Disenchantment and History

Shadia B. Drury


The election of Donald Trump has left many Americans shaken to the core. How could the United States elect someone so vulgar, autocratic, and xenophobic to be the leader of the free world? How could Americans abandon their global mission in favor of his odious nationalism of “blood and soil"? The anguish, hopelessness, and despondency that the election has evoked are rooted in at least two naive expectations: a romantic view of democracy and a messianic view of history. This essay will focus on the latter.

The messianic view of history is a secularization of Christian eschatology with its linear trajectory of creation, fall, and salvation. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) applied this eschatology to the history of humanity. He believed that only the West could lead human history toward freedom, which Hegel did not distinguish from morality. For him, history was a story of human perfectibility.

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