This essay is adapted from Akhilesh Pillalamarri’s undergraduate thesis of 2011.
The philosophies of history of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and Oswald Manuel Arnold Gottfried Spengler (1880-1936), two German philosophers, are important in the development of a new mode of historical thinking in Western intellectual history, known as historicism. However, this mode of thinking generated sharp criticism and rejection on the part of other scholars, especially the Italian thinker Julius Evola (1898-1974) and the German-American Leo Strauss (1899-1973).
This paper will deal with the philosophies of history in their most mature and well known stages; while the views of the aforementioned philosophers have changed over time, their historical theories are best known to the world through representative works: for Hegel, this is his Philosophy of History, for Spengler, The Decline of the West, for Strauss, an article called “Political Philosophy and History,” and for Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World and Men Among Ruins. These will be the primary works used for analyzing and discussing the ideas of the thinkers mentioned above.
Hegel and Spengler are both well known for their distinctive ideas on history. They both made the argument that history could be described through an idea now known as historicism: that events in history were not the product of human beings with determinate natures acting on instincts and values that were universal, and as such, every historical era was conditioned, particular, and unique. Different values existed in different societies that were not necessarily correlated with those of other societies, nor understandable to them; this was because human beings and societies were the products of historical circumstances, material circumstances, and culture. Historicism, as propounded by thinkers in the nineteenth century such as Hegel and Spengler was a distinct break from previous understandings of history and this was because it was premised on an understanding of human nature different that most previous understandings of human nature, which held that human nature was constant and universal. However, historicism disputed this by claiming that human nature was changeable and could be molded by circumstance. Hegel and Spengler made this view clear in their writings; however, numerous fallacies are evident especially in their use of universal categories, as will be described in this paper.
Evola and Strauss, writing after Hegel and Spengler, wrote in reaction to historicism, claiming that historicism was deeply flawed because human nature was in fact constant and universal. Though they differed on particulars, Evola and Strauss agreed on the very important point that human history consists of humans implementing or striving towards similar and universal goals on the basis of their universal nature. Modern research has vindicated Evola and Strauss to an extent by determining that there is in fact a human nature that is universal and constant, and though there are differences between the views of science and the philosophers, the gist of Evola and Strauss’s arguments regarding historicism and human nature seem to be scientifically sound. Despite these differences and the fallacies of the historicism of Hegel and Spengler, the theories of all the aforementioned thinkers are important and interesting in tracing the idea of historicism and its philosophical refutations, which have had enormous influence on the social sciences and on the understanding of society of its place in history over the last two centuries.
In regards to the development and opposition to the ideas of historicism in the works of Hegel, Spengler, Evola, and Strauss, it is necessary to first understand what is meant by the concept of “historicism.” The term historicism is not tightly defined, and there are a variety of loosely related definitions and interpretations of the term historicism. In an essay on the meaning of historicism, Georg G. Iggers points out that “there is no consensus…on the meaning of the term.” Iggers goes on to say that there are several phenomenon that are given the title historicism, of which the two primary ones he says:
“A number of writings have dealt with the so-called “crisis of historicism” in the context of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Here historicism has come to be identified with relativism and loss of faith in the values of modern Western culture. This relativism has been considered a permanent aspect of intellectual life under the conditions of the modern world. A very different literature has identified historicism more narrowly with the historiographical outlook and practices of nineteenth- and to an extent twentieth-century scholarship in the human sciences.”
In general, we are concerned with this second sort of historicism, though it is quite possible the first sort of historicism described in the above passage is the result of the second sort.
One of the most important and evident characteristics about historicism was that it was a largely German intellectual phenomenon which emerged around the time of the French Revolution though proto-historicist thought appeared earlier and in non-German literature, such as that of the Italian, Giambattista Vico (1668-1744). The circumstances of the time and place in which historicism emerged are also important to understanding its peculiar characteristics. Today, historicist ideas have permeated Western thought to such a great extent that many individuals take them and their associated worldview for granted; however the fact remains that until fairly recently, historicist ideas were very rare and practically non-existent in Western thought, as well as non-Western thought for that matter. As Francis Fukuyama notes, “the radical nature of Hegelian historicism is hard to perceive today because it is so much a part of our own intellectual horizon. We assume that there is an historical ‘perspectavism’ to thought….”
The geographical, temporal, and physical scope of the origin of historicism was thus fairly limited, leading credence to the opinion that the rise historicism, for good or for bad, was a special and particular event, and a great turning point in the history of ideas. In his book, The German Genius, Peter Watson argues that concept of historicism was largely a German phenomenon, which in fact German intellectuals considered an innovation and gift to Western thought:
“Friedrich Meinicke, Ernst Troltsch, and other German historians have recognized that historicism broke free from the 2,000-year domination of natural law, with its understanding of the universe as consisting of ‘timeless, absolutely valid truths which correspond to the natural order dominant throughout the universe.’ This was replaced by a conception of the fullness and diversity of man’s historical experience. ‘This recognition, Meinicke believes, constituted Germany’s greatest contribution to German thought since the Reformation and the highest stage in the understanding of things human attained by man.’”
