In his essay on History and Experience, Leidhold gives a brief overview of his basic ideas and the emergence of his current project on the history of experience. Two theoretical challenges were decisive for the development of his ideas: a challenge for our concept of history and a challenge for our concept of experience.
In the first part, he examines the historical challenge. Since Antiquity, Western cosmology has been shaped by the idea of the world as a giant cave, with the earth at its center. There unfolds a linear history since the day of creation. That moment is set about four or five millennia before our time. Since the days of Copernicus, a slow but radical change has taken place: The world became an infinite universe; the millennia has become billions of years. New continents and new cultures have been ‘discovered,’ and many parallel histories have superseded the single sacred one. The sciences replaced sacred history with natural history, and Darwin transformed man into a product of nature. Up until that point, it was Divine Providence that governed history. But what were its driving forces after modern science had retired God?
A diffuse concept of experience
Oswald Spengler provided the first model when he described the many histories using the biological pattern of ascent, flowering, and decline. Arnold Toynbee superseded this vitalist approach through the cultural dynamics of stimulating challenges answered by creative ideas. Karl Jaspers reunited the isolated cultural histories and claimed that a single age of axes exist, where similar ideas emerged throughout humanity at the same time. Eric Voegelin, based on the considerations of Henry Bergson and C. G. Jung, pointed out that ideas always arise from experiences, and therefore, the real history of mankind should be described as a history of experience. Experience remained with him, as with all others, but as a diffuse concept. The second part deals with the problems posed by such a diffuse concept of experience and presents a theory of experience and its role in the dynamics of history and culture as a solution to these challenges.