Will “History” Ever End?


Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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35 Responses

  1. Avatar Scott says:

    So you think the DOI was more than just a propaganda piece the drafters wrote to explain why their particular revolution was more than just treason to the crown? I mean they clear didn’t believe that all men were created equal, so why should we take the other stuff in the DOI seriously?Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      Can you flesh that out a bit more? I’ve gone back and reread Jon’s post and I’m still not sure where you’re getting the “So you think the DOI was more than just a propaganda piece” bit.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        The last two paragraphs, and more specifically, the sentence that, “the Declaration of Independence, if you read the document carefully, was not meant to be a particularly “American” document. Rather it’s written in universal terms, good for all men at all times.” I don’t think the drafters cared about all men for all time. I think they were just trying to make the revolution as legitimate as possible and appeal to the French.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          I think they were just trying to make the revolution as legitimate as possible and appeal to the French.

          Um, yeah, and the small r republican Dutch (sort of) and a few others. And how did they do that? By selling their cause as a universal thing and not just an American thing. Which for your run of the mill Enlightment-minded aristocrat and/or person of means had some resonance.

          Appealling to one’s vanity and aspirations is a pretty good sales technique whether one is selling light beer or revolutions.

          (and yes, for the most part the founding generation did believe that all men were created equal, and had a heckuva blind spot, to understate things, regarding the status as ‘men’ of those who were not white, and those who were not men.)Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      Scott, you forget that at the time the DOI was drafted, , it was widely understood that the idea that all men are created equal did not apply to blacks for the simple reason that he was convinced they were physically (in the aesthetic sense), culturally, and intellectually inferior. Yes, he was inarguably, a white supremacist, so the hypocrisy charge has no bearing whatsoever in the context of what Jefferson and other Founding Fathers believed when the DOI was written. Here’s just one (there are many,many more from him and several other Founders) of Jefferson’s writings on blacks:

      “To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history. I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications”Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        Yes, I agree about the drafters view of blacks , however, I think it is arguable about whether the drafters really considered the great masses of poor whites at the time to “equal”.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          Scott, that’s a great question. I don’t know the answer but can remember nothing even eluding to such an idea. I was under the impression that the idea of, “ünterMenschen” , was only applied to blacks. Are you possibly referring to white immigrants–Irish, German, Poles? People frequently refer to the outrageous hypocrisy of writing this in the DOI: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,…” As disgusting and inexcusable as it sounds today, blacks were considered to be of a different genus. And a very significant part of the population believed the exact same thing.Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

            Don’t forget about women, they weren’t considered equal no matter their skin color or ancestry.Report

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              Yeah, Pirate Guy, you got that one right. Not quite Taliban harshness, but very extreme to say the least. And the Irish were virtual slaves being classified “indentured Servants.” That’s how they cam up with all those dances–they were expressing many, many sentiments, some rebellious that the Brits never figured out. Sort of like the Navajos doing a job on the Germans–they could NEVER decipher the Navajo language and thank God for that!

              p.s. Are a Pittsburgh Pirate kind of guy?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Heidegger, I’m not absolutely certain but if my memory serves the Navajos stymied the Japanese rather than the Germans.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Uh, yes–thanks for the correction, North. You’re absolutely right. Did they even try it with the Nazis? Can’t imagine it not being equally as successful with the Germans. Of course we busted their Enigma contraption, so maybe it wasn’t as necessary for gathering intelligence.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I don’t believe that it was used in the Atlantic theater very much primarily because the involvement there was very diverse (French, English, etc…) and the use of Navajo would have been logistically impractical.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Yeah, North, that certainly makes sense. Could you imagine the utter confusion of allies receiving messages in Navajo? Sheer bedlam. But what a brilliant idea for the Pacific theater. Do you know who came up with that idea?Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                By the way, love your name, North! One of your country’s favorite sons made a great documentary, “The Idea of North”–no, sorry, not about you, it was a beautiful take on spiritual solitude, and the necessity of it. Oh, your country’s favorite son? The pianist, GLENN GOULD!! One of those, every 100 years phenomenon. A pianist who ate, slept, and drank, Bach. In the Zone from his first breath to his last. Take a little time to leave time, this is one of those kinds of beauty that truly “passeth all understanding”. Enjoy!Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Sorry North–forgot to supply the link. Here it is.