On why Germany provided such a fertile ground for the doctrine of historicism, Watson goes on to explain the switch in attitude among German intellectuals from the ideas of the Enlightenment and natural law to historicism as the result of “the chain of political catastrophes and recoveries acting on the German intellect between 1792 and 1815.” The impact of the French Revolution and failure of Enlightenment ideas, in German eyes, on the development of historicism was immense and Watson’s explanation deserves to be quoted at length:
“To begin with, the educated middle class in Germany had by and large welcomed the French Revolution. But a profound unease settled in after the Terror, leading to widespread doubts about the doctrine of natural law. This was intensified by the Napoleonic occupation, reinforcing nationalistic feeling and identifying Enlightenment values with the detested French culture. The reforms stimulated by these events changed German attitudes towards history in three ways. One, the Enlightenment belief in universal political values was shattered. German opinion now took the view that all values were of historical and national origin and that foreign ideas could not be transplanted unchanged onto German soil. History, not abstract (French) rationality was the key.”
German ideas on Germany’s uniqueness then were a major factor in the development of historicism. Interestingly, as the above passage indicates, historicism can lead to two positions on internationalism and nationalism, both of which can be at odds with one another. On one hand, historicism, by emphasizing the distinctive characteristics of the various nations, can lead to a greater appreciation and respect for various nations and cultures. On the other hand, by promoting the special characteristics of individual peoples and nations, historicism can impede cross national communication and understanding and forestall the development of common values across borders. There is no doubt that historicism is related to the rise of nationalist ideas, which arose in the mid 19th century.
As can be seen by the various contradictions in the idea of historicism, scholars are far from reaching a consensus on the meaning of the term historicism. However, the common thread uniting the various historicisms is the idea that there are no permanent, eternal generalizations about humans and human society, and that the same set of laws and assertions cannot apply to all peoples and times. Nonetheless, despite this belief, historicists in general believe that it is possible to discuss general trends across history. These characteristics of historicism generally apply to the thought of Hegel and Spengler.
The ideas of Hegel are held to be the main propagator and catalyst of historicist thinking in Western intellectual history, both for his ideas in and of themselves, and for the influence of Hegelian historicism on the development of a historicist mode of thought within Marxism. Historicism was also influential on thought on the right side of the political spectrum. Given the impact of Hegel’s ideas as well as their ambiguity, it is no surprise that both the Hegelian left and right utilized historicism in their discourse.
Hegel’s historicism was made possible by his view on human nature which was based on a new notion radical to his time. This notion held that human nature was essentially unfixed and different amongst different peoples because of the degree of their historical development or the nature of their particular national spirit. Thus, it was impossible to attribute any universal set of characteristics or ideals to all of humanity since different sections of humanity would act differently in different times and places.
Since Hegel held that human nature was not fixed, it was possible for Hegel to speak of different stages of human nature, and the individuals in each stage could not but help their being at such a stage, a concept which facilitated Hegel’s historicism. For example, Hegel says in regards to the African race that “we must quite give up…Universality.” This is due to the fact that the Africans, who he refers to as “Negros,” are not capable of thought or culture in the same manner as some other peoples of the world; their consciousness “has not yet attained to the realization of…God, or Law….” Since human nature was undetermined according to Hegel, the concept of progress, or of perfectibility was a possible path that could be taken, and thus it would make sense for history to be a series of set stages in which people were trapped by their historical circumstances. If human nature were invariable and the same for all people, historicism would not be as easy a theory to maintain as that would mean that human history could in fact be explained by human nature and not just the material or cultural circumstances which mechanically influenced the indeterminate human psyches of people inhabiting various cultures throughout history.
This view of human nature influenced Hegel’s view on historical human institutions and ideas. Thus, for example, in regards to the concept of “freedom,” one that plays a major part in Hegel’s thought, there is no universal historical concept of freedom that can be agreed upon by individuals from different civilizations across the times. Indeed, the word freedom has a totally different meaning for different peoples. This is summed up by Hegel: “the Eastern nations knew only that one is free; the Greek and Roman world only that some are free; while we know that all men absolutely (man as man) are free….” Here, Hegel uses the word “know” in a particular way; Hegel means that these people knew these facts as though they knew a truth. Just as humans today “know” that racism and sexism are wrong, the Chinese or the Greeks “knew” with similar certitude their notions of freedom. Thus, by “knowing,” Hegel does not leave open the possibility of discovery of an alternative “knowing” for these people. As such, Hegel points out that the Greeks had a concept of freedom, but also owned slaves, but that due to their particular knowledge of freedom, the Greeks did not find this contradictory. The historiographer, says Hegel, “brings his categories with him, and sees the phenomenon presented through his mental vision, exclusively through these media.”
This mode of thinking was historicist, because it declined to attribute one set of principles across various times and places.
“Hegel maintained that all human consciousness was limited by the particular social and cultural conditions of man’s surrounding environment- or as we say, by ‘the times.’ Past thought, whether of ordinary people or great philosophers and scientists, was not true absolutely or ‘objectively’ but only relative to the historical or cultural horizon within which that person lived. Human history must therefore be seen not only as a succession of different civilizations and levels of material accomplishment, but more importantly as a succession of different forms of consciousness. Consciousness- the way in which human beings think about fundamental questions of right and wrong, the activities they find satisfying, their beliefs about the gods, even the way in which they perceive the world- has changed fundamentally over time. And since these perspectives are mutually contradictory, it follows that the vast majority of them were wrong, or forms of ‘false consciousness’ to be unmasked by subsequent history.”
