Friday, August 26, 2011

History and How it Gets that Way, Part One

In what follows, I have woven together a number of posts from five years back, all reflecting upon the cosmological significance of History -- or the importance of what happened to what's gonna happen, what always happens, and what wants to happen in spite of ourselves. It ended up being pretty long, so I'll post it in two parts.

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


mushroom said...

I apologize for the OT, but this is just too slack-0-licious: Lack of free play among children is causing harm. Heck, it's causing harm among adults.

And I'm still trying to figure out if it is a good thing or bad that there is an American Journal of Play.

Now back to the important stuff.

julie said...

Mush, those links probably have more significance to the post than you realize. Which makes your comment sort of meta-fitting ;)

Re. age-mixed play, I should think it a vital part of understanding history, for if children are only ever with their age-related peers, how will they be able to relate to anyone with a different temporal perspective?

swiftone said...

Zap! Pow! Oooph... ok now catch your breath. Inhale, Exhale. Quite a post for this continuing hiatus. Bit of descent to go from Tomberg to the last quote by Dawson. But all I could see in Dawson was Nietzche writ large.

Every time I pass through Tomberg's reflections on history I'm as if impaled... and the picture of a fractal infinitely repeating and a cosmic narrative repeated in each individual, and era.... It's been too long since someone picked up the narrative of history in terms that imbue it with meaning. The horsemen of the apocalypse gallop on... in timelessness. And grace like an overflowing river rurns counter. Set your sails, chose your pole star. Or if you prefer, circle the drain.

mushroom said...

I think of Mordecai's words to Esther, "And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" It is only in the crisis point that we see these extraordinary people arise.

You only get one Moses, one Socrates, one Washington, one Lincoln, one Churchill.

One of my favorite examples is Patton who seemed to be a key that fit only one lock. He does his job and then is gone.

mushroom said...

Yes, Julie, that may be true. There are development limits on how much a young child can absorb, but the perspective would work both ways. The older child would be able to sort of re-inhabit earlier developmental stages and, as Bob points out here, better understand them.

John Lien said...

mushroom, Well, maybe THAT incarnation of Patton

Nice comment swiftone.

mushroom said...

I had that very scene in mind when I made the comment. Patton did express a belief in reincarnation. How much of that was a form of personal propaganda on his part and how much was genuine in terms of his actually believing he had been Hannibal or any other particular historical warrior is more difficult to determine.

I will quibble with author of the piece on one point. When Hannibal fought "in Spain", it could hardly have been called a Spanish-speaking country.

ted said...


Great blog today. And this looks like a great read by Bellah (soon to be published) that can compliment this look at history...

Religion in Human Evolution

ted said...

“I only ever cared about the man. I never gave a fig for the ideologies unless they were mad or evil. I never saw institutions as being worthy of their parts or policies as much other than excuses for not feeling. I believe that almost any political system operated with humanity can work. And the most benign of systems without humanity is vile. The trick I suppose is to find the system that gives the least leeway to the rose. The guarantee of our virtue is our compassion. And if you allow this institution or any other to steal your compassion away, wait and see what you become. The man is everything. And if you’re calling is anything, you will always prefer him to the collective, because the collective is humanity’s lowest. And the collective is most often spoken for by people who are nothing without it.”

-- from "The Secret Pilgrim" by John Le Carr

Cond0011 said...

"For the Jew, the Torah is the cosmic Center. For Dawson, it is the Incarnation that gives history its center ..."

Hmmm... the North Star. The point of Origin. (0,0,0). The center of the wheel.


Van Harvey said...

"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."

And selecting which notes of history to play, which chords will enable the music to ring true... and which accomplishes, and diminishes it to nothing more than muzak... that requires not only someone who can stand outside it, but who already has the theme in mind.

Not to conform the notes to the music, but who sees and hears it all at once as a whole, and so can transmit it, note by note, on the horizontal page, which can then be lifted into the full bodied music of the full theme.

