Timetables of History
Scripps-Howard News Service 5.15.02
When in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet/Russian Empire,
Francis Fukuyama declared "the end of history," I was
astonished. Not because someone tried to attract attention through
making an outrageous statement, but because the world of scholarship
took it seriously. For Pete's sake!
Then came Felipe Fernández-Armesto with his "Millennium:
A History of the Last Thousand Years." In it, the Hispanic
Affairs Director-turned Professorial Research Fellow at Oxford apparently
awards Western Civilization a place of insignificance he thinks
it well deserves. He extols China and Islam - both predicted to
prevail well into the future after this "crude" episode
the rest of us mistake for civilization is long forgotten.
Apparently, I have to say, for I am guilty of not having read either
of these books, relying on a good number of serious reviews instead.
That is not something one should do with any frequency, yet the
combination of an excessively ambitious title with a highly problematic
thesis often justifies such economy.
But not long ago, Dinesh D'Souza, in a major speech, referred to
Western Civilization before the year 1500 as "a relative backwater,"
naming again China as the pre-eminent civilization of our planet.
And just the other day, I heard James Woolsey, former director of
the CIA, a knowledgeable and articulate man, describing Islam as
the leader in scientific and other important fields "for the
first thousand of its thirteen hundred years - in other words between
the 7th and 17th centuries."
In fact, all four names mentioned represent achievement, respectable
standing, awards and positions. Why are they saying things that
either don't make sense or are simply at variance with facts?
While a child can see that history did not end in 1991, many find
it challenging to cast their mind's eye back even a few decades
and, thus, are greatly impressed by the mention of centuries, let
alone a millennium. But Western Civilization did not start either
500 or a thousand years ago. Its roots are as much biblical as they
are Greco-Roman - in other words, roots that stretch back thousands
And even if we think of the centuries before the Renaissance as
a period of semi- gestation, who in his right mind will call it
a backwater, a side-show? The great cathedrals from Venice to Paris
were built; the great universities from Bologna to Oxford were established;
permanent bridges across great rivers were constructed; exploration,
serious medicine, weather forecasting began; there was Giotto, and
there was Dante; polyphony and counterpoint laid the foundation
of great music which, at last, could be written down.
But the greatest event, that would eventually propel Western Civilization
to achievements wholly beyond the potential of all others, occurred
in 1215. In that year, at Runnymede, the King of England put his
seal on the Magna Carta, the great charter of English liberties,
providing inspiration, offering hope, rendering assistance to all
who desire freedom around the globe. Its expanding circles still
determine the lines of scrimmage between those who wish all, and
those who wish none to be free.
China and Islam have been, and still are, on the wrong side of
Historians have come to see events from the disturbed mind set
of Karl Marx, applying various theories and standards which have
their roots in the "science" Marx presumed to invent.
There is remedy, available at a reasonable price.
For $22, anyone can acquire "Timetables of History,"
a year-by-year, side-by-side listing of events and people, calling
itself "a horizontal linkage." It covers thousands of
years. Without offering commentary or taking sides, it simply informs
about what happened when and where, as well as developments in religion,
philosophy, the arts, the sciences, and in daily life. If it happened
in Peking or Marrakesh, it is listed just as if it had happened
in London. And that, too, separates Western Civilization from others:
important contributions from all sources are recognized and reported.
Why, then, the flurry of misrepresentations? For some, the unprecedented
achievement gap between civilizations has become intolerable. Others
might think it politically astute to assign extra credits to peoples
who crave respect, whether or not earned.
Like all good things, sooner or later Western Civilization, too,
will come to an end. While it lasts, though, we ought to enjoy it
in good cheer and in good conscience, for we have offered to share
it freely with any and all - something the others can't even comprehend,
much less emulate.
That is the lesson taught by the Timetables of History.