The Sum of History

The Sum of History

The Sum of History

The Sum of History

Excerpt

M AN has no longer any illusions about the wild beast lurking within him. Recent events, war, and concentration camps, have reminded him of the lowliness of his origin -- about which theories of evolution and the Christian dogma of original sin are in complete agreement. Totalitarian doctrines gave the beast its chance to break loose from the chains and destroy, over vast areas, a civilization which had believed itself immortal. Faced with such a spectacle, to what heights might not Pascal have risen! Since his day all human progress has but served to make our periodical relapse into barbarism immeasurably more deadly. Henceforth, once a war has broken out, the whole urban civilization of a country can be razed to the ground in a few hours.

We need but recall our illusions of 1900, or even of 1918: -- History, interpreted as the story of peoples in conflict, had (we imagined) 'come to a full stop'. In just the same way, forgetful of the earth's past, do we persuade ourselves that its crust is definitely stabilized and that eruptions, such as those of the tertiary era which lifted up the Alps and the Himalayas from the beds of the first mediterranean seas, will never be seen again. What an awakening it has been, after the last political lull and after tasting the full sweetness of peaceful life, to find our planet once more in the throes of violent upheavals -- to find society still so very near to primitive man.

This grim realization makes a retrospective survey imperative. The time seems ripe for stocktaking, for a review of history which must also be some sort of self-examination on the part of mankind. What, then, is the Sum of History?

First, what does human history amount to in proportion to that of the earth? Our past, prodigious though it may seem in itself, is only a speck in the vastness of planetary time. A comparison of figures speaks eloquently. Geologists estimate at . . .

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