After hearing about Fukuyama’s End of History thesis, I began to wonder:
Were there truly an “end” of history, a post-history, the possibility of all events coming to an end, who would be a competent historian to observe this end of all cycles?
This does not refer to theoreticians of the “end of history,” but of a different type – a true historian looking back after all histories had ended, a post-historian observing that there are no more events to record, except perhaps the act of recording for the unknown readers of the future. The end of history is the end of the fall into time – when man became historical after being exiled from paradise.
The theories of Fukuyama, Hegel, Marx are all still riddled with theological and ideological tautologies – they still hanker after destiny or destinies that has ruined humanity. History is neither some sort of salvation that engraves the memory of humanity nor the escape hatch from anonymity.
There is no redemption to be had by history – for it is not a fundamental character of humanity, merely a spurious collection of events, the “apotheosis of appearances.” Once we give up the conceit of a transhistorical aim of humanity, we will finally realize our potential – a potential that is necessarily the fruitlessness of human goals. Once the meaninglessness of history is realized we become liberated, not depressed by the failure of reaching pre-ordained destinies.
Does this mean we should throw out history?
Not that we should throw out our history, but that we should no longer try to streamline our past into a linear, progressive one that is marching towards a goal.
As a thinker of pessimism, I consider history to be deeply ironic. Each step taken forwards is offset by a step taken backwards. Scientific progress is offset by fundamentalism. Liberalism is contradicted by traditionalism. But most of us are duped by the claims of progress in history, and that discredits the optimistic historian who champions the future.
But because history does not follow an ordered path, it means the individual is free. We should be elated that history does not have a meaningful pattern. Our value as individuals cannot and should not serve just as a placeholder in history.
Yeah, we should be more careful about the world we will leave to our children, but if we evaluate ourselves in the terms of the future, we will fall into the idolatry of progress, of tomorrow, of history as a linear concept. Our lives have value here and now – not by reference to an ambiguous future. Because tomorrow, as opposed to the present, is imaginary, it can be manipulated by clever demagogues like Stalin who demanded the deaths of millions for the sake of a future utopia.
Even a carefully chosen humane future can be a straitjacket for the chooser, because it closes down possibilities in the present.
The process of deciding our choices according to a process of trying to guess the future will distract us from dealing with the present. Because history is ironic, we should make sure our actions have some value in the present. Whatever future we imagine to be probably will not happen and even if it does, we probably won’t like it much.
Optimism has displaced attention from the real world of today for the sake of an uncertain tomorrow. This future denigrates the present: although the present is the richest and the most beautiful thing, it becomes flattened out in our imagination and makes our option seem much fewer than they really are.
History as a meaningless procession of delusions is liberating because once we attempt to interpret it according to a teleos, a purpose, a schemata, a network of stories, it becomes one dimensional and we all exist as a means of transit from Point A to Point B. Once this one dimensional conceit is given up we will be able to enjoy multidirectional behavior. This perspective will get rid of the fear that we won’t reach our destiny. Frutilessness is less of a burden if we don’t think of it as a failure but as an opportunity for our individual, private and personal histories.