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Koselleck’s Historik and

the Horizons of Politics


Political theorists, especially in the subfield of ideology studies, continue
to draw insights from Begriffsgeschichte (conceptual history) to help them
better analyze the morphology of political concepts over time. However,
other aspects of Reinhart Koselleck’s work remain underutilized. This is
especially true of the connections between Begriffsgeschichte and his de-
velopment of a theory of history (Historik), dealing with the broader in-
tersection of language, structure, and the experience of time. This article
focuses on just one aspect of this intersection: on the potential relevance
of Koselleck’s use of the concept of horizon to theorize a particular “hori-
zonal mode” of the politics of time. After discussing some relevant features
of the horizon metaphor, the article moves to reappraise Koselleck’s use of
the concept before elaborating and expanding on it to claim that Koselleck
helps to showcase the contestation of different temporal horizons as a core
feature of political thinking.

conceptual history, historiography, horizons, ideology, phenomenology,
political theory, politics, Reinhart Koselleck, time

While there has always been intellectual and methodological overlap be-
tween conceptual historians and political theorists, scholars in both fields
have recently gone further to foster a greater degree of cross-pollination.1 In
particular, the methods of conceptual history, or Begriffsgeschichte, continue
to be especially relevant to ideology studies, a subfield of political theory
finally liberated from the Marxian undertones that see ideology as a ubiqui-
tous, and not simply ruling-class-based, form of political thinking.2 Over this
period, ideology analysts have also made a more pronounced linguistic turn
to claim that our ever-present isms are best understood as definable images

1. See, e.g., Willibald Steinmetz, Michael Freeden, and Javier Fernández-Sebastián,

eds., Conceptual History in the European Space (New York: Berghahn Books, 2017).
2. See Aletta J. Norvel, “The Things We Do with Words,” British Journal of Political
Science, 30, no. 2 (2000): 313–346; Jonathan Leader Maynard, “A Map of the Field of
Ideological Analysis,” Journal of Political Ideologies 18, no. 3 (2013): 299–327.

Contributions to the History of Concepts Volume 13, Issue 2, Winter 2018: 79–99
doi:10.3167/choc.2018.130204 © Berghahn Books
Blake Ewing

and ways of understanding the world communicated through language: in

the use of open-ended concepts like freedom, justice, and community that
are arranged in different ways to comprise an overall ideology. Studying
the morphology of these “conceptual systems” endeavors to plot shifts in
the meaning of concepts and their arrangements over time and space.3 Un-
derstanding an ideology properly therefore requires not only a synchronic
snapshot but also diachronic evaluation. In doing so, we can see that liber-
alism, for instance, is in fact a set of related liberalisms, conservatism a set
of related conservatisms, and so forth. One only appreciates this by looking
at the conceptual makeup of an ism over a longer period of time—bringing
the subfield into the space of conceptual history. But instead of studying sin-
gular concepts, ideology theorists look at systems of concepts. And when
an ideology’s various iterations are taken together, plotted synchronically
and diachronically, it resembles a cluster of concepts moving across time,
with concepts appearing and disappearing and given greater and lesser
prominence along the way. When considered this way, one sees that within
each ideology, some concepts prove to be ineliminable and maintain their
prominence (e.g., liberty within liberalism), while others prove to be more
contingent and peripheral (e.g., social justice only appears within later iter-
ations of liberalism).4 As such, as a whole, ideologies can be seen as a “quasi-
contingent” system of concepts.
There is thus an important temporal dimension to the study of ideolog-
ical conceptual systems, drawing political theorists even closer to Reinhart
Koselleck’s various essays not only on the methods of Begriffsgeschichte but
also on the particular issue of time. Still, beyond the idea of quasi-contin-
gency in the morphology of ideological conceptual systems, the relation be-
tween time and structure (linguistic and otherwise), a topic that Koselleck
revisited throughout his career, remains underexplored and underutilized
by political theorists. But venturing further requires theorists hitherto pri-
marily preoccupied with methodological debates over textual interpretation
to move on from the basic elements of Begriffsgeschichte and the synchron-
ic-diachronic study of political concepts and systems, to look at Koselleck’s
wider oeuvre,5 especially his writings on developing a Historik, his theory

3. See Michael Freeden, “Political Concepts and Ideological Morphology,” Journal of

Political Philosophy 2, no. 2 (1994): 140–164, here 151–152.
4. See Michael Freeden, “Conceptual History, Ideology and Language,” in Steinmetz
et al., Conceptual History in the European Space, 118–138.
5. For global readers, the best place to look is in three collections of Koselleck’s essays
translated into English: Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time: Studies in Con-
temporary German Social Thought, ed. and trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia Uni-
versity Press, 2004); The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts.
trans. Todd Presner, Kerstin Behnke, and Jobst Welge (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univer-

80 contributions to the history of concepts

Koselleck’s Historik and the Horizons of Politics

of possible histories (Theoriebedürftigkeit der Geschichtswissenschaft).6 In-

deed, in discussing the theoretical science behind the possibility for history,
Koselleck always insists that we must look toward but also beyond language
and linguistic structure to understand historical change. This includes tak-
ing into account what he calls the “metahistorical” or “extralinguistic” pre-
conditions for human history and how historians structure the past through
employing different well-used formal categories.7 The latter include not
only arranging events before and after each other but also categorizing the
history of human relations in terms of inside and outside (friend/enemy),
up and down (master/slave), and differences in generations (earlier/later
than).8 All are distinctive structures of historical time existing simultane-
ously, something Koselleck conceptualizes in the notions of layered time
(Zeitgeschichten) and the simultaneity of the nonsimultaneous (die Gleich-
zeitigkeit der Ungleichzeitigen).
To this theory of structuring history, Koselleck also adds an important
experiential dimension. In taking cues from Heidegger’s Being and Time and
Gadamer’s existential hermeneutics in Truth and Method, Koselleck moves
from history to historicity and back again to argue that our formalized his-
tories of humanity in fact rest on a more fundamental anthropological “pre-
given”—on the temporal nature of human experience—that conditions how
historians interpret past experience in the more precise formal categories
like those mentioned above. This is because past experience, however we
come to know about and present it ex post, is always a depiction of temporal
experience. And human history is therefore, at least in large part, a represen-
tation of the past through the experiential temporality of past actors—what
Koselleck conceptualizes in the idea of past futures (Vergangene Zukunft).
With this in mind, in this article, from the perspective of political the-
ory, I want to make a limited foray further into these waters, endeavoring
to explore Koselleck’s Historik by way of his remarks on an underlying ex-
periential temporality, and its relation to the phenomenological concept of
horizon. Admittedly, horizon is a concept more readily used by Heidegger
and Gadamer, where a horizon, as existential being or hermeneutical under-
standing, denotes one’s temporal situation in time. By contrast, Koselleck
more or less avoids the word, withholding his most existential remarks to

