Jacques Barzun on historical trajectory

“…what is history in itself, the vast profusion of events tending now this way, now that? Is there in it a meaning to be read, a goal to be foreseen? And whether there is or not, how are we to explain the emergence and dissolution of ‘civilization’ or of any given civilization?

These are deep questions. Many good minds have tried to solve the riddle of the rise and fall of empires, and the answers vary widely: soil exhaustion, inferior weapons, low morals, mosquitoes and malaria—take your choice. Some observers, like Vico in the 18th Century, Nietzsche in the 19th, and Spengler and Toynbee in our time, have seen in the total record a cyclical movement, but they have not agreed as to its pattern. Others, such as the Biblical prophets, Saint Augustine, Hegel and Karl Marx discerned a linear progress, but they disagree about its direction: toward the end of the world, or perfect freedom under government, or perfect justice without the need for government.”

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