Transcendentalism, pattern to history
[Philosophy of History, metaphysics]
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Unfolding of History -
The Emergence of Modernity

Several libraries of books could be written detailing the Unfolding of History. That being said such works could be completed with, or without, the benefit of a worthwhile degree of insight.
"Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature."
David Hume

" is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world..."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment."
Immanuel Kant
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)

Or to quote Emerson, from his famous Essay ~ History more fully:-

"In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world."

  "There is one mind common to all individual men....
....Of the works of this mind history is the record. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. All the facts of history pre-exist as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of this manifold spirit to the manifold world."

From Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay ~ History

    Towards the end of his Essay "History" Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts that :-

  " every history should be written in a wisdom which divined the range of our affinities and looked at facts as symbols. I am ashamed to see what a shallow village tale our so-called History is".


  If we ally the insights into Human Nature that are contained on our Spirituality and the wider world pages with Emerson's call for a looking at facts as symbols it seems that we may hope to draw closer to an appreciation of Humanity's central and wide-related nature.

  The section which follows may lack "pace" in some readers estimation - if you usually have little interest in reading about History we suggest that you read our brief series of pages that consider one of the more "dramatic" episodes in European History

The European Revolution of 1848

  We hope that the evidence of Human affinities acting to sponsor events that you find on those four pages will encourage you to return here and give the following section your interested consideration.


  For most of the eighteenth century western Europe was under the sovereignty of Emperors and Kings. Territories occasionally changed sovereignty as an outcome of Dynastic wars or Dynastic marriages. As far as Belles Lettres went the Europe of these days was under the influence of the Enlightenment - Lumière - Aufklärung where people hoped and expected that Human intellects would discover scientific laws whose application would lead to progress.

  Increasingly towards the end of the eighteenth century Enlightenment principles were displaced in the esteem of influential sections of society by ideas associated with the Romanticism movement which, amongst other things, prized Feeling and Sensibility above Intellect. The rather "Classical" pattern of society as shaped the principles of Enlightenment was seen by the rising generation of Romantics as being formal, dull and prosaic.

  In association with the emerging Romanticism as sponsored by Rousseau and others there were movements supportive of a more sensitive and less strictly disciplined approach to the education of the young. In the 1760's much of educated Europe had been swayed, in contrast to the prosaic and formal modes which prevailed, by certain Tales of Ossian, that were presented as being discovered authentic records dating from the third century that presented lives of Scots Celts who lived romantically-heroically in unsophisticated, but vital, circumstances. These tales were later proven to be contemporary fabrications framed by a James Macpherson but nonetheless established a genre widely translated and imitated across Europe.

  One Johann Gottfried Herder played a significant role in terms of the incorporation of such romantic attitudes into the wider functioning of political society. It may be that all times are to some extent "times of transformation" and one of the many ways in which transformations were occuring in Herder's day was that the broader masses of society were gaining, albeit gradually, in education, wealth, and sophistication. It was often the case in these Dynastic times that such broader masses were originated from ethnic traditions that were different from that of those elites who ruled them. Dynasties had extended their sway across centuries of wars and marriages and Rulers were held in theory to exercise their sovereignty in the interest of all their subjects. Increases in literacy and sophistication acted in any case to present the ruled with a situation where their non-representation in the corridors of power began to be increasingly questioned. Where there was also a difference in ethnic or religious tradition between the ruler and the ruled other questions of cultural sensitivity were also more open to being raised. Transitions of society can be slow but between say 1750 and say 1950 one of the more dramatic transformations was to be the effective transfer of Sovereignty from Monarchs to Peoples. The "Spirit of the Age" in 1750 was in many ways laying the foundations for this, eventual, transfer of sovereignty.

  The Germanic peoples had long been one of the most potent in western Europe. In 1750 they constituted the politically influential majority populations throughout the German Confederation. Through the Prussian Dynasty a Germanic power extended into the Baltic region and parts of eastern Europe and through the Habsburg dynasty a Germanic power exercised sway over vast tracts of central Europe. Germanic influence was also widespread as a legacy of trade, as in the case of the Hanseatic League, which contributed to there being a number of substantially Germanic trading cities outside traditionally German lands.

  During an appointment at the substantially German city Riga in Latvia, Herder reflected on the value of local Lettish culture, and the problems of its suppression by international cosmopolitan culture. Whilst based in Riga Herder gained attention with his Fragments concerning current German literature (1767) which advocated the emancipation of German literature from foreign influences.