sity Press, 2002); Sediments of Time: On Possible Histories, ed. and trans. Sean Franzel and
Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).
6. See Reinhart Koselleck, “On the Need for Theory in the Discipline of History,” in
Koselleck, The Practice of Conceptual History, 1–19.
7. See esp. Reinhart Koselleck, “Historik and Hermeneutics,” in Koselleck, Sediments
of Time, 41–59.
8. See Reinhart Koselleck, “Linguistic Change and the History of Events,” in Kosel-
leck, Sediments of Time, 137–157.

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the use of concepts like “past futures” or in discussing formalizing history by

way of the metahistorical categories of the “space of experience” and “hori-
zon of expectation”—the latter proving the extent of the term’s cameo role in
his wider terminology, as a line denoting the difference between the experi-
enced and non-experienced.
Nonetheless, the concept of horizon guides my remarks in this article,
because, despite Koselleck rarely using the term, its broader meanings and
uses always lurk in the background. Indeed, he is always imploring readers
to consider how language and its changes in meaning indicate shifts in one’s
horizon of temporal experience—in terms of the individual but especially
of social-political historical horizons (hereby deviating from Heidegger and
This brings with it important sociopolitical dimensions worthy of con-
sideration by political theorists. It showcases, in one aspect, that our tem-
poral horizons are always politically conditioned, while at the same time
different temporal horizons also condition politics. By relating experiential
time to politics, Koselleck hereby is inviting us to theorize different aspects
of the politics of time.
“Horizonal politics” is but one example of this, though one that poses
challenges given Koselleck’s limited use of the term. To proceed, the article
must therefore revisit and reframe Koselleck’s use of the horizon concept
before moving on to discussing its potential relevance for students of poli-
tics. I complete this two-step process across three sections. The first is a brief
sketch of certain phenomenological elements in the horizon concept, pre-
sented in order to pick out three themes relating to Koselleck’s Historik—on
the horizonal themes of extending/stretching, boundaries, and situational
perspective. I then discuss Koselleck’s use of the concept and expand on it in
light of these themes to apply the horizon concept to his wider Historik and
its broader considerations on the intersection between language, structure,
and time. Finally, I move from Historik to politics, setting out a Koselleck-in-
spired thematization of the mode of horizonal politicking.

The Spatial-Temporal Concept of Horizon

The concept of horizon in its everyday use never loses its physicality.9 We
recognize that the horizon marks the division between earth and sky, and
the line beyond which we cannot see. It is something we observe, and its
appearance depends on our point of observation. One never reaches the

9. See Ramón Ramos Torre, “Time’s Social Metaphors: An Empirical Research,” Time
and Society 16, nos. 2–3 (2007): 176–181.

82 contributions to the history of concepts

Koselleck’s Historik and the Horizons of Politics

horizon, for it continuously moves away as we approach it. We can only see
it as it appears in our various impressions. It can be narrow or wide, close
or far away. Depending on the landscape, one gets a sense of the horizon’s
expansiveness—a line stretched across in the distance—while in other envi-
rons and instances it is obscured behind natural and artificial forms. We may
think of a true horizon and a horizon as we see it at a particular moment.
Our ubiquitous encounters with and conceptualizations of the physical
horizon also lend the concept a useful and well-worn metaphor for explain-
ing how we act in and understand the world. We see this in Hans Robert
Jauss’s helpful survey of the meanings and employment of horizon from the
Greek word horisdein, meaning border or to delimit or cut off, to its use in
literary and historical hermeneutics to represent contingent perspective.10
For Plato, the horizon stood for the orbit of the sun whose light revealed
the suprasensual world as the world of true being. Or, used theologically, it
marked the divide between temporal and eternal things—its meaning chang-
ing from a divide to denote a perspectival world and its limits and the con-
dition for human experience.11 In epistemology, the horizonal line became
a matter of consciousness, which Kant separates between our “particular
and limited private horizon” and the “absolute and universal horizon” that
delineates the extent of human knowledge. In epistemology and in phenom-
enology, too, horizons are often separated in this way: between our internal
subjective horizons and an external universal, what Husserl calls the horizon
of horizons (Horizont der Horizonte).12
Indeed, it is Husserl who first, or at least most vividly to my mind, uses
the horizon metaphor in reference to the idea of a lived or experiential time—
what David Hoy calls our human experience of temporality, to helpfully
separate it from a Newtonian objective or universal time.13 This distinction
should remind us that in response to Augustine’s oft-mentioned meditation
over What, Then, Is Time? there are two contrasting philosophical stand-
points: time as measure and time as experience. The first refers to an unalter-
able yet infinitely divisible external time—the cosmological understanding
of time as the measure of motion, best exemplified in Aristotle’s Physics and

10. On the latter, see Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Continuum,
2004), 301–304; Hans Robert Jauss and Elizabeth Benzinger, “A Symposium on Literary
History,” New Literary History 2, no. (1970): 7–37.
11. See Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Boston:
Tufts University), http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%
3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Do%28%2Fros (accessed 5 July 2018).
12. See Saulius Geniusas, The Origins of the Horizon in Husserl’s Phenomenology (Hei-
delberg: Springer, 2012).
13. David Couzens Hoy, The Time of Our Lives: A Critical History of Temporality (Bos-
ton: MIT Press, 2019), xiii.