              • Avatar North says:

                Well I’m Canadian and American so technically I’m the son of two countries. But I luv em both and since I live in Minnesota now the moniker still fits (though it’d perhaps be more apt if I lived in Alaska).Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Are impersonations allowed?

                Okay, here goes–I’m going to pretend I’m James Hanley responding to this.

                Heidegger, once again you fail to deal with the specific issues as stated. Your bigotry is only outweighed by your stupidity and frankly, I find you to be one of the most loathsome, worthless human beings I’ve ever the misfortune of coming in contact with. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I mean no offense when I say this, but if I were one of your parents, I would seriously seek legal remedy to have you aborted, regardless of your current age. If that fails, and considering you are a resident of Michigan, I would advise you to seek out the services of Dr. Kevorkian. I would even be more than happy to drive you there. And, for that matter, I would gleefully pay for the entire “operation”. If I’m not mistaken, I think his success rate for curing insomnia and every other known malady to afflict a human being, is close to 100%. Do consider. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m sure you understand your utter valuelessness in this world and your exit just can’t come soon enough. You are a dishonest, lying, despicable, repugnant, ignorant, human being who has the existential value of a gnat. (Forgive the insult all you gnats out there.) Please, please, please, make all of us at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen happy, and just die. I would also be more than happy to provide you with 874 philosophical arguments (all in Latin if you prefer) for why your right to existence ended the day you were born. With all due sincerity, Professor HanleyReport

          • Avatar Scott says:

            Benjamin Franklin warned about German immigrants overrunning America and changing its “English” nature. Some colonies required a potential voter to own a certain amount of land or land of a specified value. Others required personal property of a certain value, or payment of a certain amount of taxes to vote. Also, at different times and places, the Protestant majority denied the vote to Catholics and Jews.

            It is also the talk of things being “self-evident” that to me mark the DOI as more of a work of propaganda than real enlightenment thinking.Report

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              Scott, great and interesting points. Have to run now–looking forward to join the discussion later if it’s going on.

              Did you know Franklin invented this:

              Some countries actually banned it because they believed it summoned the devil and drove many, truly mad! Remember that next time you run your finger around the rim of wine glass–you’ll drive women mad with desire! Oh, and men too!Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Hey, who needs Viagra when you have a Glass Harmonica? A bit of an expensive seduction device, so maybe just try a few half-filled wine glasses. And report back with results!Report

  2. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    As to the “all men are created equal” thing, there is more than one way to look at it. I understand the idea, “if you look at what the FFs DID, all men are created equal means all white propertied Protestant males” are created equal. But they didn’t say that. Rather, they enunciated this Truth in abstract terms. As it were men could mean “mankind” (that includes men and women) and race, religion are not referenced; the rhetoric is no so limited on those terms. “All men are created equal” COULD mean all human beings regardless of race, gender, religion, or other categories as well. I think we have gotten to the point where we are precisely because of such an abstract reading of the DOI.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      Jon, do you think the “all men are created equal” part of the DOI was just a great way for the Founders to flip the bird to the Crown? Equal==no blood-rights will exist in the new Republic.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger says:

        Jon, should add the “all men are created”clause was a clear shot that at the Crown in that there will be no monarchical blood rights in the New Republic. Could there have been anything more outrageous and incendiary to the Crown than that statement?Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Maybe Heidegger, though one should keep in mind that England at the time of the revolution was ticking along as a constitutional monarchy and it was pretty much the ministers and elected parliamentarians of England who were actually involved in the American revolution. George III was relatively sympathetic to the revolutionaries up until the actual war.