  In 1770 Herder, whilst visiting Strasbourg, met Goethe and became involved in a long and culturally significant conversation with him. This meeting led to a subsequent friendship and literary collaboration. In his treatise On the Origin of Language (1772) Herder held that language and poetry are spontaneous necessities of human nature, rather than supernatural endowments. Herder developed the idea of Volksgeist ("national character") as expressed in the language and literature of a nation. Each nation was held to have its own Volksgeist that was of unique value due to being shaped by that nation through its history. In 1776 Herder became court preacher at Weimar through the influence of Goethe who had entered the service of its ruling Prince.

  Something of Herder's outlook as per a Romanticisation of Nationality can be gauged from the following quotations:-

  Nature brings forth families; the most natural state therefore is also one people, with a national character of its own. For thousands of years this character preserves itself within the people and, if the native princes concern themselves with it, it can be cultivated in the most natural way: for a people is as much a plant of nature as is a family, except that it has more branches. Nothing therefore seems more contradictory to the true end of governments than the endless expansion of states, the wild confusion of races and nations under one scepter. An empire made up of a hundred peoples and a 120 provinces which have been forced together is a monstrosity, not a state-body....

  ....No greater injury can be inflicted on a nation than to be robbed of her national character, the peculiarity of her spirit and her language. Reflect on this and you will perceive our irreparable loss. Look about you in Germany for the character of the nation, for their own particular cast of thought, for their own peculiar vein of speech; where are they? Read Tacitus; there you will find their character: "The tribes of Germany, who never degrade themselves by mingling with others, form a peculiar, unadulterated, original nation, which is its own archetype. Even their physical development is universally uniform, despite the large numbers of the people," and so forth. Now look about you and say: "The tribes of Germany have been degraded by mingling with others; they have sacrificed their natural disposition in protracted intellectual servitude; and, since they have, in contrast to others, imitated a tyrannical prototype for a long time, they are, among all the nations of Europe, the least true to themselves.". . .

  The many princely courts of Germany, and her established intellectual life, for many decades up these times had been in the habit of communicating through the French language as a result of a long period of French cultural predominance in Europe. From circa 1776 there appeared an increasingly influential Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) literary movement. This movement was given a considerable creative impetus by many young persons, from many of the states of which "the Germanies" were then composed. It was often the case that these young persons were dismissive of the "foreign" and "formalistic" courts maintained by the secular and clerical lords of the Germanies. They sought to be creative through a free expression of emotion, inclination, and passion often in opposition to established cultural forms.

  Herder was a central figure in the Sturm und Drang movement and shared in its rejection of French cultural forms. Goethe's German versions of Ossian's 'Songs of Selma' occupy several pages of his The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), which became the cult novel of the day. The German language was upheld, on cultural rather than nationalistic grounds by the Stürmer as being youthful, truthful, simple, vigorous and sensuous and was as such adopted by them in overt preference to "aged and aristocratic French". The Sturm und Drang movement was dramatically influential in the cultural life of the Germanies for less than a decade but, despite its brevity, nonetheless constituted evidence of a noticeable alteration in cultural perspectives.

  These were politically interesting times - a potent minority amongst the colonial Americans actively sought independence from the sovereignty of King George III and were helped to achieve this by the interventions of the French and others. The American example of the overthrow the authority of King George III and the establishment of constitutional government was envied by many in Europe who had come to be disenchanted with the more or less absolutist rule of the local dynasties.
The prodigious expense of this French involvement contributed to the onset of a serious, initially financial and ultimately political, crisis in the French Kingdom.

The crisis in France led to the convening of a States General following on from earlier precedents, (long fallen into abeyance), where the Nobles, Clergy and "commoner" Third Estate convened as three separate estates to offer advice to the king.
In the event the spirit of the age caused demands that the French "nation" be regarded as being "sovereign" to come to the fore such that the Estates General, as intended by the royal ministry, had to be abandonded and to be replaced by a National Assembly that insisted on the framing of a French Constitution.

  In the aftermath of the overthrow of Royal Authority in France populist energies were unleashed within the markedly populous French Kingdom in what were to become an eventual twenty six years of intermittent serious unrest where French revolutionary turmoils were superceded by the imperialism of Napoleon Bonaparte. In association with this quarter century of social and political contestations the pre-existing dynastically and based patterns of sovereignty and governance were brought down in many parts of Europe.  

