A Note on Spengler and Historical Perspective

The Western historian writes from her own “standpoint.” But she knows she must be objective, which means opening her eyes to the infinite differences and infinite distances of history, freeing herself as far as she can from the limitations of her own perspective. One thing to bear in mind is how much of what is past she must inevitably be blind to, when she creates her own image of History:

“Plainly, we have almost no notion of the multitude of great ideas belonging to other Cultures that we have suffered to lapse because our thought with its limitations has not permitted us to assimilate them, or (which comes to the same thing) has led us to reject them as false, superfluous, and nonsensical.”

The challenge for the historian is to imagine her “present” –– her world, her perspective, the system of rules that govern her thinking, the everyday things, ideas and objects, she takes for granted –– as merely existing in a moment, one step in the endless journey that humanity has been making and must continue. Just as countless alien ideas have been forgotten to us in the West, so our present full of truths that seems to us so real and eternal might be lost forever. Perspective is everything.

(I’ve been reading The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler, translated by Charles Francis Atkinson.)

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