A Study of History

By Arnold J. Toynbee; D. C. Somervell | Go to book overview

II. THE COMPARATIVE STUDY OF
CIVILIZATIONS

WE have already found that our own Western Society (or Civilization) is affiliated to a predecessor. The obvious method of pursuing our search for further societies of the same species will be to take the other existing examples, the Orthodox Christian, the Islamic, the Hindu and the Far Eastern, and see if we can discover 'parents' for them also. But before we set out on this search we must be clear what we are looking for: in other words, what are the tokens of apparentation-and-affiliation which we are to accept as valid evidence. What tokens of such relationship did we, in fact, find in the case of our own society's affiliation to the Hellenic Society?

The first of these phenomena was a universal statei (the Roman Empire), incorporating the whole Hellenic Society in a single political community in the last phase of Hellenic history. This phenomenon is striking because it stands out in sharp contrast to the multiplicity of local states into which the Hellenic Society had been divided before the Roman Empire arose, and in equally sharp contrast to the multiplicity of local states into which our own Western Society has been divided hitherto. We found, further, that the Roman Empire was immediately preceded by a time of troubles, going back at least as far as the Hannibalic War, in which the Hellenic Society was no longer creative and was indeed patently in decline, a decline which the establishment of the Roman Empire arrested for a time but which proved in the end to be the symptom of an incurable disease destroying the Hellenic Society and the Roman Empire with it. Again, the Roman Empire's fall was followed by a kind of interregnum between the disappearance of the Hellenic and the emergence of the Western Society.

This interregnum is filled with the activities of two institutions: the Christian Church, established within and surviving the Roman Empire, and a number of ephemeral successor states arising on the former territory of the Empire out of the so-called Völkerwanderung of the Barbarians from the no-man's-land beyond the Imperial frontiers. We have already described these two forces as the internal proletariat and external proletariat of the Hellenic Society. Though differing in all else they agreed in their alienation from the dominant minority of the Hellenic Society, the leading classes of

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i
The words and phrases here italicized will be in constant use henceforth as technical terms of this Study.

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A Study of History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • A Study of History *
  • Plan of the Book *
  • Preface *
  • Note by the Editor of the Abridgement *
  • Table of Contents *
  • I- Introduction *
  • I. the Unit of Historical Study *
  • Ii. the Comparative Study of Civilizations *
  • Iii. the Comparability of Societies *
  • II- The Geneses of Civilizations *
  • Iv. the Problem and How Not to Solve It *
  • V. Challenge and Response *
  • Vi. the Virtues of Adversity *
  • Vii. the Challenge of the Environment *
  • Viii. the Golden Mean *
  • III- The Growths of Civilizations *
  • Ix. the Arrested Civilizations *
  • X. the Nature of the Growths of Civilizations *
  • Xi. an Analysis of Growth *
  • Xii. Differentiation through Growth *
  • IV- The Breakdowns of Civilizations *
  • Xiii. the Nature of the Problem *
  • Xiv. Deterministic Solutions *
  • Xv. Loss of Command over the Environment *
  • Xvi. Failure of Self-Determination *
  • V- The Disintegrations of Civilizations *
  • Xvii. the Nature of Disintegration *
  • Xviii. Schism in the Body Social *
  • Xix. Schism in the Soul *
  • Xx. the Relation between Disintegrating Societies and Individuals *
  • Xxi. the Rhythm of Disintegration *
  • Xxii. Standardization through Disintegration *
  • Editor''s Note *
  • Argument *
  • Index *
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