Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s Civilizational Cycle of Imperative, Conjunctive, Participative, and Indicative Phases

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Contextual Quote

"According to Rosenstock-Huessy however the First World War only became inevitable, because the nation-states were deaf for the new imperative of history. If people do not change their ways in time, clashes and crises become unavoidable. While economy and technology had already done away with national borders, national pride had not. If an old and obsolete language and way of life, such as national pride and a market seeking economy of mere competition is in force too long, the new imperative is overheard. If however a new imperative changes the stream of life, for instance by means of revolution, there will always come a time in which the revolutionized culture will lookback and will try to inherit the achievements of the former period. Even after a period of denial - often necessary to make room for the new achievement - a culture will try to regain the achievements of the past. This explains the fact, why so many times cultures move forward by regenerations and reformations. The medieval Church as well as the German Emperor strived for the revival of the Roman Empire. Monasteries all over Europe revived Israel in the first thousand years of Europe both by singing the Psalms of the Old Testament and by taking an external position over against the rest of society - just to mention a few examples."

- Otto Kroesen explaining Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy [1]


Otto Kroesen:

"“Every civilization, for Rosenstock-Huessy even every process unfolds in four steps or phases. There is a starting point, in which something new emerges; next to that it goes on flourishing and it becomes a vital force. It then becomes an established entity and grows old. Finally it is institutionalized and becomes petrified, i.e. the original inspiration dies in as much as it becomes realized. Just like a human being or any cultural movement a civilized nation is a living entity.

One can imagine the many conflicts, when suddenly such a fertile and therefore crowded area needed to be abandoned because of the rising of the Nile. But without the great vision of the Egyptian Pharaohs and their supporters, by which they took the stars as their orientation points (their gods) and introduced the agricultural calendar, change would not have been possible. Now the Egyptians could "read" in the stars when the water would rise (namely when in July Sirius was left above the horizon, after the rest of Orion had disappeared beneath it). And by means of social hierarchy and labor division the Pharaohs, who were counted among the stars, could act accordingly.

The one who could control the cosmos, could be believed to act upon divine authority. New imperatives, a new language are introduced to reorder society, away from tribal life, towards space oriented agricultural life. According to Rosenstock-Huessy language is prior to landscape and time is prior to space. In Egypt the new imperative consisted in the need to make the horizon and the stars the unifying force of society instead of the ancestors. In order to bring that change about the Pharaohs needed to convince the many tribes, that their authority was more impressive than the spirits of the ancestors. This is the motivation behind the colossal building style of Egypt in general and especially behind the building of the pyramids. In this way the Pharaohs could show, that they were in control of the cosmos. They could bring the zodiacal light, which in the southern hemisphere shines in the form of a pyramid, down to earth in a pyramid of stone, so that the same phenomenon could be observed during daytime! In this way they governed day and night.

The example already shows that after a new imperative has made itself felt, it needs to find support: a common conviction needs to be created.

This means, that different parties need to come together, exchange views, strive for each other, come to agreement. This is done in the style of the conjunctive, in which people "bend over" to each other and "propose".

In the next step the most important issues are settled and people live "on speaking terms", a common history becomes established and unfolds. This is the phase of the "participative", in which many people can act as one unified force.

And finally, if people do not have any more an internal relationship to the results of the entire process, the phase of the "indicative" sets in. The results of the entire process can be "indicated" in the world outside. Old institutions often become a stand in the way for further and new developments. Because of too much repetition once more society runs into a deadlock. A new language is needed for.”


Source: Between Spengler and Rosenstock-Huessy: twofold or threefold thinking within a fourfold reference framework. Otto Kroesen. Conference: The communicatiive construction of transnational political spaces and times. Bielefeld, 2007

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