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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Universal history is basic to the Western tradition of historiography, especially the Judeo-Christian wellspring of that tradition. Simply stated, universal history is the presentation of the history of mankind as a whole, as a coherent unit.

Ancient authors
The first five books of the Bible constitute a primary example of such a history. To the extent that the Pentateuch presents itself as an account of mankind as a whole, from creation to the death of Moses, it is universal history. The story progresses according to a universal principle: the Bible posits that the history of mankind is governed by Yawveh, and that his will is manifest in every event that takes place. The destiny of all mankind, according to this idea, is governed by man's relationship with God. This idea naturally flows into the story of the Children of Israel, whose patriarchs conversed with God and made various covenants with Him. These covenants governed mankind's destiny. This idea extends into the New Testament, which posits that the sacrifice of Jesus now affects every person, and every generation since his resurrection, into the limitless future.

The Bible as universal history
An early European project was the Universal History of George Sale and others, written in the mid-eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, universal histories proliferated. Philosophers such as Kant, Schiller and Hegel, and political philosophers such as Marx, presented general theories of history that shared essential characteristics with the Biblical account: they conceived of history as a coherent whole, governed by certain basic characteristics or immutable principles. For example, Hegel presented the idea that progress in history is actually the progress not of mankind's material existence, but of humanity's spiritual development. Concomitantly, Hegel presented a developmental theory of how the human spirit progresses: through the dialectic of synthesis and antithesis. Marx's theory of dialectic materialism is essential to his general concept of history: that the struggle to dominate the means of production governs all historical development.

Universal history Modern examples
Basic ideas of universal history are so prevalent that they are difficult to separate from basic Western assumptions of how the world is or should be. Outside some intellectuals, such ideas continue to predominate as core assumptions. The teleological aspects of universal history remain entrenched. Many people believe that the events of our world, and more specifically, the events within the human community, are directed toward an end or tending toward an end of some sort. 'Linear' pre-suppositions of the theory are no less prevalent. Most people living in Western cultures conceive of time, and therefore of history, as a line or an arrow, that is proceeding from past to future, toward some end. The idea that time may be cyclical, or that there is no fundamental "end" to the human struggle, is unfamiliar.


Universal chronicle
The End of History and the Last Man
Historical Materialism

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