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its discussion of the ordering of events as a sequence of “now-points.”14 By

contrast, Augustine’s Confessions speaks of an internal experiential time and
its relation to external time (in this case, one created by God).15
It is from the latter that we can begin to locate something like a temporal
horizon. For Augustine, experiential time is thought not of in terms of the
counting of instances but as something that exists only in the mind, where
we come to communicate the experience of human time through the three-
fold dimensions of past, present, and future. Time is a matter of perception
(sentire) entirely within the present from where we conceive of the simul-
taneity of the present with a notion of present past and present future.16 As
Augustine wrote in Book XI of his Confessions, in present experience we find
in our present awareness (intentio) the intentional stretching of the mind
(distentio animi) where past is retained as memory and future foreseen as ex-
pectation. There is “a present (praesens) of bygones, a present of presences
( praesentibus), a present of future things.”17
I want to keep hold of the Augustinian image of the stretching of
time-consciousness because it reappears, in secularized form, more than a
thousand years later in Husserl’s use of the horizon concept in his discussion
of the temporal experience of retention (memory) and protention (antici-
pation).18 We cannot dwell here for long, but suffice it to say that the hori-
zon concept for Husserl generally refers to a world or “field of perception”
(Wahrnehmungsfeld), and in specific reference to time-consciousness, the
horizon refers to the temporal extensions rendered from the impressions
and perceptions of our present “now.” In this way, the horizon is an exten-
sion from the present, yet also constitutes it—a stretched present—or, as he
put it, a “stretched being-all-at-once at length” (Strecken-Zugleich),19 where
“every present moment of experience has about it a fringe of experiences,

14. Time, for Aristotle, is nothing but the measure of movement—how we understand
motion between demarcated and related “Nows.” Aristotle says in the Physics that time
is “the number of motion in respect of ‘before’ and ‘after.’” It is something external to
us, but must be measured by those who count: “‘There would not be time if there was
not soul.’” Aristotle, Physics, trans. Robert Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2008), 219a, 223a21–223a25.
15. See Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2008), 235–236.
16. See Paul Ricoeur, Truth and Narrative, vol. 1, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and Da-
vid Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
17. Augustine, Confessions, 235.
18. See Eva Brann, What, Then, Is Time? (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999),
111–156, on the stretching of time, esp. 154–156.
19. Edmund Husserl, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, trans.
John Barnett Brough (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), 60.

84 contributions to the history of concepts

Koselleck’s Historik and the Horizons of Politics

which also share the primal now-form.”20 As he explains in his Ideas, the hori-
zon of the extended present comprises of a threefold horizonal structure: of
what is now (der Horizont vom Gegenwart), what will be (der Horizont vom
Nachher), and what has been (der Horizont vom Vorhin).21
While for Husserl, the horizon extends outward from the present, when
we follow on to Heidegger, we see that the existential structure of tempo-
rality in his concept of Dasein switches this around. Heidegger places our
“being there” within the horizonal boundaries of being-unto-death (Sein
zum Tode) while also giving it an important orientating function.22 Though
like Husserl, Heidegger also has a threefold understanding of our temporal
being, but one that is always future-oriented. We come to understand our
temporality (Zeitlichkeit) as a present anticipation of the end in relation to
our past. Temporality “has the unity of a future which makes itself present in
the process of having been.”23
I offer this admittedly hasty tour through difficult territory because it
showcases two horizonal themes that Koselleck picks up in his more exis-
tential passages: that the horizon metaphor can simultaneously represent
temporal extensions (stretching) from the present while also marking out
specific boundaries to those extensions. As such, we can see horizon not
only as a line but also as a spatial-temporal field of vision,24 similar to what
Gadamer, in his hermeneutical usage, described as a visual field or “range
of vision” from a specific point of view.25 It is both spatial and temporal. The
spatial horizon field demarcates an interior and outer edge—helping us con-
ceptualize the division between the known from the unknown, the possible
and impossible, the political and nonpolitical, and so forth. While tempo-
rally, it refers to the inherent subjectivity of the distentio animi—the tempo-
rality of experience within the stretched dimensions of past, present, and
future that we first encounter in Augustine’s Confessions.
To this horizon field image, before moving on, there is a third element
to add. Many of these authors, including Koselleck, imply that our spatial-

20. Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, par. 82,
quoted in Brann, What, Then, Is Time? 141.
21. See Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (London:
Routledge, 2014), 46. For commentary, see Eddo Evink, “Horizons of Expectation: Ricoeur,
Derrida, Patočka,” Studia Phaenomenologica 13, no. 1 (2013): 297–323, esp. 299–230.
22. For a comparison of their uses in social theory, see Barbara Adam, Time and Social
Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 1990), 9–47.
23. Quoted in Peter Osborne, The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde (Lon-
don: Verso, 1995), 59.
24. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1980), 30.
25. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 301.

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temporal historical temporal situation is always located “in between,” that

is, in the betweenness of the present in relation to the stretched out past
(in terms of experience or memory) and future (in terms of expectation or
hope).26 To take an example, Dasein for Heidegger is always occurring in this
between—our being between birth and death, between a beginning and an
end we come to understand.27 In a similar vein, Hannah Arendt discusses
in The Life of the Mind Kafka’s parable of man’s entrapment between the
two antagonists of origin and the future. “Man lives in the ‘in-between,’”
she writes, “and what he calls the present is a life-long fight against the dead
weight of the past, driving him forward with hope, and the fear of a future
(whose only certainty is death), driving him backward toward ‘the quiet of
the past’ with nostalgia for and remembrance of the only reality he can be
sure of.” “We are not only in space,” she continues. “We are also in time, re-
membering, collecting and recollecting what no longer is present out of ‘the
belly of memory’ [Augustine Confessions, Book X], anticipating and plan-
ning in the mode of willing what is not yet.”28
Yet, the temporal perspective of being in between—being inescapably
between past and future—needs to refer not simply to individual being and
thinking but also to individual and political doing and asking, to borrow Le-
nin’s phrase, “What is to be done?” Political thinking, of course, also resides
in the same temporal situation between past and future, in between experi-
ence and expectation. In this way, horizons also constitute a temporality for
political action. And thinking about how the sociopolitical, not simply the
individual, may contain and employ these horizons now takes us to discuss-
ing Koselleck’s Historik and its horizonal implications more directly.

Seeking New Horizons

Koselleck’s most elaborate discussion and use of the horizon concept are in
his well-known, late essay on the two historical categories of experience and

26. Reinhart Koselleck, “Experience and Expectation,” in Koselleck, Futures Past,

255–275, here 258.
27. Heidegger writes: “Thrownness and that Being towards death in which on either
flees it or anticipates it, form a unity; and in this unity birth and death are ‘connected’ in
a manner characteristic of Dasein. As care, Dasein is the ‘between.’” See Martin Heideg-
ger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell,
1980), 426–427.
28. Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Volume 1: Thinking (London: Secker & War-
burg, 1978), 201–203. On similarities between Arendt’s and Koselleck’s conceptions of
history, see Stefan Ludwig-Hoffmann, “Koselleck, Arendt, and the Anthropology of His-
torical Experience,” History and Theory 49, no. 2 (2010), 212–236.

