A learned historian offers a challenging road map for humanity’s future.
Augustson refers to the “New Axial Age” in the subtitle of his heavily detailed, impressive debut. His explanation of the term looks back to German philosopher Karl Jaspers’ idea of a first Axial Age, which occurred around 500 B.C. and featured the simultaneous flowering of Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and the Socratic origins of Platonism. Augustson also refers to the idea of a “centurial rhythm,” which led to a communal but uncoordinated upsurge of advancement for all of these philosophies. In five densely packed chapters, the author makes a case for a new age in the future that will be borne out of four powerful cultural movements: Confucian China, Hindu Islam, the Muslim Middle East, and the Christian West. The book looks at history in its broadest scope, which requires it to cover the fundamentals of historiography in its earliest chapters. Its main point is that the sporadic appearance of republics over the last two centuries has laid the groundwork for a transformation of human civilization. The sections in which Augustson makes predictions about the future of his new Axial Age are often intriguing. However, prognostication is the Achilles’ heel of the historian’s art, and readers will doubtless strongly contest some statements. For example, the author writes that “[t]he only certain transformative event thus far in the twenty-first century—Al Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center Towers in Manhattan—was enormously evident and consistent with the nine-century pattern”—a claim that future historians may challenge. Augustson also takes issue with the concept of “the end of history,” instead seeing “a path to new adventures to which currently we lack the strength to walk”; the implicit pessimism of that stance arises, in part, out of the author’s assertion that the West may lose a coming epic confrontation with the Islamic world. Like the rest of his book, it’s controversial but endlessly thought-provoking.
A wide-ranging, comprehensive study of the meta-history of human civilization.