Three approaches to history:
As an image of what we should become—The study of history as a way of motivating us to recover what has been lost and return to a golden age
As a linear story of human progress, leading up to us, who are either perfect as we are or are going to continue to progress into the future because the arrow of time is also the arrow of history and the arrow of progress
Benjamin’s: we are the hunchback dwarf concealed out of sight inside the Mechanical Turk: we seek messianic redemption and we pull the strings of science and historical knowledge to strive for utopia. History provides us with flashes of illumination insight as we seek to carry out our messianic task.
It is easiest to understand Benjamin’s perspective if you remember when and where he wrote: in Europe in the 1930s, everything was going to hell in a handbasket. “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” was the watchword. It compelled some sort of theological faith that out of one's defeated efforts some sort of eucatastrophe would emerge.
Tht was the only standpoint that would allow Benjamin to get up in the morning to work and struggle, rather than simply killing himself, as he ultimately did.
IMHO at least, start here—with when and where Benjamin lived, with what were the two conceptions of history and progress he rejected, and with what his own fundamental standpoint was— and much that was very murky becomes clear...
- Walter Benjamin: Theses on the Philosophy of History https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/benjamin/1940/history.htm
- Andrew Robinson: Walter Benjamin: Messianism and Revolution–Theses on History https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/walter-benjamin-messianism-revolution-theses-history/
- Stanford Encyclopedia: Walter Benjamin https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/benjamin/
- Robert Alter: On Walter Benjamin https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/on-walter-benjamin/
- Karl Marx: Theses on Feuerbach https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm
This File: http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/05/notes-on-a-framework-for-understanding-walter-benjamin-theses-on-the-philosophy-of-history.html