The Time Perspectives of Modernity
The basic hypothesis of this paper is that attitudes towards the future are highly important for explaining the differences between Western cultures and other cultural systems. In the United States in particular, these attitudes are strongly characterized by an emphasis on modernity, an emphasis which has, however, a dual character. Either the future is seen as a continuation of the present, and this is the concept of progress: or the future is seen as breaking with the present system, and this is the concept of eschatology, or even of apocalypse. Using some empirical illustrations, the author then describes these two principal myths about the future. The doctrine of Progress, which developed out of the Protestant ethic, became more and more secular and was widespread by the 19th century. It is however a myth that is fading as a result of the negative effects of economic growth and also due to a certain feeling of disillusionment among the middle classes as to their role in such progress and their real chances of social mobility. Recently there has been a return to apocalyptic views of the future: charismatic movements, theories postulating an end to growth and a possible golden age, revolutionary movements, and even science fiction developments. This change in the categories of future perception, this transitional phase between two myths of modernity, unquestionably represents a major cultural change and is itself an indication of major changes to come in the organization of Western societies. © 1978 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
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