My Dear Rudyard
“East is East and West is West”
But now the twain are meeting!
Earth and Sky are at their seating;
Time has come to stand the best.
Here’s the tale of what’s been cast,
From world of stone to well-work’d clay.
Know it well you’ll seize today,
Forward needs to know the past.
As each day dawns the one before,
Out of the past subtle patterns emerge,
Suggesting clear the new day’s surge,
Endless realms for us to explore.
But not, kind reader, before the Whole
Secures its goal—the liberated soul.
This work is an interpretation of world history, original in its
concepts while drawing upon acknowledged excellent resources. It is all
about perspective. Our world today is so fast paced, filled with so many
often stressful diversions, that we struggle to make sense of it, to
appreciate the whole and gain some peace in perspective. How have we
become what we are? Who are all these other people around us in the
world? Is there not a simple yet meaningful way to sort it out? Those
who ask themselves these questions will find this work of interest.
Our approach is straightforward. First, we acknowledge that nature
proceeds in rhythms and cycles, from our solar system to our seasons to
the years of our lives. The closer these patterns come to us, the less
regular they may seem; but rhythms and cycles are always with us. We
cannot be immune to our own cycles because we are a part of nature.
Second, philosophical tradition holds that all sentient life has three
principal aspects: knowledge unto intelligence, love unto wisdom, and
will unto power. The rise to prominence of humanity is the story of our
superior progression with these qualities.
Third, historians have long recognized that the only way to think about
the people of the world as a whole is in terms of their civilizations.
The interactions of four major civilizations over the past millennium
have carved out where we are today, and they will be key in determining
our future. These civilizations are Confucian China, Hindu India, the
Muslim Middle East, and the Christian West. They account for 80 to 85
percent of the world’s population, depending on whether the nations in
Africa over 80 percent Christian are included. To know their personal
story is to know the world. Think of them as the four great families
from the four corners of Eurasia.
Our basic thesis is that after eons, humanity’s progress from
knowledge unto intelligence happened almost overnight in historical
terms, with the formation of civilizations in the four or five centuries
on either side of 3000 BC. Twenty-five hundred years later, in the two
or three centuries on both sides of 500 BC, the love/wisdom aspect
manifested with the morality that great prophets of the age taught,
principally Zoroaster, the Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates. The renowned
German philosopher-historian Karl Jaspers famously identified this time
as the Axial Age. Out of this age emerged, in time, our four
civilizations with their great defining religions.
Another twenty-five hundred years since 500 BC, we are in the midst of a
second Axial Age that has to do with the will/power aspect that relates
globally to governance. The first Axial Age—being centered on personal
morality, spirituality and love—spoke to “the Way” of personal
betterment and enlightenment in living one’s life. Our Axial Age being
about power is fundamentally societal and therefore speaks to
institutions. These institutions are best aggregated as governmental,
economic, and scientific. Our Axial Age’s essential expression is the
historically sudden emergence of republics worldwide over the last two
to three hundred years. At the turn of the 19th century, the United
States was the only genuine republic in the world; a brief two centuries
later 85 percent of the members of the United Nations are republics or
at least feel compelled to call themselves republics.
These dates are not precise—they have their span of years—but they
are regular as is humanity’s evolvement within them.
Throughout the work we point to other rhythms and cycles, if not on such
a grand scale as above. Notably at the end of the first chapter we speak
to a “centurial rhythm” evident at least for the last millennium
with the preponderance of milestones or transformational events in the
second decade of the centuries, especially their last six years. Curious
harmonies of history are addressed in the seventh chapter.
There comes to mind a line of Alexis de Tocqueville in the introduction
to his seminal work, Democracy in America: “God does not need to speak
for Himself in order for us to discover signs of His will; it is enough
to examine the normal course of nature and the consistent tendency of
events.” As with all matters such as these, there can be no conclusive
proof, but our observations certainly can’t hurt this assertion by one
of the most perceptive analysts in history of social and political
Regardless, there is no doubt that the material here, by its nature, can
be dense at times with names and dates, especially in the early
chapters. To mitigate this we use straightforward summary charts at the
beginning of the second and third chapters with the first mention of
each entry in the text in bold. In presenting our nine centuries in the
three chapters that follow, we have grouped them into defined triads and
been daring enough to offer the one word that best describes each
century. Within each engaging, colorful vignettes portray the
fascinating people and events that make up our milestones.
The harmonies of history in the seventh chapter are given an interesting
dimension by suggesting their consistency with Carl Jung’s
“meaningful consequences” in his Theory of Synchronicity. The final
chapter honors the two visionaries of our Axial Age to date with a
telling of their stories, interprets today’s world in terms of our
major civilizations, offers a key approach in this regard, and provides
a glimpse of where are headed.
Simply stated, the intent of this work is to offer the educated reader a
better appreciation of world history by presenting a defensible and
accessible understanding of its whole relevant to the present day in
three hundred pages. For those less exposed to world history, these
pages will hopefully encourage further readings in interests that arise.
Those with a broader background might gain something new to ponder and
perhaps be encouraged to enrich their knowledge in certain areas. In the
further promotion of our intent, there will follow three works of about
the same length; each will turn the vignettes into seventeen or eighteen
delightful short stories while reinforcing the main theme. The
manuscript of the first of these is largely complete and the work should
be out in a matter of months.
Excerpted from "Our Axial Age: Putting our World in Perspective" by Kent Augustson. Copyright © 2016 by Kent Augustson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.