Hegel is clear that the peoples of the world are different, and that human consciousness is not one singular phenomenon throughout time. He argues that the “spirit of a people is a determinate and particular Spirit…this Spirit, then, constitutes the basis and substances of those other forms of a nation’s consciousness….”
This view then also applies to Hegel’s view of politics. Previous forms of political organization, prior to the rational, bureaucratic state emerging in Hegel’s day, especially in Prussia, were antiquated and imperfect expressions of the development of freedom. According to Hegel, “the state is…the embodiment of rational freedom….” And since freedom was supposed to have reached its highest expression in the German World (a term denoting the modern Western world rather than just Germany in a narrow sense), it follows that the best, most rational, and most free states would be found in this World. Thus, because there was no universal set of truths that applied to all peoples and times, Hegel believed it foolish “and absurd…to look to Greeks, Romans, or Orientals for models of political arrangements of our time.” The institutions of the ancients would suffice for the ancients whereas the institutions of the modern Europeans would serve modern Europeans. Hegel, unlike many previous thinkers such as Machiavelli did not attempt to appropriate Classical models. Rather, more along the lines of his near contemporary Constant, Hegel argued that the institutions of the ancients and the moderns were fundamentally different precisely because the times and the peoples of these different eras were fundamentally different.
Undoubtedly, Hegel’s historicism was radical. However, in other ways, his view of history was not radical at all, especially in his view of history as progressive. Hegel held that “the History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom.” In this sense, Hegel’s history was very much a continuation of pre-Hegelian Enlightenment thought that history was moving in a progressive direction, in which human freedom would grow away from despotism. Hegel’s view of history contains numerous contradictions and issues which will be addressed later.
Spengler, like Hegel, believed that the very framework of human experience was limited by the time and the civilization in which the person lived. More than Hegel, Spengler is conscious of the fact that his view on history is historicist, and takes pride in promoting that fact:
“it is this that is lacking to the Western thinker, the very thinker in whom we might have expected to find it – insight into the historically relative character of his data, which are expressions of one specific existence and one only; knowledge of the necessary limits of their validity; the conviction that his ‘unshakable’ truths and ‘eternal’ views are simply true for him and eternal for his world-view; the looking beyond them to find out what the men of other Cultures have with equal certainly evolved out of themselves.”
Thus, according to Spengler, all thinkers are conditioned by the forces of the times and the civilization they live in. Even thinkers known for their relativism cannot seem to explain this; Spengler argues that Nietzsche is constrained by Western thought: “his conceptions…lie deep in the essence of Western civilization….” “He never once moved outside the scheme [ancient-medieval-modern], nor did any other thinker of his time.”
Due to the reality of the “historically relevant” character of historical data, argues Spengler, men will believe with the same conviction and passion different truths at different times, but will nonetheless in each time believe each truth to be the complete and total Truth. Therefore, from the point of view of reality, there is no truth, but psychologically, whatever man believes to be the truth is the truth. In the words of Spengler,
“‘Mankind’…has no aim, no idea, no plan… [and] is a zoological expression, or an empty word. But conjure away the phantom, break the magic circle, and at once there emerges an astonishing wealth of actual forms…I see, in place of that empty figment of one linear history which can be kept up only by shutting one’s eyes to the overwhelming multitier of facts, the drama of a number of mighty Cultures…each stamping its material, its mankind, in its own image; each having its own idea, its own passions, its own life, will and feeling, its own death….Each Culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay, and never return. There is not one sculpture, one painting, one mathematics, one physics, but many, each in its deepest essence different from the others, each limited in duration and self-contained…”
Spengler sums this up by writing, in regards to modes of thought “the thinker must admit the validity of all, or of none.” The result of this is both the absolute truth and the absolute untruth of truths: absolute in the mind of the people for whom it is true, and absolutely untrue from an objective point of view, since objectively there cannot be mutually contradictory truths.
Like Hegel, Spengler believed that the different modes of human consciousness were, separated as they were by the barriers of space and time, more or less incompatible with each other. Regarding the Classical World, Spengler observes that “the whole religious-philosophical, art-historical and social critical work of the nineteenth century has been necessary to enable us, not to understand Aeschylus, Plato, Apollo and Dionysus, the Athenian state and Caesariasm, but to realize, once and for all, how immeasurably alien and distant these things are from our inner salves- more alien, maybe, than Mexican gods and Indian architecture.” Thus, like Hegel, Spengler also believed that it was impossible to assume universal definitions of concepts across time and space: “that there is not the slightest inward correlation between the things meant by ‘Republic,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘property,’ and the like then and there and the things meant by such words here and now….”
As evidenced by Spengler’s belief that there were different modes of human consciousness and on the variability of the historical character of humanity and their ideas, Spengler’s idea of history and belief in historicism also point to a certain view of human nature as being indeterminate that he shared with Hegel. According to Spengler, various ideas, concepts, “peoples, languages, truths, gods,” among other things arose individual to different cultures due to their ideological basis and spirit, and thus, there was no such thing as a single mankind with a single, predictable nature. Thus, “there is nothing constant, nothing universal.” The result of this idea is that, for example, there was one human nature for the Greeks that were shared by no other peoples, either non-Greeks from the Classical period or modern people. The way every people reacted in history was shaped by their Spirit, their world view, and their circumstances, which resulted in every people having different thoughts, emotions, ways of reaction to circumstances, different conclusions drawn from these reactions; in short, every people had an entirely different nature, and there was no universal, constant human nature, only the separate natures of separate cultures, shaped by the features of these cultures.
