The modern future was born, according to one precise dating, in the year 1770, when a Parisian hack writer named Louis-Sebastien Mercier wrote a book called L’an 2440 in which he set out to predict the blissful state of human society, Paris, 670 years thereafter…
…The ancient longing for posthumous glory is essentially incompatible with the modern conception of the future. Whereas Plato thought the thirst for deathless fame innate in every man, we can barely understand it in any individual.
However cyclical doctrines may have modified people’s sense of the human world’s permanence, Mercier for his part, jettisoned cyclical notions entirely. His Paris is not rotating on the great cosmic wheel, and its condition in A.D. 2440 is in no way a recurrence of things past. The Paris of his prediction will reach its new state by marching along the straight road of abstract time, changing from moment to moment, as a body falling to earth changes its speed from moment to moment. This linear conception of time is another essential ingredient of the modern conception of the future; like the Augustinian doctrine it sees in history, future history included, a progression of unique events strung out on time’s thread, like bends on an infinite string.
Yet L’an 2440 is as remote from Augustine as it is from Plato or the philosophers of India. Mercier’s future Paris is not the unfolding of the divine plan, and Providence plays no part in making it hat it will be. The author of L’an 2440 is utterly secular. He takes it for granted than man lives only in history and has no share in eternity, that human things are the creation, not of Providence, nor of Fate, nor of any superhuman agency, but only of natural, and knowable, historical causes. Precisely because this is so, said Mercier, the future of society is rationally predictable. All that is required in knowledge of the leading causes and trends that determine the future of the ever-changing world.