"The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral: by liberalizing the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will,
it enables us to control, not society, but ourselves -- a much more important thing; it prepares us to live more humanely in the present
and to meet rather than to foretell the future."
Carl Becker, 1873-1945, U.S. historian
"You have to know the past to understand the present."
"We study the past to understand the present; we understand the present to guide the future."
"How can we understand our present or glimpse our future if we cannot understand our past?
How can we know who we are if we don't know who we were? …
History is not the story of strangers, aliens from another realm; it is the story of us had we been born a little earlier."
The content of this page will now turn to considering the possibility of understanding the past and the present and attempt to encourage people to study history as a means to better anticipate and prepare for the future.
Attempting to understand the past
Why did people live in tribes and city states in the distant past?
What changes led to Human Beings - whose ancestors had lived in tribes and city states - living in future in the feudal monarchies and dynastic kingdoms and empires of "Middle Ages" Europe?
Attempting to study history in order to understand the present
Why do people tend to live in republics and constitutional monarchies today?
What changes have led to Human Beings - whose ancestors had lived in feudal monarchies and dynastic kingdoms and empires - living, at present, in republics and constitutional monarchies?
How far is it possible to realistically attempt to anticipate, plan, be better prepared for or shape the future?
Human Nature and A Philosophy of History
The very first lecture in a series on The Philosophy of History, delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 8, 1836, by Ralph Waldo Emerson begins with these sentences:
It is remarkable that most men read little History. Even scholars, whose business it is to read, complain of its dullness. This fact may suggest that it is not rightly written for
it should, should it not? Correspond to the whole of the mind, to whatever is lovely and powerful. No man can think that this all-containing picture if seen in good light could
be devoid of interest. …
Later we read such things as:
There can be no true history written until a just estimate of human nature is holden by the historian. The eye of those who have written our annals is not fixed at a point of
sufficient elevation to command the whole prospect of humanity. They magnify appearances, measure by vulgar standards; and in their solicitude to expose the events which have
made the most noise omit the most pregnant and silent revolutions. Every body can see when a coronation takes place, or can write down the result of a battle; but a change in
the philosophy of the learned class, a loss of religious faith in the majority of a nation, which are revolutions and which prescribe the course of affairs for centuries
to come, not everyone can see. …
… We arrive early at the great discovery that there is one Mind common to all individual men; …
… To this universal mind all men are born. … What Plato has thought he may think. What a saint has felt he may feel. What has at any time befallen any man, he may understand. He that
purges out of his thought every vestige of personal limitation and respires the air of pure truth will speak or write or do what is durable, what is intelligible to all times and countries. …
… Of this one mind, History is the record. Of this mind the events of history are the work. Its constitution is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing
less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion which belongs to it, in
appropriate events. But always the thought is prior to the fact. All the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and
the limits of nature give power to but one at a time.
How, then, to set about gaining an appreciation of human nature???
That uniquely wise and insightful playwright William Shakespeare has Sir John Falstaff saying to Prince Hal that:
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare Henry IV, Part I
Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his private journals written the eighteen-twenties, seems to have accepted a comparable "Tripartism".
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would
take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the
deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and
aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness.
(Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)
In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his
plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of
exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing
to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization.
(Journal entry of December, 1824)
Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found
all day long at their books …
(This dates from January - February, 1828)
The Religions of the World and Tripartism
Buddhism and Hinduism (also more properly known as Vedanta), are generally considered by Westerners to be particularly philosophical.
A principal Buddhist Holy Book - The Dhammapada - features these verses:
Like water on a lotus leaf, or a mustard seed on the point of a needle, he who does not cling to sensual pleasures - him do I call a holy man.
He who in this very life realizes for himself the end of suffering, who has laid aside the burden and become emancipated - him do I call a holy man.
He who has profound knowledge, who is wise, skilled in discerning the right or wrong path, and has reached the highest goal - him do I call a holy man.
He who holds aloof from householders and ascetics alike, and wanders about with no fixed abode and but few wants - him do I call a holy man.
He who has renounced violence towards all living beings, weak or strong, who neither kills nor causes others to kill - him do I call a holy man.
He who is friendly amidst the hostile, peaceful amidst the violent, and unattached amidst the attached - him do I call a holy man.
He whose lust and hatred, pride and hypocrisy have fallen off like a mustard seed from the point of a needle - him do I call a holy man.
Dhammapada V. 401-407
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the principal Holy Books in the Vedic-Hindu tradition:
…the pleasures that come from the world bear in them sorrows to come. They come and they go, they are transient: not in them do the wise find joy.
But he who on this earth, before his departure, can endure the storms of desire and wrath, this man is a Yogi, this man has joy.
He has inner joy, he has inner gladness, and he has found inner Light. This Yogi attains the Nirvana of Brahman: he is one with God and goes unto God.
Holy men reach the Nirvana of Brahman: their sins are no more, their doubts are gone, their soul is in harmony, their joy is in the good of all.
Because the peace of God is with them whose mind and soul are in harmony, who are free from desire and wrath, who know their own soul.