Or... just dictate dots to produce muzak to dull the elevator ride:

"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"


Van Harvey said...

Love the Patton scene, but am glad Mushroom caught it too... 'spanish speaking lands'... lol.

John Lien said...

Yeah, that article was kind of lame-o. But, here is my irrefutable evidence supporting Patton's reincarnation.

1. It said so in the movie.
2. I heard Paul Harvey tell a story about it one day.
3. I found an article on the internet.

SippicanCottage said...

Hiya Bob.

HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

Of Roman history, great Niebuhr's shown
'Tis nine-tenths lying. Faith, I wish 'twere known,
Ere we accept great Niebuhr as a guide,
Wherein he blundered and how much he lied.
—Salder Bupp

(Ambrose Bierce)

Aloysius said...

Had someone been so astute, he would have said on viewing the crucifixion that today was BC but it just became AD.

julie said...

"Big Brother" no longer a euphemism?

John Lien said...

"Federal Family?" Ugh! if this doesn't stop we're going to all end up being in a "Federal Family way" whether we like it or not.

Gagdad Bob said...

I expect posting to resume on Thursday. I'll be there, anyway.

julie said...

Oh, good - now I don't have to make a pointed remark about there being a two-part post with only one part.

Whoops, made it anyway ;)

We'll be here.

William said...

Game over for the science deniers.

Allan Lichtman, the American University professor whose election formula has correctly called every president since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election says:

"Even if I am being conservative, I don’t see how Obama can lose" Speaking of his 13 key formula ... "They’ve never missed. They’ve been right seven elections in a row. A number that goes way beyond statistical significance in a record no other system even comes close to.”

sorry ... just thought you'd like to know.

julie said...

Oh, hai! That reminds me, someone has a date recommendation for you. I know! Could be a match made in, er... well, let's just say the bio-markers look highly fortuitous. Yeah, that's it. Science indicates you're perfect for each other, based on a proven metric of multiple points of ideological and intellectual compatibility.

As to whomever wins the next election, it will be what it will be. Should we truly be at the point where more folks prefer the path we're currently taking, well, it wouldn't be the first time in history. As the world-weary wiseman once said, there's nothing new under the sun.

William said...

Julie, maybe I should join you and Serr8d in the league of science denying creationists? Do you think America is better off being led by science denying theocrats?

Thanks, but I'm very happy with my girlfriend. She's educated, a lawyer, too smart to be a science denier.

julie said...

Gosh, I'm pretty sure the science-denying creationists wouldn't have me. Anyway, I'm generally leery of any organization that would have me for a member.

As to the science denying creationists, I'm pretty sure that if it's out there, it's probably faulty.

Van Harvey said...

Julie, perfect!

willian, if numerology should fail you, there's always astrology.

FWIW, knowledge of history and of my fellow citizens willingness to ignore facts and choose the easy path over the Right one, doesn't fill me confidence that we will succeed in turning the leftists out in the next election.

I'm not even confident that conservatives will stand up straight and make a good enough case to convince we the people to elect them.

On the other hand, I've never been foolish enough to think that an election can solve the problem. You can't shove stupidity out of people or fix it - it can only be eliminated through education.

And that's a longterm... and daunting battle.

But what else have I got to do with my time?

Oh... and there's this... you might enjoy this one about my favorite Supreme, Clarence
"...Toobin is less interested in exploring why liberal America has been so blind for so long to the force of Clarence Thomas’ intellect than in understanding just what Thomas has achieved in his lonely trek across the wastes of Mordor. And what he finds is that Thomas has been pioneering the techniques and the ideas that could not only lead to the court rejecting all or part of President Obama’s health legislation; the ideas and strategies Thomas has developed could conceivably topple the constitutionality of the post New Deal state.

John Lien said...

I'm with you Van (maybe?). Looking at demographic trends and an increasing dependency on the government over the last 70 years makes me pessimistic about the future, as in governmental collapse. I hope I'm wrong but I'm not planning on it.

John Lien said...

