The Misunderstood Father of History: A Review of Michael Colebrook’s “The Recurrence of the End Times”
Michael J. Colebrook. The Recurrence of the End Times. Voegelin, Hegel, and the Stop-History Movements. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2022.   The past decade hasn’t been kind to Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis. The emergence of China as a world power and rival to the United States, not to mention Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has raised… The post The Misunderstood Father of History: A Review of Michael Colebrook’s “The Recurrence of the End Times” appeared first on VoegelinView.

Date

source

share

Michael J. Colebrook. The Recurrence of the End Times. Voegelin, Hegel, and the Stop-History Movements. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2022.

 

The past decade hasn’t been kind to Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis. The emergence of China as a world power and rival to the United States, not to mention Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has raised seriously reservations about it. Fukuyama’s enlightenment optimism in technocracy, secular rationality, and the bureaucratic state—market-oriented liberalism—appears no longer as the paradigm to which all states aspire.
In fairness, Fukuyama himself recognizes the problems that pre-political identity poises to liberalism. The universal recognition that liberalism demands is increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on the nation, religion, ethnicity, and gender. However, as Graham McAleer notes, while Fukuyama’s “end of history thesis is bruised around the edges . . . he believes its core holding is still valid.” The reason that this account of history is still attractive and alluring because we “want to know what moves and shakes the world.” Fukuyama’s theory satisfies that itch.
At the core of Fukuyama’s claims is Kojève interpretation of Hegel’s theory of history: history has a directional component that moves humans to greater rationality and self-recognition. In The Recurrence of the End Times. Voegelin, Hegel, and the Stop-History Movements, Michael J. Colebrook puts these thinkers in conversation with Eric Voegelin, who in his more affable moments refer to Hegel’s philosophy as “Gnostic,” “apocalyptic,” and representative of the crisis of modernity. But for Colebrook Voegelin, along with Fukuyama, misreads Hegel.
For Colebrook, both thinkers accept Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy as “accurate and definitive.” According to Kojève, Hegel’s theory of history culminates into a universal and homogenous state which unites the entirety of humanity and cancels all specific differences in nationality, class, religion, and families. Each person recognizes everyone else, validating their identity and affording them dignity. This account of history is paradigmatic for all humankind.
Clearly there are some problems with such an account. First, for those who did not prescribe to this theory, they are dismissed as not counting “historically.” Let the gulag openings begin. Second, particularly for Voegelin, such a theory presupposes a perspective that transcends space and time in claiming to know what has happened, is happening, and will happen. In doing so, such a person can construct a historical account that is not only detached from reality but can defend mass murder in order to propel history forward.
With respect to Hegel, Voegelin argues that Vernunft (reason) and Geist (spirit) are monolithic historical forces marching forward and “trampling on insignificant individuals and killing everything in its path.” But Colebrook disagrees with Voegelin’s interpretation and instead believes that Vernunft and Geist
. . . must be understood as concretely, as realities in which every single human participates. . . . A more honest appraisal of Hegel’s historia sacra revels the series of individuals and institutions that participates in, but ultimately fail to fully embody, the rational existence for which they were born. . . . So, although Hegel conceives of history as this progressive unfolding of truth and reason, one is not entitled to say that, in his mind, certain individuals somehow do not matter or are not fully human. Every concrete human being over the course of history participated in reason to some degree, and therefore had some essential dignity.
For Colebrook, Voegelin’s mistake is that he believes Hegel’s theory of history is a claim of “a self-assertive absolute truth” and thus is an imaginative construction of reality. But one reads Hegel, the person finds that in spite of his abstract philosophical language Hegel is actually a concrete thinker whose theory illustrates individual and specific institutions participating in the life of reason, although never fully embodying it.
Voegelin also objected that Hegel was unwilling to accept the ultimate mystery of the future. But, according to Colebrook, Voegelin’s account of Hegel is based on Kojève’s misinterpretation of Hegel. For Colebrook, Hegel is not “quite as sure of himself or the future course of historical events,” contrary to Kojève’s claim. So while Voegeln’s critique of Hegel does not entirely depend upon Kojève’s interpretation, it is worth noting that an alternative account of Hegel to Kojève’s exists and demands exploring, especially for Voegelin scholars.
In this non- Kojèvean interpretation, Colebrook relies on the works of Slavoj Zizek and Eric Michael Dale to argue that Hegel’s theory of history translates into the end of “a historical era” but not necessarily the end of “history” itself. History, according to Zizek and Dale, is and always will be a dialectic of specific individuals and institutions that will clash with each other for the future.
Because the future is unknown for Hegel, the “end of history” means the end of “a historical era.” For Zizek, this means a self-relativization where all perspectives—rich and poor, male and female, West and East—“place themselves at the end of a historical narrative” so the “end of history” applies to them. In other words, each group views itself as the culmination of history—history ends with them, although in reality it continues onward unknowingly into the future. But since there is no external measure by which to adjudicate among conflicting perspectives, we have a Schmittan domain of friend and foe instead of Kant’s world of perpetual peace or Kojève’s universal, homogenous state.
On one side—Kojève, Fukuyama, and Voegelin—we have an interpretation of Hegel’s theory of history that Colebrook calls “finality”: an explanation of the nature, movement, and direction of history. On the other hand, we have an account of Hegel that is described as “culmination”: history’s past is known but future is not. Interestingly, Colebrooks rejects both of these interpretations and rather claims that Hegel has left gaps in his work because they are inherent to the structure of reality.
For Colebrook’s Hegel, philosophy can be completed in his system “as it had been understood by his historical epoch,” but this is not “finality,” since Hegel disclaimed all knowledge of the future. Hegel permitted the possibility that philosophy may be something else in the future. His concept of universal history therefore is similar to Voegelin’s claim that the future is unknowable. The Owl of Minerva of today may be tomorrow’s Lark of Sophia.
The Recurrence of the End Times is a provocative book that pushes Voeglein, Fukuyama, and Kojève, scholars to revisit their assumptions about Hegel. While I find Colebrook’s overall account persuasive, I wish he would have provided more evidence from Hegel of his own interpretation. By showing how the unexplainable gaps that Hegel left in his theory would have strengthen Colebrook’s interpretation of the thinker.
And while Colebrook believes his interpretation of Hegel does not invalidate Voegelin’s insights about history or repudiates Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, it does raise a border question about the relationship between the past and the present. If a thinker like Kojève misinterprets Hegel, does this ultimately invalidate his thinking? Does it even matter? Isn’t the conversation with the great minds of the past enough to inform and influence our present thoughts? And isn’t this what education—particularly liberal education—aims to be?

The post The Misunderstood Father of History: A Review of Michael Colebrook’s “The Recurrence of the End Times” appeared first on VoegelinView.

Originally appeared on VoegelinView Read More

More
articles

More
news