THE TERM "INTELECTUAL HISTORY" had undergone an expansion in meaning over the years, no longer defined simply as a chronology of ideas, it connotes also the enactment of ideas in history - the portrayal of the social and historical forces that have shaped the categories of our thinking. Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin's Wittgenstein's Vienna, Catherine Albanese's Corresponding Motion, any of Michel Foucault's accouns of the development of modern institutions: What all these works try to do is show their subjects in situ, without removing them from the culture and society which are their hosts. For these authors, ideas are not self-contained entities, sufficient unto themselves; they are embedded in tradition.
So much by way of introducing the subject of this work - what author I. F. Clarke calls "the idea of the future." Clarke means by this phrase society's collective vision of its own, secularized future, not the future imagined by and individual for himself or the future implicit in notions of life after death. Put in this way, it is an idea which has played an important role in society mostly since the late 18th century, when the swell of scientific and technological innovation began to mount its rising tide. It is not an idea, however, which can be reduced simply to what we now call, often derisively, "the belief in progress." Rather, as Clarke makes clear, ou attitudes toward the future have been bound up with virtually every facet of social life over the past 200 years, from the technological to the artistic, and consequently have assumed enormously varied and complex forms. Clarke's attempt to survey these forms is impressive, sustained by both imagination an scholarship. In common with the authors cited above, he makes of intellectual history less a dry recital of ideas than a flowing pageant of the figures and forces in which ideas are embodied.
Clarke, who is a professor at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, approaches his subject by way of an analysis of futuristic literature, including the works of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley (to name some of the best-known figures). As the reader quickly learns, however, futuristic literature for Clarke is but the handle of a lever which hoists far greater weights, including an almost frighteningly large number of intellectual figures over the last 100 years - scientists, philosophers, sociologists, political theorists, novelists, and poets. Among the social perspectives and moods which Clarke raises to our view are the optimish of H. T. Buckle ("man has really succeeded in taming the energies of nature...compelling them to minister to his happiness"), the intense self-awareness of W. H. Auden ("The situation of our time, Surrounds us like a baffling crime"), and the bleak integrity of Simone Weil ("The future is empty...our imagination...does not surpass us by a single hair's breadth").
The many insights which Clarke provides by way ofsuch figures and perspectives are impossible to summarize briefly, but the general impression which he leaves us with is of the pervasive power our conceptions of the futures have had in shaping our lives. As Clarke says, "the tale of the future is the dreamtime of industrial society. It reaches down to the mythic roots withing human experience to find sources of supreme power, means of transcending all limitations, opportunities for achieving absolute perfection. Like the alphabet, the tale of the future is a necessary social invention."
But what about the future of the future? Notwithstanding the widespread pessimism which has enveloped western culture since World Wars I and II, Clarke believes, or at least hopes, that "the idea of the future" will continue to play an important role in shaping human society. Though Clarke speaks of the urge to foresee the future as "a primal curse of human existence," he also calls this urge "the condition of safe passage through the turbulent constraints of a technological epoch." Clarke's sympathies are clearly with the urge, not against it. If there could be any doubt about this fact in the reader's mind, created by earlier parts of The Pattern of Expectation, Clarke dispels it with the book's closing words, a quote from Danton during the French Revolution, Paris, 1792: De l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace! CAPTION: Illustration, JACKET ILLUSTRATION OF "THE PATTERN OF EXPECTATION: 1644-2001"