Bhagavad Gita 5: 22-26
The Parable of the Sower
The Parable of the Sower is, perhaps, the most explicitly "Enlightenment" related teaching of Jesus!!!
It is possible to detect a suggestion of "Tripartism" in this teaching.
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:
"Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times."
Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." …
… Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?
The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop - some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.
He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear."
Jesus' teaching ~ as set out in St Mark's gospel Chapter 4
Plato and Socrates
Plato, who lived some four centuries B.C., was a pupil and friend of the greek philosopher Socrates. Amongst the many works attributed to Plato's authorship is his "The Republic" wherein
is set out a series of discourses that allegedly took place between Socrates and a number of other persons who variously arrived and departed as the discussions continued.
It is in this record, made by Plato, of Socrates' philosophising that most intriguing themes are developed:
...can we possibly refuse to admit that there exist in each of us the same generic parts and characteristics as are found in the state? For I presume the state has not received them from any other source. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the presence of the spirited element in cities is not to be traced to individuals, wherever this character is imputed to the people, as it is to the natives of Thrace, and Scythia, and generally speaking, of the northern countries; or the love of knowledge, which would be chiefly attributed to our own country; or the love of riches, which people would especially connect with the Phoenicians and the Egyptians.
This then is a fact so far, and one which it is not difficult to apprehend.
No, it is not.
But here begins a difficulty. Are all our actions alike performed by the one predominant faculty, or are there three faculties operating severally in our different actions? Do we
learn with one internal faculty, and become angry with another, and with a third feel desire for all the pleasures connected with eating and drinking, and the propagation of the
species; or upon every impulse to action, do we perform these several actions with the whole soul …
Socrates' teaching from Plato's Republic Book 4
Whilst Human Nature is undoubtedly highly complex we surely have reason to accept that, alongside other features, "what we essentially are" exhibits a discernible
"Honesty, Manhood, Good Fellowship" Tripartism.
From the late eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson developed a thorough enthusiasm for an approach to Metaphysics outlined by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin. An enthusiasm that was to remain with him for several years.
In a letter to his brother William Emerson, (who was a lawyer), written on May 24, 1831, Emerson wrote:
"I have been reading 7 or 8 lectures of Cousin - in the first of three vols. of his philosophy. A master of history, an epic he makes of man & of the world - & excels all men in giving effect, yea, éclat to a metaphysical theory. Have you not read it? tis good reading - well worth the time - clients or no clients."
If we turn to Cousin's works for a more detailed insight as to what may have impressed Emerson, in 1831, as being "excellent" metaphysical theory we read such things as:
What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man: evidently man and human nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity, and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. … But if there can be in history no other elements than those of humanity, and if we can possess ourselves of all the elements of humanity by anticipation, before we enter into history, we shall have gained much; for in beginning history, we shall know that it can have neither more nor less than certain elements, although these may clothe themselves in different forms. Assuredly we shall have made great progress towards the attainment of our object, when we shall know beforehand all the pieces which compose the machine whose play and operation we would study.
Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations. ...
We must begin with seeking the essential elements of humanity, and proceed by deriving from the nature of these elements their fundamental relations, and from these the laws of their development; and finally we must go to history and ask if it confirms or rejects our results. If it confirms them, if experience reproduces the speculations of thought, it will follow in the first place, that we have entered upon a path which leads somewhere, ... and, in the second place, we should no longer have systems, schools, and epochs merely, in juxtaposition in space, and succession in time, - a simple chronology; but that we should have a chronology in a frame superior to its own.
History would no longer be a series of incoherent words, succeeding each other in a certain order we know not why; it would become an intelligible phrase in which all the words, presenting some idea, would form together one whole, which would completely express some definite meaning.
Victor Cousin - Introduction to the History of Philosophy, translated by H. G. Linberg, Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little and Wilkins, (1832), pp. 101-104
Cousin's approach became seriously influential in the intellectually engaged circles of the USA of the eighteen-thirties.
"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
R. G. Collingwood
Emerson continued to be under the formative influence of Victor Cousin, to some degree or other, for some six or seven years after 1829. He eventually became prepared to move somewhat away
from Cousin's views having developed an adapted theory that was more so his own.
Emerson had come to see particular importance to a rounded appreciation of Human biographical experience to a full understanding of History.
The following two quotes are to be found in Emerson's "Introductory" Philosophy of History lecture of 1836:
… We, as we read, must be Romans, Greeks, Barbarians, priest and king, martyr and executioner, or we shall see nothing, keep nothing, learn nothing. …
… the first observation you make, in the sincere act of your nature, though on the veriest trifle, may open a new view of nature and of man …
The following two quotes are to be found in Emerson's Essay "History" of 1841:
Of the universal mind each individual man
is one more incarnation. All its properties consist in him. Each
new fact in his private experience flashes a light on what great
bodies of men have done
… Every revolution was first a thought in one
man's mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it
is the key to that era.
We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in
our private experience, and verifying them here. All history
becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history;
only biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself,
-- must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it
does not live, it will not know.
