The expression “contemporary history” is probably self-contradictory, because what is contemporary is not history, and what is history is not contemporary. Sensible historians usually refrain from writing accounts of very recent events because they realise that the source materials for such events, especially the indispensable official documents, are not available and that, even with the documentation which is available, it is very difficult for anyone to obtain the necessary perspective on the events of one’s own mature life.
The new Age of Expansion which made Napoleon’s military-political victory of 1810 impossible to maintain had begun in England long before. It appeared as the Agricultural Revolution about 1725 and as the Indus-trial Revolution about 1775, but it did not get started as a great burst of expansion until after 1820. Once started, it moved forward with an impetus such as the world had never seen before, and it looked as if Western Civilisation might cover the whole globe. The dates of this third Age of Expansion might be fixed at 1770-1929, following upon the second Age of Conflict of 1690-1815. The social organisation which was at the centre of this new development might be called “industrial capital-ism.” In the course of the last decade of the nineteenth century, it began to become a structure of vested interests to which we might give the name “monopoly capitalism.” As early, perhaps, as 1890, certain aspects of a new Age of Conflict, the third in Western Civilisation, began to appear, especially in the core area, with a revival of imperialism, of class struggle, of violent warfare, and of irrationalities.
By 1930 it was clear that Western Civilisation was again in an Age of Conflict; by 1942 a semiperipheral state, Germany, had conquered much of the core of the civilisation. That effort was defeated by calling into the fray a peripheral state (the United States) and another, outside civilisation (the Soviet society). It is not yet clear whether Western Civilisation will continue along the path marked by so many earlier civi-lisations, or whether it will be able to reorganise itself sufficiently to enter upon a new, fourth, Age of Expansion. If the former occurs, this Age of Conflict will undoubtedly continue with the fourfold characteris- tics of class struggle, war, irrationality, and declining progress. In this case, we shall undoubtedly get a Universal Empire in which the United States will rule most of Western Civilisation. This will be followed, as
In other civilisations, by a period of decay and ultimately, as the civilisa- tion grows weaker, by invasions and the total destruction of Western culture. On the other hand, if Western Civilisation is able to reorganise itself and enters upon a fourth Age of Expansion, the ability of Western Civilisation to survive and go on to increasing prosperity and power will be bright.
Books of Interest