Evolving Governance Across a Stressed Planet
4. The Modern epoch and its limits Before turning to an examination of contemporary developments in human governance we must first complete the historical sketch presented in the previous chapter. We need to consider the far-reaching and continuing impact of the Modern age, an epoch comprised of three distinct but closely related phases, which we shall argue begins at the end of the eleventh century and ends in the first half of the twentieth century. Two closely interrelated factors, both integral to cultural evolution, compound the difficulty of the task: the speed and intensity of change characteristic of this period and the elusiveness of the very notion of modernity. The difficulty in dating and characterising the Modern epoch stems in good measure from the multiple and closely interwoven threads that confer on human reflexivity its distinctive quality during this epoch. Especially problematic is the function that time assumes in the Modern era. What is in question is the ‘modern’ understanding of time itself, and what this means for the evolution of governance. THE MODERN EPOCH One of the more intriguing aspects of the Modern epoch is precisely the cumulative impact of diverse attempts to construct a universal history, a kind of grand narrative in which history becomes an instrument of governance. As Albrow observes, the explicit intention of Bossuet’s Discourse on Universal History1 was to apprise the prince of the workings of history so that he could rule more effectively. An intellectual and political process of extraordinary dimensions would unfold...
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