Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bertil Haggman

Cultures, Cycles and Philosophy of History - Less Known Civilizationists


2001 saw the publication of two important books in German casting light on a number of less known civilizationists (Axel Schwaiger, Christliche Geschichtsdeutung in der Moderne - Eine Untersuchung zum Geschichtsdenken von Juan Donoso Cortés, Ernst von Lasaulx und Vladimir Solov'ev in der Zusammenschau christlicher Historiographientwicklung, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 440 pages, and Michel Grunewald, Moeller van den Brucks Geschichtsphilosophie, "Ewige Urzeugung" "Ewige Anderswerdung" "Ewige Weitergabe", Bern: Peter Lang, 2001, 153 pages). Lang's work is one volume of two with the second a reprint on van den Bruck's historical.philosophical works (Volume 2: Rasse und Nation, Meinungen über deutsche Dinge, Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 375 pages)

Juan Donoso Cortés

Spaniard Cortés (1809 - 1853) is today mainly remembered as a conservative ideologist, fighting the liberal movement in the 19th century and a believer in the authority of the state. But he is also an important historical-philosophical theorist. Much of his writings were not treated in detail until after World War II, much of it in Germany as Donoso Cortés had been Spanish ambassador in Berlin. In relation to Oswald Spengler he was regarded as a precursor (see for instance Th.P.Neill,"Juan Donoso Cortés: History and prophecy", The Catholic Historical Review 40, 1955, pp. 385 - 410) in warning that the West was ezperiencing a decline. The catastrophe of the two world wars seemed to many the realization of Donoso Cortés apocalyptic views, which were part of his historical-philosophical world view. The ideals of liberalism and socialism meant a disastrous future for the European peoples.

Donoso Cortés saw revolution as a disaster and predicted: "The revolution will be victorious everywhere, but in Germany more complete and profoundly than anywhere else." (p. 174). History to this Spanish diplomat is "the biography of mankind" from Adam and forward but there is a difference between 'historia sagrada' and 'historia profana'. There are three world historical periods and the modern period is also the end of history. He sees world history being the history of rebellions. They are the result of the guilt of man and is at the same time God's punishment of human society. But he was (like Spengler) really not a pessimist. The coming catastrophe would only make God's intervention more magnificent.

In European tradition many conservatives, mainly continental, have been critical of the French revolution, seeing it as the beginning of catastrophic events, resulting finally in the totalitarianisms of national socialism and marxism-leninism. The freedoms of 1789 threatened to end in anarchism and bringing despots to power. Against this stood a Catholic civilization: "Catholicism is a complete system of civilization, so complete" that it encompasses everything: the science of God, the science of the angels, the science of the universe, the science of man." (p.202) according to Donoso Cortés. Thus all political struggle against revolution was aimed at postponing the catastrophe. Liberalism and socialism threatened the Christian civilization. History's end was the success and world power of Antichrist. Revolutionary theories of progress thus helped the forces of Antichrist. The French socialist Proudhon (Cortés was after Berlin Spanish ambassador inParis) was the Antichristian type. He represented all Cortés was fighting: "That is my philosophy, that is the complete philosophy of history, to which I am confessing." (p. 217).

It is also interesting to note that Donoso Cortés, like de Tocqueville, predicted the rise of the United States and Russia: "Today only a few nationas are capable of what could be called foreign policy; Only three nations have it, one is America, to in Europé: England, Russia and the United States of America." (p. 219). But also Lasaulx and Solovev predict at least the rise of Russia. Around 1850, however, Donoso Cortés was the only theorist to express the belief in a revolutionary development in Russia and a total change from monarchy to revolutionary despotism. The prognosticist was also correct in believing that socialism would add religious features.

In 1850 Donoso Cortés wrote: "Before Russia is able to unleash a general war, to force its will" on the continent several things must happen (among them socialist solutions in society). After 1945 one can for a period identify a 'Donoso redivivus' in the writings of Berdajev, Dawson, Guardini, Pieper, and Toynbee.

Ernst von Lasaulx

Like Donoso Cortés the Rhinelander Lasaulx (1805-1861) can be regarded as a forerunner of Oswald Spengler. In his main work, Neuer Versuch einer alten, auf die Wahrheit der Tatsachen gegründete Philosophie der Geschichte (1856), he presented a view on the birth, growth, and decline of peoples and states. According to Lasaulx the dynamic of history was created by antagonism between Europe and Asia/Africa, between east and west, south and north. It appeared in the struggle between the Muslim Turks and the Christian Europeans. But the antagonism could also be found in the struggle between England and China during the 19th century. Thus his philosophy of history was more based on geographical determination than on the struggle between civilizations in the works of Donoso Cortés.

Lasaulx described the growth and decline of peoples and states in a biological sense. Peoples and states became ill and had to be pruned and replanted. It was part of a natural process. The time of such processes was 2000 to 4000 years of which half of the period could be seen as an era of growth and blooming. The development of world history passed from Babylon and Assur to the Greek and Roman civilizations. Lasaulx borrowed, however, much of the description of the period of decline

from the German Karl Friedrich Vollgraff.

The prognoses of Lasaulx for the Europeans was pessimistic. Man stood at the same threshold in the 19th century as in the 4th century. It could be regarded as a prelude to the coming catastrophic events.

