular concepts of the historian. And it always escapes our grasp insofar as it is singular.

I would add, parenthetically, that in the field of history, and precisely because history is not a science, a particular knowledge through connaturality is required of the historian -- he must have some congeniality with the matter he is studying. For instance, he cannot really know military history if he has no experience of military things. Abstract knowledge is not enough{13} -- he must have a real human experience of military things if he is to be able to interpret what happened in some particular case.

And I would say, finally, as regards this approach of history to the singular, that in history the singular is more deeply apprehended in a factual way than in the philosophy of history.

But with the philosophy of history we have a very different approach to the singular. Here we are at the level of abstract intelligibility and intelligible structures, and we have an indirect intellectual approach to the singular -- to the singular, not in its singularity (that is why I call it indirect), but as a meeting point of general typical aspects which are to be found in a given individual, and which may help us to understand him. And by way of elucidating this remark, I would like to make a rapprochement between that discipline of wisdom which is the philosophy of history and such knowledge as the classification of various types in quite humble "sciences" like physiognomy and graphology. The physiognomist and the graphologist have to do with something individual -- the physiognomy or the handwriting of a person -- but this something individual is analysed by way of general concepts, each one typical. And if a good physiognomist or a good graphologist is able to interpret the character or the psychology of a given person, it is by having recourse, not only to a process of intuitive mimicry, but also to general intelligible notions which have their focus in the individual in question but do not disclose him as such. In an abstract knowledge like the philosophy of history, the singular as such continues more than ever to escape. But the singular is more deeply apprehended in a notional, properly intellectual and expressible way, by means of all the various typical, general aspects which can be grasped in it.

To conclude now my remarks on the place of the philosophy of history in the body of philosophical disciplines, I would emphasize the fact, suggested in my diagram, that the philosophy of history is in connection with, and even belongs to, moral philosophy. It presupposes metaphysics and the philosophy of nature, of course, as does moral philosophy. But, like moral philosophy, it belongs in itself to practical rather than to theoretical philosophy, and this because of its existential character. And it is precisely because it is existential and practical that it presupposes the whole of philosophy -- practice presupposes theory, practical truth presupposes theoretical truth. Therefore the philosophy of history is connected with the whole of philosophy. And yet it itself belongs to practical and moral philosophy.

Indeed, the problem which must be faced with regard to moral philosophy, namely, whether moral philosophy is a merely philosophical knowledge, or a knowledge that must take into account theological data -- this same problem (we will consider it later in this chapter) arises again, and in a much more pressing manner, with regard to the philosophy of history. To my mind, this is a sign that we have to do with the same type of discipline -- moral philosophy. The philosophy of history is the final application of philosophical truths, not to the conduct of the individual man, but to the entire movement of humanity. And therefore it is moral philosophy.

To clarify still further its practical character, I would suggest that it is practical in the added sense that a really good statesman or man of action, even in the religious field, should be equipped with some genuine philosophy of history. The philosophy of history has an impact on our action. In my opinion, many mistakes we are now making in social and political life proceed from the fact that, while we have (let us hope) many true principles, we do not always know how to apply them intelligently. Applying them intelligently depends to a great extent on a genuine philosophy of history. If we are lacking this, we run a great risk of applying good principles wrongly -- a misfortune, I would say, not only for us, but for our good principles as well. For instance, we run the risk of slavishly imitating the past, or of thinking, on the contrary, that everything in the past is finished and has to be done away with.


A final remark is that conjecture or hypothesis inevitably plays a great part in the philosophy of history. This knowledge is neither an absolute knowledge in the sense of Hegel nor a scientific knowledge in the sense of mathematics. But the fact that conjecture and hypothesis play a part in a discipline is not incompatible with the scientific character of this discipline. In biology or in psychology we have a considerable amount of conjecture, and nevertheless they are sciences. Why not in philosophy? Why could not philosophy have the privilege of conjecture and hypothesis? Why should it be condemned to deal only with absolute certainties? A discipline in which philosophical truths or certitudes are injected, so to speak, into induction, and fortify and strengthen induction, is all the more conjectural as the part of mere induction is greater in it. But it is not merely conjectural because, I repeat, it is never mere induction -- there is always some rational necessity involved.

