What if the Greeks had lost against the Persians? Or Sparta against Athens? Or what if Caesar hadn’t been killed and the civil war had fizzled like an undetonated bomb over another century? What if the Western monks of the late antique and early middle ages hadn’t taken writing seriously and had settled for a 100% meditative course of self-development instead?
With hindsight, it all makes sense and looks pretty inevitable. This is the heritage of the Enlightenment. A sense of inevitability whether one looks backwards (Whiggish history, anyone?) or forwards (progressivism, anyone?). Our age’s futuristic impulses are grounded in a century-old tradition of social, historical and cultural thought.
But there have always been genuine crossroads in history. Every instance is a junction, a roundabout with an infinite number of rays, a motorway of constant exists.
We are here because of the choices made again and again, movements in all directions, like a powered vehicle in space. No right or left, forwards or backwards, up or down. The only inevitability is that of motion. History moves, and the truth is we never really know where it is taking us. It takes decades, even centuries, to understand the path it follows and to track its gestures. We observe while making our own decisions that others will perhaps track one day. With the same sense of inevitability. And we have reason to smile upon their foolish certainty, as others smile on our own.