Well, I mean, I am planning on it. Collapse, DOOM, that kind of thing.

Gagdad Bob said...

Truism of the day:

"Progressives like to cloak their policy preferences in the mantle of science, but they do not in fact give a fig about science, which for them is only a vehicle to be ridden to the precise extent that it is convenient. This is why they will ask what makes Rick Perry qualified to disagree with the scientific establishment, but never ask the equally relevant question of what makes Jon Huntsman qualified to agree with it. So long as they are getting the policies they want, they don’t care. If you want to see how dedicated a progressive is to dispassionate science, spend two minutes talking about the heritability of intelligence. You’ll be up to your neck in witchcraft and superstition and evasion in no time at all. (If you want to test a progressive’s faith in rigorous scholarship more broadly, ask him about gains from trade and comparative advantage, realities that are as solid as anything social science has to offer.)" (Kevin Williamson).

julie said...


New books!

Which reminds me, have you ever read McLuhan?

Van Harvey said...

John said "increasing dependency on the government over the last 70 years makes me pessimistic about the future, as in governmental collapse. "

I wouldn't say I'm pessimistic... I am however, I think, realistic about the near future, which, true, isn't a very cheery forecast. But I'm not as gloomy about the long run though, simply because I don't think that error, lies and failure can triumph. To put it mildly, the views of proregressive leftists are flawed, they are nothing more than error, lies and failure, and that cannot succeed – they just can't.

The leftist looks at what happened with the USSR and thinks they just made some error, an error that they, in their wisdom, will somehow avoid. NO. Not the case at all. In fact the USSR would have crumbled to dust a few decades earlier if the West didn't make the error of supplying them with grain, goodwill and toleration. The USSR failed, as they will, because they are nothing but a collection of errors, lies and failures.

The only chance our proregressive leftists have of riding in the seat of power for long, is if someone agrees to prop them up. But, if they hadn't noticed, there's no other country out there who can be counted upon to prop us up, and certainly no one with any good will towards us even if they could, and as the American people see the failures fail... well... even in the gloomy times we live in, we DO still surround them, and the only thing Americans hate more than arrogant, whining failures, is being forced to live under and submit to them.

The proregressive left's end will be brought about by their success - what they don't realize is that the only success they enjoy rests upon the ignorant good will of those they are about to shove face first into the mud.

Enjoy it while you can willian.

John Lien said...

Van, well said! I agree in the long run we will transcend Leftism. I expect to be around about 35 more years. I think in that timeframe the US standard of living will deteriorate. Catastrophically? Eh, possibly. I'm no historian but I get the impression political systems can go down hard and fast. That said, I'm now convinced, from what I read here, that mankind is evolving into something better. The long term trend line is upward, we are just in for a bit of a dip.

Standard techno-fix disclamers apply. Meaning, discoveries of practically free energy or miracle nanotech whatnots throw the gloom prediction out the window for awhile.

julie said...

Heh - re. that Lichtman thing, Ace has a good take-down here. Since I didn't read W.'s link, I didn't realize how ridiculous the interpretation was.

As I said earlier, what will be, will be, but I seriously doubt this is going to be the cakewalk the leftists are congratulating themselves on already.

Van Harvey said...
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Van Harvey said...
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Van Harvey said...

Yeah, 're. that Lichtman thing', lefties like to talk about the differences between correlative and causative... but they don't seem to have a clue as to what they actually mean. More like they hunt for plausible pretexts to bolster the predictions they'd like to see come true.

As far as willian's faith in "13 key formula ... "They’ve never missed", Ptolemy's epicycles had a pretty good track record of being correct too... still didn't make us a geocentric universe though.

Maybe if willian tried for 26 points of compatibility... ?

(ARGH!!! Sentences! LOL)

William said...

Perry... heh ...

an apt representative of his party.

Gagdad Bob said...

"Those who lay claim to 'objectivity,' merely put one sentimentality in place of another.... True objectivity does not oppose cold to heat; it transcends both of these" (Schuon).