Whether a name is known or unknown is not always a reliable criterion of the importance of the spiritual facts which it personifies. At the time when Kierkegaard was alive his name too, outside Denmark, was practically unknown, and even in his native country only few people knew him and even fewer recognised him. But in spite of this, what he had to say was of Western and European importance; it is true that decades were needed before it was universally understood. Anyone who knows of the Polish historical thinker Feliks Koneczny and is acquainted even if only superficially with his doctrine, is involuntarily reminded of the destiny of Kierkegaard in spite of all the differences between these two men.
After several decades probably also the name of Feliks Koneczny, although today known to few outside his native country, will be known to every educated European. If official Poland took little or no notice of her most important contemporary thinker, at least he was not unknown there; and there existed circles from the beginning which declared themselves as his followers, notwithstanding the fact that at times also rancorous opposition and malicious abuse were not lacking; again, things which we know already from Kierkegaard’s life.
Koneczny is a historical thinker. We believe we are right in saying that a comparison of his doctrine with all the previous philosophy of history, makes it quite clear that it is only with him that the science of civilisations, a science based on the study of history, becomes a special science — one is almost tempted to say an exact science — of the same level and rank as the other special philosophical disciplines. It is only with Koneczny that this science appears in fact for the first time as a branch of learning with a strictly characterised autonomy, with a sphere of tasks delimited with precision and with an own method which can be verified in every detail and applied generally and from many points of view; thus he is successful in overcoming apriorism and biologism in every form, and at the same time in shaping a new concept of the finality of history. His brand of philosophy of history becomes in consequence at the same time a knowledge and an imperative; and is — in a quite different and much deeper sense than could be expected before — giving a norm for the future in the spheres of thought and of life alike.
THE MODERN ROAD OF PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY
To the phrase “philosophy of history” we are still unaccustomed to give another meaning than that of a more or less speculative interpretation. The historical philosophies of Hegel and Schlegel have in spite of all the difference of their basic conceptions this in common, that they are both wholly speculative. In fact, all the best known representatives of the more recent philosophy of history are entirely speculative thinkers. Spengler likewise does not at all break with the tradition of this course.
There has been, however, another sort of philosophy of history besides the speculative: an empirical or inductive philosophy of history, which has not been so well known, only because its representatives have walked more humbly and their doctrines have appealed less to the existing intellectual fashions.
A historical philosopher should approach history as an empiricist, without any preconceived opinions about the result of historical investigation; nothing can be introduced into it as an assumption or an inclination. This is not to say that a philosopher cannot approach history from the ethical side, having standards of moral values; the comprehending interpretation of historical event must be arrived at purely à posteriori, by sifting and ordering the facts. The results of the examination of facts must depend only on the method, and not on any ideological views which he may otherwise have.
It had already become clear to Koneczny, thanks to his specialised investigations as a professional historian, that a deeper understanding of history is possible only when history is seen as a conflict of different civilisations. Already in the nineties — when writing his earlier works on the history of this Eastern European area in which during the centuries three civilisations had clashed — Koneczny came upon the idea which Oswald Spengler proclaimed some two or three decades later. Spengler presented it as an apparently completely new achievement, in opposition to the “tapeworm scheme” of a single historical development of humanity; he too showed that a single straightlined history of humanity did not exist, but only a multitude of isolated developments which went their course separated in time and space. Koneczny, however, as an aposteriorist and empiricist, desisted at any cost from giving a common ruling principle to these separate lines. If such a principle exists, it cannot be laid down in advance, as Spengler did.
The diversity of these civilisations consists in a manifold structure of the social life in the different human groups.
The definition, which Koneczny gives to describe this central and basic notion of his, is that civilisation is a structural method*) of human common life. This definition is on one hand very wide; it embraces the whole moral, intellectual and material being of man; it embraces family, society, state, nation, art, learning, politics and economy. On the other hand, this sharp and clear definition is intended also to narrow the vague and featureless notions of culture, on the basis of which the philosophy of history has often worked; but this narrowing is indispensable if one will not renounce a solution of the central historical-philosophical problem as Spengler does who in his two volumes never defines what civilisation in fact is.
So there exists, as even a most superficial observation can recognise, not only one structural method of human social life, but an infinite plurality of forms which differ very much among themselves. Ethnology is still discovering new ones. Not every civilisation embraces all spheres of life. Only the so-called great civilisations are of special interest from the point of view of history.
In face of this plurality and diversity of civilisations, two questions emerge:
On what is this diversity based and in what does it consist?
Where does it come from and by what factors of differentiation has it been brought about?
The reply to the first question consists in a detailed development of the notion of civilisation.
The second question, however, is the true central problem of the philosophy of history.