by Daniel Gurpide
Irrespective of the forms it has adopted, the Abrahamic or egalitarian world view has always been eschatological – and also reflects an implicit anthropology. It attributes a negative value to history, and discerns sense in historical motion only insofar as the latter tends towards its own negation and final end.
According to this view, history has a beginning and it must also have an end. It is but an episode—an incident as far as what constitutes the essence of humanity is concerned. The true nature of man would be external to history. And the end of history would restore—sublimating it—whatever existed at the beginning. Human eternity would be based not on becoming but on being.
I.-THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
This episode which is history is perceived in the Christian perspective as damnation. History derives from man being condemned by God—owing to original sin—to unhappiness, labour, sweat, and blood. Humanity lived in happy innocence in the Garden of Eden, and was condemned to history because its forefather, Adam, transgressed the divine commandment, wanting to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge: to become like God. Adam’s fault weighs, as original sin, upon every individual who comes to the world. It is, by definition, inexpiable, since God himself was offended.
However, God, in his infinite goodness, himself takes charge of the expiation. He becomes man—incarnate in the person of Jesus. The sacrifice of the Son of God introduces in historical becoming the essential event of Redemption. No doubt this concerns only those individuals touched by Grace, but it makes possible the slow march towards the end of history, for which, from then on, the ‘communion of saints’ must prepare humanity. Finally, there will come a day when the forces of Good and Evil will come face to face in a battle that will lead to a Last Judgement and, thence, to the instauration of the Kingdom of Heaven—which has its dialectical counterpart in the abyss of Hell.
Eden before the beginning of history; original sin; expulsion from the Garden of Eden; traversing the vale of tears that is the world—the place of historical becoming; Redemption; communion of saints; apocalyptic battle and Last Judgement; end of history and instauration of a Kingdom of Heaven: these are the mythemes that structure the mythical vision of history proposed by Christianity. In this vision, man’s historical becoming has a purely negative value, and the sense of an expiation…
II.- THE MARXIST VIEW
The same mythemes can be found—now in a secularised and pseudoscientific form—in the Marxist view of history. There, history is presented as the result of the class struggle: a struggle between groups defined in relation to their respective economic conditions. The prehistoric Garden of Eden has been transformed into a primitive communism practised by a humanity still immersed in the state of nature and of a purely predatory character. Whereas man in Eden was constrained by God’s commandments, man in primitive communism lives under the pressure of misery. Such pressure has brought about the invention of the means of agricultural production, but this invention has also turned out to be a curse. It has entailed, indeed, not only the exploitation of nature by man, but also the division of labour, the exploitation of man by man, and, consequently, human alienation. The class struggle is the implicit consequence of this exploitation of man by man. Its result is history.
As we can see, for Marxists it is economic conditions that determine human behaviour. By logical concatenation, the latter leads to the creation of ever new systems of production which, in their turn, cause new economic conditions and—especially—ever greater misery for those who are exploited. Nevertheless, there comes a moment of Redemption. With the arrival of capitalism misery peaks—it becomes unbearable. Proletarians become conscious of their condition, and this redemptive realisation gives rise to the organising of communist parties—exactly as the redemption of Christ had caused the founding of a communion of saints. The Judeo-Christian notion of ‘Grace’ finds its equivalent, especially in relation to the Sermon of the Mount.
Communist parties carry out an apocalyptic struggle against the exploiters. This may be long and difficult, but it will ultimately and necessarily be successful: it is ‘the sense of history.’ This will bring about the abolition of social classes, put an end to man’s alienation, and allow the instauration of a communist society—unchanging and classless. Furthermore, since history is the result of the class struggle, evidently there will be no more history. Prehistoric communism will be reinstated—like the Garden of Eden in the Kingdom of Heaven—but in a sublimated way. While primitive communist society was afflicted by material misery, post-historic communist society will enjoy a perfectly balanced satisfaction of its needs.
Hence, in the Marxist view, history also assumes a negative value. Born originally because of human alienation, it makes sense only insofar as it increases incessantly the misery of those exploited, finally contributing to the creation of the conditions through which misery will disappear and, as it were, ‘marching’ towards its own end, its self-abolition.
III.- THE END OF HISTORY
Both egalitarian views—religious Christian and secular Marxist—logically imply that history is determined not by the action of man, but by something that transcends him. It is true that Christianity ascribes free will to man and so affirms that it was Adam, having freely ‘chosen’ to sin, who is responsible for his fault, for his imperfection. However, it was God who made and wanted Adam to be imperfect.
On the other hand, Marxists were sometimes wont to say that history was made by man—or rather men, as members of a social class. However, it is the case that social classes are determined and defined by economic conditions, and that it had been original misery that had constrained men to enter into that bloody concatenation which is the class struggle. Man is then incited to act only as a result of his economic condition. He is a mere decoy in a game played in nature by material forces.
…Within the egalitarian vision of history, man performs a dramatic role—in a tragic, shameful, and painful farce—one that he has not written and will never write. Dignity, as an authentic human truth, is found outside history—before it and after it.