Honesty, Manhood and Good Fellowship
If we can accept that everyone [regardless of gender], to some extent or other, has capacities for Honesty, "Manhood" and Good Fellowship we can further tend to accept that such characteristics would be suited to
individuals functioning as members of such social groups as tribes or other communities such as city states.
Could a Philosophy of History related to Human Nature be reliable?
Individuals might, more often than not, be honest and somewhat spiritual, be prepared - should circumstances require it - to help to defend their tribe or city state, and also tend to enter into
social and personal relationships and engage in productive activity related to household tasks, hunting, gathering, agriculture, the fashioning of tradable items and the provision of marketable
As pre-history transitioned into history tribal life was viable in that tribal social groupings could be self-sustaining allowing members of the tribe to participate, from the time of their birth, in
a society which sought to offer protection to its members and to co-operate in the tasks necessary for communal survival.
As time passed there were domestications of crops and herds, increased skill in the fabrication of artefacts such as clothing, bows and arrows, and storage pots. Very gradually peoples began to
gain skills in copper, bronze and iron metallurgy.
As yet more centuries rolled by city states proved to be increasingly viable. Storable surpluses of food were being harvested in farmed fields. Herds of domesticated livestock were maintained all year
round. Artisans and traders could congregate in city states where local rulers, or ruling councils, could arrange for basic policing and, perhaps more importantly, for the defence of their city
Trade could be widely engaged in by land and sea during times of peace.
Populations could tend to increase as children born into what were often large families grew to adulthood and established families of their own.
From time to time city states sought to exercise sway over their neighbours establishing local kingdoms and empires. It could well be that city states would find reason to enter
into federations, or voluntarily accept the authority of a powerful neigbour, in attempts to achieve greater security from external threats or to facilitate trading relationships.
An empire based on a settlement called Rome eventually came to
exercise control over immense territories. Rome's early expansions tended to come about as a result of prevailing in contests of arms with neighbouring states, or with regional
rivals such as the Carthaginian Empire.
Circa 200 BC a Carthaginian general named Hannibal Barca led a force some 50,000 strong, and featuring numerous cavalry and 37 war elephants, across the Alps from Gaul (i.e. today's France) into the Italian peninsula where his forces subsequently remained an active threat to Rome for some fifteen years.
Rome eventually defeated the Carthaginian Empire and absorbed its territories - which extended from much of North Africa into today's Spain and onto some of the major islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
As the decades rolled by it came about that Rome, sometimes through the unauthorised [i.e. by the Roman Senate] activities of ambitious generals such as Julius Caesar, expanded its control very widely without any real provocation.
Having questionably embarked on initially localised, and subsequently far-reaching, [unauthorised and rather brutal] conquests in Gaul after 58 BC Julius Caesar led his forces on an expedition to the
(then remotely positioned and mysterious) island of Britannia in 55 BC.
Across many thousands of years of history massively influential societal changes rather than adjustments in Human Nature? have transformed how human lives have been able to be lived.
Tribal patterns of life were increasingly marginalised by city states which became centres of influence and of power. City states were incorporated into Kingdoms and Empires before
which previously independent city states and tribal peoples had to yield up concessions.
Imperial Rome rose to power but eventually went into a decline, surviving as a "Byzantine" empire centered on Constantinople but losing its western homeland of Italy, and nearby provinces
such as Gaul, Britannia and Spain to the control of "Germanic" migrant peoples.
These incomers were typically more martially accomplished than the "Roman provincials" whom they now overwhelmed. They also had relatively little heritage of administrative or technological accomplishment.
They usually proved to be accepting of the Christian faith they found in western Europe, however, and looked to the church as an aid in administration and governance.
Leading figures among their number laid claim to large landholdings.
centuries rolled by these migrant-dominated provinces tended to adopt "feudal" patterns of kingship where lesser lords owed service-in-arms to greater lords and all owed service to the king.
These times have been spoken of as being ones where "some men worked, some men fought, and some men prayed". That is to say a majority of persons worked as cultivators, herdsmen,
artisans and traders, some men were lords and these were directly served by knights and men-at-arms, and many people embraced religious lives as (male or female) monastics or priests.
It can surely be suggested that there may be "a Tripartism" discernible here.
Our understandings of the perceived realities of lives lived in feudal-monarchical times are probably somewhat mis?-informed by TV and film.
The England of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men featured a rivalry between a bad, usurping, King John and his older brother King Richard who had been captured in central Europe and held for
[a King's?] ransom whilst returning from campaigning in the Holy Land. A grasping Sheriff of Nottingham, who was supportive of King John, is generally represented as
overseeing a state of affairs where poorer persons experienced demands for the payment of taxation, leading in many cases to hunger and debt and to some desperate persons seeking refuge with an outlaw band in Sherwood Forest.
The Central Europe of William Tell of such times has been presented as featuring a grasping and harsh Habsburg administrator named Gessler who is similarly generally represented as
overseeing a state of affairs where a brave and resourceful Swiss commoner [William Tell] sought to stand up for the common people and to relieve distress which was often held to have been
occasioned by the severe imposition of taxation.
