We read historians – our history of Western Civilization in particular draws its historiography from Herodotus as the original historian.


History of Western Civilization

We tend to think in terms of the Ancient, Medieval, and Modern periods.

That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.  Ecclesiastes 3:15

“The past is the present unrolled for inspection, the present is the past gathered for action.” -Will Durant

“History is the fruit and the proof of man’s freedom.” -Reinhold Niebuhr

Theoretical Historians:

Inferring a pattern to history that extends beyond sufficient causes, the theorist adduces a scheme.  This is sometimes called ‘internal’ causes, referring to the free choices of man and the will of God.  Examples –

  • Moses (Genesis)
  • St Augustine (The City of God)
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)
  • Voltaire
  • Leopold von Ranke  — a peculiar example
  • H. G. Wells
  • Will Durant
  • Arnold J. Toynbee (A Study of History)
  • Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West)
  • J.M. Roberts (The Penguin History of the Word)

The Ancient Theory of History:

The gods make history, and man succeeds or falls in his relation to the gods.  Most ancient theories of history pessimistically consider that doom of man, an eternal servant to the deity.  There is a beginning, and for some and end.

The Classical Theory of History:

“Nothing happens in the universe if you consider the infinite time past” – Epicurus

“The Rational soul wanders around the whole world and through the encompassing void and gazes on infinite time and considers the periodic destructions and rebirths of the universe and reflects that our posterity will see nothing new and that our ancestors saw nothing that we have not seen” – Marcus Aurelius

We see a similarity in the view of history between the Epicurean and Stoic schools.  Time is considered infinite, and therefore repetitive.  The relation is necessary, as that which has no beginning cannot end, and cannot have a point of causation, but only intermediate causes.

Reinhold Neibuhr points out that Thucydides begins his history considering Athens to be a novelty in history (progressive), but ends his work resorting to basic classical historical pessimism.  For the Greeks, natural causation becomes a focus and sufficient to explain efficient cause.  The gods themselves are subject to history.

The Medieval Theory of History:

The Christianization of the West leads to an understanding of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man.  The relation of these two historical forces and their patterns, as well as the position of time in its relation to the eschaton (end of the Kingdom of Man) becomes the focus of particular theories.  Time is conceived as limited, having a beginning and end, which implies progress along a line.  This concept, inherited from the Hebrew conception of prophecy and fulfillment leads to ‘progressivism’ as opposed to basic ‘pessimism’.

“Humility is as profitable to those who serve as pride is harmful to those who rule” — St. Augustine, City of God XIX:15

The Modern Theory of History:

The Modern Theory of History is fundamentally progressive, yet paradoxically resurrecting the idea of infinite time, this theory views human dynamism as producing the desired stasis of history.  A theory of ‘Whig History’ sees the emergence and perfection of History as the very structure of history itself.

History Timeline

World History Website


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