86 contributions to the history of concepts

Koselleck’s Historik and the Horizons of Politics

expectation, or what he calls the “space of experience” (Erfahrungsraum)

and “horizon of expectation” (Erwartungshorizont).29 There, he argues that a
modern sense of historical time, a Neuzeit, can be characterized by a notable
shift in actors’ temporal experience, whereby during the so-called saddle pe-
riod (Sattelzeit) beginning in the late eighteenth century, future expectation
increasingly no longer corresponded with past experience. The concept of
progress (Fortschritt) indicated most of all that a shift in the temporalization
of history was taking place. Progress “combined experiences and expecta-
tions, both with a temporal coefficient of change . . . [and] from that time on
. . . the limits of the space of experience and the horizons of expectations di-
verged. It became a rule that all previous experience might not count against
the possible otherness of the future.”30
But the essay, rather than simply employing the categories as an explan-
atory key, is another elaboration on Koselleck’s wider Historik. He begins
the essay by suggesting that experience and expectation are a fundamental
pairing necessary for writing human history, which he considers no more
than a “science of experience” (Erfahrungswissenschaft). On this level, the
categories refer to two “modes of being” (Seinsweisen)—one the collected
remembrance of past happenings and the other a set of future possibilities.
In both senses, experience and expectation are “indicative of the temporality
of men,” which he sees, provoked by Heidegger, as “indicative of the general
human condition. . . . The conditions of possibility of real history are, at the
same time, conditions of its cognition,” and thus, for historians, understand-
ing the worldly situation of historical actors, their inner relation between
past and future, is what “provide[s] guidance to concrete agencies in the
course of social or political movement.”31
But in adding this social and political dimension, Koselleck’s Historik
becomes more anthropological than strictly existential. “The times of his-
tory are constituted interpersonally,” he writes, differentiating himself from
Heidegger. “They always deal with the simultaneity of the nonsimultaneous
(die Gleichzeitigkeit der Ungleichzeitigen), with determinations of difference
that contain their own finitude and are not traceable back to an [individual
human] ‘existence.’”32 The two formal categories thus refer anthropologi-
cally to in actu historical experiences of man’s naturally and socially con-
ditioned temporal existence and by extension, serve historiographically as
formal categories for the ex post thematization of past experience.
29. See Reinhart Koselleck, “Space of Experience and Horizon of Expectation,” in
Koselleck, Futures Past, 255–276.
30. Koselleck, “Experience and Expectation,” 266–267.
31. Reinhart Koselleck, “Transformations of Experience and Methodological Change,”
in Koselleck, The Practice of Conceptual History, 45–83, here 46.
32. Koselleck, “Historik and Hermeneutics,” 44–45.

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As such, Erfahrungsraum and Erwartungshorizont are anthropologi-

cal conditions at the highest level of abstraction that make the history of
humanity possible. All other subsequent formalizations of history—in the
use of categories like master/slave or friend/enemy—must always rest on
this anthropological presupposition of temporal experience. The past and
the future are always “joined together in the presence of both experience
and expectation.”33 And while they may deviate, each category cannot exist
without the other. There is “no expectation without experience, no experi-
ence without expectation.” As modes of being, they merely change in their
relationship. “The space of experience and horizon of expectation cannot
[therefore] be related to one another in a static way. They constitute a tem-
poral difference within the here and now, by joining together the past and
future in an asymmetric manner.”34
The implication of this is that all histories are histories of present expe-
rience (Zeitgeschichten).35 To put it in Koselleck’s terms, history is that of
a past present that includes future—Vergangene Zukunft.36 Here, too, in his
repeated use of this latter phrase, he recognizes that history, in part, rests on
the revisited temporal experience of past actors. It is about not only being
but also activity, similar to what his Bielefeld colleague Niklas Luhmann
called the “temporal horizons relevant for possibilities of action.”37 Kosel-
leck’s use of Vergangene Zukunft is recognition of this fuller ontology of the
temporal present. History is not simply past futures, but also the study of
past presents and by extension, through the temporality of historical actors,
of past pasts.38 A present is a “now” that always carries a tripartite tempo-
rality. Luhmann writes of the horizon: “Although we can never touch it and
never surpass it, it nevertheless contributes to our situation. . . . What moves
in time is past/present/future together, in other words, the present along
with its past and future horizons.”39 This subsequently allows us, he reckons,
to speak of things like “present futures,” representing restricted possibili-
ties, as separate from normative “future presents,” which for him constitute

33. Reinhart Koselleck, “Historical Time and Social History,” in Koselleck, The Prac-
tice of Conceptual History, 115–130, 127.
34. Koselleck, “Experience and Expectation,” 257.
35. See Reinhart Koselleck, “Constancy and Change of All Contemporary Histories,”
in Koselleck, Sediments of Time, 100–116, esp. 100–103.
36. See Reinhart Koselleck, “Modernity and the Planes of Historicity,” in Koselleck,
Futures Past, 9–25.
37. Niklas Luhmann, The Differentiation of Society, trans. Stephen Holmes and Charles
Larmore (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 290. In discussing the term, Luh-
mann is cited in Koselleck, “Modernity and the Planes of Historicity,” 9n1.
38. See Koselleck, “Constancy and Change,” 100–103.
39. Luhmann, The Differentiation of Society, 278, 307.

