Our Place in Time

God does not need to speak for himself in order for us to discover definitive signs of his will; it is enough to examine the normal course of nature and the consistent tendency of events

Alexis de Tocqueville,

Democracy in America

Why was the 20th century the most violent in history?

Why is the 21st century shaping up to be as bad, if not worse?

This series of books by Kent Augustson answers these questions by putting our world in historical perspective.

 

The trilogy provides these answers not with complex argumentation but primarily with enticing accounts of personalities and events accessible to the everyday reader. However, first to be grasped is the context in which we find ourselves.

The renowned German philosopher and historian Karl Jaspers postulated an Axial Age centered on the centuries surrounding 500 BC. We contend that there was another such transitional age centered on 3000 BC—2,500 years before Jaspers’—and that we are in the midst of a consummate age centered on the year 2000 some 2,500 years after Jaspers’ age.

Jaspers argues that there surfaced around 500 BC, in four far flung corners of Eurasia, prophets of love and wisdom. Without the possibility of interaction, they all independently advocated for the Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – and of a “Way” when taken would lead to betterment and enlightenment.

The principal prophets chronologically were Zoroaster (628-551 BC) in the Middle East, Confucius (551-479 BC) in China, the Buddha (563-480 BC) in India, and Socrates (470-399) in the West. This age Jaspers contends, with good reason, forever changed humanity by turning its face toward morality and love.

We note that all sentient life has three developmental features: knowledge unto intelligence, love unto wisdom, and will unto power. We apply this concept to humanity as a whole. Love unto wisdom was Jaspers’ age. That of knowledge unto intelligence came before; will unto power is with us today.

As to the age of knowledge unto intelligence, it is generally accepted that we homo sapiens, after eons of evolution, independently formed civilizations in six sites across the globe—four in Eurasia, two in the Americas—in the centuries surrounding 3000 BC. Surely this was the consummation of a gathering of knowledge unto intelligence.

Power is only managed by its dispersion. Empires (kingdoms) dominated the civilizations until the current era. To be governed by a republic represents that dispersion. Over the centuries, republics were few and far between, especially genuine ones of the people. In 1800, there was one genuine republic in the world governed by the best constitution in history. Today, of the 193 states making up the United Nations, 164 are republics or feel compelled to call themselves such. But the struggle with power has only been engaged. It is far from over, probably just reaching its peak.

Also, we must learn to think in terms of civilizations. As Samuel Huntington wrote: “It is impossible to think of the development of humanity in any other terms.”

The four major civilizations extant today grew out of the teachings of Jaspers’ Axial Age—that of Islam in the Middle East, of Confucianism in China, of Hinduism in India, and of Christianity in the West. These great civilizations did not begin to meaningfully interact until the 1100s with the Crusades and Muslim armies invading India. Today these civilizations with their expansion include 85% of the world’s population.

After the prequel, Our Axial Age, the completed works of our trilogy begin in 1100 and cover three hundred years each: Tales of Invasions and Empires (1100-1400); The Twenty-five Years that Changed the World (1400-1700). The last work, planned to be out next year, will take us to the modern day.

Our attempt is to portray the progress of each of the four major civilizations in as much of a balanced way as possible to allow for the appreciation of each. In addition to relying on memorable personalities and events, stressed throughout is how these connect with or touch today. Also, there are also a couple of fascinating original discoveries on the passage of time.