The "anti-revolutionary"
mindset of the dynasties
1815 - 1848

  The change in perspectives that many people, particularly from the more affluent artisan, middle and minor aristocratic classes, underwent after the American and French revolutions in many cases led them to call into question purely dynastic patterns of sovereignty and to aspire towards "liberal" constitutional patterns of sovereignty, and possibly even overtly republican or national patterns of sovereignty.
The several societies of Europe were in these times tending to become more affluent and more philosophically sophisticated and were also increasingly influenced by romantic notions of nationality. These transformations increasingly prepared the conditions for the self-appointed emergence of politically vocal would-be champions of variously liberal, constitutional, republican and nationalist interests within the several dynastic states of Europe. The agitations of many such would-be champions, in the transformed and still changing societies of Europe contributed to the building up of a political conciousness that, in the Europe of the day, tended to see drawbacks to the holding of absolutist power by dynasties.
Those who became politically concious of such drawbacks tended, at the modestly radical end of the political spectrum, to aspire to establish liberal constitutions that would offer certain rights to the citizen-subject. Those at the less modestly radical end of the political spectrum tended to aspire to yet more dramatic republican or nationalist changes from the dynastic status quo!!! Circumstances alter cases and, where peoples tended to continue to identify positively with their local dynasty, the demands for change tended to be constitutional rather than otherwise.

Prince Clemens von Metternich, Foreign Minister to the Austrian Empire became a central figure in a dynastic Europe that was committed between 1815-48 to the supression of manifestations of Liberalism, Constitutionalism, Republicanism and Nationalism as being associated with "Revolution".
He left several documents outlining why he thought that it was entirely appropriate for the dynastic governments to strive to supress such populist demands.
Links to two of the more commonly cited of these documents are available below :-

Secret Memorandum to Tsar Alexander
Metternich : 1820
Political Confession of Faith
Metternich : 1820

In 1879 Edward Augustus Freeman, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, wrote:-
A hundred years ago man's political likes and dislikes seldom went beyond the range suggested by the place of his birth or immediate descent, Such birth or descent made him a member of this or that political community, a subject of this or that prince, a citizen - perhaps a subject - of this or that commonwealth. The political community of which he was a member had its traditional alliances and traditional enemies, and by those traditional alliances and traditional enemies the likes and dislikes of the members of that community were guided. But those traditional alliances and enemies were seldom determined by theories about language or race. The people of this or that place might be discontented under a foreign government; but, as a rule, they were discontented only if subjection to that foreign government brought with it personal supression or at least political degradatiion. Regard or disregard of some purely local priveledge or local feeling went for more than the fact of a government being native or foreign. What we now call the sentiment of nationality did not go for much; what we call the sentiment of race went for nothing at all. Only a few men here or there would have understood the feelings which have led to the two great events of our time, the political reunion of the German and Italian nations after their long political dissolution.

Between circa 1850 and 1870 several territorially ambitious Dynasties tried to exploit or "ride the tiger" of populist nationalism. In the case of Count Camillo Cavour this facilitated a form of Italian unification. In the case of Count Otto von Bismarck this led to a form of German unification.

The following link leads to a page that considers Cavour's role, as a minister in the service of the dynastic House of Savoy, seeking the establishment of an Italian Kingdom exploiting popular desires for constitutional rule and a more territorially integrated "Italia" in support of this establishment. Cavour's policy itself depended in large part on the accession, largely as a result of the turmoils of 1848, of the somewhat radically inclined Napoleon III, (a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), to the French presidency (1848) and to an Imperial title in France (1852).

Cavour, Garibaldi & Italian unification

The following link leads to a page that considers Bismarck's role, as a minister in the service of the dynastic House of Hohenzollern, in the establishment of a "Second" German Empire exploiting popular desires for a more territorially integrated "Germany" in support of this establishment.

Bismarck & German unification

As the nineteenth century continued there was an inter-related growth in population, industrialisation and urbanisation giving rise to the emergence of "working" classes that themselves became politically concious such that democracy itself at the modestly radical end of the political spectrum and socialism and communism, at the less modestly radical end of the political spectrum, also became significant as objectives for politically vocal would-be champions of populist interests.

Emerson's "Transcendental" approach to History
The Vienna Declaration
Framework Convention on National minorities


Start of
The Unfolding of History -
The Emergence of Modernity