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Macrohistory is the study of history itself. While the historian tries to understand events and processes in a chronological order, the macrohistorian stands back and tries to find a pattern in the histories of civilizations. Macrohistory is not a summary of histories; nor is it a vast collection of detailed histories of countries, periods or civilizations. It is an abstraction from such histories. Its focus is on the way civilizational units behave over time. As such, it is a challenging, deeply philosophical and, of course, theory-ridden enterprise. Indeed, for those with a bias for empirical evidence, many of the abstract laws or patterns detected by macrohistorians would not be valid because they refer to the future which, they would reason, need not be conditioned in ways the macrohistorian predicts. And yet, despite these limitations, some of the world's most original minds have turned to macrohistorical theorising. Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah, both well known scholars in many fields, have now brought together twenty important macrohistorians in this book. The selected macrohistorians are as follows: Ssu-Ma Ch'ien (145-190? B.C) Augustine (354-430); Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406); Giambattista Vico (1668-1744); Adam Smith (1723-1790); Hegel (1770-1831); Auguste Comte (1798-1857); Karl Marx (1818-1883); Spencer (1820-1903); Pareto (1848-1923); Weber (1864-1920); Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925); Spengler (1880-1936); Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955); Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968); Toynbee (1889-1975); Gramsci (1891-1937); P. Rainjan Sarkar (1921-1990) Riane Eisler (b.1931) and James Lovelock. `It is not possible even to give a brief summary of the major theories of these macrohistorians in this review. The book, however, has a section on each comprising a brief biographical account followed by the major theories. The editors' real interest is in the relevance of these theories to the human condition; to the future of human beings. Thus, chapters 3 to 6, half of the book, is about comparison of the grand theories of the macrohistorians and trying to find out what insights they offer in the human condition. The most fascinating aspect of these grand theories is that they offer a pattern of movement through time which, in spatial terms, takes different forms: of a straight line (linear); curves (cyclical); semi-circle (arc) and steps (ascent or progress) etc. For instance, Ssu-Ma Ch'ien, the Chinese thinker, taught that historical change is a cyclical succession of eras in an order of growth and decay. The decay is a consequence of loss of virtue (which we would probably translate as legitimacy). Ibn Khaldun, the philosopher of Tunis, also presents a cyclical theory but one in which asabiya - togetherness, in-group feeling, solidarity, ethnicity - plays a great role. A primitive group, like a Bedouin group, has asabiya and conquers decadent urban groups with less asabiya. Khaldun has contemporary relevance because ethnicity is one of the most important concerns nowadays. Another imporant concern is modernity. At the centre of the notion of modernity is the idea of progress. Hegel, Marx, Comte, Spencer, Weber and Toynbee have all presented theories which contributed to the world view which we associate with modernity. Hegel's idea of the spirit working out 'through a dialectic resolution of theses and antitheses' is central to Marx's view of this process resulting in the establishment of communism. Comte's three stages of history leading to positive knowledge and Spencer's general law of evolution have all contributed to the idea that progress is the destiny of mankind. And, since all these theories were created in Europe, the unexpressed assumption among Western people was that it was their destiny. Spengler was the only major thinker to suggest that each culture has a life cycle and that Western civilization will not progress or dominate forever. While on the subject of cultures it is useful to read Sorokin's typology of cultures. He mentions thirteen types of cultural mentalities of which the Ideational and Sensate are the most important. Western culture, then, is sensate. Weber explains why it may be so. His concept of the rationalisation of world views and social relations leading to disenchantment, explains modernity and its profit-and-loss utilitarianism better than most other theories. Toynbee added to this the idea that elites exploit their own working classes, the working classes of the periphery and nature. This, then, explains the tension at the centre of modernity - it is not sustainable. From this we can go on to our own theories about how elites can create policies which can enable them to sustain their lifestyles longer. In a sense, post-modernists contribute to this ongoing intellectual process. There are, of course, outright rejections of capitalism - to which the thinking of Adam Smith is relevant - of which Sarkar, Raine Eisler and Lovelock are exponents. Sarkar, an Indian philosopher, tells us that historical movement takes place through struggle with the environment, ideas and the attraction of the Great. These struggles take the form of varna, or socio-psychological stages of history. Eisler, a feminist, includes women in her understanding of history. Moreover, she emphasizes the emergence of partnership rather than domination in human relations. Lovelock tells us that the earth, Gaia, is a living ecosystem which tries to accommodate changes so as to enable life to go on. But whether this can go on at unprecedented levels and degrees of change is questionable. The focus of the book is not only the history of ideas but comparison of ideas. Another focus, this time utilitarian rather than purely intellectual, is that of the future. The authors are cautious about speculating on the future. However, their last words can be taken as useful advice:
And yet there is something absolute about trying to remove unnecessary suffering (negative peace), to enhance well-being (positive peace and development) and to make peace and development sustainable. More than the positive advice from macrohistorians, their warnings of what can go wrong should be taken seriously (p.244).
Sohail Inayatullah and Johan Galtung have done us a great service that they have produced a book which summarizes knowledge of some of the most important ideas of the world's greatest thinkers in one volume. If the book is ignored it will be unfortunate for us.