Vladimir Solovev

The Russian Solovev (1853-1900) is not well known in the West. Also his prognoses were pessimistic. In history of man there was a division. Only a minority would choose God and opt for good. The majority would fall for the power of evil. Solovev differed from Donoso Cortés and Lasaulx in that he more in detail predicted historic-political development during the 20th century (Three Conversations on War, Progress and the End of World History, 1899/1900). In the beginning of the 20th century Japan would conquer Korea and China establishing a strong Asiatic military power. After having conquered the European colonies in Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Burma and others) these became part of the new Japanese-Chinese empire. The huge Asiatic army would attack Russian Central Asia, cross the Urals and spread over Russia's western lands. The conquerors would move to capture Germany andFrance while England avoided occupation. The Asiatic empire would also send naval expeditions against America and Australia. After 50 years of occupation,however, the Europeans rose in revolt and liberated themselves. Around 2000 the liberation struggle led to the forming of the United States of Europe, a union of states that were more or less democratically governed. Solovev predicted the rise of a global culture, the fall of the Russian czars and the establishment of an independent Jewish state in Palestine.

Solovev also foresaw a digital technological revolution (in the foreword of his main work, in which he wrote: "The magic and mechanic technology of this we cannot predict in detail and we can only be sure, that it will in 200 or 300 years vastly surpass present technology") which we are experiencing today, but which must have seemed like magic for the readers of his work on the treshold of the 20th century. He also wrote about the resurgence of Islam.

In details, of course, Solovev was incorrect. He missed both World Wars, the Russian revolution and the Cold War bipolar confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. But some of the predictions of Solovev did actually become reality. Schwaigers reintroduction of this Russian civilizationist is both timely and important.

Moeller van den Bruck

The works on the Weimar Era German conservative van den Bruck (1876 - 1925) have generally taken little notice of his interest in the philosophy of history. He did not believe in the decline of the West and thought it necessary to refute Oswald Spengler in his historical-philosophical works. It was important, he believed, to popularize a "metaphysics of reality", which implied synthesis of the main traditions of western philosophy. Van den Bruck was a nationalist and therefore primarily saw the different peoples as the agents of history.

Das Recht der jungen Völker (1919) established a new outline of history. It was not only a struggle between young and old peoples. There was also a spiral movement without end. Van den Bruck based his new model on older ones. One of these was Geschichte der Farbenlehre by Goethe, who also claimed that there was a spiral development in world history. But the most important influence was that of the German historian Kurt Breysig (for more on Breysig see section 7 below).

The rotation of world history resulted in geopolitical changes. Van den Bruck's model also provided indications of spatial migration of history northwards, which gave it a spatial, geopolitical essence. After 1914, however, van den Bruck expressed the belief of migration toward the east(in which he differed from a general myth of history that it had from Babylon migrated in a westerly direction, eventually to America). But the view of the easterly direction had taken root among 'conservative revolutionaries' inGermany after World War I. It was a pretty common understanding among them that after the Russian revolution the center of gravity of world history would be placed in the European east. In the coming decades development would be based on what was happening in the western part of this area (Germany was after World War I still a country to a great extent based on its eastern territories: Pomerania, Brandenburg, Silesia and East Prussia).

The rotation had gained speed and the south had already joined the west as periphery. The rotation was turning into revolution. In the pessimistic climate of Weimar Germany it was important to the conservatives to instill confidence in the future. Thus Germans and Russians were described as "young peoples" of the future. The Germans had a great will to life. This would be important in the coming era of the world revolution. Overpopulation was working to the advantage of Germany and would strengthen her during the 20th century. The decline of the West was not Germany's decline. The future was determined by the "young peoples" which were throwing of their shackles. Thus the Germans were described in reality to be in the same category as the colonial peoples.

In his important work Grunewald has thrown light on a philosopher of history less well known than Spengler and Toynbee. Grunewalds books have also opened the road to rediscovery of Kurt Breysig.

Kurt Breysig

Kurt Breysig (1866 - 1940), whose main work was republished in 2001 (Die Geschichte der Menschheit, 2nd edition, introduction by Arnold Toynbee from 1955, 4 volumes, 1776 pages) in his book Der Stufen-Bau und die Gesetze der Weltgeschichte (1905) first brought up the theory of the spiral movement of history. He later made it the main theory in his monumental history of mankind. This latter work is a cultural history of mankind from the Stone Age to French impressionism.

The spiral ethnological-anthropological theory by Breysig is also used to describe European culture with the same consequences as for the non-European peoples.

This German world historian was already in 1896 professor of history at the University of Berlin. In 1932 he left his chair and devoted all his time to publishing on cultural history based on the spiral theory (Stufen-bau) of 1905.


The Biblical-Christian historical world view was for centuries important. This has been described as an historical interpretation based on views of the Middle Ages. But there are civilizational approaches in the 19th century that view civilizations in theological terms. The Spanish, German and Russian philosophers of history presented by Dr. Axel Schwaiger in his recent work are important also in the 21st century. Their prognoses were often accurate and they deserve renewed study on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, especially after the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991 as the most extreme form of socialism Donoso Cortés warned of.

The less known philosophers of history of the 20th century, van den Bruck and Breysig, also deserve rediscovery. The publication of Professor Breysig's main work in 2001 and Dr. Grunewald's reintroduction of the often forgotten aspects of the writings of van den Bruck is a welcome addition in the expanding field of civilizational theory. It is important that the field of macrohistory is further developed in the 21st century, but this should be combined with study and research of many less known civilizationists. A good start was made by the publication in 2001 of the works reviewed in this report. They deserve to be translated into English and published in theUnited States and England.

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