Kingdoms and Empires were dynastic and it was held that monarchical titles could be inherited by those who stood in line of succession due to their being of royal blood. Dynasties sought
security alliances, and other advantage, through arranging marriages-of-state between members of their respective families. Some of these arrangements were between persons who differed quite widely in age and were often entered
into where one or both of the betrothed persons might be mere infants.
Given the limited success that the medical science of the day had in combatting disease such arrangements often had the outcome of bringing disparate peoples under the sovereignty of
those who actually survived to inherit sovereignty due to their being of royal blood associable with dynastic lines and claims to sovereignty.
A most notable example of this being the truly immense territories that were regarded as being under the sovereignty of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who inherited sovereignty in certain
Austrian, Swiss and Germanic territories from his male, Habsburg, ancestors, the Duchy of Burgundy (including Belgian, Dutch and French lands) from his paternal grandmother, and the Kingdoms
of Aragon and Castile, together with "Spanish" claims on South America, from his maternal grandparents, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.
Charles V's mother, the Spanish princess Juana, had actually been a younger daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and there were several male siblings. Several early deaths and childlessness, however, resulted in the rights
of succession to sovereignty settling on the children of Juana in her marriage to the Habsburg prince Phillip the Fair.
Charles V, in his childhood and youth, was raised with a knowledge of languages suited to his inheriting sovereignty in what became his "Habsburg" and "Burgundian" domains. The inheritance of sovereignty in
Aragon and Castile was so unexpected that he was not linguistically educated in ways fully appropriate to inheritance of sovereignty there.
As the decades and centuries followed their respective courses Feudal times became elaborated upon.
Such developments gave rise to the France of the Ancien Regime where the King was theoretically an absolute ruler, where not
all the nobility maintained the military traditions of earlier centuries, and where many powerful families sought to gain prominent positions in the church - and control of associated
revenues and patronage - for certain candidates they favoured: often without much regard for any personal piety being evidenced on the part of the would-be Bishop or Abbot being sponsored.
Well-paid and influential positions in the state administration or the army were more or less reserved for persons of noble birth. The majority of persons living in France lived out their
lives as peasants, labourers or artisans.
In the British case the would-be absolutist rule of the Stuart kings, after 1603, was challenged by those who sought the recognition of the authority of parliament. One Stuart king, (Charles I), was
publicly beheaded, another, (James II), was allowed to flee into exile in 1688 such that a more constitutional form monarchy could be put in place.
When a "Stuart" monarch expired in 1714, without direct heirs, the British establishment disregarded the valid "Royal Blood" claims to succession of more than fifty persons, who were deemed
to be capable of attempting to undo the settlement reached in 1688 and re-establish the absolute authority of the Crown. Such thinking led
to a "Hanoverian" succession by a German-speaking Elector of Hanover who had more distant claims, based on his own dynastic ancestry, to the British throne.
Voyages of Discovery, initially embarked upon under the patronage of the Portuguese Prince Henry "the Navigator" - were soon thereafter emulated by orders issued by the rulers of Spain.
Such voyaging led, in time, to the establishment of global patterns of sea-borne trade and to widespread settlement by Europeans overseas.
Although the practice of slavery had more or less died out in Europe some of the earlier Portuguese voyages of discovery had resulted in enslaved Human Beings being offered by local
merchants and rulers on the west coast of Africa to the Portuguese explorers in trading negotiations. Such persons were subsequently "offered-for-sale" in a marketplace in Lisbon.
It came about that Europeans attempting to exploit the territories they were settling in on the islands of the Caribbean and the coasts of North America often, and increasingly, resorted to
practicing systems of cultivation based on slave labour to produce such high-value commodities as cane sugar and tobacco.
Plantations were established for the production of raw cotton, through slave-labour, for the manufacture of cotton cloth.
Human Nature may surely be seen as being relatively unchanging across time whilst the societal circumstances in which said Human Nature influenced the formation of Human Societies were being
continually altered - to the point, over time, of being transformed.
"Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended
to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience
and history teach is this - that people and governments never have
learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.
Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a
condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be
regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone."
G. W. F. Hegel
Britain and France were the two "superpowers" of the eighteenth century. They came to blows between 1756 and 1763 in a "Seven Years War".
George Washington, who was serving as an officer in the
Virginia militia, was involved in an incident on the frontiers of the "British" and "French" presences in the interior of North America in 1754 in the lead up to this period of widespread open
conflict. This period of active hostility, known in North America as the French and Indian War, was actually contested widely across the globe and,
alongside featuring many deaths and injuries, was financially very, very, expensive.
The British, at a time when the British population was some ten million, and the population of European descent in the thirteen colonies of "British" North America was more than two million,
sought to impose taxations in the American Colonies to help meet the cost of defence. Many colonial Americans objected to such imposition of taxation - particularly if their views were not
to be directly represented in the parliamentary proceedings in London.
In the diplomatic exchanges sent between royal courts in those times it was standard practice for kings to address each other as being "brother monarchs".
