History and How it Gets that Way, Part One
The historian of the future... will not compose a history of civilization -- that is, the story of technological progress and sociopolitical struggles -- but will trace the path of mankind through the stages of purification and illumination to its ultimate attainment of perfection. His narrative will detail mankind's temptations and their vanquishment, the standards set by particular individuals and groups, and the progressive lighting-up of new insights and the awakening of spiritual faculties among human beings. --Valentin Tomberg
One of the main things that divides left and right is our very different conceptions of history -- not just this or that fact or interpretation, but rather, the very meaning of History as such.
In my formulation -- borrowed from Valentin Tomberg -- I find it useful to consider history as having a “day” aspect and a “night” aspect.
For example, that ABC movie of several years back, The Path to 9/11, offered us a retrospective glimpse into the night time of history between the two Twin Tower attacks of 1993 and 2001. Although few people noticed at the time, it was during the sleepy Clinton administration that sinister events were incubating in the night time womb of history.
History, according to Tomberg, “is not to be understood as something which plays itself out on one level, but must be comprehended also in its dimension of height and depth.” Furthermore, “the key concepts for understanding the night aspect of history are ‘degeneration’ and ‘regeneration.’”
Degeneration involves a gradual, step-by-step descent from a higher level, while regeneration is the opposite: re-ascent to a higher level.
This is why, both personally and collectively, in the absence of periodic “booster shots” from above (↓), things will simply degenerate below. Our much-rumored fall didn't just happen once upon a timeless, but is repeated by each generation, and even on a moment-by-moment basis. There is no reason to place one's faith in spiritually amputated man, to put it mildly.
These periodic booster shots often enter history like depth charges from above. History records the existence of celestial emissaries charged with a divine mission to regenerate a spiritually exhausted mankind. Subtract these relatively few luminaries from history, and it becomes a dark place indeed. You only get one Moses, one Socrates, one Washington, one Lincoln, one Churchill.
As Tomberg puts it, “All movements of a social, political, artistic, intellectual, and religious kind may indeed have different speeds of devolution, but one thing they have in common: if no reinforcing impulse is given after a certain time, they will inevitably exhaust themselves. A thing of motion or or of life becomes a corpse unless 'reawakening impulses' intervene.” This is why most cults end with the death of their founder. Malevolent cults that survive are kept alive via the constant ingression of a demonic (↑) from below (i.e., the lower vertical).
Now the reactionary, illiberal left has repackaged itself as “progressive,” when the very nature of leftist assumptions prevents genuine integral progress (soul-body-spirit). Because they are bound to the horizontal and “live by day,” the best they can hope to do is to regenerate themselves via their own products. Horizontality feeds upon horizontality, leading to a state of severe spiritual malnourishment, a kind of ontologically "weightless monkey" who subsists on his own excrement (once he attains tenure or is admitted to the MSM).
Conversely, the conservative liberal movement is clearly oriented to the “above,” always mindful of looking for regeneration and redemption outside the things of this world. The inspiration of the American founders did not come from the visible world. Indeed, this was their very first announcement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men...”
History is a circle, but it is an open circle, or spiral. However, it can only maintain the upward spiral -- i.e., Progress -- if it is specifically oriented to the finality of spiritual ideals that are not located in the field of time. These revivifying impulses from above eventually exhaust themselves unless human beings keep them alive and embody their cosmic role of co-Creator, or bridge between Heaven and Earth.
This is indeed the esoteric meaning of American classical liberalism. In its absence -- in the absence of a conscious conservation of spiritual energy -- entropy and gravity take over, and human nature takes care of the rest. To assimilate grace is to hitch a ride on one of the ubiquitous spiritual streams that course through the arteries of the cosmos, luring us toward our nonlocal ground and destiny.
All our destinies are interwoven; and until the last of us has lived, the significance of the first cannot finally be clear. --Hans Urs von Balthasar
The great historian Christopher Dawson made the provocative and yet axiomatic assertion that being an eye witness to history is of no consequence whatsoever to historical insight. Rather, it is possible -- even likely -- to live through "history" without actually seeing it at all. For one thing, time needs to play out in order to see what it entails. But also, in an important sense, to be inside time is to be outside history, and vice versa.
