Image of the Future

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

* Book: The Image of the Future. By FRED POLAK. Jossey-Bass / Elsevierf, 1973


"I have long felt that the original version of The Image of the Future was one of the most significant works of the twentieth century." - Kenneth Boulding (foreword)

Contextual Citations


"The human condition can almost be summed up in the observation that, whereas all experiences are of the past, all decisions are about the future. It is the great task of human knowledge to bridge this gap and to find those patterns in the past which can be projected into the future as realistic images. The image of the future, therefore, is the key to all choice-oriented behavior. The general character and quality of the images of the future which prevail in a society is therefore the most important clue to its overall dynamics. The individual's image of the future is likewise the most significant determinant of his personal behavior."

- Kenneth Boulding (foreword)


"Polak is very explicit that in this book he is concerned with the future in Western culture only, and that he is analyzing images of possible futures on this world. Taking the task of image-making for the future very seriously, he ruled out fantasies about other worlds as just that - fantasies. The timeliness of Polak's book today is that it marks the end of that part of human history in which man could trace out one part of the global cultural heritage and have it make sense, and it also marks the end of the time when thought about human life elsewhere than on earth was only a fantasy. Intellectually and spiritually, man is hardly ready to face the implications of a common global heritage on earth, or of cosmic belongingness in the universe. Polak's Image of the Future can help disoriented Western man get his bearings, understand the road he has traveled, and thus help him face the task of image-working for the now-incredible futures which lie before him.

The pessimistic tone of the second part of The Image of the Future, as Polak depicts moment-ridden man trapped in a moment-bound culture, never gives way to despair. At every turn, the author reminds us that there still is a turning possible, that new vistas can open up. Today we are glimpsing these new vistas, and Polak's work will help us make both more realistic and more daring use of the new chances that history is offering man."

- Elise Boulding (Translator's Preface)

Lack of vision is really a failure of imagination

"Fred Polak (1973) had shown in his study The Image of the Future, that the existence or absence of inspiring images of the future largely determines the trajectories of societies. Societies, pessimistic about the future, decay, while those in which people believe a better future is possible, flourish. As he put it:

- Any student of the rise and fall of cultures cannot fail to be impressed by the role played in this historical succession by the image of the future. The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society’s images is positive and flourishing, the flower of cultures in in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive."(p.19)

- Cited by Arran Gare [1]



I. The Future as a Work of Reconstruction

1. Basic Concepts: Time, Images, and the Future

2. Image and Actuality

II. Images of the Future from Western Civilization

3. Oldest Sources

4. Hellas

5. Persia

6. Israel

7. Christianity

8. The Realm of the Future in the Middle Ages

9. The Renaissance as a Renaissance of Utopism

10. The Image of the Future: Guiding Star of the Age of Enlightenment

11. The Image of the Future: Primary Source of Socialism and Marxism

12. The Image of the Future: Conductor of the Age of Progress

13. The Future Becomes Present and Past

III. Dynamics of the Image of the Future

14. The Image of History and the Image of the Future 162

15. The Unchanging Historical Task of the Changing Utopia 176


IV. Devastation of the Image of the Future

16. De-utopianizing

17. De-eschatologizing

V. The Breach in Our Time

18. Timeless Time

VI. The Broken Future of Western Culture

19. The Future of the Christian Belief-System

20. Other Cultural Components and Their Future

21. A Modern Depth Psychology: Trigger or Barrier to Rebirth?

22. Art and Culture.

23. Socio-Cultural Dynamics

24. New Perspectives


From Chapter I

Fred Polak:


"Every great thinker who has concerned himself with the historical process has speculated about the meaning of time and its flow in history. Marx, Hegel, Spengler, Toynbee, and Sorokin, each with his own variation on the theme of time-flow as mechanically patterned fluctuation, predict the future but ignore its dynamic interaction with the past and the present. This book will give an added dimension to our understanding of the historical process by including the interaction between completed and noncompleted time. Social change will be viewed as a push-pull process in which a society is at once pulled forward by its own magnetic images of an idealized future and pushed from behind by its realized past. Poised on the dividing line between past and future is man, the unique bearer and transformer of culture. All of man's thinking involves a conscious process of dividing his perceptions, feelings, and responses, and sorting them into categories on the time-continuum. His mental capacity to categorize and reorder reality within the self (present reality) and in relation to perceptions of the not-self (the Other) enable him to be a citizen of two worlds: the present and the imagined. Out of this antithesis the future is born. Man's dualism is thus the indispensable prerequisite to the movement of events in time, and to the dynamics of historical change."


"The duality of the now and the Other is a continuous theme in history, but how this dualism functions in any given period is a more complex question. Of the many ways in which man has approached the problem of his own dividedness,

the following five summarize his major orientations to the realm of the Other:

1. Life cannot be purely transitory: there must be something more enduring. Man hopes for future grace.

2. Life cannot simply end in imperfection. There must be an Other realm into which man can enter.

3. Life should not be transitory and imperfect. Man rebels out of despair, but without hope.

4. Life is not as it appears to be. This world is an illusion and the essential reality is veiled from man.

5. Life does not have to be the way it is. Man can reform and re-create the world after any image he chooses."


"Spatial images of the Other have taken many forms through time.