Differences between Hegel and Spengler
Hegel and Spengler share numerous similarities in their view on history. Chief among these is their acceptance of multiple modes of human consciousness based on time and civilization and the relativity of human societies. Nonetheless, there are some differences between the two philosophers that must be highlighted. Two of the greatest differences between the two are their ideas of the direction and purpose of history. Hegel saw history as a linear, progressive process, one that had an “absolute final aim” and one that moved in the direction of realizing that aim, which was the goal of history, the full expression of reason and the fulfillment of human freedom. Spengler on the other hand believed history to be directional only so much as it was cyclical. However, each culture that arose in history, was self-contained and its cyclical nature only extended unto itself; thus, there was no ultimate collective destiny for mankind, according to Spengler. Spengler furthermore believed that history was without direction, since it consisted of the succession of cultures, all of which began and ended, and passed through stages. There was not necessarily any logic or end to this process.
Interestingly, Hegel and Spengler believed in the inevitability and rigidity of their historical models: for Hegel, history had to move in a progressive direction, whereas for Spengler, the cyclical destiny of civilizations and their stages were as certain as the fact that summer followed spring, and autumn, summer. According to Hegel, “History…was a rational necessary course.” Likewise, Spengler asserted that history was “a series of stages which must be traversed, and traversed moreover in an ordered and obligatory sequence….” Furthermore Spengler asserted that this sequence was “insusceptible of modification.”
Another major difference between Hegel and Spengler resulted from their different views of history. Despite their shared belief in historical conditioning, Spengler took this belief much further than Hegel. Hegel saw the different truths to be steps on a ladder progressing towards an even more complete truth, and thus towards a truth that was actually an objective truth. Hegel conceded that he might have been historically conditioned to think in such a manner: “to him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in its turn presents a rational aspect.” However, this did not necessarily prevent him from arguing that certain civilizations and his notion of progress was better; though he questioned his objective basis in doing so, Hegel still, for all practical purposes lived as though he believed objectively in the supremacy of certain civilizations and eras, namely his own, clearly stating numerous times that it was the destiny of non-Europeans to fall under European domination and that the natives of the world, the Indians, and the Chinese would recognize the superiority of Europeans: “The English…are the lords of the land [India]; for it is the necessary fate of Asiatic Empires to be subjected to Europeans; and China will, some day or other, be obliged to submit to this fate.” Indeed this was the way for the fulfillment of history to become truly universal, for even if history reached the highest stage of the ladder of progression and was completed in Europe, it would have to be exported.
Spengler also agreed that his view was subjective and historically conditioned. This was where the similarities with Hegel end; on the other hand, Spengler was much more radical in asserting the essentially equality of all the truths of the various civilizations, and was not willing to concede that any particular one or view might be better than any other. Hegel’s view on the present time, his nineteenth century was much more optimistic than Spengler’s, who saw the present as merely another stage, one that must inevitably pass, and not a majestic fulfillment of history.
Problems with Hegel and Spengler
There are several elements in the philosophies of Hegel and Spengler which call into question the idea of historicism and whether or not it is valid. The most important of these elements is the dependence of their philosophies on certain abstractions and trends. For example, the assertion of Hegel that history is progressive and Spengler that it is cyclical seem to make absolute abstractions about the nature of history, and as such, by making march of history seem inevitable, both philosophies implicitly suggest that historical events and conditioning cannot influence history after all. As Leo Strauss summarizes, the result is a contradiction which calls into question the validity of historicism, because many of the questions that historicism seeks to answer are based on definitions and assumptions that require generalization and abstraction:
“Historicism appears in the most varied guises and on the most different levels. Tenets and arguments that are the boast of one type of historicism provoke the smile of the adherents of others. The most common form of historicism expresses itself in the demand that the questions of the nature of political things, of the state, of the nature of man, and so forth, be replaced by the questions of the modern state, of modern government, of the present political situation, of modern man, of our society, our culture, our civilization, and so forth. Since it is hard to see, however, how one can speak adequately of the modern state, of our civilization, of modern man, etc., without knowing first what a state is, what a civilization is, what man’s nature is, the more thoughtful forms of historicism admit that the universal questions of traditional philosophy cannot be abandoned.”
Likewise in regards to the philosophies of histories of Hegel and Spengler, it can be noted that many of their categorizations require definitions. Furthermore, despite the understanding of both men that, based on their theories, their own views are subjective and historically conditioned, in many places in their writing, both men, but especially Hegel, write as though they appropriated eternal and exact standards. This is seen, for example, Hegel’s non-historicist view of the concept of Reason. For Hegel, Reason was something that was not necessarily subjected to the circumstances of time and place, saying of Reason that it “is the sovereign of the World; that the history of the World, therefore, presents us with a rational process.” It should seem that since Reason “is the substance of the Universe,” this is an objective truth accessible to all peoples at all times, similar to the concept of the natural law. This is since Hegel declares it to be “the True, the Eternal, the absolutely powerful essence.” However, according to Hegel, for some reason, Reason reveals itself gradually and progressively to different peoples, this process is by which they understand freedom, and that this in itself is necessarily rational. Reason, then for Hegel, is both being and becoming, eternal and true, yet for some peoples at some times, that which is the substance of the very universe is inaccessible because it has not yet been spontaneously revealed unto them. Hegel’s concept of Reason is thus ambiguous and could or could not be historicist. Where Hegel gets his notion of Reason from, and whether or not this notion of Reason is the eternal a priori notion of Reason handed down to Hegel from previous Western philosophy, thus setting up an objective standard by which to measure the histories of other peoples is left unclear and is a matter which calls into question the historicism of Hegel.
