As an epigraph to
and Habit, Barfield quotes J. G. Droysen: "History is the 'Know Thyself'
of humanity, the self-consciousness of mankind." It is not a "meaningless
jumble of events" but rather a phase of the evolution
"History," we are reminded later in the same
book, "is later than evolution. It can only come into being after evolution
had already had a long innings" (8). For there to be history, we are told
in Speaker's Meaning, there must be human consciousness:2
Faith in the meaning of history is one of the
distinctive contributions of the West to the evolution of consciousness:
The existence of anything we can properly
call history does involve the presence, in or at the back of the relevant
events, of some sort of conscious human intention, and therefore of some
degree of individual "thought," or of thoughts entertained by an individual
mind. Caesar had such individual thoughts when he crossed the Rubicon.
It may be that history can take us back to events intentionally brought
about by human beings very much less individualized than Caesar, very much
less capable of what we now understand by thinking.
But some degree of it you must have, before you come up to a period in
the past which you can talk about at all under the rubric of history. Anything
before that would come under the heading of nature. If we liked, we could
substitute for the term "historical period" the term "period in which some
events were determined by individual thoughts." (89)3
The Western outlook emphasizes the importance
of history and pays an ever increasing attention to it. It is interested
in history, whereas the Eastern outlook, by and large, is not. There are
those who maintain that the two attitudes go together, and that if (as
these few also maintain) we are now called on to switch over, or switch
back, from an occidental to an oriental view of the nature of consciousness,
we should also abandon our concern with history and concentrate exclusively
on the relation between the present moment and eternity--or between ordinary
consciousness and a-consciousness.
As Barfield notes in
Burgeon's growing historical knowledge, we do not appreciate strongly enough
the uniqueness of our own historical awareness.
I am of a different opinion. I believe it lies
in the destiny of the West, not to abandon but rather to intensify its
concern with history, not to abandon its interest in the past of mankind,
and of the world, but to deepen its understanding of both. (RM 26)
He would very much have liked to know
all available history, but since it was the awakening [of human consciousness]
he was concerned with, he must confine himself a good deal to the history
of the civilization which had itself begun to study history; and, parochial
or not, that was his own Western European civilization. Perhaps Toynbee
himself had not seen just how sharply this particular civilization was
distinguished from the other twenty by the fact that the other twenty had
contained no Toynbees! (73)4
|See in particular "The Semantic Approach to
History and the Historical Approach to the Study of Meaning" (SM
13-39) and "History of Ideas: Evolution of Consciousness" (HGH 3-35).
|1"As long as
a man sees history as a meaningless jumble of events," Barfield writes
in Unancestral Voice, "he will see his own life--which is a part
of history--and the lives of those around him in the same light. The other
name for a meaningless jumble of events is one-damn-thing-after-another"
Barfield notes that "By contrast with history, evolution is an unconscious
process. Another, and perhaps a better, way of putting it would be to say
that evolution is a natural process, history a human one; since nature,
in its higher development, does of course include animal consciousness"
(20-21) Barfield quotes Collingwood's similar view that: "Historical
events are distinguished from natural events (which are the raw material
of science) by the fact that they have both an 'inside' and an 'outside.'
The 'inside' of a historical event is 'that in it which can only be described
in terms of thought.'"
|4In the same
book Barfield makes the following observation about our unique relationship
to the past.
It is Paul Ricoeur who reminds us that
in the Old Testament there is no abstract word for repentance, only the
symbol of 'returning.' And it is such a returning to the source from which
we have cut ourselves off--or, in an older idiom, from which we have 'fallen'--that
I believe is needed. Not of course a literal returning to the past by way
of H.G. Wells' time-machine, but a re-turn by re-experiencing the past
in the present. (HGH 61)