Universal History: The Metaphysics of Liberal Imperialism from the Enlightenment to the Present

Most histories focus on significant events that somehow changed a person, place, institution, or era.  Historical continuity often gets left on the periphery; it becomes background noise; or worse, it becomes such a substantial part of our  belief system that it is utterly invisible.  Progress and development are such quintessential ideals of our Western society, if we ceased to believe in them, we would no longer be thinking in Western terms.  Progress and development are, of course, related to time and how we conceive the future.  We did not always think our future would be better than the present or past, in fact, Europeans thought their predecessors–Greeks and Romans–were superior to contemporary medieval and early modern kings, courts, poets, and intellects.  The Enlightenment changed this.  Scholars believed thy could study history with the same intellectual vigor as natural science.  By learning the laws of history, they hoped, contemporaries would be able to predict how history should unfold on a universal scale.  They were influenced by the ‘Scientific Revolution’ and travel accounts about foreign societies and cultures.  For eighteenth century intellectuals, ‘universal,’ usually mean European.  They created a system called Universal History, whereby the progress of humankind was mapped out from the epoch of human savagery, barbarism, agricultural-civilization, to commerce-also civilization.  Today, Universal History is alive and well.  Despite its obvious set backs and internal inconsistencies, it lies at the heart of today’s Universal Liberalism.  Most, if not all countries in the modern world are somehow affected by Liberalism and the idea of progress.  For instance, two institutions control the socio-political-economies of most nations of the Global South–the IMF and World Bank instruct countries to grow the economies, to develop their industries for global trade.  The idea that West would somehow lead the world, and idea common to those who toyed with UH, might not be new, it just needs tobe dealt with in the correct manner.