I never know what to say to children. So few of them have read Toynbee.
Well, to be fair, almost nobody reads Toynbee anymore. I have this 2-volume set of an abridged version of Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History, 1974 edition. (Original copyright 1946) The print is small, the pages are thin and brittle, the language is turgid and the content is antique.
Still, there are some gems of insight here.
…the cult of a largely fictitious Teutonism …instilled a perhaps more tiresome racial conceit into some American[s] (and) developed teeth and claws as the gospel of the National-Socialist movement in the German Reich …which would have been pathetic if it had not been so sinister.
When once the waters had met, it was impossible that they should not mingle;
On slavery (the Spartan enslavement of the Messenians):
…the Spartans were never able to relax, never able to extricate themselves … the conquest took the conquerors captive
… demand[s] from human nature a greater individual self-control and mutual tolerance and public-spirited co-operation than the human animal has been apt to practice …"
If, however, one were to single out the point in which we have been most at fault, one would put his [sic] finger on the conservatism of our captains of industry who have idolized the obsolescent techniques which had made the fortunes of their grandfathers.
On the support for Hitler and Mussolini:
A lower middle class which had received a secondary or even a university education … (only to find) that its painful efforts at self-improvement were not sufficient in themselves to save it from being crushed between the …millstones…
On recreation of the past:
one of those attempts at a forcible stoppage of change which result, insofar as they succeed, in the production of social ‘enormities’.
On a cultural mission:
… the ideas for which it (the Napoleonic Empire) was the carrier were the expression of a modern Western culture which was still in growth” making it impossible for said empire to be the stable institution in which others could comfortably be subsumed.
On the disintegration of civilization:
…a tendency toward standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is the correlative and opposite of the tendency toward differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.
I do not expect my readers to rush out for their own copies of Toynbee. I have read him, so you don’t have to. He is no longer the standard for a theory of history. But he does have a theory. And there is much to think about as he takes you through his cycles of challenge and response, withdrawal and return, rout and rally, apparentation and affiliation, schism and palingenesia. What he calls “the eternal rhythm (of) the alternating beat of Yin and Yang.”
So much that sounds familiar.