Last and First Men tries to take a look at the classic left in terms of a new historical model that also impinges on issues of evolution. In some ways the model is itself as complex as anything in the confusing mix of marxism.
But there is an important difference: no theories (deterministic) of history are proposed. Instead we look at the clear evidence of a hidden dynamic creating an historical pattern. We create an empirical model of that pattern, and use that. This pattern can be shown to be implicit in any work of world history, unwittingly or not. We can reduce theory to an empirical account of world epochs of which the rise of modernity is one instance. This idea of a modern transition was implicit in Marx who often wondered at the integrated enigma of ‘modernity’, but too often equating that with the rise of capitalism.
We are done: world history shows a progression of epochs, from high Egypt/Sumer, to the Axial Age, to the rise of the modern. Then the data fades out, before the invention of writing. We don’t need to complete the study to avail ourselves of a useful strategy of study: the period from the rise of Dynastic Sumer/Egypt (not the same as their ‘absolute’ beginnings, and long prior development) to the Axial Age, to the rise of the modern gives us a coherent if incomplete outline of history, one that has intriguing and elusive properties, but which overall can be taken as a ‘metanarrative’ of the simplest kind: a book with three chapters (and an earlier set of lead up chapters, unwritten). We certainly need a lead up from the Big Bang to apes, apes to man apes, man. Bu the period since 3000BCE is the only one that has data at the level of centuries/decades, almost. The crucial difference is something we discover.
So we are done: we have rough outline since the invention of writing, and a pattern this equally demonstrates sacred/secular cultural evolution. We see why ‘modernity’ is close being a coherent ‘transition’ and in any case we see the cogent placement of the Reformation, Scientific Revolution, the rise of the modern liberal/left and its revolutions, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the synchronous onset of capitalism and communism just at the end of that transition. We don’t have to produce a theory of anything. We can take the nickelodeon version of the rise of modernity as a set of correlated events, the ‘Reformation’, the ‘rise of science’, the Enlightenment’, etc… with the emergence of communism matched with the appearance of so-called ‘capitalism’, always existing perhaps, but reinvented at the moment of the Industrial Revolution. The full model of the ‘macro effect’ is almost arcane, but we can leave it behind, like a moose head over the fireplace, and study the issues of economics, revolution, thematic ‘modernity’, ideology, etc, in place, empirically as narratives. Postmodernists lurking in the bushes may take potshots at this metanarrative, par for the course: a mere outline is not so vulnerable, one shared by almost all parties under different names at most.
We have two problems solved, we have pointed to an implicit dynamic behind our narrative, maybe, and yet a system that is one of free agents who create history, not laws of histories. And ‘economies’ are basically complexes of human decisions about how to truck and barter, economic laws up in the air, and probably out the window.
So our task is to act as free agents to create/modify economies. If there is a problem with capitalist economies we are free to replace them, communist brands coming to the front burner, if we can figure out the details.
This approach, with the complicated model in the background as a ‘who cares?’, resolves to a simple set of questions we suspect are part of a larger dynamics, that however a question we don’t have to solve in order to proceed.
For marxists this can be useful, to see that ‘dialectics’ is not a good theory of historical dynamics. Doesn’t work. And historical materialism, if it refers to a deterministic or determinate economic relationship of elements probably won’t work for such a complex system: back to descriptive chronicles. Noone else’s theory works here either.
///We can elaborate on this to study the ‘end of history’ issues. But that’s another quagmire. We can simply note the way capitalism (modern)/communism emerge together as a paired unity, or diversity seeking a unity. In that context communism always made better sense as the ‘end of history’, if we can find any real meaning to that now overused phrase.