Category Archive 'Oscar Halecki'

06 Jul 2014

Perhaps Not Complete Untergang

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NewZealanderLondonRuins
Thomas Babbington Macauley: “[The Roman Catholic Church] saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.”

Oscar Halecki, The Limits and Divisions of European History, 1950 is ultimately optimistic.

It has been frequently stressed that, from the point of view of the historical method, ancient history is so instructive to study because it is completed;we are able to contemplate the whole process of its evolution from beginning to end. The same can be said today [1950] of European history. That comparison with the ancient, Greco-Roman world is both suggestive and comforting, for it shows that the end of an age, and even of a whole cultural world, need not necessarily mean complete extinction like that which occurred, for instance, in the case of the pre-Columbian civilizations of America. Europe’s present decline need not lead to what Oswald Spengler calls an Untergang, although the crisis is much more acute today than it was when he wrote his sensational book. Nor need Macauley’s gloomy vision of a New Zealander meditating over the ruins of London ever come true, although this time seemed so near in 1940. …

Europe came into existence as an historical community because numerous peoples entirely different from each other, without effacing their particularities and without ever uniting politically, joined in a co-operation based upon common cultural conceptions, traditions, and principles. The individual nations which developed within that community were rather small if compared, for instance, with the peoples of India or China. Likewise small was the area in which they had their home; and compared with the length of other histories –to mention only that of Egypt– the age of their common greatness was of rather short duration.

But within these narrow limits of time we see the same variety of events in rapidly changing periods that is so striking in Europe’s physical and ethnical backgrounds. This certainly is an unusually dynamic history, whether proceeding through evolution or through revolutionary upheavals. And that is the first argument in favor of the conviction that the end of the European Age in history is not necessarily the end of Europe, or of a civilization which, though inseparable from the European heritage, has ceased to be exclusively European.


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