V. Traditional Views of History

I would like now to present an overview of the representative traditional views of history in order to compare them with the Unification view of history.

Cyclical View of History (Fatalist View of History)

The ancient Greeks believed that just as the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter repeat themselves year after year, so does history follow a cyclical course. For them, the birth and fall of historical events were destined, and they could not be affected by human power, so that history had no meaning or goal. This view of history is called the “cyclical view of history,” or the “fatalist view of history.” Representative historians taking this view were Herodotus (ca. 484-425 BC), who is called the father of history and wrote History, and Thucydides (ca. 460-400 BC), who wrote History of the Peloponnesian War. Herodotus depicted the Persian war in the epic manner, whereas Thucydides depicted the Peloponnesian War from beginning to end in a manner that was faithful to the historical facts. What these two men had in common, though, was the idea that history repeats itself.

The cyclical view of history understands the course of history as being destined. It does not admit to the possibility that the development of history might be affected by human effort. Furthermore, because it does not see any goal to history it has no concern about offering a future image of the world.

Providential View of History

In contrast to the Greek view of history, which asserted that history has no beginning or end, or goal, but only repeats itself in a cyclical manner, Christianity presents a fundamentally different view of history, which asserts that history does have a beginning and advances in a direct manner toward a definite goal. In other words, it asserts that history started with the Creation and the human Fall, that it is a salvation history leading to the Last Judgment, and that what drives history is God’s Providence. Such a view of history is called the “providential view of history,” or the “Christian view of history.”

It was St. Augustine (354-430) who, in his classic The City of God, systematized the Christian view of history. Augustine depicted history as a history of struggle between the City of God (Civitas Dei), where God-loving people live, and the City of the World (Civitas terrena), where those people who have yielded to the temptation of Satan reside. He asserted that the City of God would finally win victory in the end and would establish eternal peace. The course of history occurred according to the plan predestined by God, according to this view. Augustive divided human history, from the Fall to its consummation, into six periods: (1) from Adam to Noah’s flood, (2) from Noah to Abraham, (3) from Abraham to David, (4) from David to the Babylonian captivity, (5) from the Babylonian captivity to the birth of Christ, and (6) from the first coming to the Second Coming of Christ. How long the sixth period would last was left unstated.

Through this Christian view, history became meaningful in the sense that it aims at a certain goal; still, the human being was no more than an instrument moved by God. This view possesses many ambiguities and is lacking both in logic and in any sense of historical lawfulness. As such, today it is generally regarded as unacceptable as a social science.

Spiritual View of History (Progressive View of History)

During the Renaissance, theological views of history gradually faded away, and in the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, a new kind of view of history appeared. According to this new view, it was the human being, rather than God’s providence, that drove history. This view held that history was progressing in a linear fashion, and necessarily, according to the progress of the human spirit. This view of history is called the “spiritual view of history,” or the “progressive view of history.”

Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) recognized God’s providence in history, but he considered that the secular world was formed by human beings, and asserted that history should not be explained only by God’s will alone. In his understanding of history, God was relegated to the background, and human beings were brought to the fore.

Voltaire (1694-1778) excluded God’s power working upon history. He asserted that history is driven not by God but rather by those people with higher education, those who had mastered science, namely, enlightened people.

Marquis de Condorcet (1743-94) asserted that, if human reason were awakened, history would progress with harmony between science and ethics. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said that the purpose of history is to develop all noble human capacities in an international society consisting of a league of nations. He advocated seeing a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view.

The romanticist philosopher J. G. Herder (1744-1803) asserted that the development of human nature is the goal of history.

Hegel (1770-1831) understood history as the process of the “self-realization of the spirit,” or the “self-realization of the Idea.” According to his view, reason rules the world, and world history progresses rationally. The reason that rules the world is called the “world spirit.” He held that reason manipulates human beings, and called this the “trick by reason.” Hegel’s view of history is called a “spiritual view of history,” or the “idealistic view of history.” He believed that a rational state, where the Idea of freedom would be realized, was to come into being in Prussia; in reality, however, that did not take place. Instead, anti-rational social problems such as exploitation and human alienation became even more serious. Thus, Marx’s historical materialism appeared in part as a revolt against Hegel’s philosophy of history.