Nevertheless, the King of France was persuaded by his one of most important ministers, who had key responsibilities in relation to Foreign Affairs, that France should send monetary
and material aid to such colonial American "Patriots" even though they were, from a strictly "monarchical" point
of view, "rebellious subjects" in open opposition to their "legitimate" monarch.
An American Declaration of Independence was made in 1776, thousands of French soldiers were subsequently shipped to North America and served alongside American Patriot forces in
a conflict which resulted in a British recognition of American Independence in 1783.
During these times the colonial Americans who sought independence adopted a Constitution, and a Bill of Rights, under which they hoped to be governed and intended that such
governance should be:
Of the people, by the people, and for the people
France had found her participation in the Seven Years War to be expensive, had engaged in an extensive modernisation of her naval forces and provided substantial and costly aid the American
Patriots - all of which led to a most burdensome accumulation of debt on the part of the French royal state.
It so happened that crops and herds in France were adversely affected by extreme weather in the seventeen-eighties, very possibly as a result of extreme volcanic activity in Iceland. Such
lessening of agricultural production raised food prices and depressed the ability of the French population to feed and clothe themselves let alone pay their taxes. A financial crisis ensued where the king eventually
accepted the necessity of convening an Estates General - a body historically comprised of representatives of a First Estate of Churchmen,
a Second Estate of Noblemen and a Third Estate of everyone else - (an everyone else who actually comprised some 98% of the population).
No such an Estates General had been convened for more than one hundred years previously and this one was only being called to assemble because of the depth of the crisis in the finances of the
kingdom. It was accepted that the upcoming Estates General would feature voting "by Order" where each of the clerical, noble and commoner "Estates" would consider issues separately and advise the king of the majority decisions reached
within that Estate.
The king seems to have expected that the Estates General, which convened in May 1789, would rubber-stamp increases in taxation to meet the financial crisis. Many Third Estate representatives
hoped for, or even expected, some degree of political reform which would allow the broader population of France more of a voice in affairs.
In the event the Nobility and higher Clergy proved to be reluctant to consent to such reforms preferring that the First and Second Estates should continue to be able to join together in
opposition to the Third Estate as they saw necessary.
In the lead-up to the selection of representatives to the Estates General the king had authorised the selection of about as many
individual representatives on behalf of the Third Estate as would be selected to represent the First and Second Estates combined. By mid-June most of the Third Estate representatives had
accepted the idea that the Estates General should be replaced by a National Assembly where all representatives would participate in voting on issues "by head" in order to reach a majority
The financial crisis continued, those who sought reforms considered that the king might dissolve
the Estates General and seek to impose his own measures - with the backing of the army. The situation moved towards more revolutionary change after Parisians stormed a fortress-prison known
as the Bastille, and tore down a customs wall in Paris, (where taxes and duties were routinely imposed on key commodities such as salt entering the city), in July 1789.
A French Revolutionary Era ensued in France and spread very widely across Europe.
The sovereignty of the people was proclaimed in France and elections were held on the basis of adult males having voting rights.
Before many years had passed, however, France became less revolutionary as relatively conservative "liberal-constitutional" interests gained power in relation to those which favoured revolution. France, and much of Europe,
spent some fifteen years under the leadership of a successful general, who also showed political and administrative talents, named Napoleon Bonaparte.
Britain, as the nineteenth century progressed and into the twentieth, has undergone slow processes of transformation towards being increasingly democratically representative.
Defunct (because depopulated-over-time) historic parliamentary constituencies, known as "rotten boroughs" and which were under the decisive influence of
local magnates, were abolished in the eighteen-thirties whilst new constituencies were established in relation to a number of towns and cities which had appeared as a result
of Britain's Industrial Revolution.
Voting rights were extended more widely to property owners, then to adult males over a certain age. Said age limit was
subsequently lowered and, after a determinedly pursued "Suffragette" campaign, voting rights were increasingly conceded to women.
Even today, however, the British Parliamentary system features a politically authoritative "House of Commons" and a politically advisory "House of Lords". Whilst members of the
House of Commons are elected the membership of the House of Lords is composed of a smallish number of Church of England bishops as "Lords Spiritual" together with a restricted
number of "Lords Temporal / Peers of
the Realm", (i.e. persons of Aristocratic Descent), and numerous notable achievers in various careers, professions and business who have been appointed as "Life Peers" with a view of
benefitting parliamentary processes through their collective experience and expertise.
The House of Lords had actually been an authoritative parliamentary chamber into the early twentieth century when the then King offered to create a large number of
new peerages to ensure the passing of legislation favoured by a "Liberal" House of Commons that was being blocked by a conservatively-inclined House of Lords.
The House of Commons subsequently explicitly asserted its primacy, over the House of Lords, in the consideration of financial matters.
Whilst tribal, city state, feudal and Ancien Regime patterns of existence were realistically viable the circumstances were often not such as:
to allow demands for popular "democratic" sovereignty to be expressed,
to encourage entrepreneurial persons to freely engage in trade and industry,
to precipitate the building of widespread pressure for the adoption of socialistic reforms,
to easily allow widespread literacy to develop.
