THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY -- VOLUMES 1 & 2
FIRST PART: THE ORIGINS
"THE WORLD," says Dr. Martin Luther, "is ruled by God through a few heroes and pre-eminent persons." The mightiest of these ruling heroes are the princes of intellect, men whom without sanction of diplomacy or force of arms, without the constraining power of law and police, exercise a defining and transforming influence upon the thought and feeling of many generations, men who may be said to be all the more powerful the less power they have, but who seldom, perhaps never, ascend their throne during their lifetime; their sway lasts long, but begins late, often very late, especially when we leave out of account the influence which they exercise upon individuals and consider the moment when that which filled their life begins to affect and mould the life of whole peoples. More than two centuries elapsed before the new conception of the Cosmos, which we owe to Copernicus, and which was bound to revolutionise all human thought from its foundations, became common property. Men as important among his contemporaries as Luther said of Copernicus that he was "a fool who turned upside down the whole art of astronomia." Although his system of the world was already taught in antiquity; although the works of his direct predecessors, Regiomontanus and others, had prepared everything that made the last discovery inevitable, so that one might safely say that the Copernican system was only awaiting for its completion the spark of inspiration in the brain of the "most pre-eminent"; although it was here not a question of baffling problems in metaphysics and morals, but of a simple and, moreover, a demonstrable conception; although no material interest whatever was threatened by the new doctrine, much time was needed for this conception, which was in so many important respects of a revolutionary character, to travel from the brain of its author into that of a few other privileged men, and, ever spreading, finally take possession of the whole of mankind. It is well known how Voltaire in the first half of the eighteenth century fought for the recognition of the great triad -- Copernicus, Kepler, Newton -- but as late as the year I779 the worthy Georg Christoph Lichtenberg felt himself compelled to undertake a campaign in the Gottingisches Taschenbuch, against the "Tychonians," and it was not till the year of grace one thousand eight hundred and twenty- two that the Congregation of the Index authorised the printing of books which teach that the earth moves!
I make this statement in advance that the reader may comprehend in what sense the year 1 is here chosen as the starting-point of our age. It is no random date, chosen for reasons of convenience, or because the outward course of political events had stamped this year as particularly noteworthy; it has been adopted because the simplest logic compels us to trace a new force back to its origin. It is a matter of "history" how slowly or how quickly it grows into an effective power; the actual life of the hero is, and cannot but be, the living source of all subsequent developments.
The birth of Jesus Christ is the most important date in the whole history of mankind.  No battle, no dynastic change, no natural phenomenon, no discovery possesses an importance that could bear comparison with the short earthly life of the Galilean; almost two thousand years of history prove it, and even yet we have hardly crossed the threshold of Christianity. For profoundly intrinsic reasons we are justified in calling that year the "first year," and in reckoning our time from it. In a certain sense we might truly say that "history" in the real sense of the term only begins with the birth of Christ. The peoples that have not yet adopted Christianity -- the Chinese, the Indians, the Turks and others -- have all so far no true history; all they have is, on the one hand, a chronicle of ruling dynasties, butcheries and the like: on the other the uneventful, humble existence of countless millions living a life of bestial happiness, who disappear in the night of ages leaving no trace behind; whether the kingdom of the Pharaohs was founded in the year 3285 or in the year 32850 is in itself of no consequence; to know Egypt under one Rameses is the same as to know it under all fifteen Ramesides. And so it is with the other pre-Christian nations (with the exception of those three -- of which I shall speak presently -- that stand in organic relation to our Christian epoch); their culture, their art, their religion, in short their condition may interest us, achievements of their intellect or their industry may even have become valuable parts of our own life, as is exemplified by Indian thought, Babylonian science and Chinese methods; their history, however, purely as such, lacks moral greatness, in other words, that force which rouses the individual man to consciousness of his individuality in contrast to the surrounding world and then -- like the ebb and flow of the tide -- makes him employ the world, which he has discovered in his own breast, to shape that which is without it. The Aryan Indian, for example, though he unquestionably possesses the greatest talent for metaphysics of any people that ever lived, and is in this respect far superior to all peoples of to-day, does not advance beyond inner enlightenment: he does not shape; he is neither artist nor reformer, he is content to live calmly and to die redeemed -- he has no history. No more has his opposite, the Chinaman -- that unique representative of Positivism and Collectivism; what our historical works record as his "history" is nothing more than an enumeration of the various robber bands, by which the patient, shrewd and soulless people, without sacrificing an iota of its individuality, has allowed itself to be ruled: such enumerations are simply "criminal statistics," not history, at least not for us: we cannot really judge actions which awaken no echo in our breast.
