Visions of the Future: The Distant Past, Yesterday, Today, Tomor

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Heilbroner calls the first view that of the Distant Past - the immense span that begins with the Stone Age, moves through the great early civilizations of the Near East to the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome, and ends only with the advent of modern times in the eighteenth century. Heilbroner makes the bold assertion that through all this vast panorama a single phrase depicts humanity's expectations of life on earth: it will be like the past. As he asks, what reason was there for expecting anything else? Change comes with the second, much shorter period, from the 1700s to the mid 1950s. Heilbroner calls it Yesterday. Now three immense forces, unknown in the Distant Past, dominate the expectations of the West. One of these is science, with its promise of controlling nature. A second is the advent of a dynamic means of organizing production called capitalism. And a third is the appearance of the revolutionary idea that the people themselves were the master of their destinies. Together these three forces imbue Yesterday's view of the future with an idea utterly unknown in the Distant Past: the expectation that the future will be better than the present. The third view is that of Today. Heilbroner points out that our own view of the future is still linked to science, capitalism, and democracy. What is new is that these powerful forces no longer appear as unambiguous carriers of progress. We look to science with fears as well as hopes; capitalism on a global scale brings economic difficulties along with new horizons; the expression of mass political sentiments conjures up the nightmares of Yugoslavia and Africa as well as possibilities for a widening of democraticgovernment.