88 contributions to the history of concepts

Koselleck’s Historik and the Horizons of Politics

the creative visions rendered from experience but which may be outside the
realm of present possibility.40
Compared to the likes of Luhmann, though, Koselleck unfortunately
decides to reserve the horizon concept only to futurity. On this he is un-
equivocal. For him, Erfahrungsraum denotes the totality of known experi-
ences collected together in the present, and, as an Erwartungshorizont, the
horizon always differentiates something that takes place in the present that
is “not yet” or “non-experienced,” a future that can only be made present
(Vergegenwärtigte Zukunft). “Hope and fear, wishes and desires, cares and
rational analysis, receptive display and curiosity: all enter into expectation
and constitute it.”41 For him, the horizon is no more than a dividing line be-
tween the experienced and the unknown. Its only experience is the experi-
ence of prognosis or possibility.
But in light of his wider Historik, this narrow use looks unnecessarily
restrictive. The past is not simply a collection of experiences; it too contains
horizons, as Koselleck routinely intimates. To make an initial observation,
given the clear influence of Heidegger and Gadamer on his thinking, it is
curious that he does not also attribute the horizon concept to a present ex-
perience of the past—an obvious implication of the presence of past things
in the present.42 Even in future-oriented modernity, a society’s prognostica-
tive horizons are always conditioned by its space of experience, even if the
content of experience differs from what is expected in the future.43
Attaching a horizon component to Koselleck’s space of experience is
significant because it helps differentiate predictive and prognosticative hori-
zons from the expectative and aspirational. Indeed, Koselleck’s own extra-
linguistic theorization of experience and structures of repetition speak to
these time strata extending from the past into the present and future—the
“prognosticative structures” of historical time—including naturalistic struc-
tural pre-givens (climate, geology, etc.) and sedimented institutional ar-
rangements that offer a degree of stability.
Others have already embarked on reformulating Koselleck’s categories
in light of this. Michael Pickering encourages us to amend Koselleck’s cate-
gories to include a “horizon of experience” to better reflect the boundaries
of understanding or possibility set by present-past experience, and a “space

40. Ibid., 278–279.

41. Ibid., 259.
42. For the influences of Gadamer and Heidegger on Koselleck, see Niklas Olsen, His-
tory in the Plural: An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck (New York: Berghahn
Books, 2013), 26–29.
43. This point is also made in Anders Schinkel, “Imagination as a Category of History:
An Essay concerning Koselleck’s Concepts of Erfahrungsraum and Erwartungshori-
zont,” History and Theory 41, no. 1 (2005): 42–54, here 47.

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of expectation” to refer to events that are anticipated to happen based on

experience.44 In a similar vein, Alexandre Escudier, in his own analysis of
the categories, makes expectation do more of the work: separating out what
he calls “cognitive predictive elements” and “normative expectational ele-
ments.” One is based on experience (predictive/rationalistic) and the other
rendered from it (normative/ethical).45 Meanwhile, Anders Schinkel takes
yet another route by adding a third category, that of imagination, which he
places between experience and expectation to signify how one draws from
past experience to think up new possibilities.46
Yet, this possible malleability shows us, I think, that the operative locus
is not the categories of experience or expectation but rather the metaphor
of horizon itself, when thought of more broadly as a vision field that in-
cludes not only a dividing line between the known and unknown, but also
the broader diversity of time extensions from a given situation. And with-
out doing too much violence to his project, tweaking his use of the term
allows us to take full advantage of Koselleck’s innovative Historik—to not
only attach horizons to experience but also, following Koselleck’s moves be-
yond Heidegger and Gadamer, to see horizons in language and nonlinguistic
structures that condition experience.
To take the first of these elaborations, we must always remember that
language for Koselleck contains different times. Linguistic structure is not
only synchronic, as it is in structural linguistics, or contextual, as many his-
torians of political thought insist, but also diachronic insofar as linguistic
meaning reflects temporal structures across time.47 “Any synchrony is eo
ipso at the same time diachronic,” as he put it.48 As Helge Jordheim has dis-
cussed in several articles, Koselleck means that within a concept are par-
ticular structural elements, or what he calls “structural possibilities,” that

44. Michael Pickering, “Experience as a Horizon: Koselleck, Expectation and Histori-

cal Time,” Cultural Studies 18, nos. 2–3 (2010): 271–289, here 277–280.
45. Alexandre Escudier, “‘Temporalization’ and Political Modernity: A Tentative Sys-
tematization of the Work of Reinhart Koselleck,” in Political Concepts and Time: New
Approaches to Conceptual History, ed. Javier Fernández-Sebastián (Santander: Cantabria
University Press, 2011), 131–178.
46. “It is imagination that nestles itself between experience and expectation. . . . Expe-
rience always shapes expectation through the mediation of imagination. It takes imagina-
tion to have expectations at all—to be able to distinguish the future from the past, and to
have some sense of what this future might be and to have an attitude toward it.” Schinkel,
“Imagination as a Category,” 48.
47. On the contextual approach, see Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, Vol. 1: Regard-
ing Method (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
48. Reinhart Koselleck, “Social History and Conceptual History,” in Koselleck, The
Practice of Conceptual History, 115–130, here 130.

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extend “Janus-faced,”49 referring backward to different meanings and inputs

gathered over time and also forward toward anticipated or possible expe-
riences.50 “All key words in political and social language,” Koselleck writes,
“have a complex multilayered temporal structure (Temporale Binnenstruk-
tur) reaching beyond the particular contemporary reality, both forward
and backward. They contain remnants of past experience and components
pointing to the future (Zukunftskomponente).”51
In other words, concepts are not simply temporal or temporalized—
containing references to historical time—but they also have their own tem-
poral horizon. For instance, the temporalization of what he calls “movement
concepts” (Bewegungsbegriffe), like “progress” or “revolution,” and ideolog-
ical neologisms, like “liberalism” and “socialism,” includes within them what
he calls “horizons of movement” that present historical time as a certain
process. In their different meanings and uses, all contain various possible
extensions, boundaries, and relations between the past and present. And
crucially, as he tells us, this inner temporalization (Verzeitlichung) is prone
to be politicized (Politisierung) and incorporated into ideologies (Ideologi-
sierbarkeit). “There has hardly been a central concept of political theory or
social programs which does not contain a coefficient of temporal change,” he
says. Through concepts, “time itself becomes a title of legitimation open to
occupation from all sides.”52
Yet, to this political theorists can add three further elaborations. First,
we should see that we can find horizonal elements not only in temporal
concepts or so-called concepts of movement. We should also look at how
they are associated with seemingly time-neutral political concepts like lib-
erty, justice, and equality. When we consider this for a moment, we realize
that almost all political concepts contain or are impregnated with tempo-
ral horizons, to varying degrees, in their semantic use (e.g., liberty as be-
coming or emancipation; equality as a horizon of opportunity). This can be
done explicitly in giving neutral concepts temporal connotations or through
their association with adjacent temporal concepts (e.g., the relationship be-

49. See Reinhart Koselleck, “Introduction and Prefaces to the Geschichtliche Grund-
begriffe,” trans. Michaela Richter, Contributions to the History of Concepts 6, no. 1 (2006):
50. See Helge Jordheim, “Does Conceptual History Really Need a Theory of Histori-
cal Times?” Contributions to the History of Concepts 6, no. 2 (2011): 21–41; Helge Jord-
heim, “Against Periodization: Koselleck’s Theory of Multiple Temporalities,” History and
Theory 5, no. 1 (2012): 151–171, here 152; Helge Jordheim, “Thinking in Convergences:
Koselleck on Language, History and Time,” Ideas in History 2, no. 3 (2007): 65–90.
51. Reinhart Koselleck, “Begriffsgeschichte and Social History,” in Koselleck, Futures
Past, 75–92, here 38–39.
52. Ibid., 248.