On the issue of categorization of ideas that might be historicist, verily, Spengler, like Strauss, indicated, that in order to even discuss the various forms of a concept, such as culture, we must determine what a culture is, in other words, extract from the particulars, a universal idea of culture. Spengler indeed seems to have made several assertions that dent the idea of historicism and that there is in fact, a universal set of values rooted in human nature. Though Spengler is said to have changed some of his historicist views after he wrote his famous work The Decline of the West, this can also be seen in that work itself in the manner in which Spengler speaks about phenomenon such as the city and money, for example.
Furthermore, all cultures, according to Spengler, must be grounded in religion, which implies a belief that religious belief is core to human experience. Despite the view put forth by Spengler, that different ideas were unique and particular to cultures, he manages to unite vastly different concepts as expressions of the same form, the same drive of every civilization. Thus for Spengler, Buddhism, Stoicism, and Socialism are essentially similar, and are, in his words, “morphologically equivalent….” So, in a sense, these three phenomenon are not historical events, particular to their cultures, but merely different civilizations expressing the same thing in different ways. This understanding is actually similar to an understanding of Evola’s non-historical argument that “the dimension of that which is universal may appear in different aspects and different degrees in various civilizations and traditional organizations,” but that nonetheless, an element of universality appeared in all of the aforementioned civilizations.
Resolution of Hegel’s Historicism
To return to Hegel, unlike Spengler, Hegel seems vaguely aware of the contradictions in his own historicism and as such there are mechanisms in Hegel’s work which provide a manner in which his historicism might be resolved. The irony of Hegel’s historicism though is the fact that though Hegel’s view on history was historicist, Hegel was also of the view that as history progressed, a “universal history” would emerge, as the spirit of history was One, and that this would be the fulfillment of history. Hegel’s view of history was in fact one that was universal, and he claimed to be the author of a universal history. That history had to be universal seemed self evident and necessary to Hegel because of the dependence of such a concept of history on the idea of Reason. Hegel’s concept of Reason was one that was essentially universal in its nature, as Reason was a fact of the nature of the world that was a matter of faith and availability for any human being. Reason was a truth in other words, the realization of which would alter the course of societies and direct them all towards one end, thus ending their separate natures caused by historicism. This sort of resolution using Spengler would be impossible since Spengler denied the existence of one reason, just like he denied the existence of one type of thinking, logic, art, or science. It would be inconceivable for Spengler to imagine that there could be one type of universal, unvarying concept that could apply to all individuals in all civilizations at all times, and thus for Spengler, there was nothing that would have the ability to push disparate peoples together onto a common path.
Thus, according to Hegel, the mechanisms of history would create a future, that was not necessarily historicist from a historicist past, as history progressed towards its fulfillment. This was a state of existence that Francis Fukuyama called “the end of history.” Hegel’s history would solve its own historicism by its own fulfillment. This history would progress towards this universal state in a series of stages, most of which occurred in the context of what we know as the Western world. The Roman Empire on one hand “established the universal legal equality of all men…without recognizing their rights and inner human dignity.” Of course, in terms of Hegel’s philosophy, the Roman Empire, being constrained by its particular cultural horizons could not but do so. This recognition, a further step along the path historical progress “could only be found in the Judeo-Christian tradition that established the universal equality of man on the basis of his moral freedom.”  In Christian terms, this was explicated as “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Of this, Hegel writes that “man is man-in the abstract essence of his nature- is contemplated in God; each unit of mankind is an object of the grace of God and of the Divine purpose: ‘God will have all men to be saved.’ Utterly excluding all specialty, therefore, man, in and for himself-in his simple quality of man- has infinite value….” This tradition, realized with the freedom of the German world would be the culmination of history, and take man from a historicist state to a universalist, non historicist state. The establishment of global standards and values seems to partly vindicate this aspect of Hegel’s thought.
Thus, according to Hegel, Christianity abolished the spiritual and moral hierarchy of human beings present in societies such as China or India. This way of thinking about man is in sharp contrast to the differentiated and unequal view of man present in other societies. However, this is equivalent to suggesting that historicism is a trap, because despite Hegel’s argument that the human condition is historically determined by circumstances and necessity, humans in those circumstances are trapped by inherent factors. Thus, for example, according to Hegel, “the Oriental World has as its inherent and distinctive principle the Substantial, in Morality.” This ignores the fact that the various peoples of the so-called “Orient” have throughout the ages adopted countless modes of morality, governance, religion, and economic sustenance based on varying conditions and that these modes varied greatly among these civilizations. How then can it be said that they have inherent principles, and while on one level, by establishing different principles for different peoples, this establishes their validity and historicism, by taking their conditions out of their circumstances, makes their historicism seem sinister and almost, from the viewpoint of progress, a cruel joke played on them by history.