The circumstances in which people lived were slowly changing to the point of transformation. More and more people were becoming literate, populations began to increasingly press for a
recognition of the sovereignty of the people, demands were made for recognition of hitherto
dis-regarded languages which had had something of a marginalised existence in the functioning of this or that dynastic state within which linguistically disparate peoples had become incorporated over time.
Given disparities in material prosperity, living and working conditions, and educational and economic opportunity, between rich and poor some persons began to voice socialistic aspirations
seeking to improve material conditions in which poorer persons lived their lives.
Initiative in sponsoring changes began to increasingly lie with aspirant peoples, [and Human Nature?], rather than with established authorities such as dynastic houses, churchmen and aristocracies.
Transformative changes in society resulted in demands being made by peoples, who might be said to have - at this time in history - more socio-political-economic power than their forefathers,
which resulted in absolutist kingdoms and empires being reconstituted, [in line with Human Nature?], as constitutional
monarchies or republics whilst break-away provinces or regions might separately become constitutional kingdoms or republics.
Thus over many decades Europe, and the far-flung "colonies" that had been widely established by Europeans, were open to successive changes which transformed absolutist kingdoms and empires
into more localised constitutional monarchies and republics where peoples tended to migrate from countyside to town and where, increasingly, persons understood to be supportive of
socialism were returned to democratic assembles.
Said democratic assemblies also tending to be supportive of efforts to facilitate economic activity in order to raise material living standards and to provide opportunities for gainful
Some suggestions have now been made as to how it has come about that Human Beings - across historic time - have lived in tribes, city states, feudal monarchies, dynastic empires and kingdoms, and - more recently -
constitutional monarchies and republics.
Such theorising as to what has come to pass in Human history could potentially be held to be invalidated, in terms of relevance, by the onset of such dramatic, and in cases rather alarming,
WORLDLY OCCURENCES as:
The First World War
The Russian Revolution
The Rise of the Dictators - Mussolini and Hitler
The Second World War
The post WW2 Soviet Russian "Empire" in eastern Europe
The post WW2 Cold War between would-be liberal democracies and would-be communist states. NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Western Europe post WW2. An Iron and Steel Community transitions into becoming a European Economic Community and then a European Union.
Reflections on such variously transformative, tragic, and even catastrophic, WORLDLY OCCURENCES now follow, (after some further historical background), in an effort to suggest that such
potential invalidation, in terms or relevance, does not, in fact, overwhelmingly operate.
Widespread instances of populist political (i.e. variously liberal, constitutional, national, and socialistic
) agitation across much of Europe in 1848 unmistakably revealed the presence
of the potential that public opinion was coming to have to challenge the traditional dynastically-sponsored social order that had been re-established after the French Revolutionary and
Napoleonic Wars of 1789-1815.
[N. B. Our coverage of the events of the European Revolutions of 1848 is rather extensive - in line with our view of their importance in efforts
to "Understand the Human Condition".]
Over the following years Cavour, as chief minister to the dynastic House of Savoy (Kings of Sardinia), found it possible to gain popular liberal-constitutional-national support in the Italian peninsula. This support
actually carried Cavour's policy further than the establishment of a "northern Italian" kingdom, (after winning the notably rich provinces of Lombardy and Venetia from a locally much disliked Austrian control),
that he himself seems to have initially intended.
The Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont, where Cavour had been chief minister, became foundational to an emergent "perceivable of as being relatively progressive" Kingdom of Italy (1860-1) at the
expense of several other dynastic states in the Italian peninsula which were seen, by liberal-constitutional-national opinion, as being "unprogressive".
In the German lands, Bismarck as chief minister to the dynastic House of Hohenzollern, was similarly able to secure predominance, with local popular liberal-constitutional-national support,
for the Kingdom of Prussia as being foundational to a "perceivable of as being relatively progressive" German Empire (1870) - at the expense of several of the other dynastic
states of Germany and, notably, of the Austrian Empire.
Appointed to high political office in Prussia by King Wilhelm I, at a time of crisis between (semi-absolutist) Monarchy and (emergent but limited) Democracy, Bismarck had reason to accept
that "populist inspired" change was likely to be popularly
insisted upon in the German lands and, given the example recently provided by Cavour and Sardinia-Piedmont, opted to attempt to guide such change into developments towards Prussian-led
fulfilment of popular German-national aspirations in ways that would not be unduly damaging to the socially conservative traditions of the Kingdom of Prussia.
The consequences of quite widespread conflicts associated with the Unification of Germany, as sponsored by Bismarck, included a weakened Austrian Empire being subsequently
reconstituted as an Austro-Hungarian "Dual Monarchy" in 1867 and that the protection that France had been offering to the Papal States, against encroachments by the Kingdom of Italy,
The Kingdom of Italy forcibly seized the Papal States in 1870, despite protests by the then Pope, and made the historic city of Rome its capital.
In order to attempt to feel secure - after the "Unifications" which had recently occurred of Italy and Germany - the Great Powers of Europe aligned themselves in two blocs: a Triple Alliance
[Imperial Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and Italy] and a Triple Entente [France, Russia and Britain] in the hopes of arriving at an international security related Balance of Power.
