On Tuesday Nov. 28, patrons of the Ship Pub in St. John’s can engage in a discussion about the end of history when Dr. Christopher Lockett presents a lecture entitled History's Better Angels: American Exceptionalism at the End.
“I’m going to talk about the end of history and the way that relates to American culture,” the Memorial English professor explained. “My general argument is that American exceptionalism – the school of thought that America is the exceptional nation, the indispensable nation – is deeply entwined with the concept of history’s end.”
The concept is rooted in two opposing notions. The first, which dates back to the Puritan settlement of America and finds its base today with the religious right, is apocalyptic. “The Puritans viewed the new continent as a battleground for Armageddon,” Dr. Lockett said. “Certain sectors of the religious right still firmly believe this, that America is God’s ultimate weapon in the endgame with Satan.”
The opposing view is utopian, and supposes that history is a cumulative process that eventually arrives at its ultimate or perfect form. This isn’t a new idea, Dr. Lockett noted. The very idea that history is linear and progressive suggests an end-point. Philosophers from Hegel and Marx to contemporary neo-conservatives like Francis Fukuyama have envisioned an acme of humanity’s social evolution.
“There’s this idea that American-style liberal democracy is the natural end point for human development,” Dr. Lockett contended. “The flaw in this brand of exceptionalism is that if the entire world does adopt the American model, then America ceases to be exceptional.”
The question he finds most interesting, however, is the anxiety that arises over what happens if this ending point is achieved. “There is a deep ambivalence in the writings about this, largely because of the belief that conflict and challenge lead to progress. What happens in the absence of such difficulties?”
Dr. Lockett’s talk will employ American novelist Don DeLillo’s book Underworld (1997), which he calls a “fairly comprehensive critique of this concept,” and Walter Benjamin's figuration of "messianic time," as alternative modes of thinking these forms of history.
This exploration of History's Better Angels gets underway at The Ship on Duckworth St., St. John’s, at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Following his remarks, open discussion will be invited.
The lecture is part of the St. John's Public Lectures in Philosophy.