It is a trap that essentially all peoples faced- not only the Chinese and Indians, but also the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, because all of these civilizations failed to fully complete the journey towards historical progress. The escape from this trap comes from a source that can only be non-historical, because Hegel describes it as a singular, particular event: the coming of Christianity. Without this, the modern conception of man, even the secularized form, would not be possible. This is contrasted, for example, to the example of India: “distinction between the classes of society as they exist in the Christian world and those in Hindostan [India] is the moral dignity which exists among us in every class, constituting that which man must possess in and through himself. In this respect, the high classes are equal to the lower….” In India, argues Hegel, “characteristic of the Hindoo’s humanity is the fact that he kills no brute animal, founds and supports rich hospitals for the brutes, especially for old cows and monkeys- but that throughout the whole land, no single institution can be found for human beings who are diseased or infirm from age.” 
Evola and Strauss
After the rise of the historicist view in the nineteenth century, much criticism of it arose. Additionally, those who critiqued such views developed powerful arguments in favor of non historicist views of history. Evola, and then Strauss developed such views. The views of Evola are especially interesting, because Evola takes a “traditionalist” stance in that much of his life was dedicated to defending the pre-Enlightenment traditionalist views and is thus an argument against historicism influenced by a time when there was no hint of historicism in the realm of ideas. Traditionalism, however, as Evola saw it “is something simultaneously meta-historical and dynamic: it is an overall ordering force, in the service of principles that have the chrism of a superior legitimacy (we may even call them ‘principles from above’).” Like Hegel, Evola was willing to advance the opinion that something from above, or outside the realm of history was capable of affecting it; however, unlike Hegel, Evola’s metaphysical reality was expressed in the world through a set of principles which expressed themselves equally everywhere at every time; thus, Evola’s metaphysics was one of being. On the other hand, this contrasts to Hegel’s metaphysics which was one of becoming. This is due to the fact that Hegel’s spirit of history was not fixed and unchanging but directional and unfolding, in a process of fulfilling. Thus, it was not a fixed process, or pure being. Spengler’s metaphysics too were based on the concept of being, as for him too, history was changing, evolving, growing, and decaying- constantly changing, and not based on one set of principles.
As noted earlier, historicism arose partly in reaction to the universal values of the Enlightenment; much of Evola’s thought also in opposition to the Enlightenment but from a different direction; traditionalism is what came before the Enlightenment, while historicism and romanticism came afterwards. Both Strauss and Evola would agree that the universalism of the Enlightenment, due to its flaws, was partly a catalyst for historicism. Consequently, for the sake of constructing an argument against historicism, resorting to the values of the Enlightenment may be somewhat suspect due to its civilizational and temporal proximity to historicism; furthermore, there can be no doubt that some Enlightenment thinkers such as Vico and Rousseau held proto-historicist views. On this matter, Strauss writes:
“Historicism discovered these standards while fighting the doc- trine which preceded it and paved the way for it. That doctrine was the belief in progress: the conviction of the superiority, say, of the late eighteenth century to all earlier ages, and the expectation of still further progress in the future. The belief in progress stands midway between the non-historical view of the philosophic tradition and historicism. It agrees with the philosophic tradition in so far as both admit that there are universally valid standards which do not require, or which are not susceptible of, historical proof. It deviates from the philosophic tradition in so far as it is essentially a view concerning ‘the historical process’; it asserts that there is such a thing as ” the historical process” and that that process is, generally speaking, a ‘progress’: a progress of thought and institutions toward an order which fully agrees with certain presupposed universal standards of human excellence.”
This is not to say, however, that the views of Evola and the Enlightenment on this particular issue of historicism are incompatible. After all, both the values of traditionalism and the Enlightenment were universal and it was to this universality that historicism set itself against. However, traditionalism accepted university in diversity, whereas the values of the Enlightenment sought, in their universality, to level and equalize distinct expressions of the truth, and makes societies more alike, though it was not necessarily opposed to the cosmopolitan spirit. Furthermore, despite the friction between the Enlightenment and traditionalism, arguments made by traditionalism could in essence by used by Enlightenment thinkers against traditionalism with the universal ideas of tradition replaced by the universal ideas of the rights of man.
Evola held political views that were in sharp contrast to the historically conditioned views of Hegel. Simply put, Evola was staunchly and uncompromisingly against historicism. Evola notes that “the supreme values and the foundational principles of every healthy and normal institution are not liable to change and to becoming…In the domain of these values there is no ‘history’ and to think about them in historical terms is absurd. Such values and principles have an essentially normative character…even where these principles are objectified in a historical reality, they are not at all conditioned by it; they always point to a higher, meta-historical plane, which is their natural domain and where there is no change.” These principles were true and accessible to any who searched, just like anyone in any civilization who dropped an apple from a height would invariable notice that the apple fell to the ground (and thus implicitly discovering a law of nature: that all things fall to the ground); likewise, principles of truth were also invariable. Evola refers to this truth as knowledge, as opposed to theory, here using the term knowledge as indicative of knowing something to be true.
Falling away from these principles led to historicism, or a sort of intellectual poverty Evola also termed materialism, which he described as “an understanding of reality…always under the influence of…direct and limited experiences.” Since experience changes in time and place, it is no surprise that such an understanding of reality would lead to historicism as “man’s experience no longer extended to nonphysical realities.”