Historical Materialism

In contrast to Hegel, who advocated a spiritual view of history and asserted that it is Idea that drives history, Marx asserted that it is material forces that drive history, and argued for the “materialist view of history,” or “historical materialism” (also called the “revolutionary view of history”).

According to the materialist view of history, what drives history is the development of the productive forces, rather than the development of the Idea or spirit. Corresponding to the development of productive forces, certain relations of production are established. Whereas the productive forces develop steadily, however, the relations of production, once established, become fixed, and eventually turn into fetters against the further development of productive forces. Therefore, class struggle takes place between the class that seeks to maintain the old relations of production (ruling class) and the class that seeks new relations of production (ruled class). Accordingly, history has been a history of class struggle. In capitalist society, where this class struggle reaches its peak, revolution occurs in which the proletariat, the ruled class, overthrows the bourgeoisie, the ruling class. As a result, the classless Communist society, which is the “kingdom of freedom” without classes, is realized.

As shown by the fall of Communism, it becomes obvious that the materialist view of history was completely erroneous. When one closely examines this theory, all the laws of history presented by this view are found to be no more than sheer dogma. For example, the development of productive forces is regarded as a material development, but no materialistic dialectical explanation is given concerning how the productive forces develop. Also, according to this view, human history is the history of social changes through class struggles. Nevertheless, there was not a single case in which a society was actually changed by a class struggle. Thus, the materialist view of history has proved to be completely false.

Philosophy-of-Life View of History

Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) and Georg Simmel (1858-1918) asserted that history grows together with the growth of life. This view is called the “philosophy-of-life view of history.”

According to Dilthey, life is a human experience, and the experience is always expressed, and manifests itself in the external world. The manifestation of experience is the world of history and culture. Therefore, the cultural system of human beings, including religion, philosophy, art, science, politics, and law is the objectification of life. Simmel, similarly, asserted that history is the expression of life. Life is a stream that continues infinitely, and life’s “stream of becoming” makes history.

According to the philosophy-of-life view of history, the pain and unhappiness of humankind, as recorded in history, are regarded as inevitable phenomena that accompany the growth of life. Accordingly, the question of how people could be liberated from such pain and unhappiness remained unsolved in the philosophy-of-life view.

Cultural View of History

In Europe before World War I, trust in the progress and development of history was basically unshakable. People believed that history was developing, centering on Europe. It was Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) who questioned this linear, Eurocentric image of history.

Spengler advocated a cultural view of history, asserting that the foundation of history is culture. He regarded a culture to be an organism, and thus considered, a culture is born, grows, and dies, and therefore its death is inevitable. In Western civilization, he found symptoms of this impending decline, which corresponded to the decline of Greece and Rome, and predicted the decline of the West. He advocated that, knowing in advance of this decline of the West, one should live in acceptance of this inevitable destiny, without falling into pessimism. There was a strong tie with Nietzsche on this point. Spengler’s view of history was deterministic.

Under the strong influence of Spengler, Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) propounded his unique cultural view of history. According to Toynbee, the essential entity that constitutes world history is not a region, an ethnic people, or a nation, but a civilization. He considered that each civilization passes through the stages of genesis, growth, breakdown, disintegration, and dissolution.

The cause of the genesis of a civilization can be found in the human response to the challenges from the natural or social environment. Creative minorities foster a new civilization while guiding the masses of people, but when the creative minorities themselves eventually lose creativity, the civilization breaks down. Then, the creative minorities turn into the ruling minorities, and the “internal proletariat” within the civilization and the “external proletariat” surrounding it are born and separate themselves from the ruling minorities. As a result, society falls into confusion. After a while, however, the strongest among the ruling minorities establishes a “universal state,” bringing an end to the period of turmoil. Under the oppressive rule by the universal state, the internal proletariat nurtures a “higher religion” and the external proletariat (savages surrounding it) forms the “barbarian war-bands” (aggressive forces). Thus, the universal state, the higher religion, and the war-bands constitute three factions. Eventually the higher religion becomes a “universal church” by converting the ruling classes, but the universal state soon collapses, and together with it, the civilization meets its death.