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tween liberty and progress or development, or equality and opportunity or

Meanwhile, the second elaboration has to do with temporal meaning
and the possible contestation over the plurality of possible time extensions
associated with a concept. In relation to Koselleck’s consideration of the si-
multaneity of the nonsimultaneous, we should recognize that there are dif-
ferent meanings and related time strata associated with a concept (or phrase)
that do not necessarily correspond. But, as he at times clarified, rather than
always being “nonsimultaneous,” “sedimented,” or “layered”—as his concept
of Zeitschichten might imply—these time horizons in fact interact and are
often put in direct competition with each other.
Finally, we can also look at structure more broadly. Koselleck reminds
us that the temporality of horizonal language and of its contestation also
coexists with nonlinguistic structural extensions. His Historik always points
to the various “structures of repetitions” that “condition” events and future
action. The “synchronic conditions of possible events”—and actions—takes
place within a structural inheritance that is both linguistic, in the recourse to
existing present and past meanings, and extralinguistic, concerning different
events based diachronic structures. For Koselleck, historical change is an
explanatory blend between structural inheritance and change, and with dif-
ferent degrees of alterability, these structures are part and parcel of human
experience. They “motivate, occasion, enable, and limit the concrete actions
of agents, who contradict or compete or struggle with each other.”53
To move from historical to political theory, we see that in relation to the
politicization of our horizons is an adjacent durational politics—of the clock,
the calendar, and time’s commodification.54 There is always an ongoing in-
terplay between the experiential and durational timeframes or “times of pol-
itics,” to borrow a term from Kari Palonen.55 Taking a theme from Koselleck,
Palonen points out that the temporal horizons of political activity face the
acute realities of the limits to and scarcity of time in politics—set by electoral
cycles, term limits, legislative calendars, and so forth—which gives cause for
the horizonal jockeying with what to do with such limited times.56 Palonen’s
understanding of the playing with time in political activity can be summed
up as the interaction between the structural demarcation of political times
on one hand, and the Weberian notions of contingent opportunity and the

53. Reinhart Koselleck, “Structures of Repetition in Language and History,” in Kosel-

leck, Sediments of Time, 158–176, here 167, 162.
54. See Elizabeth Cohen, The Political Value of Time: Citizenship, Duration, and Demo-
cratic Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).
55. Kari Palonen, The Struggle with Time (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2014).
56. Kari Palonen, The Politics of Limited Times: The Rhetoric of Temporal Judgment in
Parliamentary Democracies (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2008), 17–22.

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“horizon of the possible” (Horizont der Möglichen), on the other.57 In other

words, there are institutional horizons to politics that affect the political use
of different horizons.

The Horizons of Politics and Politics of Horizons

By elaborating on the horizonal attributes of his wider Historik, I want to

suggest in this final section that Koselleck’s discussion of diachronic struc-
tures inspires two ways of thinking about the horizon concept in relation to
politics. On one hand, we can see that horizons refer to the linguistic and
structural conditions that organize and delimit political activity. And on the
other hand, in light of this, there is the possible malleability and demarcation
of these horizons.
Two further points then follow from this. First, the horizonal intersec-
tion between structure, language, and time—the different horizonal fields of
vision—encourages us to conceptualize politics as a temporal activity, as op-
posed to always instinctively designating politics or “the political” primarily
as a spatial sphere. 58 Politics as an activity shifts our attention away from
these spatial considerations—be it spaces for the exercise of power, domina-
tion, debate, and deliberation—toward thinking about politics as a contingent
activity always taking place “in time” and concerning how societies organize
and address collective problems and potential normative aims within it. To
think about politics temporally is to do so in terms of contingent horizons—
considering situations, extensions, and boundaries—that are wrapped up in
experience, political language, and different structural conditions. To put it
in another way, political actors use language to set horizons while at the same
time are conditioned, though not entirely hindered, by various institutional
and linguistic structures. The politics of judgments, decisions, visions, and
policy platforms are all emblematic of this temporal milieu.
The second point is to also emphasize the horizonal simultaneity, com-
plexity, and contestation that lies at the heart of politics as temporalized
activity. To only attribute horizons to “layered” or “sedimented” temporal
strata, as Koselleck at times encourages us to do,59 obscures the conflictual
and deliberative interactions between times. This, I suggest, prompts us to
rework Koselleck’s notion of the simultaneity of the nonsimultaneous to also

57. Kari Palonen, “Max Weber’s Reconceptualization of Freedom,” Political Theory 4,

no. 4 (1999): 523–544.
58. On the meaning of the concept of “the political,” see Emily Hauptmann, “A Local
History of ‘The Political,’” Political Theory 32, no. 1 (2004): 34–60; Chantal Mouffe, On
the Political (London: Routledge, 2005); Palonen, The Struggle with Time, 33–64.
59. See Reinhart Koselleck, “Sediments of Time,” Koselleck, Sediments of Time, 3–9.