Evola, then, acknowledges the psychological possibility of historicism. Evola’s historicism and universality, however, is premised on an acceptance of a civilization of the truth of traditionalism. Acceptance of this shields people from historicism: “there is no form of traditional organization…that does not hide a higher principle….” Evola views falling away from the universality of tradition, which is found in every civilization, as a way in which historicism might be induced in the world, thus making historicism a reality as a self-fulfilling prophecy; Evola wrote that historicism had become a reality in the modern world because of the sort of civilization in which modern man lived in, noting that “we live in the world of becoming, which is characterized by a rapid change of events, circumstances, and forces….”
Nonetheless, such a state cannot have any validity; as such a state is a falling away from validity. As Evola notes, “to leave the parameters of Tradition meant to leave the true life.” Therefore, it is entirely possible, in Evola’s view, to reject this traditionalism. The result then is the loss of objectivity, the rise of subjectivity, and the possibility of historicism. This is related to Evola’s conception of “the two natures,” in which one could either chose the divine nature (traditionalism) and all that came with it, or the human nature, which is changing.
Evola’s concept of universality is grounded on a traditionalism that is metaphysical in nature and relies heavily on symbolism and social stratification. For Evola, the answer to historicism is traditionalism, which while elastic, is not infinitely flexible. Strauss is somewhat more flexible. Like Evola, Strauss rejected the concept that truths may be historically conditioned and that universal principles could exist. On the other hand, the quest for universal principles was, for Strauss, part of the role of philosophy, and that was a quest that was not necessarily concluded. Thus, Strauss, unlike Evola, did not have a firm alternative such as traditionalism to counteract historicism. Strauss is more interested in the asking of eternally valid and universal questions, whereas Evola is more interested in their answers, which he believed himself to already be in possession of. Strauss approaches the concept of universal principles mainly from the point of view of political and philosophical questions he believes are eternal for man and applicable in all times and places. Strauss’ universality is thus premised on the belief that truisms can be found regarding political and social systems. This rebuttal of historicist thinking on the part of Strauss can be seen in the following paragraph:
“Classical political philosophy is not refuted, as some seem to believe, by the mere fact that the city, apparently the central subject of classical political philosophy, has been superseded by the modern state. Most classical philosophers considered the city the most perfect form of political organization, not because they were ignorant of any other form, nor because they followed blindly the lead given by their ancestors or contemporaries, but because they realized, at least as clearly as we realize it today, that the city is essentially superior to the other forms of political association known to classical antiquity, the tribe and the Eastern monarchy. The tribe, we may say tentatively, is characterized by freedom (public spirit) and lack of civilization (high development of the arts and sciences), and the Eastern monarchy is characterized by civilization and lack of freedom. Classical political philosophers consciously and reasonably preferred the city to other forms of political association, in the light of the standards of freedom and civilization. And this preference was not a peculiarity bound up with their particular historical situation. Up to and including the eighteenth century, some of the most outstanding political philosophers quite justifiably preferred the city to the modern state which had emerged since the sixteenth century, precisely because they measured the modern state of their time by the standards of freedom and civilization.”
On the Validity of Historicism in light of Human Nature and Consciousness
In light of the thought of the thinkers discussed in the paper, the question arises: to what extent is historicism a valid philosophy of history? And are the effects of this ideology helpful in both the understanding of the world and in ordering the affairs of men? The best way to determine the answers to these questions are by comparative observations of various cultures in times and places, the study of their philosophies and histories (something that was not very much done before Hegel, to his credit), as well as the combination of such studies with anthropological studies of human nature as well as delving into human prehistory.
To begin with, the most important premise that must be established before considering the above question is the following: is there such a thing as a singular human nature? And if so, what is it? Of course, volumes may be written about human nature; what follows is a brief summary. For further information, especially studies on human behaviors and prehistory, the books War in Human Civilization by Azar Gat, the Evolution of God by Robert Wright, and The Origins of the Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama detail studies on human nature and basic human traits that do not seem to vary through time or place.
Firstly, it is almost universally established that human nature in its physical aspects is fixed: the desire of all peoples to acquire food, drink, and shelter is a given. No civilization has tried to deny this; if so, such civilizations would have essentially vanished as a result of civilizational suicide. Human behavior too, also might then have aspects of it that are fixed, leading to a legitimate conclusion that there is such a thing as human nature; and if there is such a thing as human nature, there is one consciousness and thus, there is the possibility that all humans seek a common truth or can acknowledge certain unchanging principles in all times or places. Since values are based on human nature and emotions, and these are invariable, then it follows that values are similar across cultures as well. Human behavior, being fixed, can only be fixed by the only biological limiting factor that could fix it, which are the genes that program human beings. It could be possible then, that, genetically, human brains are programmed and in fact only capable or predisposed to think in certain manners and not others. There is no doubt, for example, that emotions such as sorrow and happiness are almost universal. More so, though, revenge seems to be a natural human desire and phenomenon. Consequently, humans seek revenge in different ways, conditioned by culture, but the fundamental desire to seek revenge remains rooted in human nature, despite the various extortions against it. Human nature is hard to do away with, even with the polish of culture. And when culture fails to regular, in the myriad ways the various cultures regulate against revenge or allow it to be expressed, revenge often takes its default, primeval, violent form, indicating a root form built into human nature.