Let me give an example. While these lines are being written , the civilised world is clamorously indignant with Turkey; the European Powers are being compelled by the voice of public opinion to intervene for the protection of the Armenians and Cretans; the final destruction of the Turkish power seems now only a question of time. This is certainly justified; it was bound to come to this; nevertheless it is a fact that Turkey is the last little corner of Europe in which a whole people lives in undisturbed prosperity and happiness. It knows nothing of social questions, of the bitter struggle for existence and other such things; great fortunes are unknown and pauperism is literally nonexistent; all form a single harmonious family, and no one strives after wealth at the expense of his neighbour. I am not simply repeating what I have read in newspapers and books, I am testifying to what I have seen with my own eyes. If the Mohammedan had not practised tolerance at a time when this idea was unknown to the rest of Europe, there would now be idyllic peace in the Balkan States and in Asia Minor. Here it is the Christian who throws in the leaven of discord; and with the cruelty of a ruthlessly reacting power of nature, the otherwise humane Moslem rises and destroys the disturber of his peace. In fact, the Christian likes neither the wise fatalism of the Mohammedan nor the prudent indifferentism of the Chinese. "I come not to bring peace, but a sword," Christ himself said. The Christian idea can, in a certain sense, be said to be positively anti-social. Now that the Christian has become conscious of a personal dignity otherwise never dreamt of, he is no longer satisfied with the simple animal instinct of living with others; the happiness of the bees and the ants has now no charm for him. If Christianity be curtly characterised as the religion of love, its importance for the history of mankind is but superficially touched upon. The essential thing is rather this: by Christianity each individual has received an inestimable, hitherto unanticipated value -- even the "hairs on his head are all numbered by God" (Matthew x. 30); his outward lot does not correspond to this inner worth; and thus it is that life has become tragic, and only by tragedy does history receive a purely human purport. For no event is in itself historically tragic; it is only rendered tragic by the mind of those who experience it; otherwise what affects mankind remains as sublimely indifferent as all other natural phenomena. I shall return soon to the Christian idea. My purpose here has been merely to indicate, first, how deeply and manifestly Christianity revolutionises human feeling and action, of which we still have living proofs before our very eyes;  secondly, in what sense the non-Christian peoples have no true history, but merely annals.
History, in the higher sense of the word, means only that past which still lives actively in the consciousness of man and helps to mould him. In pre-Christian times, therefore, it is only when it concerns peoples which are hastening towards the moral regeneration known as Christianity that history acquires an interest at once scientific and universally human. Hellas, Rome, Judea alone of the peoples of antiquity are historically important for the living consciousness of the men of the nineteenth century.
Every inch of Hellenic soil is sacred to us, and rightly so. On the other side of the strait, in Asia, not even the men had or yet have a personality; here, in Hellas, every river, every stone is animate and individualised, dumb nature awakes to self-consciousness. And the men by whom this miracle was performed stand before us, from the half-fabulous times of the Trojan War on to the supremacy of Rome, each one with his own incomparable physiognomy: heroes, rulers, warriors, thinkers, poets, sculptors. Here man was torn: man capable of becoming a Christian. Rome presents in many respects the most glaring contrast to Greece; it is not only geographically but also mentally more distant from Asia, that is, from Semitic, Babylonian and Egyptian influences; it is not so bright and easily satisfied, not so flighty. Possession is the ambition of the people as it is of the individual. The Roman mind turns from the sublimely intuitive in art and philosophy to the intellectual work of organisation. In Greece a single Solon, a single Lycurgus in a way created fundamental laws of State as dilettanti, from purely individual conviction of what was right, while later a whole people of glib amateurs forcibly took the supreme power into their own hands; in Rome there grew up a long-lived community of sober, serious legislators, and while the outward horizon -- the Roman Empire and its interests -- continually widened, the horizon of internal interests grew most perilously narrower. Morally, however, Rome stands in many respects higher than Greece: the Greek has from the earliest times been what he is to-day, disloyal, unpatriotic, selfish; self-restraint was foreign to him and so he has never been able either to control others or to submit with dignified pride to being controlled. On the other hand, the growth and the longevity of the Roman state point to the shrewd, strong, conscious political spirit of the citizens. The family and the law that protects it are the creations of Rome. And indeed this is true of the family in the narrower sense of an institution laying the foundation of every higher morality, as well as in the extended sense of a power which unites the whole of the citizens into one firm state capable of self-defence; only from the family could a permanent state arise, only through the state could that which to-day we call civilisation become a principle of society capable of development. All the states of Europe are grafts on the Roman stem. And however frequently of old, as to-day, might prevailed over right, the conception of right is our inheritance from the Roman. Meanwhile, just as the day is followed by the night (the sacred night, which reveals to our eye the secret of other worlds, worlds above us in the firmament of heaven and worlds within ourselves, in the depths of our silent hearts), so the glorious positive work of the Greeks and Romans demanded a negative completion; and this was provided by Israel. To enable us to see the stars, the light of day must be extinguished; in order to become truly great, to attain that tragic greatness which, as I have said, alone gives vivid purport to history, man had to become conscious not only of his strength but also of his weakness. It was only by clear recognition and unsparing accentuation of the