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include the simultaneity of rival times—different futures of possibility, ex-

pectation, aspiration; notions of presents as crisis, acceleration, delay; and
pasts as tradition, norms, and moribund old ways.
Indeed, we can see the contestation of different horizons through each
of our three horizonal components (situations, extensions, and boundaries).
For instance, situational politics refers to how actors locate the present in re-
lation to the past and future as a “political present”—referring to the ubiqui-
tous political narrative of where we are (as a country, community, party, etc.)
in relation to where we have come from and where we are going (or want to go).
What constitutes the present is thus a matter of political bracketing. Differ-
ent events, legislative terms, or political lifetimes are all stretched durational
presents that can be packaged in different ways as present “moments,” to use
J. G. A. Pocock’s term, or given what Hartmut Rosa calls a “situational iden-
tity.”60 As such, these presents are not simply chronological but kairological,
the latter notion taken from the Greek term kairos to designate a sense of
any time from the right time. There are, as it were, certain times for political
action (or inaction).61
And in this possibility, there is always an interplay between the structural
and linguistically mediated situational horizons of politics whereby demar-
cated temporal moments attain horizonal significance through numerous,
often common, semantic tropes. Presents may be designated as “historical
turning points,” “crises,” or “forks in the road.” Such common language often
carries significant implications. For instance, during the 2016 EU referen-
dum in Britain, the Leave campaign billed the vote as a once-in-a-lifetime
chance to “take back control of this great country’s destiny,” as MP Boris
Johnson explained it. He told voters, “You can change the whole course of
European history.”62 Or elections may also gain horizonal significance when
billed as generation defining events, as UK Prime Minister David Cameron
claimed ahead of his election victory in 2015.63 For Canada’s New Demo-
cratic Party, electoral defeat the same year was said to have “opened a hori-
zon for bold new policies” in order to revive the party on the center-left.64

60. J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University

Press, 2003).
61. On the concept of Kairós, see John Smith, “Time, Times and the Right Time,” Mo-
nist 53, no. 1 (1969): 1–13.
62. Macer Hall, “Boris Johnson Urges Brits to ‘Take Back Control,’” The Daily Express,
30 June 2016.
63. ITN, “David Cameron: The Most Important Election of a Generation,” video,
4:21, The Guardian, 30 March 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2015/
64. Martin Lukacs, “The Leap Manifesto opens Horizon for Bold New Politics in Can-
ada,” The Guardian, 15 April 2016.

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At the same time, these examples also speak to our second component,
the horizonal extensions that reach into the past and stretch to the future. To
remain with the example of “Brexit,” the phrase “Take back control” harks
back to a bygone era, mythologized or not, to propose it as a model for a
horizon of renewal, however vaguely conceptualized. Whether old, new, or
renewed, such horizons are part and parcel of political thought. The theorist
Sheldon Wolin describes it as an artistic or architectonic impulse to “project
political order into a time that is yet to be.” This is true, he reckons, even of
conservatives like Edmund Burke, who attempted to “project a continuous
past into the future,” or like Joseph de Maistre, who “sought to recapture a
‘lost past’ in the hope that it could be restored in the future.”65 The rhetoric
of “taking back control” has a long history.
Yet, this said, the future usually dominates proceedings, where hori-
zons may present a narrow or wide set of options. Furthermore, exten-
sions can also concern prioritizing certain distances in time over others, as
in the politics of generations or the prioritizing of the short, medium, or
long term. Political scientists speak of “intertemporal dilemmas” in making
policy choices,66 while John Rawls, and his many followers, often speak of
the topical issue of generational justice—wrestling with “how far the pres-
ent generation is to respect the claims of its successors.”67 On an everyday
level, too, policy making is replete with different horizon lines marked out in
the future—from budget forecasts and sunset clauses to five-year plans and
multiannual economic development strategies.68 It was David Stockman,
the budget director in US President Ronald Reagan’s administration, who
once questioned why they should waste “a lot of political capital on some
other guy’s problems in 2010.”69 By contrast, in his farewell address, Pres-
ident Dwight Eisenhower spoke about the importance of governing in the
interests of the future:
Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we
peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid
the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and con-
venience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the

65. Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1960),
66. See Alan M. Jacobs, Governing for the Long Term: Democracy and the Politics of
Investment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
67. John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2001), 159.
68. See Daniel Tarschys, “Time Horizons in Budgeting,” OECD Journal on Budgeting 2,
no. 2 (2002): 77–104.
69. Quoted in William Grieder, The Education of David Stockman and Other Americans
(New York: Dutton, 1982), 43.

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material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their
political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all gener-
ations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.70

These are but a few examples of horizonal stretches from the situated
present—the far end of the vision field demarcating points in the future,
while the sides denote the horizon of possibilities.
This widening or narrowing of the field of vision also relates to the third
and last component: on the demarcation of horizonal boundaries, whereby
political actors set horizons to delimit the possible and impossible, the an-
ticipated and unanticipated, priorities and trivialities. Seen this way, “taking
back control” is a vision but also an effort to rule out other horizonal possi-
bilities. After the UK voted to leave the European Union, new Prime Minis-
ter Theresa May reinforced that “Brexit means Brexit,” a tautological phrase,
surely, but at least an indication of what would—and would not—happen
next.71 Its emphasis was not in setting out a plan but in what it explicitly
ruled out, namely holding another referendum in the interest of ultimately
remaining in the EU. Imprecise in its end goal, indeed, but as a horizon,
“Brexit means Brexit” is much clearer in its boundaries. The power of the
statement lay in setting the parameters for negotiation, cutting off the pros-
pect for a wider set of potential alternatives. To emphasize this boundary
component, as May does here, importantly separates horizons from political
visions pure and simple. As images of the future or past, visions concern the
content, the interior field, while a horizonal field also concerns the perime-
ter.72 Implicitly or explicitly, all visions are horizonal, but horizon lines can
also be seen primarily as horizonal boundaries, set out to restrict or cut off
alternative possibilities. They are movable boundaries that orient, open up,
and constrain political activity.
In recalling these linguistically mediated boundaries, political theorists
should always be reminded that the possible “horizons of politics” are in
part determined by the “politics of horizons.” As overlapping categories, the
“horizons of politics,” a term I deliberately pluralize, may be seen to mark
the extent and the outer edge of the understandings, scopes, purposes, and
possibilities of political activity. In this way, politics is often about its poten-
tial reach and how it eschews, abuts, and intercedes with other activities and
domains. Meanwhile, the “politics of horizons” speaks to different horizons

70. Dwight Eisenhower, “Farewell Address to the Nation,” 17 January 1961, http://
71. Daniel Dunford and Ashley Kirk, “‘Brexit Means Brexit’, Says May, but What Does
Brexit Actually Mean?” The Daily Telegraph, 15 July 2016.
72. On visions in political thinking, see Michael Freeden, The Political Theory of Politi-
cal Thinking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

