‘History’, roars Tom Holland in a moment of cognitive elation, ‘is not built upon sand’. To this we may add: ‘No, not on sand but upon quicksand!’ For, the deeper one probes the notion of ‘history’, the more intractable it gets. At best, it proffers an obscure, if not a totally opaque, vision of the human condition. Whether conceived as a record of the human past or perceived as the matrix of human existence, history, like science and as philosophy, reveals the unfathomable ends of Man. As science, it collapses before the question of meaning; as philosophy it exhausts itself overcoming the antinomies of reason. While to be human and to strive for meaningful existence is to impose on the infinity of the world a structure and a form, to bestow it a finitude and a temporality, the paradox is that such a partial world of history and society can only be posited from some premonition of the whole. It can only be derived from a totality that is greater than the sum of its parts. Only an imagination that transcends historical, i.e. temporal consciousness renders it intelligible. History, in other words, acquires meaning from a perspective which itself is meta-historical.
Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for the Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, London: Atlantic Books, 2012.