On World History: An Anthology

By Johann Gottfried Herder; Hans Adler et al. | Go to book overview

38
Concluding Commentary

Herder "Concluding Commentary" is indeed the final chapter of his four-volume Reflections on the Philosophy of History of Humankind, although he planned an additional volume with another five "books." The Reflections remained a colossal fragment. After presenting his huge survey of what was known in the eighteenth century about the ancient history of humankind, including reflections on possible laws of history, Herder gives a clear forecast for Europe. This part of his Reflections was published in 1791 -- that is, two years after the beginning of the French Revolution. When Herder introduces knowledge, dynamism, and competition as the new third force that rises between the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand and secular despotism on the other, and when he calls this third force in 1791 the new "third estate" that was to govern the future, it is obvious that he believed in the enlightened middle classes as the leading cultural, political, and economic power that would shape the future of Europe.

How, therefore, did Europe attain its civilization and the rank due to it above other peoples? Place, time, necessity, the state of affairs, and the course of events impelled it to this; but, above all, its particular industriousness in the arts, the result of many common exertions, procured this rank for it.
1. Had Europe been as rich as India, as undivided as Tatary, as hot as frica, as isolated as America, what has appeared in it would never have come to be. Even in a state of the most forlorn barbarism, its location in the world helped it to return to the light; it derived the greatest advantage, however, from its rivers and seas. Take away the Dnieper, the Don, and the Dvina, the Black and the Mediterranean seas, the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, 1 with their coasts, islands, and rivers, and the great commercial endeavor to which Europe is indebted for its most fruitful activity would not have existed. But as it was, the two great and wealthy conti

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