Brett Bowden, The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought
Bowden’s The Strange Persistence of Universal History in Political Thought is a strange book. It is also a book worth reading and thinking about. It is strange because it is only 88 pages long, the main thesis hardly appears before the final chapter, and an abnormally large percent of the text consists of quoted material.
It is worth reading, however, first as a history of the writing of universal history, and second as a way to think about the way our concepts of history shape society. What is universal history? The very last lines of the book provide a definition: “the idea that all peoples are destined to share the same history” with the consequence that “not everyone gets to write their own history.” Bowden argues that when the belief in universal history reigns, the history of some people becomes “subsumed and assimilated into other people’s narratives.” (p. 88)
In this way, Bowden contrasts universal history with pluralist history, with the multiple, sometimes interacting strands...