Lindsey – Paper #3

In The Course the Nations Run, Vico lays out three ages that every nation goes through. The parallels between the nations he describes in this book and the United States are clear to me.  Based on American history, each of the eleven triadic special unities are represented and it is appropriate that, at least by the standards of many Americans today, this makes a connection to the Christian religion that was the beginnings of our country.

First, comes the three ages: the age of the gods, the age of the heroes and the age of men.  In America, the age of the gods would extend from colonization to the post-revolution period. The founders of the United States are held in this extremely high regard almost as if the were deities. Everything that is American, from the way our government works to the laws that we abide by, were given to us by the founders. Those things are the oldest institutions in our history. That description is very similar to the description Vico gives of the age of the gods, “ …in which the gentiles believed they lived under divine governments, and everything was commanded them by auspices and oracles,which are the oldest institutions in profane history. (20)” Though there were heroes during this period, we give them a higher pedastool because they are our beginning.

Next comes the age of heroes which would be the period between post revolution to the end of World War I. This era in our history is littered with figures that we idolize and regard as heroes. These “heroes” lived a charmed life and are held in much higher esteem than the average man. Vico says that men in this era “reigned everywhere in aristocratic commonwealths.(20)” For much,if not all of this period, the men elected to the highest office in the nation were war heroes and a type of natural aristocrat, even if that natural aristocracy was only given to them by the people rather than by bloodline.  Vico also describes these heroes as possessing “a certain type of superiority of nature which they held themselves to have over the plebs.(20)” The men history calls heroes had about them this air of greatness and in reality did hold themselves to a higher standard, it was this charisma and natural superiority that they oozed which made them the insiders and the ones with the power in the country.

Lastly, is the age of men, our current era.  This era is one in which all men see themselves as equal, this matches up with the type of social order we have in America today. Everyone is seen as equal because no one is encouraged to be excellent. Vico says that in this age, “…all men recognize themselves as equal in human nature…(20).”  This is the type of behavior that leads to the forming of oragnizations, Vico says “…therefore there were established first the popular commonwealths and then the monarchies, both of which are forms of human government.(20)”  This era lacks the old institutions of the age of gods and the natural leadership and aristocracy of the age of heroes. This era is fundamentally ordinary, almost mediocre.

Universally, nations grow and develop into these ages. This growth and development is constant and unchanging from this come three natures: poetic/creative nature, heroic nature and human nature.   The first nature is one of idealized animations, those that are viewed as almost divine, the next nature is one of natural authority and nobility, and the latter a nature of modesty and humility.

When looked at closely each “age” of American history goes through each of these natures, they start out idealistic, trying to make their own mold, and finally, the fire dies and they accept the way things are without realizing all the progress that has been made. Though I’m not sure that, at least when applied to American history, there is a religious connotation to the first nature.

From these natures, arise three kinds of customs: religion and piety,choleric and punctilious and dutiful. The first is evident in the age of the gods in America, and even in the beginnings of the other ages though they gradually fade in the later ages.Each age begins with this return to piety and a movement towards religion. Specifically in the case of the founding of the United States there was a movement to towards religion and relgious freedom that is unlike anything we’ve seen since in the country.

These are untentional parallels I’m sure, but this course of nations is scarily accurate when applied to American history.

One thought on “Lindsey – Paper #3

  1. Lindsey,

    You do a decent job of laying out the basics of the three ages. I think you are correct to say that, for Vico, the United States has gone / will go through these three ages; all nations do, after all (except the Hebrews, as they are in sacred history).

    Remember, though, that all nations go through this cycle twice–there is a corso and a recorso (Vico never says “corsi e recorsi,” and thus there is no suggestion that nations continually go through a cyclic history). It sounds from your paper that we are at the third age of the corso. Do you see any sense of the first age of the recorso on the horizon?

    If we are in the third age of the corso, that would suggest that we are what Vico calls the barbarism of reflection, where “men go mad and waste their substance” in luxury and frivolity. Is this an apt description of our times? Or is that an apt description of every time?

    What Vico means by “nation” is the crux of the issue, I think. Does he mean something like the United States or a larger unit like Toynbee’s notion of “civilization?”


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