We cannot think of the philosophy of history as separated from philosophy in general. It deals with exemplifications of general truths established by philosophy, which it sees embodied in a most singular and contingent manner. How could the certitudes of philosophy be manifested by historical reality if not in a more or less conjectural manner? It is because the philosophy of history is the final return of philosophical knowledge to the individual and the contingent that it is absolutely impossible for it to have (as Hegel foolishly believed) the same degree of certitude as metaphysics. But nevertheless, by reason of its very continuity with the whole body of philosophical knowledge, it is philosophy. It is philosophy brought back to the most individual reality -- the movement, the very motion, of human history in time.

The Hegelian Delusion

5.1 would now like to make a few remarks about what I would call the Hegelian mirage or delusion. As I observed at the beginning of this chapter, Hegel made the place and importance of the philosophy of history definitely recognized.{14} But, at the same time, he warped and spoiled the philosophy of history in a pernicious way, because of his effort to re-create history -- as well as the whole cosmos -- as the self-movement through which eternal Reason, that is to say God, actualizes Himself in time (and finally reveals Himself in Hegelian wisdom). Everything had to be deduced from the various oppositions and conflicts of dialectics.

Nevertheless, the philosophy of history is, it seems to me, the locus naturalis -- the natural place -- of Hegel's central intuition, despite his insistence on logic. There was in Hegel, as in every great philosopher, a basic intuition which dealt with experience, with reality, and not simply with the entia rationis or reason-made entities of his dialectics. And this basic intuition has been described as the intuition of the mobility and disquiet which are essential to life, and especially to the being of man, who is never what he is and is always what he is not.{15} In other words, we might say that it is the intuition of reality as history, that is, as mobility, as motion, as change, perpetual change.

What caused Hegel to conceptualize this intuition in an erroneous system which is but grand sophistry was not only his idealism, but, above all, the way in which he decided to carry rationalism to the absolute, and make human reason equal to divine reason, by transforming dialectics into "absolute knowledge" and absorbing the irrational in reason, -- hence the dialectical self-motion, which is both the very life and the revelation of reality. The fact remains, nevertheless, that in the very world of extra-notional being, history as such, which like time completes its being only by memory and the mind, offers for our consideration the development of dynamic ideas or intentional charges which are at work in collective consciousness and are embodied in time. These historical ideas -- forms immanent in time, so to speak -- presuppose nature, the being of things and the being of man, and they have nothing to do with the Hegelian Idea and the self-engendering processes of Hegel's onto-logic. In addition, these historical ideas are very far from constituting the whole of history. Admittedly, if we consider the manner in which these historical ideas are at play in history, it can be said that each one of them, each one of these forms immanent in time, can reach its final accomplishment in time only by provoking its opposite, and denying itself. But why is this so? It is because its very triumph exhausts the potentialities which summoned it, and at the same stroke unmasks and provokes in the abyss of the real the opposite potentialities. Here is an interpretation which has nothing to do with the dialectical alienation and reintegration, but which shows, it seems to me, that history offered Hegel a kind of material which was akin to his general philosophy.

But this particular play of ideas in history is only one of the aspects of history. History discloses to us its intelligible meaning through many other aspects and many other laws that are more important still and closer to reality. As I mentioned above, Hegel refused to see that the philosophy of history is an inductive discipline, in which the analysis of the empirical concrete and philosophical knowledge enlighten one another. In reality, he was himself guided by experience and he used induction.{16} It could not have been otherwise. But he did not confess the importance of the role played in his own thought by experience and induction. He tried to mask all this, to have it appear as a mere illustration of a logical a priori necessity which he had discovered by merely logical means. And he did this because he was busy re-engendering the whole of reality, and explaining history as the necessary development of Reason itself, and the "true theodicy."