They may be roughly classified in the following seven categories:

  • Before this world: Images concerning an original state of nature, a

lost paradise, Eden, Arcady.

  • This world: Images of the Promised Land, the New Jerusalem.
  • Below this world: Images of Hades or Tartarus, an oceanic or

volcanic kingdom, a land of the dead, a land of shadows, hell.

  • Above this world: Images of the beyond, a Kingdom of Heaven,

Olympus, empyrean.

  • Outside this world: Images of the isles of the blessed, Atlantis,

never-never land.

  • After this world: Images of Elysium, Valhalla, a .hereafter, a

resting place for spirits of the departed.

  • Beyond all worlds: Spatial images of a metaphysical-cosmic nature, which are essentially nonspatial and ethereal: The All-One,

infinity, nirvana."

From Chapter II

Eidetics, The Theory of the Image

Fred Polak:

"In this work we are, in a sense, taking the existence of images of the future as given and tracing out the effects of their existence on the course of history. In doing so we are deliberately starting in the middle of the story, so to speak, and apparently ignoring the beginning, the problem of images in general and how they are formed. We offer no excuses for this, because it is the business of the mind to begin work at the point of major insight. The image of the future does represent such a major insight, and carries within itself its own intellectual imperatives for a further working out of the idea. This procedure seems all the more justified since, according to our thesis, it is the image of the future that forms a dynamic fac;:tor par excellence and an extremely powerful force contained in the working of all images as such. Therefore, the dynamics of the images of the future, which we treat separately in this book, have a special relevance for a theory of the image in general. We cannot and do not wish to ignore the problem of a systematic theory of the image, however, and would like to consider this work as a small contribution to general image theory.

The more general theory of images may be thought of as "eidetics." This concept, derived from the Greek eidelon, "image," has a long history. Plato, Epicurus, and Democritus used the term to refer to knowledge and the learning process. Francis Bacon made similar use of it. The term eidetisch appears in the writings of the German psychologists, especially E. R. Jaensch, who specialized in research on children between the ages of thirteen and fifteen. Jaensch related certain types of eidetic endowments to physical constitution (Korperbau) and to personality type. On the basis of this he later outlined a theory of the development of culture. The concept recently appeared in slightly changed form in a book by the economist Kenneth E. Boulding.


In a general theory, attention must be given to the dynamics of image formation, both in the private and the public mind, and the function of images in the economy of the individual personality and the social, national; or cultural group. What do images mean, how are the meanings transmitted, and how do they affect individual and social behavior? Under what conditions do images change, and why'? What can accelerate or retard these changes? How amenable are they to purposeful manipulation, in both the short and the long run? We hope that some light is thrown on all these questions by our study of images of the future.

One of the strongest links between images and the image of the future is contained in the Book of Genesis, where we are told that God created man in His image. It would be wrong to suppose, however, that the use of images to capture the future is limited to the spheres of religion and mythology. Such images are always present and operative in all social groups.


We have already stated that this work singles out the image of the future because we are convinced it is the time-dimension of the future that acts as a pre-eminently dynamic force in the working of all images. In analyzing how the concept of the future has operated in the historical process, there are six main aspects that come into play:

  • Images of the future are always aristocratic in origin. The

author of the image invariably belongs to the creative minority of a society. He moves in the company of Isaiah, Socrates, Rembrandt, the French philosophes, and nearer to our own day, such men as Henri Bergson and H. G. Wells. The formation of images of the future depends upon an awareness of the future that makes possible a conscious, voluntary, and responsible choice between alternatives. This means that the development of images of the future and ethics are intimately related. Human judgments can, to a great extent, be explained in relation to the striving toward a highly valued future goal. The development of ethics and moral philosophy is one aspect of the development of techniques for visualizing and controlling the future and the image of the future receives much of its driving force from ethics. Kant's ethics-reduced to his famous categorical imperative the whole field of Sollen, "ought," as distinct from Sein, "is," and' Wirklichkeit, "reality," as opposed to Wert, "value,"-are all based on a time-dimension hitherto never clearly delineated. They can all be effectively translated into the language of the image of the future. They all express the underlying philosophy of what we ca~l influence-optimism. Man, in this process of ethical development, IS no longer simply "split man," capable of dividing his perceptions into two realms. He now becomes "moral man," responsible for the use to which he puts his perceptions and powers for reaching the Other and better. At this point the positive image of the future in its classic form becomes one of the main instruments of culture, providing both a vision of civilization and the tools for ~ealizing ~t.

  • The propagation of images. The force that drives the Image of

the future is only in part rational and intellectual; a much larger part is emotional, aesthetic, and spiritual. The appeal of the image lies in its picture of a radically different world in an Other time. "