Fernand Braudel‘s A History of Civilizations deservedly remains a classic. The edition I read and re-read is the Penguin one, translated from the French by Richard Mayne and published in 1993. Obviously, if one is successfully to write a one-volume history of most civilizations that have inhabited the Earth, one has to have a measure of learning and a dollop of confidence, as well as the ability to move quickly. Summary aids quickness in such writing. Here is Braudel’s one-paragraph overview of Marx v. Hegel:
“Marx’s dialectic (the search for truth through contradictions or statement and counter-statement) was inspired by Hegel, although it spurned his philosophy. For Hegel, thing of the spirit dominated the material world (‘mind over matter’), and consciousness was humanity’s essential trait. For Marx, by contrast, the material world dominated things of the spirit. ‘The Hegelian system,’ he wrote, ‘stood on its head; we have set it on its feet.’ This did not prevent Marx’s dialectic taking over the terms or successive stages of Hegel’s: (1) the thesis or statement; (2) the antithesis or negation; (3) the synthesis or negation of the negation, i.e. the statement of an evolving truth taking account of both thesis and antithesis, and reconciling them.” (Quoted from page 548).
Of course, such a summary will entice readers of Marx and Hegel to quibble and professors to complicate the issues. As their students know only too well, professors love to “complicate” things. (Additionally, one might wonder why Thomas Aquinas [to pluck just one predecessor from history] isn’t seen as a main purveyor of “dialectic”, given his constant dialectical method throughout the Summa Theologica). Also, Braudel can have his maddening traits, including the one that leads him not to cite sources. So after reading a summary such as the one above, one must go in search of Braudel’s sources, something I’ve not done in this case, wherein I’ve chosen to trust Braudel.
With regard to Hegel’s view that consciousness is humans’ essential trait, one might consider C-SPAN’s broadcasts of Congressional speeches, the level of discourse in the current health-care-reform “debate,” and the image of American males lying on a couch watching football (for instances), and be moved to quibble with Hegel.
Quibbling aside, it’s nice to have in one’s possession a book like Braudel’s and the gifts of summary. Complication is important, but to begin the complication from the starting point of a crisp summary is most advantageous.
I shall leave it to Wild Bill to ponder (if he so chooses) the etymological relationships between Summa and summary.