Great irrationalist though he may have been, Hegel, as we previously observed, carried modern rationalism to its peak. He made philosophy into the absolutely supreme wisdom. And yet Hegelian philosophy was not merely philosophical. Hegel's philosophy tried to swallow up all the theological heritage of mankind by recasting it in merely rational terms. His was an effort to digest and assimilate in philosophy all the religious and theological, indeed all the spiritual problems of humanity. In the last analysis, the Hegelian metaphysics and the Hegelian philosophy of history are modern gnosticism -- they are pure gnosticism. Trying to re-engender the whole of reality by means of dialectics, he engulfed the world of experience in logical entities -- entia rationis -- in mutual conflict, which composed for him an immense polymorphous and moving idol, as vast as the world, whose name was first Nature, and then History, when man emerges from nature, and when the anthropo-theistic process of self-realization is thus revealed.

6. It may be added that the Marxist notion of history derived directly from Hegel, with a transformation from idealism to materialism. With both Hegel and Marx it was substantially the same notion, the same idol: because, in the last analysis, Marxist dialectics is Hegelian dialectics, shifted from the world of the Idea to the world of matter. This Hegelian derivation is the only explanation of the very expression "dialectical materialism." Mater itself, for Marxism, is inhabited and moved by logical movement, by dialectical movement. In other words, in Hegelian idealism we have entia rationis -- those of the logician or dialectician -- haunted by reality, by experiential knowledge forcefully introduced into them; whereas in Marxism we have reality or matter{17} haunted by entia rationis.

Marx's and Engels' matter in self-motion, and their historical materialism, are only by-products of Hegelian dialectics put (as Engels said) on its feet instead of on its head. It is exactly the same dialectics, but with its feet now, thanks to Marx, on the ground instead of in the air. And the Marxist philosophy of history is but Hegel's very philosophy of history which has grown atheistic (instead of pantheistic and anthropo-theistic) and which makes history advance toward the divinization of man thanks to the dialectical movement of matter.

7. I would like to conclude these observations on Hegel with a few words about human freedom in history. With respect to the supra-individual entities engendered by the movement of the Idea, Hegel entirely relativized the individual person. The human person is for him but a wave which passes on the ocean of history, and which fancies that it pushes the flood while it is carried on by it. And all the greatness of the great figures of history is to have entered the exigencies of time, to have perceived what time had made ripe for development. In King Lear Edgar says: "ripeness is all." It is so for Hegel -- ripeness is all. The great man in human history only grasps or understands more or less obscurely what is ripe for development, and then works to carry into existence this fruit already prepared by history. Thus, Hegel explains, and quite intelligently, how the genius of history -- the cunning of Reason -- uses the interests and passions, even the most egoistic passions, of great men of history: they are in reality the puppets of the Weltgeist, of the spirit of the world. And never does Hegel speak of their conscience, of the part played by their reason, by their freedom, by what is most genuinely human and rational in them.

To put things in a more general light, let us say that Hegel disregards human freedom to the very extent to which he does not see that the mode in which an historical change necessary in itself is brought about depends on this freedom. Given a certain period or age in human history, there are certain changes which are necessary in themselves, or with respect to the cumulative needs they answer. But this is not because of a kind of divine dialectics, the dialectics of Hegel. Rather, it is because, given the structure and circumstances of human history, certain things become impossible -- the human being can no longer live in such or such conditions; some change must occur in a given direction. There are some changes in human history which are necessary. But to say this is not enough, because the manner or mode in which these changes occur is not necessary: it depends on human will and human freedom. In other words, the necessary change in question can be brought about in one way or in another -- ways quite different as to their spiritual or rational meaning. Take, for instance, the implications of scientific, industrial and technological progress. It is obvious that the passing of humanity under a technological regime is something necessary; it cannot be avoided. But in what spirit, in what manner? In such a way that man is made subservient to the machine and to technique, or in such a way that technique and technology are made instruments of human freedom? The same change can come about in an enslaving and degrading manner, or in a genuinely rational and liberating manner. And that does not depend on any necessity in history, but on the way in which man intervenes, especially great men, great figures in history.{18}

Hegel disregarded the reality of this impact of human free initiative on human history. The same can be said of Marx, though he made greater than Hegel did the role of the will and energies, especially the collective will and energies, of man. Marx insists that men make their own history, but they do not make it freely, under conditions of their own choice; they make it under conditions directly bequeathed by the past. Well, such a formula can have two interpretations -- either the Marxist interpretation or the Christian interpretation.