The Ottoman Empire had fallen into a period of decline where it proved possible for "European oriented" peoples living close to, or within, its frontiers to aspire to acquire territories as the
Ottoman Empire continued to decline, or to break away from Ottoman control.
In 1908 the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy irregularly laid claim to the Ottoman province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, (which it had been administering with Ottoman consent since 1878), to prevent its being
reclaimed by "Young Turks" who had managed to assume governing powers in the Ottoman state - and who had a modernising agenda.
This irregular seizure was denounced by several long established and powerful European states and was particularly protested at by Serbian and other South Slav nationalists, who themselves
considered that Bosnia-Herzegovina might, in time, have been open to acquisition by themselves.
Imperial Germany, however, firmly stood in support of the Austro-Hungarian move to claim Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal titles was assassinated, together with his wife, in Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina by a teenage Serbian nationalist.
Several weeks later Austro-Hungary, alleging that Serbian officials assisted the recent assassinations in Sarajevo, opted to declare war on the Kingdom of Serbia. Imperial Russia opted to
seek to defend Serbia against such actions.
Russian planning for war accepted that a conflict might arise with the "Triple Alliance" and active Russian mobilisation against Austria-Hungary was accompanied by such mobilisation of forces to
face Germany as was envisaged by the overall Russian planning for engaging in hostilities with the Triple Alliance. Despite Russian assurances that this mobilisation against Germany was only
precautionary the German authorities themselves opted to enact their own plans for conflict with the "Triple Entente" which envisaged an invasion, and defeat, of France to be followed by a longer
campaign against Russia.
Thus the German and Austro-Hungarian aspects of the Triple Alliance came to be in open conflict with the Russian and French aspects of the Triple Entente.
Other states subsequently became embroiled in what became known as the Great War or First World War. Britain protested a German decision to seek to invade France via neutral Belgium and opted
to attempt to defend France and restore Belgium - several territories overseas which had close ancestral and historic links with Britain opted to lend their support to Britain.
The circumstances at the outbreak of these hostilities were not such as to require the Kingdom of Italy, despite being a member of the Triple Alliance, to immediately itself engage in the conflict. Before
many months had passed the Kingdom of Italy was prevailed upon, through diplomacy, to align itself with the Entente powers and against the Austro-Hungarian and Imperial German "Central Powers".
As the conflict continued expensively of life, limb, and treasure, peoples often tended to blame pre-war elites more than anyone else for the onset of the horrendous ongoing conflict.
German interests saw great advantage as being possible from supporting the transportation of the influential Communist revolutionary, Lenin, from Switzerland - where he had been living in exile - to Russia
where his ideological message might prove attractive to a disenchanted populace such that the Russian war effort would be weakened.
Such transportation was achieved by conveying Lenin, and several tens of other political exiles, in a "Sealed Train" such that he, and they, could claim not to have closely colluded with the Germans. (And such that German civilians
would not be exposed to Lenin's efforts at fomenting revolution.)
The Tsar, and the Russian "establishment" supported Russia's continued participation in what was proving to be a war that featured grievious losses of life and limb and much privation amongst
the civilian population. Lenin seemed to offer "Peace, Bread and Land" to the Russian people.
In 1917 revolutions occured in Russia such that Russia effectively withdrew from the war allowing the Germany and Austro-Hungary to concentrate their forces against France,
Britain and the United States of America, [which had entered the conflict in association with the French and British].
Despite this Germany, and her allies, came to recognise that the French, British and Americans were going to prevail.
A suspension of hostilities was arranged for November 11, 1918.
The Allied and Associated Powers required that the German Emperor go into exile and that Germany explicitly accept responsibility for the onset of the First World War.
It was accepted that peoples should enjoy rights of "self-determination" as to which sovereignty they would live under in the future. It
was anticipated that such processess of "National Self-determination" could well lead to the establishment of states, (often after emerging out of existing dynastic state structures),
with frontiers determined along "lines of nationality" and that there could well be resulting "National Minorities" to which it would be right and proper to offer credible assurances of a protected status within such newly "Self-determined" states.
In the hope of greatly lessening the possibility of the outbreak of ruinous widespread wars in the future efforts would made to replace "Balance of Power" arrangements with
"Collective Security" arrangements overseen by a "League of Nations".
The Habsburg ruler of Austria-Hungary abdicated his throne and it was accepted that the several constituent peoples of Austria-Hungary could establish localised states based on such
The French and British attempted to aid right-leaning "white" Russians such that the Russian "Bolsheviks", led by Lenin and others, would be deprived of power.
Whilst there had been an accumulation of aspirations towards change prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 the societal transformations that occured during the Great War resulted in
the onset of new circumstances in which Human lives were to be lived. Relatively static societies where there was little geographic or social mobility and where people lived under dynastically
sponsored languages of state were transforming into relatively mobile societies where there could well be geographic and social mobility where numerous "national" languages were being upheld
within locally "Self-determined" states. Leftist political aspirations stood to gain support through alterations in public opinion and through support coming from such states as Russia.