          So I’d say you’re closer to the mark when you consider it as propeganda aimed primarily at the French and other continental europeans.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe says:

        In a sense yes. But the DOI was more than just a bird-flip.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      Fukuyama is not Straussian; he’s a historicist, a Hegelian, by way of his mentor Alexandre Kojève, the philosophical godfather of the European Union.

      I hate to cite Harry Jaffa, but this limns the differences, with some Founding Fathers and anti-historicist Lincoln thrown in.


      As for human or natural rights—unalienable rights—they are not necessarily the same as political rights. At least that’s how they saw it.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe says:

        It depends on what we mean by Straussian. I think it’s fair to term Fukuyama an East Coast Straussian; Kojève was someone the East Coasters had a great deal of respect, even if they had their differences with him.Report

    • Let’s add something to this: It was a work in progress. The statement was far from being a terminus. From the very beginning the doctrine of containment represented this nation’s flirtation with slavery. And the process certainly did not end after the Civil War. The Radical Republicans pushed for, but could not get, full rights immediately for the emancipated.Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    Woo lets hear it for neo-liberalism!Report

  4. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Voegelin argued that the Anglo-Saxon constitutional democracies were strong and vibrant because “the eschatological tension left over from the Puriton Revolution which endows the constitutional form with a character of ‘finiality’ as the successful experiment in organizing a society with a classical and Christian tradition.” Which is quite different than we see with socialist/Marxist societies who collapse rather quickly. Voegelin’s point is that the former in inbued with a transcendent pole that defines the tension of existence as grounded on the divine, in the latter form there is no such pole, the tension of existence is predicated on the idea of the ‘moi.’

    Rossbach in his ‘Gnostic Wars’ tells us that “Fukuyama’s accouont of the changes of the late twentieth century remains fundamentally a Hegelian specualtion on the progressive manifestations of the logos of history through Western liberalism.” Essentially, he is examining a gnostic failure.Report

    • Avatar Jon Rowe says:


      Many thanks for this. I’m interested in the Strauss Voegelin debate as is Tom Van Dyke. Keep that in mind for future discussion.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        The Strauss-Kojève debate contained in Strauss’ On Tyranny is what’s to the point here. Kojève believes in a Hegelian “end of history,” where everyone becomes a “philosopher” and the Universal Homogeneous State of bourgeois liberal democracy is the final end of politics, in essence making them superfluous. Fukuyama simply follows Kojève.

        The key point is “historicism”; Strauss believes man’s permanent problems are permanent.

        Here’s a link to the Google Books of “On Tyranny. The Strauss-Kojeve correspondence is in there, see also the “Restatement on Xenophon’s Hiero” section.

        This is all tall weeds, but the Strauss-Kojeve debate on historicism has been called by some the question of our age, and one of the most important debates of the 20th century.Report

  5. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Tom/Jon: I would appreciate a blog on the ‘end of history’ as per Strauss’s discussion with Kojeve (e.g. in what sense is ‘man’s permanent problems permanent?’). I’m aware of Voegelin’s analysis and those by Arendt and Eisenstadt that generally follow a perspective that the French and Russian revolutions were efforts to implement a “utopian society with a strong Gnostic component(s).” They are all fascinating analysis and I want to understand if Strauss followed with them (you imply above that he does) or if he points in another direction.
    Interestingly Rossbach places responsibility for the rise of these sundry totalitarian regimes on the backs of the West in that they were the result of what Eisenstadt described as the “culmination..of the potentialities which developed in the Axial civilizations and were brought to the forefront through the cultural and political program of modernity.” Rossbach also points out that while the Neocons/Fukuyama “celebrated” the “triumph” of the Cold War these thinkers understood that it was a ‘shared tragedy’, world-wide in scope.
    Consequently, Rossbach argues that any recovery of the cosmic order rests on our abilty to perceive evil, not as external to us as being either individually or in community, but rather the result when man turns away from the ‘divine order of being.’
    Recaptuing the essence of the ‘cosmic order ‘ may be the question of this and every age. It appears it is a question with a significant theological component.Report