For Marx it meant that the freedom of man is but the spontaneity of a vital energy which, by becoming conscious of the movement of history, is made into a most efficacious force in history. The revolutionary thinker is like a prophet and titan of history, insofar as he reveals history to itself, discovers the pre-ordained direction of its movement (what was ripe for development), and guides in this pre-ordained direction the effort of human wills. But there is no exercise of human free choice, and no capacity in man for modifying and orienting the movement of history in a measure which may appear quite restricted in comparison with the whole of history, but which is crucial in relation to the fate of the human persons themselves and of generations to come.

For a Thomist, on the contrary, this same formula -- man makes history and history makes man -- would mean that history has a direction, determined with regard to certain fundamental characteristics by the immense dynamic mass of the past pushing it forward, but undetermined with regard to specific orientations and with regard to the spirit or the manner in which a change, necessary in other respects, will be carried into existence. Man is endowed with a freedom by means of which, as a person, he can, with more or less difficulty, but really, triumph over the necessity in his heart. Without, for all that, being able to bend history arbitrarily according to his desire or fancy, man can cause new currents to surge up in history, currents which will struggle and compound with pre-existent currents, forces and conditions so as to bring to final determination the specific orientation, which is not fixed in advance by evolution, of a given period of history. If, in fact, human freedom plays in the history of the world a part which seems all the greater as the level of activity considered is more spiritual, and all the smaller as the level of activity considered is more temporal, this is because man, collectively taken, lives little of the properly human life of reason and freedom. It is not surprising, in view of this fact, that he should be "in submission to the stars" in a very large measure. He can, nevertheless, escape from them, even in his collective temporal life. And if we consider things from a sufficiently long perspective of centuries, it seems that one of the deepest trends of human history is precisely to escape more and more from fate. But here again we meet with the law of the double and antagonistic motion of ascent and descent together. Thus, the development of our material techniques seems, on the one hand, to make historical fate weigh more heavily on man; and, on the other hand, this same development offers man unexpected means of freedom and emancipation. In the end, which of these two aspects will be predominant depends on the free will and the free choice of man.

Spurious and genuine Philosophy of History

8. The Hegelian system is the most brilliant, telling, and powerful form, but it is far from being the only form of spurious philosophy of history.

Good historians -- because they have personal experience of the contingencies, complexities, and uncertainties of historical work, nay more, of the element of relative non-intelligibility that is involved in history -- have a natural distrust for the philosophy of history. This natural distrust becomes an all-too-justified loathing when they are confronted with the spurious philosophy of history which is, as a rule, to be found on the market.

What is it that makes them angry and unhappy when they concern themselves with the notion of a philosophy of history? They are incensed by the intolerable dogmatism of philosophies which pretend to be rational disciplines and which (whether they claim, with Hegel, to save religion by making it a mythical chrysalis of their own "absolute knowledge" or, with Marx, to sweep away religion in the name of the good tidings of atheism or, with Auguste Comte, to build up a new and definitive religion, the religion of Humanity) offer themselves to mankind as the messengers of some messianic revelation, and use history as an instrument to validate their empty claims.

Furthermore, the historians (for instance, Henri Marron in his book mentioned above) reproach the philosophy of history with four capital sins: first, its almost inevitably oversimplified, arbitrary and wanton approach in regard to the choice of materials, the historical value of which is assumed for the sake of the cause; secondly, its self-deceptive ambition to get at an a priori explanation of the course of human history; thirdly, its selfdeceptive ambition to get at an all-inclusive explanation of the meaning of human history; and fourthly, its self-deceptive ambition to get at a so-called scientific explanation of history, the word "scientific" being used here in this quite peculiar sense, which can be traced back to the sciences of nature, that with such an explanation our thought enjoys a kind of intellectual mastery over the subject-matter.