Persons living their adult lives after 1918 found themselves as individuals, and as societies composed of individuals, having to address the implications of nationalistic, linguistic, territorial
and socialistic aspirations being expressed which could not as readily be expressed before 1914.
In the aftermath of the recent ruinous wars, and the demobilisation of millions of persons who hads been serving as soldiers, economic recovery did not soon follow. There was mass unemployment
and a "Red" Russian-backed Communist International, or Comintern, sought to aid hard-line socialists in other European states in gaining political power in those states.
It was in these circumstances that Benito Mussolini led a strongly anti-leftist "Fascist" movement in Italy such that he was enabled to attain a firm hold on power in Italy.
Runaway speculation in stocks and shares in the United States was followed by a "Great Crash" which ruined many over-committed speculators, and also brought down many banks, such that
even non-speculators were gravely affected. The purchasing power of the American public was dramatically curtailed. Whilst Germany had been attempting to meet steep reparations
payments that had been imposed on the German state as an outcome of the recent Great War the Great Crash brought about mass unemployment in Germany, and her export industries, and sharpened the rivalry
between leftism and rightism in Germany.
It was in such circumstances that an increasing number of persons looked to Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Worker's Party as offering a credible alternative programme of government.
Amongst his policies Hitler proposed that it was desirable that Germany should forcibly seize "living space" for Germans "in the East".
In 1939 Hitler entered into an Non-Agression Pact agreement with Stalin's Russia which allowed him a better opportunity to seize lands from the post WW1 Polish state.
A Second World War ensued; one of the enduring outcomes of which was that, as Stalin's Russia eventually sent armies into several Eastern European states as Russia continued to
engage, (following a German invasion of Russia of 1941), with retreating German forces, several formerly independent [post WW1] central and eastern European states were brought under communist ideological tutelage and under direct Russian influence.
As the conflict continued America and other powers encouraged the establishment of an "United Nations Organisation" which it was hoped would prove more successful in its involvements in
international relations than the League of Nations had been.
In the hope of encouraging a stable transition of the economic activity of the several states that had been involved in the Second World War the Americans agreed to provide substantial
financial aid to such transitioning economies under the so-called Marshall Plan. Such aid was taken up by several western European states whilst Russia, and those states which were under its
influence, did not seek to accept such assistance.
After the agreement of a cessation of active hostilities between the previously contending powers in Europe an "Easter Bloc" supported by Stalin's Russian was in being. Before
long a "Cold War" rivalry between a Russian-led grouping of would-be communist states, and an American-led grouping of would-be relatively liberal and capitalist states, ensued.
This rivalry featured two competing systems of alliance - a western North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO] - and an eastern Warsaw Pact.
Such rivalry was entered into widely across the globe with each power bloc seeking to weaken and contain the other. In these circumstances the eastern bloc and aligned states, from time to time, found it
possible to send aid to would-be "liberation" movements in former, but lapsing, European colonies, and in doing so hope to gain ideological fulfilment and strategic and political advantage.
In Western Europe post WW2 an Iron and Steel Community was devised, largely with the intention of helping to prevent future wars through an integration of key industries. This Iron and Steel Community
was built upon and transitioned into becoming a European Economic Community and then a European Union.
Thus descendants of Human Beings who, in earlier times had lived out their lives in tribes, city states, dynastic states and empires etc. found themselves experiencing rather different modes of
existence whilst still being personally individually endowed with an innate Human Nature which, in all probability, was not so very different from the innate Human Nature with which their ancestors had been
similarly personally endowed.
Circumstances had changed transforming, and delimiting, the range of possibilities as to how Human Lives could, and would, be lived.
Political parties seeking to win democratic elections in westernised states have found it particularly necessary to be deemed to be offering economic prosperity, and employment opportunities, to
How far can we anticipate the Future?
"Men make their own history, but they do it under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past."
"I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future."
"The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral: by liberalizing the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will, it enables us to control, not society,
but ourselves -- a much more important thing; it prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future."
It is difficult to know what is around the corner. If we take the Internet and economic globalisation as examples - the ways in which people shop, in which goods are distributed, and
where goods and merchandise are actually produced have been dramatically transformed - and that within less than fifty years!
An influential American historian would have us accept that:
"Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks of the river."
That being said there do seem to be very real challenges which Humanity will have to cope with such as climate change [which may yet seriously affect food production and thus tend to displace populations], global population growth, exhaustion of [hitheto] key resources such as oil
and problems of pollution.
" … it isn't exactly political correctness that dogs history; it's more a pernicious refusal to enter imaginatively the lives of our ancestors. Great and good men and women stirred
sugar into their coffee knowing that it had been picked by slaves. Kind, good ancestors of all of us never questioned hangings, burnings, tortures, inequality, suffering
and injustice that today revolt us. If we dare to presume to damn them with our fleeting ideas of morality, then we risk damnation from our descendants for whatever it is
that we are doing that future history will judge as intolerable and wicked: eating meat, driving cars, appearing on TV, visiting zoos, who knows?"
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