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Koselleck’s Historik and the Horizons of Politics

of politics but also encompasses the politicization of a wider horizonal milieu

in social life. Scientific breakthroughs, environmental catastrophes, or the
storm clouds of an economic downturn can all be said to lie on the horizon
and influence (or not) what politics is to do in the meantime. In Koselleck’s
era, the twentieth century is littered with state efforts to order collective
life through “visions of compulsion” and to influence or control the times
of its citizens. Time becomes a commodity pulled between public and pri-
vate, reminding us of Rousseau’s dictum that “as soon as man is alone, he is
nothing.”73 It brings us back to Arendt, too, who reflects that under totalitar-
ianism all human action is subordinated to continuous temporal movement:
“Supra-gigantic forces whose movements race through humanity, dragging
every individual willy-nilly with them—either riding atop their triumphant
car or crushed under its wheels.”74 “Don’t tread on me” is one reply, as the
early American saying goes, one picked up—and redescribed—by more re-
cent conservative Tea Party followers. We find that it is a common linguistic
appropriation of past times to oppose government intrusion on individual
freedoms in the name of utopian futures.75

The Future of Horizons

The article takes three phenomenological elements of the horizon concept

and incorporates them into a reappraised analysis of Koselleck’s use of the
term. Aside from its interest in relation to his Historik, it argues that doing
so is also fruitful for students of politics because compared to tweaking the
categories of experience and expectation, expanding on Koselleck’s use of
the horizon concept encompasses a greater set of possibilities in relation to
language, structure, and experience. It then argues that an expanded view
of Koselleck’s use of horizon adds a further dynamic to his discussion on
politics and ideology.
To further contextualize this, though, by way of conclusion, I want to
briefly relate horizonal politicking to a common apprehension over the
narrowing or shortening of horizons brought about by the quickening pace
and instability of our so-called post- or late-modern temporality. The histo-
rian François Hartog’s popular phrase “regimes of historicity,” denoting the
domination of a particular order of time, speaks to this rising feeling of an

73. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Considerations on the Government of Poland,” in Political

Writings, ed. and trans. Frederick Watkins (Edinburgh: Nelson 1953), 159–267, here 176.
74. Hannah Arendt, Essays in Understanding 1930–1954: Formation, Exile, and Totali-
tarianism (New York: Schocken, 2005), 341.
75. See Rob Walker, “The Shifting Symbolism of the Gadsden Flag,” The New Yorker,
26 October 2016.

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eroded modern future orientation that has since been replaced by a perva-
sive presentism. As a follow-up to Koselleck’s theory of modernity, Hartog
writes that, in late modernity, “futurism has sunk below the horizon and pre-
sentism has taken its place. We cannot see beyond it. Since it has neither a
past nor a future, this present daily fabricates the past and future it requires,
while privileging the immediate.”76
Unmoored from the past and future, the present receives a diverse range
of diagnoses. David Harvey suggests that capitalism has brought about a
“time-space compression” that shrinks the horizons of our private and pub-
lic life. We have experienced not only the annihilation of space through the
increased speed of transport and modes of communication, he reckons, but
also a shift from a future-oriented time-as-becoming to a presentist time-
as-being: “The future has come to be discounted into the present.”77 Helga
Nowotny speaks along similar lines, to the postmodern elimination of the
future, replaced by an extended present overwhelmed with immediate de-
cisions and revisions with little consideration as to the future consequences:

The future became accessible under the condition of remaining inaccessi-

ble. Today, this distance is threatening to collapse. Expectations no longer
hold the glittering promise of a horizon that is still to be reached, and ex-
perience as the basis from which one wants to extrapolate future expec-
tations, has lost much credence. The category of the future is shrinking
towards becoming a mere extension of the present because science and
technology have successfully reduced the distance that is needed to accom-
modate their own products.78

Hermann Lübbe, by contrast, switches this image around by theorizing a con-

traction of the present (Gegenwartsschrumpfung) as a temporal consequence
of rapid innovation: “The space of time for which we can calculate our living
conditions with a degree of constancy is shortened.”79 Past and future have
little influence on this contracted present: society loses its historical con-
sciousness, while assurances of a stable career and a comfortable retirement
in the future now depend on the whims of technological advancement.

76. François Hartog, Regimes of Historicity (New York: Columbia University Press,
2015), 113.
77. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cul-
tural Change (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 291.
78. Helga Nowotny, Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience (Hoboken, NJ:
John Wiley & Sons, 1985), 16.
79. Hermann Lübbe, “The Contraction of the Present,” in High-Speed Society: Social
Acceleration, Power, and Modernity, ed. Hartmut Rosa and William Scheuerman (Univer-
sity Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008), 159–178, here 159.

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Koselleck’s Historik and the Horizons of Politics

One may choose from several possible culprits behind this presentism,
though capitalism, technology, and globalization come in for regular crit-
icism. Interestingly, at least in this literature, many of the presentist forces
come from outside the traditional sphere of the political. Many think this
is because the horizons and pace of politics are too desynchronized from
the presentism that pervades contemporary society and the long-termism
meant to counter it. While Jürgen Habermas, among others, extols the vir-
tues of the measured pace of deliberative democracy, others worry that it
cannot adequately respond to these time flows.80 Hartmut Rosa considers
this desynchronization a “temporal crisis of the political.”81
Whether this is good or bad, desirable or not, is for another essay. The
average politician’s capacity for foresight and sober deliberation has always
come under question. My claim here is simply that, despite a supposed pre-
sentist Zeitgeist, it is still impossible to imagine politics without horizons.
“Presentism” is a particular call to action—a horizonal vision field either for
a politics of urgency or perhaps as an observation warning of the threat of
political practice all together. Posing questions over what we should do with
these horizons only proves the point. Political thinking may insist on clearer
horizons, plural horizons, or a boundless horizon—letting things come what
may, embracing Michael Oakeshott’s preference for political activity to sim-
ply “sail a boundless and bottomless sea . . . [with] neither starting-place nor
appointed destination.”82 The horizon is there, but as something merely to
look at as we sail on.

Blake Ewing is Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Re-

lations at the University of Oxford.
Email: blake.ewing@politics.ox.ac.uk

80. Jürgen Habermas, “Three Normative Models of Democracy,” in Democracy and

Difference, ed. Seyla Benhabib (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 21–30.
81. Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity (New York: Colum-
bia University Press, 2015), 251–276.
82. Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, ed. Timothy Fuller
(Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1991), 60.

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