Dawson uses the example of the Battle of Hastings, which every British schoolchild once knew: “A visitor from another planet who witnessed the Battle of Hastings would possess far greater knowledge of the facts than any modern historian, yet this knowledge would not be historical knowledge for lack of any tradition to which it could be related; whereas the child who says ‘William the Conqueror 1066’ has already made his atom of knowledge a historical fact by relating it to a national tradition and placing it in the time-series of Christian culture.”
Similarly, an eye witness to the Crucifixion might have taken as much notice of the two criminals beside Jesus. Only in hindsight was the centrality of Jesus’ death recognized, even by his closest disciples. It is fair to say that no one who witnessed it thought to themselves, "I cannot believe I am here to witness this. This is the center and still point of cosmic history. Yesterday was BC. Tomorrow will be AD.”
Dawson is in accord with Tomberg, writing that “Behind the rational sequence of political and economic cause and effect, hidden spiritual forces are at work which confer on events a wholly new significance. The real meaning of history is something entirely different from that which the human actors in the historical drama themselves intend or believe.” A contemporary observer cannot have imagined that “the execution of an obscure Jewish religious leader in the first century of the Roman Empire would affect the lives and thoughts of millions who never heard the names of the great statesmen and generals of the age.”
Thus, there is an unavoidably eschatological aspect of history. Events cannot be fully understood without reference to their finality, that is, what they point toward and reveal only in the fullness of time. As Dawson says, “The pure fact is not as such historical. It only becomes historical when it can be brought in relation with a tradition so that it can be part of an organic whole.”
Another historian, Dermot Quinn, writes that “The fact does not tell the story; the story, as it were, tells the fact. It is the latter that gives pattern and meaning; it is the former that lacks a meaning of its own.”
Therefore, in order to be a proper historian, one had better get one's story right. And what is the story? Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it?
For as alluded to above, left and right are operating under -- and within -- vastly different narratives -- historically, politically, culturally, economically, psychologically, theologically, and even cosmically. Our disagreement over American exceptionalism is just a symbol -- albeit a useful one -- of this divide.
If history were nothing more than the recording and accumulation of facts, it would be of no use to us. Detail alone does not constitute history, any more than randomly played notes constitute harmony and melody. Only by knowing what history is for can we know what is of importance in history. Since history as it happens consists of unique and unrepeatable events, it is unintelligible unless bound into a larger scheme of order.
As Quinn puts it, “Randomness has no meaning. Yet to give meaning to events in time is to remove them from time itself, to deny them the singularity that makes them historical.”
Likewise, as the philosopher Michael Polanyi argued, to see meaning beyond the local is to see it in the local. A fact does not and cannot speak for itself. Depending upon your nonlocal understanding of history, you will see completely different facts and regard them very differently.
For the Jew, the Torah is the cosmic Center. For Dawson, it is the Incarnation that gives history its center and therefore significance:
“Viewed from this center the history of humanity became an organic unity. Eternity had entered into time and henceforward the singular and temporal had acquired an eternal significance. The closed circle of time had been broken and a ladder had been let down from heaven to earth by which mankind could escape from the ‘sorrowful wheel’ which had cast its shadow over Greek and Indian thought, and go forward in newness of life to a new world.” On the other hand, people outside the Judeo-Christian tradition tended “to solve the problem of history by a radical denial of its significance."
Thus, Dawson admits his metahistorical prejudice at the outset. And whether they admit it or not, all historians operate under their own implicit or explicit metahistory. Without one, they could not “see” or imagine history at all.
In my case, I attempt to take into consideration all of the facts of existence - -scientific, biological, psychological, anthropological, historical, and theological -- and weave them into a tapestry of 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution. Based upon this model, I know what is of historical significance to me. It is those things that either facilitate or impede the cosmic evolution of which human consciousness is the leading edge.
In other words, I like to place history in its ultimate context, for in the absence of an ultimate context, merely secular history really is a dark prison from which there is no hope of escape:
“It is a prison in which the human spirit confines itself when it is shut out of the wider world of reality. But as soon as the light comes, all the elaborate mechanisms that have been constructed for living in the dark become useless. The recovery of spiritual vision gives man back his spiritual freedom” (Dawson). Conversely, the absence of this vision gives rise to fantasied utopias that are always being forced upon us by intoxicated adultolescents.
The radically secular culture of the left can only exist by keeping man in the dark. So don’t ever be surprised when they attack the Light. For,
When the prophets are silent and society no longer possesses any channel of communication with the divine world, the way to the lower depths is still open and man's frustrated spiritual powers will find their outlet in the unlimited will to power and destruction. --Christopher Dawson