And yet, the historians of whom I am speaking cannot help recognizing that, once the problem "does the pilgrimage of mankind, triumphant and heart-rending by turns, through the duration of its history, have a value, a fecundity, a meaning?" has been posed, it cannot be eluded.{19}

What do all the previous observations point to? They tell us that the historian cannot help feeling the appeal of the philosophy of history, and that at the same time he thinks he must resist this appeal, given the spurious forms in which, as a rule, the philosophy of history greets his eyes. What he is loathing in reality is not genuine philosophy of history, but the gnosticism of history -- that gnosticism of history which was carried by Hegel to supreme metaphysical heights, but which is to be found also, at quite another level, in a system as completely fascinated by positive sciences and as decidedly anti-metaphysical as Comte's system is.

9. Spurious philosophy of history, thus, is gnosticism of history in the most general sense of this expression, and insofar as it is characterized by the four "capital sins" that have just been mentioned.

Contrariwise, a genuine philosophy of history, to which we pointed in the first section of this chapter, does not claim to dismantle the cogs and gear-wheels of human history so as to see how it works and master it intellectually. History, for it, is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be looked at: a mystery which is in some way supra-intelligible (insofar as it depends on the purposes of God) and in some way infra-intelligible (insofar as it involves matter and contingency, and depends on the nothingness injected into it by man when he does evil). The question, therefore, is only to perceive in such inexhaustible subject-matter certain intelligible aspects, which will always remain partial and somehow disconnected. Theology does not explain the divine Trinity. Analogically, the philosophy of history does not explain history. And so, any temptation to the first afore-mentioned "capital sin" is reduced for it to a minimum, and it is immune to the three others, for the simple reason that a genuine philosophy of history does not dream of being an explanation of history. And where there is no explanation, there can be neither a priori explanation, nor all-inclusive explanation, nor master explanation.

Let us, then, state as our first principle: history can be neither rationally explained{20} nor reconstructed according to necessitating laws.{21}

But history can be characterized, interpreted or deciphered in a certain measure and as to certain general aspects -- to the extent to which we succeed in disclosing in it meanings or intelligible directions, and laws which enlighten events, without necessitating them.

10. I have emphasized in another book{22} this basic truth that the laws of nature are necessary but that the course of events in nature is contingent. The necessity proper to laws does not make the events necessary, because the laws refer, in one way or another, to universal essences brought out from things by abstraction, while the events take place in existential, concrete, individual reality, which lies open to the mutual interference of independent lines of causation, and which is made of nature and adventure.

If this is true in the realm of nature, it is still more true in the realm of history, because in the course of the events of nature we have to do only with contingency, whereas in the course of the events of history we have to do also with the free will of man. The observations I have submitted above on human freedom and history presupposed a certain metaphysics, which sees the problem of free will as a central problem to be thoroughly sifted, and which considers the existence of free will an essential characteristic of man. But the philosophy of history of Hegel, of Marx, or of Comte (not to speak of their persistence in confusing "necessary laws" with "necessitating laws") presupposes either a certain metaphysics or a certain anti-metaphysics which dreams of going beyond the alternative: freedom or determinism, and, as a result, disregards or ignores in practice the reality of free will in man. Hence, the awkward and silly way in which, while they depict -- explain or reconstruct -- human history as a self-development resulting, in each of its phases, from the inflexible requirements of necessitating laws, either dialectical or phenomenal, they try at the same time to make room for "human freedom" (in a most equivocal sense), human initiative and human energies in the shaping of events. Auguste Comte had at least the merit of frankly exposing such a self-contradictory position, when he prided himself on his bastard concept of fatalité modifiable, "modifiable inevitability."

At this point we have to make clear that no philosophy of history can be genuine if the general philosophy it presupposes, and of which it is a part, does not recognize the existence of human free will (together with the other properties of the human person) and the existence of God: the consequence of these two truths being that human history implies a double kind of contingency, on the one hand with respect to the transcendent freedom of God, and on the other hand with respect to human free will as well as to natural accidents and vicissitudes. If we do not believe in the existence of human free will, we cannot understand how man can exert, as I mentioned above, a decisive influence on the mode or specific orientation of an historical change which is necessary in itself, or with regard to the accumulated needs it answers; and we cannot realize, either, that the historical necessity in question refers to a kind of general pattern which is, as a rule, undetermined and, so to speak, neutral with respect to what matters most to the hearts of men: whereas the mode, specific orientation or specific inspiration which depends on human freedom has to do with what has, for good or ill, the most direct impact on human persons and human societies.

