Part 3: Why do we need a new history?

The evolutionary phases of human history

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Written by Editors
  • A Proposal for a New History of Humankind is a book series we will publish soon. In it, the Puolakkaist philosophy of history is presented by going through the latest empirical research on both prehistory and historical time. 



For philosophical history, the question of periodisation is essential. The division of periods must reflect the internal developmental logic of history.

Puolakka’s philosophy of history is based on the one hand, the theory of societal evolution – that is, on the concepts of moral evolution, political evolution, and ethical evolution – and on the other hand, a definition of human society that is original and new.

In recent years and decades, many works have been published, in which the latest knowledge on prehistory is combined with an overall view of the history of humankind. Probably the best known of these are Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind and Jared Diamond’s three-part series, in which he puts forward his vision of history. The most important work of the series, in our opinion, is Guns, Germs and Steel. William and J. R. McNeill’s The Human Web – A Bird´s-Eye View of World History also evoked quite a lot of interest in its day. Common to all these works is the lack of a philosophy of history. They lack the background of a holistic vision of the history of philosophy, especially of the past era’s ideological debates. The Marxist materialist conception of history has been adopted unnoticed and untold, and at the same time some of its fatal shortcomings have been accepted.

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Summaries of the whole journey of humankind are the most important knowledge for us on humans, society, and the world in general ...

...There is no other ultimate barrier against barbarism. Kant called them the Grand Narratives.

For philosophical history, the question of periodisation is essential. The division of periods must reflect the internal developmental logic of history.

As a result, there is a huge confusion of concepts in the literature of the field. No scholar has been able to create a coherent picture. However, on individual issues, their work deserves great appreciation, of course.

The starting point of Puolakka’s philosophy of history is a systematic critique of Marxism. On this basis, he has created a new synthesis especially on the ideas of the Enlightenment and Marxism. His view of the history of philosophy is Aristotelian-Hegelian-Marxist drawing from all these currents, overturning them all.


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Humback whale.
PHOTO: Piqsels.

Our evolutionary psychological roots

Anatomically, humans descend from apes. However, biological evolution as such did not lead to the birth of the Homo genus. What was crucial was the change in the social organisation. The Homo genus has its roots in all animal species whose members influence their position in their community through reciprocal altruism.

When this kind of behaviour is socially inherited, it is a manifestation of animal moral evolution.

Moral evolution can be detected in at least some marine mammals (killer and humpback whales as well as bottlenose dolphins), birds (ravens, magpies, New Caledonian crows, grey parrots), canines (dholes and wild dogs), primates (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, capuchin monkeys and macaques) as well as vampire bats.

Bands of the Homo genus

  • About 2.5 million years ago

A colder climate in Africa created savannas. In the new conditions, some hominid populations began to utilise carrion for food, as shown by the first stone tools suitable for cutting carcasses.

The hunter-gatherer economy was born. The individual band members’ livelihood depended on the mutual division of labour between individuals and between groups of individuals.

The gathering of food through the division of labour required common rules and control. The distribution was done in a controlled manner at a shared encampment. Cheaters were punished. This was a new way of social organisation and therein laid the sprout of society.

Mary Leakey.
Mary Leakey was the first to state that the camp created humans. That position and Glynn Isaac’s thesis that mutual sharing created humans were the key milestones in paleoanthropological theorising. PHOTO: 100 years since the birth of Mary Leakey – a Google Doodle commemorating it.

“The spirit of laws” became the power keeping the band together. Therefore, in addition to the individual member, the band first became the primary unit of natural selection and finally the only one.

In terms of societal development, all representatives of the Homo genus, ca. 2.5 million to 60 000 years ago, belonged to the same species, including our anatomical equivalent, Homo sapiens, born at least approximately 200 000 years ago. Contrary to literature in general, we call all these species “ape-men”.

Organisational development and better nutrition also contributed to biological evolution, e.g., by increasing the brain’s size, which then furthered the leap in developing new tools.

This period of 2.5 million years saw the emergence of the gene pool regulating individual and group behaviour in humans. It includes both the blind lust for power and the ability to adapt to the rules that restrict it – the ability to overcome oneself.

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Hunter-gatherer tribes

  • About 60 000 years ago

As the natural conditions worsened, some populations of Homo sapiens entered into permanent cooperation.  Hunter-gatherer tribes were born. We call them proto-societies.

In a tribe, work and commodities were distributed inside basic units (bands), not between them. The basic units did not depend on each other for their daily livelihood. But all the members of the tribe were subject to the same rules.

San people in Botswana – one of the few hunter-gatherer groups to survive to our days. PHOTO: Isewell (Wikipedia)

The sense of justice was born, along with human consciousness. This is shown in the symbols, art, innovative technology and the ability to adapt to different conditions. Even earlier signs of these features have been found (e.g. in South Africa about 120 000 years ago). But compared to the evolution during the past 2.5 million years, the change was so dramatic and quick that no random gene mutation could bring it about.

