We are experiencing the greatest upheaval in human history. The 2.5-million-year journey of the Homo family is coming to an end. Either humanity begins a new phase in its history, or it will perish. The threat of climate disaster is the most obvious example of this.

The Finnish philosopher Matti Puolakka (1947–2018) took it upon himself to summarise the human journey and to show a way forward towards a global society – a way based on current, empirically observable phenomena.

The philosophical universal history created by Puolakka, a unifying view of prehistory and history, is based on a definition of a human being. The basic concept of his universal history is a human being.

Only humans have history. History is a struggle of ideologies for justice. Homo sapiens was born in society. S/he was created by the spirit of laws, a sense of justice.

Philosophy of history is the cornerstone of Puolakka’s world outlook. His concept of history is teleological. In the course of history, each stage has inherent laws, which dominate it from beginning to end, a built-in intentionality. The end of each stage is, in a way, visible already in the beginning, and the end of a stage is always the beginning of a new one.

However, development does not always mean a change for the better. In historical times, for example, humanity has proceeded on the road of worsening wars, economic inequality and the destruction of nature. But the opposite tendency also exists and intensifies.

In short, the global society is humankind organised on the basis of self-knowledge, i.e., the study of its history.

If there were no laws in history – if history were merely chaos and chance – humans could not learn anything from it.

Three Major Sources of the Grand Narrative

When Puolakka outlined the basic features of the global society, he did not come up with wishful ideas of “how it should be”, but instead studied “how did we get here”. It is only in this era that his view could be born.

His world outlook has three main sources:

1. New empirical scientific findings from prehistory; the origins of the human genus; and the distinction between human and animal.
2. Phenomena related to the changing of the era: the rise and fall of socialism and the emergence of “red fascism” in socialist countries; the information technological revolution; globalisation; the founding of the EU and its worsening crisis; and the growing threat of the self-destruction of humanity.

He did not come up with wishful ideas of “how it should be”, but instead studied “how did we get here”.

3. Personal life experiences. Puolakka saw that even people with high moral standards can fall into envy and bitterness towards a good friend. Even people who have worked admirably for some good cause can fall into a blind social psychological power game within their circle of friends. Nonetheless, he never lost his fundamental trust in human potential.

A Man who Knew too much

Puolakka was quite unknown as a thinker during his lifetime, although his views were the subject of theses at Finnish universities. His philosophical production is extensive, but he published very little during his life. Why?

Since the 1970s, he was subjected to various types of physical and psychological persecution, unique in the history of western democracies. He was a man who knew too much.

Firstly, in the 1970s and 1980s, he led research groups on Finlandization, the nature of the Soviet Union and its imperialist foreign policy. Critical research on the Soviet Union was practically forbidden in Finland at the time; there was none of it in Finnish universities. A law was proposed in Parliament to prohibit criticism of the Soviet Union – luckily, it did not get enough support.

Puolakka predicted, on analytical arguments, the collapse of the Soviet Union 10 years before it happened, only to be met with scornful laughter. The influential circles in Finland never forgave Puolakka and his associates for telling the truth about Finlandization at a time when the entire Finnish political and cultural elite had given in to self-censorship.

Editors meeting some years ago. Maaret Savolainen, Matti Puolakka, Pertti Koskela and Heli Santavuori.

Secondly, Puolakka saw and was able to explain all too well what was going on around him, for example, the hybrid influence of Russia in Finland in the early 21st century.

Thirdly, as early as almost 20 years ago, during the eastern enlargement of the European Union, he saw the deepening legality crisis into which the Union was heading. This view was partly based on our own experience: we intended to establish a research centre in Estonia to organise debates and studies about philosophy of history, the turn of the era, phenomena in the near history of different countries, e.g. Finlandization. We hoped the University of Tartu would take the lead. The idea was to combine the studies and debate with cultural activities and tourism. The project was destroyed with well-organised slandering campaigns in both Finnish and Estonian media and finally with juridical murder in Estonia. Despite all its progress, Estonia was notorious for numerous juridical scandals during the privatisation process in the years 1995-2004.

The Philosophy of this Time Belongs to all Humankind

Matti Puolakka started out as a Marxist thinker, but his views went far beyond Marxism very early on.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Puolakka and his friends supported the rebellion movement in China, the so-called Cultural Revolution, which was designed to prevent bureaucratisation in China the way it had happened in the Soviet Union. But as early as in 1971, he began to criticise the Marxist moral-philosophical line, which was the ideological basis for the extremities during the Cultural Revolution. The ideal – “absolute unselfishness” – led to self-denial, self-delusion and hypocrisy. Puolakka also criticised the view on human nature of the Cultural Revolution – in general, the attitude toward opponents and those who supposedly had made mistakes.

Puolakka put the principle of self-knowledge above the ideal of unselfishness.

The influential circles in Finland never forgave Puolakka and his associates for telling the truth about Finlandization at a time when the entire Finnish political and cultural elite had given in to self-censorship.

In 1982 he published a book called “Mikä ihminen on?” (“The Crucial Question Is the Human Essence”). With the failure of the Cultural Revolution in the background, it took the form of a systematic critique of the Maoist philosophy, but at the same time, it demonstrated the incoherence and inadequacy of all the central concepts of Marxism. – The greatest mistake of Marxism was to deny or downplay the significance of a universal human nature.

He then rejected the socialist project entirely, though admitting the enduring philosophical value of some Marxist views.

From the early 1990s, he dedicated his life to creating his own view of universal history – the grand narrative of this age. There is no greater task a modern philosopher can set for him/herself.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote:

To a lackey no man can be great, for a lackey has his own conception of greatness. [1]

In Finnish social media, newspapers and literature, Puolakka has been exposed to slander, lies and misrepresentations. We will respond to them in due course. There is one striking feature to all of them: they ignore his life work and instead concentrate passionately to blacken his character. Those writings say a lot about their authors, but about Matti Puolakka they only say that his greatness as a thinker and as a human being was and is incomprehensible to the “lackeys”.

Puolakka described his attitude in one of his last dictations in the autumn of 2018:

I’m free because I think about what is right and what is wrong. It’s the main problem for me. That’s why I live for humankind, not for myself. That’s why I’m not afraid to set myself philosophico-politically alone – well, alone with my friends – against the rest of the world.

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[1] Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book Fifteen, V, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2600/2600-h/2600-h.htm

Matti’s portrait by Iris Keinänen. PHOTO © Uusi historia ry.

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