Furthermore, nobody, for example, questions whether or not most animals seem to have innate natures. Scientific descriptions and studies of various animals almost invariably describe their behaviors and life patterns. Thus for example, the behavior of lions is described. These behaviors, though variable, are limited and locked within a certain stratum, dictated by habitat, environment, and most importantly of all, genes. Human beings, too, are animals. Likewise, it follows that human beings can have their behavior described in general. Though human beings have the ability to widely modify their behaviors due to culture, which “evolves” human behavior faster than actual genetic evolution, it seems as though at its root, human behavior and nature are, for our particular species, fixed. It is these fundamental behaviors that lead to the almost universal phenomenon of war and religion for example. For example, the very desire to attribute unknown things to invisible forces is universally human. Furthermore, reason, then is not necessarily part of human nature. Though humans have the ability to learn to be rational, they also have strong non-rational elements to their behavior.
Humans thus adapt their fundamental, basic, and innate selves to their environments, which results in the creation of differentiated cultures. That they have different truths and perspectives seems to be historicist, but that they all have a concept of truth shows that beyond historical circumstances, humans are always searching for universal ideas. The individual truths of various cultures are nonetheless, considered by almost all these cultures to be universally true. This fact of human nature, its fundamental shared consciousness of individuals, means that in any meaningful sense, historicism seems to be invalid in terms of human nature. As for the purpose and direction of history, that is another matter, though it seems that it is the series of events that merely occur, and if history is not historicist (becoming), it really has no direction or purpose, for the opposite of becoming is being, and being need not have any direction in particular.
These findings on human nature, on which there is gradually an emerging consensus among the academic community, soundly disagree with the view of human nature put forth by Hegel and Spengler: that human nature is indeterminate, different in different times and places, and the consequence solely of physical and cultural factors. Thus, the view of human nature put forth by the modern social sciences more closely resembles the views of human nature advocated by Evola and Strauss, and fits in better with their historical theories. Nonetheless, there are differences between Evola, Strauss, and the view put forth by contemporary scholarship. Evola’s view on human nature is contingent on a universalism that is metaphysical in nature; a higher truth was to be found have expressed itself in all cultures, based on Evola’s doctrine of the two natures or the two truths. This metaphysical order was reflected in a social order that necessitated not just a hierarchal state but a particular state which was organized on the basis of a particular class system, the ideal of which, was the Hindu caste system, and was based on the concept of a divine kingship, or a ruler ruling on the basis of ritual traditional power. 
In these matters, however, Evola goes too far in his belief that the common nature of all of humanity implied a common universal sacred organization for humanity on both the religious and socio-political spectrum. While one cannot deny that there might be a metaphysical nature for all of humanity, one cannot affirm such an assertion either; consequently, when speaking of human nature, we must look to human biology and psychology, which do indicate a certain human nature. As noted, this human nature almost makes hierarchal organization, social life, war, and religion universal but does not make any particular social organization such as a particular hierarchy of classes such as a four tier class system or a political system such as sacred kingship particularly necessary as expressions of human nature.
On the other hand, for Strauss, human nature was fixed but involved a teleological purpose, which was to achieve an ideal form of society and polity, which Strauss believed to be the city state of a medium size.
Strauss’s concept of human nature thus neglects a large part of what in fact compromises human nature- the shared impulses that create similar societies throughout history- warlike, patriarchal societies, give rise to hierarchy, religion, and other social and cultural constants. Instead Strauss’s concept of human nature focuses almost primarily on the assumption that human nature is geared towards an end, and though human nature itself is determine, this does not necessarily imply that it is universally geared towards a certain end, only that certain aspects of human culture and psychology are universal, and that as a consequence, certain aspects of human culture and history will be similar and universal across groups. Strauss’s ideas raise and issue of why, if human nature had a teleological element to it, the whole human race, being of the same nature, did not reach the same end. The fact that human beings willingly and happily opted for forms of societies and governments that were not city states throughout the majority of human history seems to disprove Strauss’s idea that human nature includes an innate drive towards a certain goal.
In this paper, the historical theories of Hegel, Spengler, Evola, and Strauss were presented. The historicism of Hegel and Spengler was premised on a particular view of human nature- that human nature was indeterminate and thus essentially nonexistent as a universal; that different humans had different natures according to the cultures or material circumstances they inhabited. Thus, historicism was possible as there were no universal values or modes of human consciousness; this resulted in humans being the products of their times and surroundings. While giving evidences for their theories, Hegel and Spengler’s theories were also riddled with fallacies, mainly their inability to completely rid their theories of universal categories that implied some sort of commonalities across different human cultures.
The alternative view- which rejected historicism was taken by Evola and Strauss, both of whom argued that there were certain principles and values that were accessible to all humans everyone on account of their common humanity. Thus, human nature existed, since all humans were alike in being able to attain these principles, which for Evola were the principles of traditionalism and for Strauss, that of an ideal polity. In both cases, a constant, universal human nature was necessary for humans of all times and places to be able to access these truths. Modern research in the social and hard sciences has proven that there is in fact a determinate human nature that is shared by all human beings across time and culture, and that it is fallacious to believe that human beings are “blank slates” whose horizons are shaped merely by social, cultural, or material factors and circumstances, which change human beings as they change. This determinate human nature is the result of a human biology and psychology which is particular to the human species just as certain generalities can be made about various other species and phenomenon in this world.
Although there are differences between the emerging academic view on human nature, the lack of historicism, and the consequent view of history, and the theories of Evola and Strauss, Evola and Strauss were nearer to the truth of human nature and the nature of human history than Hegel and Spengler, and as such, are of interest in the history of historical theory.
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