The sense of justice separates humans from animals. It is, by its nature, a “judge’s ethics”, a willingness to think objectively – without prioritising one’s own interest – in situations of intensely conflicting interests.

In a tribe, the rules were essentially human rights that protected the tribe members from each other. Humans needed society to protect them from their own nature. The tribe members could change their basic units (this was not possible in bands of ape-men). As a result, individual members of the tribe could unite to defend the values they considered important and build friendships and love relationships based on them. The concept of justice, the precondition of ethical intelligence, was born.

Within a tribe, an instrumental and an “end in itself” kind of sense of justice bound up.

The tribes were closed organisations. Other tribes were considered enemies. Against them, the tribal “us-spirit” was animalistic. Today, we know that there was more violence than previously thought, but no actual wars – going to war was not profitable. The evolution of society is a direct extension of biological evolution.

The tribe was a political organisation, settling conflicts of interest in society. Political evolution became the driving force of development.

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Stateless civilisations

  • About 10 000 years ago

In a civilisation, different modes of production were covered by the same administrative entity. Production became socially organised.

Civilisations began to emerge towards the end of the prehistoric era. Some groups of people settled permanently in areas where natural resources were particularly abundant. This was mainly, but not exclusively, related to the start of agriculture. It led to a permanent division of labour and trade with, e.g., farmers, cattle breeders, fishers, and hunter-gatherers. The process was long-term and complex and varied according to natural conditions.

Catal Höyûk.
Reconstructed apartment in Catal Höyük. PHOTO: Stipich Béla - Private collection, CC BY 2.5

The number of people covered by the same rules increased, as well as the size of the basic units. The division of labour expanded and diversified. The issue of commodity distribution became increasingly complex.

Within a hunter-gathering tribe, basic units were self-sufficient. In a civilisation, the livelihood essentially depended on the division of labour between basic units or even entire economic areas.

After the emergence of civilisations, the path of humanity divided in two. There were, of course, borderline cases between the basic forms, but at their most typical, the difference was clear:

(1)  Multi-tribal alliances were formed on the basis of lineages and clan ties, with one lineage and its chief rising to a dominant position. They were the first class societies and often very violent. We call them chiefdoms. [1] They were internally unstable and lacked administrative structures that would have allowed them to subject other areas to a permanent exploitative relationship. Warfare took the form of battles to control trade routes or farmland; sometimes it was road and sea piracy.

(2) Egalitarian, peaceful civilisations, with some status differences and some signs of violence, but no evidence of actual exploitation and warfare. The best known are Çatalhöyük in Turkey, the Indus Valley Civilisation on the border between India and Pakistan, and Norte Chico (Caral) in Peru.

Peaceful civilisations seem to show Hegel was right when saying that private property is a condition of freedom.

There were no written laws, even in the latter. But, for instance, the seals of the Indus Valley Culture, which were essential in marking private property, guaranteed peace in the society. Domestic units were relatively independent in managing their daily livelihood.

Peaceful civilisations seem to show Hegel was right when saying that private property is a condition of freedom.

Marxism, in turn, assumed that “early communism” – the lack of private ownership – would have been a prerequisite for justice, equality, and peace. That was not the case. [2]

However, peaceful civilisations disappeared in time. In them, society was not built for its own purpose but to exploit nature. Class societies became the mainstream of development. At first violent chiefdoms, later empire-building city-states. In them, ruling over others became an end in itself.

Unlike the tribes of hunter-gatherers, all civilisations were outward and open, seeking to expand. When internal relations were relatively egalitarian, expansion was peaceful. Class societies leaned on violence. Wars became part of human history.

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State societies

  • About 5000 years ago

In a class society, human beings organised against other human beings, so that ruling people became an end in itself. This was manifested in the first administration based on written laws in Sumer, where the first militaristic city-states also arose. The exercise of power became the most important work, the division of labour related to it became the most important division of labour, and power became the number one commodity. The utilisation of nature became subordinate to the building of society.

States are class societies where the rules that govern everyone are not based on tradition and custom but on written laws. Instead of kinship ties, a separate class of officials and a professional army were created to enforce them.

City-states emerged independently in only a few regions around the world. They were warlike organisations of exploitation and oppression.

Thanks to the new rule based on law and literacy, they could subdue foreign territories, nations, and countries relatively permanently. Although empires rose and fell, the state structure spread almost over the whole world during recorded history.

When city-states arose, humans became the greatest enemy of humanity. As a reaction to it, an ethical tendency arose, an aspiration for social justice.

The state societies also launched an unprecedented development of science, technology, and culture. It was fuelled by the struggle between opposing tendencies, which took place not only between different classes and layers of society but also within them.

Important milestones in historical times have been, for example, the following:

The birth of philosophy in ancient Athens

Philosophy – the search for truth as an end in itself – was a significant turning point in humanity’s self-knowledge. It laid the foundation for a later scientific revolution. The debate over righteousness in ancient Athens is still one of the essential building blocks of a scientific view of human nature.

