What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
Chapter 7 05/12/2000 13:41 Page 1 7. Philosophies of history* CYCLICAL REPETITION OR EVOLUTION ‘Philosophies of history’ may sound slightly pretentious. Most of us manage to live our daily lives without one, and so indeed do most historians who nevertheless succeed in providing fine analytical descriptions of particular concrete events and societies. The philosophy of history, one might think, is something one can safely leave to interested specialists. However, not so. Most of us do in fact have, however unconsciously, some kind of philosophy of history. That unconscious view of history tends in some way or other to colour our perceptions of social and political issues, be they matters of education policy, policies towards crime, the danger of war or the possibilities of strengthening the United Nations. Perhaps it has to do with basic personality tendencies towards gloomy pessimism or cheerful optimism; at any rate most people are, one might say instinctively, history-as-decline theorists, history-as-cycles theorists or history-as-evolution theorists. For example, one frequently hears people in Britain describe Thatcherism as a reaction against the excessive egalitarianism of Labour governments and predict that sooner or later there will be an egalitarian reaction against the excesses of pure marketism under the Thatcher regime. Or one hears people * From Japan, Internationalism and the UN, London: Routledge, 1997, Chapter 1, pp. 3-15, slightly abridged. This is taken from a book originally written for a Japanese audience as a polemical contribution to Japanese debates about foreign policy in the aftermath of the Gulf War...
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