Friday, September 19, 2014

Miscellaneous Toynbee

Excerpts from D.C. Somervell's two-volume abridgement of Arnold J. Toynbee's A Study of History

Challenge and Response

In a growing civilization a challenge meets with a successful response which proceeds to generate another and a different challenge which meets with another successful response. There is no term to this process of growth unless and until a challenge arises which the civilization in question fails to meet--a tragic event which means a cessation of growth and what we have called a breakdown. Here the correlative rhythm begins. The challenge has not been met, but it nonetheless continues to present itself. A second convulsive effort is made to meet it, and, if this succeeds, growth will of course be resumed.

Charm and Force

The radiation of any civilization may be analysed into three elements--economic, political and cultural--and, so long as a society is in a state of growth, all three elements seem to be radiated with equal power or, to speak in human rather than physical terms, to exercise an equal charm. But, as soon as the civilization has ceased to grow, the charm of its culture evaporates. Its powers of economic and political radiation may, and indeed probably will, continue to grow faster than ever, for a successful cultivation of the pseudo-religions of Mammon and Mars and Moloch is eminently characteristic of broken-down civilizations. But, since the cultural element is the essence of a civilization and the economic and political elements are relatively trivial manifestations of the life that it has in it, it follows that the most spectacular triumphs of economic and political radiation are imperfect and precarious.

In the contest that now ensues the broken-down civilization radiates force instead of attracting mimesis.

The Genesis of Civilization

The differentiation takes place within the body of the antecedent civilization, when that civilization begins to lose the creative power through which, in its period of growth, it had at one time inspired a voluntary allegiance in the hearts of the people below its surface or beyond its borders. When this happens, the ailing civilization pays the penalty for its failing vitality by being disintegrated into a dominant minority, which rules with increasing oppressiveness but no longer leads, and a proletariat (internal and external) which responds to this challenge by becoming conscious that it has a soul of its own and by making up its mind to save its soul alive.

The dominant minority's will to repress evokes in the proletariat a will to secede; and a conflict between these two wills continues while the declining civilization verges toward its fall, until, when it is in articulo mortis, the proletariat at length breaks free from what was once its spiritual home but has now become a prison-house and finally a City of Destruction.... The secession of the proletariat is the dynamic act, in response to the challenge, through which the change from Yin to Yang is brought about; and in this dynamic separation the 'affiliated' civilization is born.

The Nature of the Breakdown

The nature of the breakdown can be summed up in three points: a failure of creative power in the creative minority, which henceforth becomes a merely 'dominant' minority; an answering withdrawal of allegiance and mimesis on the part of the majority; a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole.

Like a Shark

... when a frontier between a more highly and a less highly civilized society ceases to advance, the balance does not settle down to a stable equilibrium but inclines, with the passage of time, in the more backward society's favour.

Toynbee's observations about civilization in decline seem to describe our world.

1 comment:

The Arthurian said...

I do think Toynbee is wrong about the insignificance of economics...