What is historical time

Historical time is a hot issue in the western historical theoretical field, and it has also attracted the attention and discussion of domestic scholars. Historical time cannot be understood literally as a historical study of time, that is, to place the concept of time in the context of diachronicity and examine its formation, development, and evolution; nor is it a synchronic study of time. That is to explore the different understanding of time in different regions or cultural traditions; it is also not the study of historical sociology or social history of time, such as analyzing the social connotation of time, the relationship between time and power, and so on. The so-called historical time is mainly to study the relationship between the three time dimensions of the past, present and future, and the changes in historical consciousness reflected in these interrelationships.

It is generally believed that the issue of "historical time" was mainly raised by the German historian Reinhard Koselek. Although Koselek did not give a precise definition of historical time, it can be seen from his many papers dealing with this issue that historical time refers to the changing relationship between the past and the future. In his essay, "The Future of the Past: Semantics of Historical Time," Koselek states that the main question he is looking at is "how is the past and future time dimension related in a given moment? It involves this. One hypothesis is that in distinguishing the past from the future, or (in the anthropological sense) experience and expectations, it is possible to grasp things like historical time. "

To this end, Koselek proposed two concepts: "experience space" and "expecting horizon" to analyze the relationship between the past and the future. According to Koselek, the space of experience represents the past, and the horizon of expectation points to the future. Before modern society, the human experience space was in a state of continuity. The past was not only a reference for the present, but also provided methods and examples for the future. The future is thus established and known, and people will not expect too much of it. However, since the 18th century, a series of events represented by the French Revolution have continued to impact this past-centered time system. The past experience no longer has a guiding significance for the present and the future. People project their hopes and expectations into Above the new future. The past experience space and future expectation horizon have been broken, and historical time is born in this fracture. It points to the future and represents a future-oriented sense of time.

Under the influence of Koselek, the French historian Francois Altogé proposed the concept of "historical institutions" in an attempt to clarify the relationship between the past, the present, and the future. In Altog's view, the historical system refers to the powerful temporal order in which people live and are subject to it, divided into three types: ancient, modern, and present. Among them, the ancient historical system is oriented to the past, which corresponds to what Koselek calls "experience space"; the modern historical system is oriented to the future, and from this "expectation horizon" emerges. Altogge's advancement of Koselek's "historical time" theory is that on the one hand, he creatively proposed the concept of "the historical system of the moment" and summarized it with "presentism", that is, the present has replaced the past and In the future, it becomes the only frame of reference for people's actions, which constitutes people's time experience today. On the other hand, there are reflections on the deficiencies of each time system. I don't want people to be immersed in past experiences or to stay. Stopping in the present moment, let alone hope that people only focus on development and ignore its sustainability. Instead, he hopes that people will coordinate the relationship between different time systems and find a feasible solution.

Historical time and historical consciousness

Koselek's concept of "historical time" actually reflects changes in historical consciousness. As Koselek pointed out, the appearance of the anticipation horizon means abandoning the space of experience, that is, the past. This is obviously a typical modern historical consciousness, which is characterized by progressiveism and futurism. Progressiveism expresses a stronger belief than today, while futurism is the logical inevitable result of progressiveism. It emphasizes that the judgment and re-evaluation of all values ​​must be future-oriented. In other words, regardless of the past and present, a better future is the direction of human history.

For modern historical consciousness, the separation of the past from the present is the prerequisite for its emergence, and it is also the prerequisite for people to get rid of the burden of history and face the future. Koselek used the failure of experience space to explain the break between the past and the present, but focused more on the daily experience of individuals or groups. Altogge is different. He started with political events and emphasized the huge impact of changes in social order on people's time experience. Altogge saw the French Revolution as the beginning of a modern historical system, because the French Revolution was unprecedented in its revolutionary character. In particular, he took royalists such as Chardonnay Brian as an example to analyze the sense of rupture of the times caused by the French Revolution.

In 1793, Chateaubriand in exile in London began to create his debut work "Ancient and Modern Revolutions" in an attempt to compare the French Revolution with many revolutions in European history, further proving that "there is nothing new under the sun" The correctness of ancient teachings, that is, the French Revolution is not "unprecedented", its characters and characteristics are the reproduction of ancient and modern revolutions. However, in the writing process, Chardobryon deeply realized that the rapid development of the revolution and the drastic changes cannot be recognized and grasped by any previous experience: "Often, the daytime drafts are obliterated: The event ran faster than my pen; suddenly a revolution made all my comparisons fall into error. "Chadbrion realized that the French Revolution had spawned an era of constant conflict with the old relationship of time. An irreversible modern time order.

If the modern historical system corresponds to modern historical consciousness, then the current historical system—Altog regards the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as its beginning—can continue the postmodernism that has gradually emerged in Europe since World War II. Historical awareness. After 1989, the world pattern cast by the Cold War disappeared, and a monopoly of neoliberalism seemed to declare the "end" of history. However, the new international order has brought a greater degree of uncertainty to people. On the one hand, ideological disputes give way to conflicts among civilizations; on the other hand, conflicts within civilizations--between ethnic groups and between cultures--are also intensifying. In the past, the feelings and identities that belonged to a certain group disappeared, replaced by individuality, and this individuality reached its peak in consumerism for the purpose of satisfying self. At the same time, society is accelerating faster than ever before, and it has created a rapid expansion that occupies all of people's lives. In the current historical system, the experience of time is instantaneous, everything is in a transient state, and there is no eternal value. Even people's historical consciousness also shows the fragmented characteristics of postmodernism. In this regard, Altogge put forward a strong criticism that the current self-closing and short-sightedness of the current doctrine closed the future.

Transcending Current Doctrine and Reconstruction of Modern Historical Consciousness

Regarding currentism, Altog has a metaphor for the image: As time is greatly compressed, the topic of one and a half minutes can cover thirty years of history. Because of this, in the time experience of currentism, people are no longer interested in the past and the future, and only focus on the present. As a result, all human activities and behaviors are measured by the value of the moment, regardless of the future. The shortcomings of current doctrine appeared to be more serious before the threats to humanity such as the ecological crisis and environmental degradation in recent years. Because the consumption of the environment and ecology is a performance that only cares about the immediate interests and overdraws the future of humankind.

Accompanied by currentism is a quiet revival of historical consciousness in an attempt to return to the past. In recent years, the resurgence of populism on a global scale is a clear example. Populism rejects globalization and emphasizes national interests first. It looks forward to going back to the strongest period in a country's history. The reappearance of this past-oriented historical consciousness is, to a certain extent, dissatisfaction and challenge to currentism, but has taken an extreme approach.

Today, under the double attack of current doctrine and historical consciousness of returning to the past, mankind is facing many problems. To solve these problems, people can neither indulge in the present nor avoid going back to the past. In a sense, it is still valuable to reshape the modern historical system or the future-oriented historical time consciousness. Because only with the future as the coordinate, can human history have a given sense of direction, so that people can effectively think about major issues in this future-oriented time frame and relieve those uncertainties that have long plagued humanity.

Of course, the reconstruction of modern historical consciousness requires us to consider the three time dimensions of the past, the present and the future at the same time, and reach a delicate balance between the three, instead of focusing only on a certain time dimension. Only in this way can people take into account the rationality of experience (past), expectation (future), and interests (present), so that the path of mankind to the future and the process of human history creation are more open and diverse. And this is perhaps the greatest value of historical time to historians in practice.

(Author: Zhang Xupeng, Department of History theory researcher at the Institute of CASS)