And if we do not believe in the existence of God, we shall not, of course, see history as governed by Him from above, and as continually modeled and remodeled by His eternal purposes, making up for the evil through which human free will spoils human history, and turning losses into greater gains. But then, if we do not look at history as at a tale told by an idiot, and if we try to work out a philosophy of history, we shall, in our effort to make history rational, transfer to it the very rationality which no longer belongs to transcendent divine purposes; in other words, we shall transform these formerly divine purposes either into history's own inner purposes and dialectical requirements, or into "scientific" laws which shape its development with sheer necessity. It was the misfortune of the philosophy of history to have been advertised in the modern world by philosophers who were either the greatest falsifier in divinity, or utter atheists. Only a spurious philosophy of history could be elicited by them.

11. Let us conclude this section with a few words about the structure of time.

The subject-matter of the philosophy of history is the unrolling of time, the very succession of time. Here we are confronted not only with the singularity of particular events, but with the singularity of the entire course of events. It is a story which is never repeated; it is unique. And the formal object of the philosophy of history is the intelligible meaning, as far as it can be perceived, of the unrolling, of the evolution in question.

Now I would merely observe that time, the time of human history, has an inner structure. Time is not simply a garbage can in which practical men would have to pick up more or less profitable opportunities. Time has a meaning and a direction. Human history is made up of periods each of which is possessed of a particular intelligible structure, and therefore of basic particular requirements. These periods are what I have proposed calling the various historical climates or historical constellations in human history. They express given intelligible structures, both as concerns, the social, political and juridical dominant characteristics, and as concerns the moral and ideological dominant characteristics, in the temporal life of the human community. The typological laws in the philosophy of history, which I mentioned in my Preliminary Note, have to do with these various historical climates. I shall consider them in Chapter III.

With the question of the structure of time, which I just touched upon, the question of its irreversibility (or of its not cyclical, but "linear" or "vectorial" character) is closely connected. In this regard, I would like to bring to our attention some significant observations made by Mircea Eliade. In his book, Le mythe de l'éternel retour,{23} he stresses the fact that the acceptance of time -- and of history -- far from being matter-of-course for man, is for him a difficult and dearly paid achievement. Man is naturally frightened by the irreversibility of his own duration and the very newness of unpredictable events. He refuses to face them. Hence the negation of time by archaic civilizations. They defended themselves against the dire reality of history either by constructing mythical archetypes, or by assuming a periodic abolishment and regeneration of time, and a periodic recurrence of the same historical cycles. As I pointed out at the beginning of this chapter, acceptance of time and of history was a conquest of Christianity and modern times. But this very acceptance would be of a nature to drive man to despair if he could not decipher some trans-historical meaning in the awful advance of time into the night of the unknown, thronged with perpetually new perils.

Philosophy of History and Moral Philosophy adequately taken

12. Once more, the philosophy of history is no part of metaphysics, as Hegel believed. It pertains to moral philosophy, for it has to do with human actions considered in the evolution of mankind. And here we have either to accept or to reject the data of Judeo-Christian revelation. If we accept them, we shall have to distinguish between two orders -- the order of nature and the order of grace; and between two existential realms, distinct not separate -- the world, on the one hand, and the Kingdom of God, the Church, on the other. Hence, we shall have to distinguish between a theology of history and a philosophy of history. There is a theology of history, which is centered on the Kingdom of God and the history of salvation -- a theology of the history of salvation{24} -- and which considers both the development of the world and the development of the Church, but from the point of view of the development of the Church. And there is a philosophy of history, which is centered on the world and the history of civilizations, and which considers both the development of the Church and the development of the world, but from the point of view of the development of the world. In other words, the theology of history is centered on the mystery of the Church, while considering its relation to the world; whereas the philosophy of history is centered on the mystery of the world, while considering its relation to the Church, to the Kingdom of God in a state of pilgrimage.

