The concepts of Liberalism and Socialism are set in effective motion only by money. It was the Equites, the big-money party, which made Tiberius Gracchus’s popular movement possible at all; and as soon as that part of the reforms that was advantageous to themselves had been successfully legalized, they withdrew and the movement collapsed. Cæsar and Crassus financed the Catilinarian movement, and so directed it against the Senatorial party instead of against property. In England politicians of eminence laid it down as early as 1700 that “on ‘Change one deals in votes as well as in stocks, and the price of a vote is as well known as the price of an acre of land.” When the news of Waterloo reached Paris, the price of French government stock rose — the Jacobins had destroyed the old obligations of the blood and so had emancipated money; now it stepped forward as lord of the land. There is no proletarian, not even a Communist, movement that has not operated in the interest of money, in the directions indicated by money, and for the time permitted by money — and that, without the idealist amongst its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact. Intellect rejects, money directs.
(Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Vol. II. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1918, p. 402).
It would be wrong to suppose that the man of any particular period always looks upon past times as below the level of his own, simply because they are past. It is enough to recall that to the seeming of Jorge Manrique, “Any time gone by was better.” But this is not the truth either. Not every age has left itself inferior to any past age, nor have all believed themselves superior to every preceding age. Every historical period displays a different feeling in respect of this strange phenomenon of the vital altitude, and I am surprised that thinkers and historians have never taken note of such an evident and important fact. Taken very roughly, the impression described by Jorge Manrique has certainly been the most general one. The majority of historical periods did not look upon their own time as superior to preceding ages. On the contrary, the most usual thing has been for men to dream of better times in a vague past, of a fuller existence; of a “golden age,” as those taught by Greece and Rome have it; the Alcheringa of the Australian bushmen. This indicates that such men feel the pulse of their own lives lacking in full vigour, incapable of completely flooding their blood channels. For this reason they looked with respect on the past, on “classic” epochs, when existence seemed to them fuller, richer, more perfect and strenuous than the life of their own time. As they looked back and visualized those epochs of greater worth, they had the feeling, not of dominating them, but, on the contrary, of falling below them, just as a degree of temperature, if it possessed consciousness, might feel that it does not contain within itself the higher degree, that there are more calories in this than in itself. From A.D. 150 on, this impression of a shrinking of vitality, of a falling from position, of decay and loss of pulse shows itself increasingly in the Roman Empire. Had not Horace already sung: “Our fathers, viler than our grandfathers, begot us who are even viler, and we shall bring forth a progeny more degenerate still”?
(José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses. New York: W.W. Norton, 1957, pp. 29–30).
The whole modern period from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century was a long period of revolt in which the traditional order of life and its religious foundations were being undermined by criticism and doubt. It was an age of spiritual disintegration in which Christendom was divided into a mass of warring sects and the Churches that resisted this tendency did so only by a rigid discipline which led to religious persecution and the denial of individual freedom. And this again brought religion into conflict with the spirit of the age; for it was an age of individualism, dominated by the Renaissance ideal of liberty of thought, the Reformation ideal of liberty of conscience, the individualist ideal of economic liberty, and the romantic ideal of liberty of feeling and conduct. It was an age of secularism in which the state substituted itself for the Church as the ultimate authority in men’s lives and the supreme end of social activity. And finally it was an age which witnessed the triumphant development of scientific materialism, based on a mechanistic theory of the world that seemed to leave no room for human freedom or spiritual reality. Today this process of revolution has worked itself out, so that there is hardly anything left to revolt against. After destroying the old order, we are beginning to turn round and look for some firm foundation on which we can build anew.
(Christopher Dawson, The Modern Dilemma. London: Sheed & Ward, 1932, pp. 102–103).
At the end of the fourth century, Claudian, last of the great Roman poets, wrote triumphantly of Rome’s eternity and omnipotence. But within a few years the compages of the Roman Empire began to crack, and within a century Romanized Europe from Sicily to Britain, and from the Danube to the Straits of Gibraltar, had dissolved —
Art after art went out and all was night.
Who knows what is written in the Book of Doom for the Europe of to-day? Who can spell the drift of its hollow states, or say how many will sink under the load of militarism into hopeless bankruptcy and helpless disorder?
(Francis W. Hirst, “The Eclipse of Europe,” The Yale Review, Vol. XI, 1922, p. 687).
Thucydides, one of the wisest of the old Greeks, who has left so much of his wisdom for our use and benefit, says: “History is philosophy teaching by examples.” If this be so, and we have no reason to doubt it, we need a full knowledge of history to enable us to judge the future by the past. If we would understand the condition of our own days we must go back and diligently study the olden times, with the causes and effects they produced — on the same great principle indicated by Oliver Wendell Holmes, when he says: “If you wish to know about a boy, turn back to his great grandfather.”
(George N. Black, “Historical Materials in the State Historical Library at Springfield,” Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society, No. 4, 1900, p. 52).
Whether the future will again built lofty cathedrals or will content itself with light and cheerful halls, whether organ-peals and the sound of bells will with fresh force thunder through the land, or whether gymnastic and music in the Greek sense will be elevated to the center of the training of a new epoch — in no case will the past be entirely lost, and in no case will the obsolete will reappear unaltered. In a certain sense the ideas of religion, too, are imperishable. Who will refute a Mass of Palestrina, or who will convict Raphael’s Madonna of error? The ‘Gloria in Excelsis’ remains a universal power, and will ring through the centuries so long as our nerves can quiver under the awe of the sublime. And those simple fundamental ideas of the redemption of the individual man by the surrendering of his own will to the will that guides the whole; those images of death and resurrection which express the highest and most trilling emotions that stir the human breast, when no prose is capable of uttering in cold words the fulness of the heart; those doctrines, finally, which bid us to share our bread with the hungry, and to announce the glad tidings to the poor — they will not forever disappear, in order to make way for a society which has attained its goal when it owes a better police system to its understanding, and to its ingenuity the satisfaction of ever-fresh wants and ever-fresh inventions. Often already has an epoch of Materialism been but the stillness before the storm, which was to burst forth from unknown gulfs and to give a new shape to the world.
(Frederick Albert Lange, History of Materialism, Vol. 3. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1881, pp. 360–361).
Every historian must have a thesis, some principle of illumination to guide him, and the value of his work will largely depend upon the sanity and profundity of that thesis. But I would suggest that, the subject-matter of history being what it is, we should be chary of becoming too dogmatic about any principle of interpretation which we put forward. For history works under conditions wholly unlike those of the natural sciences, and historic truth must be something very different from mathematical truth, or even from biological truth. […]
The older school, of the type of Buckle and Guizot, believed that they had established historical laws of universal validity, and provided a clockwork uniformity of effects and causes. It would appear that they misunderstood the kind of material with which they had to deal. M. Bergson has shown us that half the blunders of philosophy are due to the application of the methods and ideals of physical science to spheres of thought where they are strictly inapplicable. In the kaleidoscope of the past we cannot, as a rule, sort out effects and causes with any precision, nor can we weigh events in the meticulous scales which science demands. Even when causes are reasonably plain, their classification eludes us. We cannot tell which is the causa causans, which are proximate, or efficient, or final. We must be content with generalisations which are only generalisations and not laws, with broad effects and massed colours. The weakness of the scientific historian is that he underrates the complexity of human nature. He would turn mankind into automata, motives into a few elementary emotions, and the infinitely varied web of life into a simple geometrical pattern. Order and simplicity are great things, but they must be natural to the subject and not due to the blindness of the historian.
(John Buchan, The Causal and the Casual in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929, pp. 10–12).