Significant German philosophers and thinkers considered history as an important subject that helps understand social, political and economic development in society.
They explored how philosophy relates to social and historical development. Consequently, history emerged as a discipline that can reform society by relating the socio-economic situation at a given time to the events of the past.
The intellectuals of Germany keenly observed the outcome of the French Revolution because it created new ideas and concepts that brought about a change in the European society.
Napoleon’s aspirations to conquer Europe were initially welcomed by Germany. He was considered a hero who rose out of the old system to abolish but eventually, he disappointed the German intellectuals by his policy of establishing his family members as rulers of the countries that he conquered.
In 1806, when Napoleon defeated Prussia, a powerful German state at the time, the ruling classes started to probe their defeat in a quest to improve and reform the society by confronting challenges ahead.
They soon realised that their defeat was caused by a socially and politically weak society where inequality and injustice prevailed. Therefore, reforms were introduced to eliminate weaknesses in the society.
The government of Prussia was reorganised with administrative changes. Agricultural trade regulations were introduced, serfdom abolished and peasants were now allowed to become landowners. Industrial reforms were aimed at encouraging competition by suppressing the monopoly of professional guilds. The administration was decentralised and the nobility’s power and privileges reduced.
These measures encouraged talented people and professionals. The feudal class which had exhausted its energy was totally incapacitated to run the administration efficiently and was gradually replaced by trained and educated bureaucrats.
Hegel, the famous German philosopher accepted the renewed offer of the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin in 1818 and delivered lectures on the philosophy of rights and history. His lectures were attended not only by students but other people from the city. This ushered in a new wave of intellectual ideas that influenced young philosophers and led to discussions which enlightened the German society. As a result of these reforms Prussia became a powerful state in 1871. After a series of short victorious wars, Bismarck unified most German states into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership and became the first Chancellor of a united Germany after the Treaty of Versailles.
The Prussian example shows how an educated and trained young generation could replace old and exhausted bureaucrats and take the responsibility to govern the state with professional ethics.
History shows how nations learn lessons from their defeat. Once the weak areas of society are identified, these can be tackled as areas of improvement and gradually the society can be reformed.
Japan and China are also fine examples of rebuilding and restoration. In 1868, the new Meiji government discarded the feudal system and launched a series of reforms that profoundly changed the Japanese society in administrative, economic, social, legal, educational and military areas. Defeated by Japan, China searched for a new system and finally implemented socialism.
Pakistan suffered a great setback in 1971— after the separation of Bangladesh — a time when our weaknesses were fully exposed to us. But instead of reforming the society, we not only revived the old system but also strengthened it. The army was rehabilitated, feudalism was provided with a new lease of life and religious sentiments were used to camouflage political designs of the ruling classes. Pakistan lost a great moment in history when it could have completely reconstructed and reshaped the country.
Deleted from textbooks as though it never happened in history, systematic efforts were made to push the Bangladesh tragedy into oblivion.
By not learning from history, our ruling classes are making the same mistakes over and over again. We have not learnt yet that war is not a solution to our problems, since the nation has already paid a heavy price for it. We have also not learnt that small provinces do not appreciate a strong centre, nor that dissident movements should not be crushed and neither that harsh policies further alienate them from mainstream politics.