If this is true, it means that the philosophy of history pertains to moral philosophy adequately taken, that is to say to moral philosophy complemented by data which the philosopher borrows from theology, and which deal with the existential condition of that very human being whose actions and conduct are the object of moral philosophy. The moral philosopher must take into account all data (even if they depend on some kind of supra-rational knowledge) which contribute to make the real man, the existential condition of man, genuinely known to us.{25} A moral philosophy and a philosophy of history conceived in the perspective of Judaism, or Moslemism, or Hinduism will not be faultless -- they are, however, sure to be less basically deficient than any moral philosophy or philosophy of history which is supposedly merely rational and philosophical. The integrity of the concrete perspective in which such disciplines perceive human things depends on the truth-value of the religious tradition with which they are connected. As a result, believing, as we do, that the Christian perspective is the completely true one, we may say that the wisdom of history -- what Berdyaev called "historiosophy" -- is the business of Christian theology, but it is also the business of Christian moral philosophy.

And I would suggest that Christian moral philosophy is more disposed than theology to feel the proper importance of time and the temporal order. It is more disposed to see that they have their own finalities and their own created values, even though they are means in relation to eternity. Christian philosophy is concerned with the direction of human history, not only in relation to the work of eternal salvation, on which history has an impact, but also and primarily in relation to that very work accomplished in human history which is in itself terrestrial and immanent in time.

But what about the pure philosopher -- the philosopher who recognizes only the light of natural reason, who refuses any data deriving from theology concerning the existential condition of man? In his hands the philosophy of history is bound either to fail in its own expectations, or to risk mystification, for in order to get at some level of real depth and significance it inevitably requires prophetic data. And where would the pure philosopher find authentic prophetic data? It seems to me that the philosophy of history is an outstanding example of the necessity for a true philosophy of man, an integrally valid moral philosophy, to have the philosopher illumine the knowledge of the natural order with the light of a more elevated knowledge received from theology, while he uses the method proper to philosophy and advances with steps, so to speak, of philosophy, not of theology.

As a confirmation of these views, let me refer to two books written by distinguished scholars whose perspectives are more or less different from mine (very different in the second case), and whose convergence with my own conclusions is all the more interesting to me.

I am thinking, in the first instance, of Josef Pieper's book: Über das Ende der Zeit, eine geschichtsphilosophische Meditation.{20} Pieper, to my mind, makes the whole opus philosophicum too dependent on theology. But, and this is what matters most for me, he insists that no philosophy of history is possible without the illumination of theology, for, as he puts it, the essential question for the philosopher who contemplates history is: what is the end of history? "A question which deals with the salvation and doom of man. . . ."

In the second instance, I am thinking of Mircea Eliade's afore-mentioned book, especially its chapter "La terreur de l'histoire." It is Eliade's contention that "the horizon of archetypes and repetition cannot be transcended with impunity unless we accept a philosophy of freedom that does not exclude God. And indeed this proved to be true when the horizon of archetypes and repetition was transcended, for the first time, by Judaeo-Christianism, which introduced a new category into religious experience: the category of faith."{27} And he goes on to say that faith, in the sense in which he uses this word -- the faith which moves mountains -- implying for man the highest conceivable freedom, the freedom to step into the very fabric of the universe, means "a new formula for man's collaboration with the creation," the only one which "(aside from its soteriological, hence, in the strict sense, its religious value) is able to defend modern man from the terror of history -- a freedom, that is, which has its source and finds its guarantee and support in God." In other words, Christianity is the vital perspective proper to "the modern man" and to "the historical man," that man "who simultaneously discovered personal freedom and continuous time (in place of cyclical time). . . ." And it alone can give us "the certainty that historical tragedies have a transhistorical meaning, even if that meaning is not always visible for humanity in its present condition."{28}

Clearly, the consequence of such considerations is that the proper climate for the development of a genuine philosophy of history is the intellectual climate of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

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