The birth of the modern world and the Enlightenment

During the Middle Ages, Western Europe lagged far behind, e.g. from China`s high culture. However, the lack of a strong central authority allowed the development of independent local communities. Since the 12th century, especially in the Italian city-states, a democratic and imperialistic market economy (so-called capitalism) was born. It launched an unprecedented but, at the same time, very contradictory development.

Production for the market required democracy and the rule of law within the ruling class. That is what separated the modern world from earlier class societies. The expansion of trade also led to the creation of international law based on the sovereignty of states. The Enlightenment ideas against the church’s authority, the doctrine of separation of powers, and the idea of equal human rights were born.

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Statue of Baron Montesquieu.
Statue of Baron Montesquieu, creator of the theory of the separation of powers, in Bordeaux. PHOTO: Needpix.

Industrial revolutions initially led to working days of up to 16 hours on hunger wages, child labour, etc. The imperialist states carried out ruthless oppression in their colonies until their independence.

Under the conditions of the modern world, most of the population has increasingly had the opportunity to fight for democratic rights and equality before the law against economic exploitation and ideologico-political oppression. In all class societies, political activity defending justice always has an ethical aspect.

The past era and Marxism

The rise and fall of the global socialist system and the communist world movement was the most significant event of the era. When evaluating it, one must consider what it was created against, i.e. the developmental stages of the so-called capitalism from colonialism to neo-colonialism and world wars.

The democratic market economy and the rule of law have proven to be the only sustainable foundation on which to build. On the other hand, without summarising the experiences of the past era and without a preserving negation (in a Hegelian sense) of Marxism, it is not possible to create a new historico-philosophical view of the path and future of humanity.

The turn of the era

Speculative financial capital has become a global power. It includes forces that threaten the democratic structures of states. On the other hand, the information technology revolution offers entirely new opportunities for every member of the human species to participate in the decision-making of their own lives and of humanity as a whole. Material conditions for the ultimate, psychological liberation of a human being have arisen.

Throughout history, opposing tendencies for self-destruction and self-knowledge, lawlessness and legality, and war and peace have existed within the same administrative entity. Both tendencies have become stronger, but the tendency for self-destruction still dominates.

The development towards the unification of the human species began in state societies. But the reason and purpose for the existence of states is to defend their interests against other states – ultimately, war. Humanity can only become united when there is a profound change in the nature of states.

Global society

  • Modernity and future

A global society is not a state in the traditional sense because it has no external enemies. Like all societies, it is divided into three basic components. In a global society, they are:

1) Central power, i.e. the global alliance of states (e.g. the UN);

2) states, and within them, parties and other interest groups; and

3) ethical civil society from the local to the global level.

Humans, as a species, have become a unit of natural selection. To survive, humanity must unite on the basis of its self-knowledge; otherwise, it will destroy itself.

A global society has already started to gradually emerge.  On a general level, it is possible to outline its features based on the history of societies and the conceptualisation of discernible trends in development. Naturally, this is a process that lasts for several generations, and the details of it cannot be seen in advance.

The roots of a global society lie in the democratic rule of law and the development of international law. But states, political parties and politico-economic interest groups, by their very nature, do not seek “the whole truth” in matters of social controversy.

What kind of a social movement can search for “the whole truth” in current ideologico-political controversies? Only the one we call the Truth Forum or an ethical civil society.

Ethical civil society – networks of individuals aware of their rights and obligations – is a driving force for development in a global society.

Unlike previous movements for change, ethical civil society does not serve the interests of any class or interest group, but the overall good of humanity.

Unlike previous insurgency movements that sought to repeal existing laws, an ethical civil society strives towards a “legal revolution”, for democratic market economies to abide by their laws and the international agreements they have made. On the other hand, legislation also needs improvement. Most important is the demand for a Truth Commission-like permanent state body.

As and when this is reached, the states begin to lose their imperialistic character.

The struggle for social justice is ultimately a struggle for an honest debate culture. A wide, educated worldview debate is the most fundamental means of promoting the decentralisation of ideological, political, and economic power on a national level.

Ethical civic media and civic university become the new “fourth estate” that meets the demands of the era.

In a global society, humanity enters the path of ethical evolution. Its fundamental principles are the basic lessons of the history of humankind:

(1) Decentralisation of ideological, political, and economic power.

(2) One must get paid, also and eventually above all, for truthfulness, solidarity, and a sense of justice.


[1] The concept of “chiefdom” is debated, for good reason. At the end of prehistory, a great variation of civilisations and social formations emerged. We think the classification of them from the point of view other than violence and relative equality is not worthwhile when drawing the overall picture.  

[2] In the times of Marx and Engels, it was not known that there had existed high cultures – large networks of city-states – that were not violent and where there were no slaves.


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