triviality of all human action, the pitiableness of reason in its heavenward flight, the general baseness of human feelings and political motives, that thought was able to take its stand upon a totally new foundation, from which it was to discover in the heart of man capacities and talents, that guided it to the knowledge of something that was sublimer than all else; Greeks and Romans would never by their methods have reached this sublimest goal; it would never have occurred to them to attach so great importance to the life of the single individual. If we contemplate the outward history of the people of Israel, it certainly offers at the first glance little that is attractive; with the exception of some few pleasing features, all the meanness of which men are capable seems concentrated in this one small nation; not that the Jews were essentially baser than other men, but the grinning mask of vice stares at us from out their history in unveiled nakedness; in their case no great political sense excuses injustice, no art, no philosophy reconciles us to the horrors of the struggle for existence. Here it was that the negation of the things of this world arose, and with it the vague idea of a higher extra- mundane vocation of mankind. Here men of the people ventured to brand the princes of this earth as "companions of thieves," and to cry out upon the rich, "Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth." That was a different conception of right from that of the Romans, to whom nothing seemed more sacred than property. But the curse extended not merely to the mighty, but also to "them that are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight," and likewise to the joyous heroes, who "drink wine," and have chosen the world as their sporting place. So speaks an Isaiah already in the eighth century before the birth of Christ.  But this first outcry against what is radically evil in man and in human society rings louder and louder in the course of the following centuries from the soul of this strange people: it grows in earnestness, until Jeremiah cries out, "Woe unto me, O mother, that thou hast given me birth!" Finally the negation becomes a positive principle of life, and the sublimest of prophets suffers on the cross out of love. Now it matters not whether we adopt the attitude of a believing Christian or simply that of the objective historian; one thing is certain, that in order to understand the figure of Christ, we must know the people who crucified Him. One point of course must be kept in mind: in the case of the Greeks and Romans their deeds were their positive and permanent achievement; in the case of the Jews, on the other hand, it was the negation of the deeds of this people that was the only positive achievement for mankind. But this negation is likewise an historical fact, a fact indeed that has "grown historically." Even if Jesus Christ, as is extremely probable, was not descended from the Jewish people,  nothing but the most superficial partisanship can deny the fact that this great and divine figure is inseparably bound up with the historical development of that people.
Who could doubt it? The history of Hellas, that of Rome, and that of Judea have had a moulding influence upon all centuries of our era and still had a living influence upon the nineteenth century. Indeed they were not merely living, but also life-retarding influences, inasmuch as they obstructed our free view into the purely human sphere in many directions by a fence of man's height. This is the unavoidable fate of mankind: what advances him, at the same time fetters him. And so the history of these peoples must be carefully noted by anyone who proposes to discuss the nineteenth century.
In the present work a knowledge of pure history, of the chronology of the world, has been assumed. I can attempt only one thing here, viz., to define with the greatest possible brevity what are the most essential distinguishing marks of this "legacy of the old world". This I shall do in three chapters, the first of which treats of Hellenic art and philosophy, the second of Roman law, and the third of the advent of Jesus Christ.
Before concluding these introductory remarks, one more warning! The expression, this or that "had to" happen, slipped from my pen a moment ago; perhaps it will recur in what follows. Thereby I am far from admitting that the philosophy of history has any right to dogmatise. The contemplation of the past from the point of view of the present admits the logical conclusion that certain events "had to" happen at that time, in order that the present should become what it has become. The subtle question as to whether the course of history might have been different from what it was would be out of place here. Scared by the dreary clamour of so-called scientism, most of our modern historians have handled this subject with timidity. And yet it is clear that it is only when considered sub specie necessitatis that the present acquires an instructive significance. Vere scire est per causas scire, says Bacon; this way of viewing things is the only scientific one; but how shall it be successfully applied if necessity is not everywhere recognised? The phrase "had to" expresses the necessary connection of cause and effect, nothing more; it is with such examinations as these that we men gild the main beams of our narrow intellectual sphere, without imagining that thereby we have flown out into the open air. The following should, however, be borne in mind: if necessity be a shaping power, then round this central point wider and wider circles form themselves, and no one can blame us if, when our purpose demands it, we avoid the long circuitous path, in order that we may take our stand as near as possible to the axis which while causing motion is itself hardly moved -- that point where what appears to be an arbitrary law almost merges into undeniable necessity.
1. The fact that this birth did not take place in the year 1, but in all probability some years before, is for us here of no special consequence.
2. It is altogether erroneous to think one must attribute such effects not to the awakened soul-life, but merely to race; the Bosniac of pure Servian descent and the Macedonian of Grecian stock are, as Mohammedans, just as fatalistic and anti-individualistic in their mode of thinking as any Osmanli whatever.
3. See Isaiah. chaps. i. and v.
4. For the proof that Christ was no Jew (in the sense of Jew by race) and also for the exposition of his close relation to the moral life of the real Jewish people, see chap. iii.; chap. v. then deals more fully with the Jewish people.