Wise men have been trying for ages to find the meaning of history, just as they have the meaning of life (life is a fountain, isn’t it?). Karl Marx rewrote history with his own happy ending, Oswald Spengler concluded that cultures rise and fall, and Arnold Toynbee found that the key to history is all a matter of “challenge and response.” Now we have the thoughts of Arthur R. M. Lower, one of Canada’s great formative historians, and this book may well be the summing-up of a long and distinguished career.
Lower, now 89, has written a number of volumes, two of which earned him the Governor-General’s Award, but in this one he will ruffle the feathers of a few contemporary historians with his panoramic view of Western history and his prophesies, albeit dark ones, for the future of mankind. He plots the course of Western history from the time of Judaism to the present, but not in the traditional classroom method as a chronicle of dates and events. Rather, he seeks to create a pattern out of history’s cycles and tides, distressingly concluding that we are in a time of revolution, an age of realism, an age without illusions, perhaps without dreams or ideals. He reasons that when men are sufficiently intellectualized, their society, becoming freer and freer, begins to edge into anarchy. He says that we have arrived at this point in history, that our time is a prelude to chaos.
Lower’s scholastic legacy is a cheerless one. Yet his summing-up is worth reading, even though it is written in standard textbook style, riddled with footnotes and the leftover language of an academic career. Warren Gerard
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.