After the first civilization has disappeared, the external proletariat invades and becomes converted to the higher religion, giving birth to a civilization of the new generation. The relationship of such old and new civilizations is called “appreciation and affiliation.” There were twenty-one fully grown civilizations in world history. All the present civilizations are in their third generation, and are separated into the four lineages of Christian (the West, Greek orthodoxy), Islamic, Hindu, and Far East civilizations. It can be said that the succession of civilizations through three generations, as advocated by Toynbee, correspond to the providential synchronism in three generations in the Unification view of history (the Age of the Providence to Lay the Foundation for Restoration, the Age of the Providence of Restoration, and the Age of the Prolongation of the Providence of Restoration).

It is characteristic of Toynbee’s view of history that it excludes determinism and asserts non-determinism and the theory of free will: how human beings respond to challenges depends on their free will. Therefore, the way in which history proceeds is never predetermined, but human beings can choose their future.

Toynbee clearly envisioned the City of God (Civitas Dei) as a future image of human history. Yet, based on his non-deterministic position, he considered that the choice of the “Kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of night” would depend on human free will. He wrote as follows:

Under a law of love which is the law of God’s own Being, God’s self-sacrifice challenges Man by setting before him an ideal of spiritual perfection; and Man has perfect freedom to accept or reject this. The law of love leaves Man as free to be a sinner as to be a saint; it leaves him free to choose whether his personal and his social life shall be a progress towards the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of night.

Another characteristic of Toynbee’s view of history is the introduction of God into his view of history which, he says, modern society seems to have forgotten.

What do we mean by History? And the writer … would reply that he meant by History a vision―dim and partial, yet (he believed) true to reality as far as it went―of God revealing Himself in action to souls that were sincerely seeking Him.

Traditional Views of History Seen from the Unification View of History

Having presented outlines of some traditional views of history, I will now compare them with the Unification view of history, and will attempt to show that the Unification view of history is able to unify traditional views.

First, there is the question whether history should be seen as a circular or as a linear movement. The Greek cyclical view and Spengler’s cultural view grasped history as a circular movement, whereas the Christian view, the progressive view, and the materialist view regard history as a linear movement. The philosophy-of-life view held that history develops with the growth of the stream of life. That view could be seen as a modification of the progressive view.

If history is grasped as a linear movement, we can have hope in the development of history, but we are left without a good understanding of the breakdowns and revivals in human history. On the other hand, when we regard history as a circular movement, nations and cultures become destined to perish, and we are left without any hope.

The Unification view of history grasps history from the two aspects of recreation and restoration and understands its development as a spiral movement that has both aspects, namely, a linear forward movement and a circular movement. In other words, it views history as a spiral movement that has both the forward-moving nature of development toward a goal (realization of the original ideal world of creation) and the circular-movement nature of restoring the lost original ideal world through the law of indemnity by establishing providential figures.

Second, there is the question of determinism and non-determinism. Such views of history as the Greek fatalist view, which holds that history moves inevitably towards a given destiny, and Spengler’s cultural view, were deterministic. The providential view, which holds that history proceeds according to God’s providence, can also be regarded as deterministic. Hegel’s view, which holds that reason, or the world spirit, drives history, and the materialist view, which holds that history inevitably reaches the Communist society according to the development of productive forces, are also deterministic. All these views assert that some super-human power drives history. Under such types of determinism, the human being is no more than a being dragged along by history, and it is impossible to change history through efforts based on people’s free will.

On the other hand, Toynbee advocated non-determinism from his position of the theory of free will. That is, he asserted that the way in which history proceeds is chosen by people’s free will. In Toynbee’s non-deterministic position, however, the future image of history remains ambiguous, and therefore we are left without a sure hope for the future.

In contrast, the Unification view of history takes the position that the goal of history is determined, but that the process of history is not determined because the accomplishment of providential events requires the fulfillment of the human portion of responsibility in addition to God’s portion of responsibility. In other words, the Unification view of history has aspects both of determinism and non-determinism. This theory is called the “theory of responsibility.”

When we compare the traditional views of history with the Unification view of history, we find that the traditional views have each emphasized a portion of the Unification view, and that the Unification view is the most comprehensive, unifying view of history. Also, Toynbee’s view of history is similar in many ways to the Unification view of history. From a providential viewpoint, Toynbee’s view can be regarded as being a preparation for the appearance of the Unification view of history. That is to say, Toynbee’s view had the mission of serving as a bridge linking traditional views of history with the Unification view of history.