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A Study of History

From Academic Kids

A Study of History is the 12-volume magnum opus of British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, finished in 1961. It is the longest written work ever composed in the English language. In it he traces the birth, growth and decay of some 21 to 23 major civilizations in the world.

Toynbee applies his model to each of these civilizations, painstakingly detailing the stages through which they all pass: genesis, growth, time of troubles, universal state, and disintegration.

He argues that civilizations are born, not due to racial or environmental factors, but as a response to a challenges, such as hard country, new ground, blows and pressures from other civilizations, and penalizations. He argues that for civilizations to be born, the challenge must be a golden mean; that excessive challenge will crush the civilization, and too little challenge will cause it to stagnate. He argues that civilizations continue to grow only when they meet one challenge only to be met by another. In 1939 Toynbee wrote 'the challenge of being called upon to create a political world-order the framework for an economic world-order...now confronts our Modern Western society'[1] (http://nobsblog.blogspot.com/1999/03/ii-genesis-of-civilizations.html#V.C.II.(b),p.364,n.1). He argues that civilizations develop in different ways due to their different environment and different approaches to the challenges they face. He argues that growth is driven by "Creative Minorities," who lead the uncreative masses who copy their example (called mimesis, i.e. mimeing).

He argues that the breakdown of civilizations is not caused by loss of control over the environment, over the human environment, or attacks from outside, but from the deterioration of the "Creative Minority" ceases to be creative and degenerates into merely a "Dominant Minority" (who forces the majority to obey without meriting obedience). He argues that creative minorities deteriorate due to a worship of their "former self," by which they become prideful, and fail to adequately address the next challenge they face. He argues that a civilization has broken down is when it forms a "Universal State," which stifles political creativity. He states:

First the Dominant Minority attempts to hold force—against all right and reason—a position of inherited privilege which it has ceased to merit; and then the Proletariat repays injustice with resentment, fear with hate, and violence with violence when it executes its acts of secession. Yet the whole movement ends in positive acts of creation—and this on the part of all the actors in the tragedy of disintegration. The Dominant Minority creates a universal state, the Internal Proletariat a universal church, and the External Proletariat a bevy of barbarian war-bands".

"Barbarian war-bands" are historically what we today call "terrorist groups".

He argues that as civilizations decay, they form an "Internal Proletariat" and an "External Proletariat." The Internal protelariat is held in subjugation by the dominant minority inside the civilization, and grows bitter; the external protelariat exists outside the civilization in poverty and chaos, and grows envious. He argues that as civilizations decay, there is a "schism in the body social," whereby abandon and self-control replace creativity, and truancy and martyrdom replace discipleship by the creative minority. He argues that in this environment, people resort to archaism (idealization of the past), futurism (idealization of the future), detachment (removal of oneself from the realities of a decaying world), and transcendence (meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, as a Prophet). He argues that those who Transcend during a period of social decay give birth to a new Church with new and stronger spiritual insights, around which a subsequent civilization may begin to form after the old has died.

It remains to be seen what will come of the four remaining civilizations of the 21st century: Western civilization, Islamic society, Hindu society, and the Far East. Toynbee argues two possibilities: they might all merge with Western Civilization, or Western civilization might develop a Universal State after its Time of Troubles, decay, and die.

Links

  • See "The life and death of civilizations" in Living the Vision (http://www.algonet.se/~paulh/vision.html)
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