A Study of History

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

II
THE GENESES OF CIVILIZATIONS

IV. THE PROBLEM AND HOW NOT TO SOLVE IT

(1) THE PROBLEM STATED

AS soon as we approach the problem why and how societies in process of civilization have come into existence, we realize that our list of twenty-one societies of this kind falls, as far as this problem is concerned, into two groups. Fifteen of our societies are affiliated to predecessors of the same species. Of these a few are so closely affiliated that their separate individuality may be a matter for argument, while at the other end of the scale a few are so loosely affiliated that the metaphor implied in the term affiliation may seem to carry us too far. But let that pass. The fifteen more or less affiliated societies are in a different group from the six which, so far as we can discern, have emerged direct from primitive life. It is to the genesis of these six that we propose to direct our attention at present. They are the Egyptiac, the Sumeric, the Minoan, the Sinic, the Mayan and the Andean.

What is the essential difference between the primitive and the higher societies ? It does not consist in the presence or absence of institutions, for institutions are the vehicles of the impersonal relations between individuals in which all societies have their existence, because even the smallest of primitive societies is built on a wider basis than the narrow circle of an individual's direct personal ties. Institutions are attributes of the whole genus 'societies' and therefore common properties of both its species. Primitive societies have their institutions—the religion of the annual agricultural cycle; totemism and exogamy; tabus, initiations and age-classes; segregations of the sexes, at certain stages of life, in separate communal establishments—and some of these institutions are certainly as elaborate and perhaps as subtle as those which are characteristic of civilizations.

Nor are civilizations distinguished from primitive societies by the division of labour, for we can discern at least the rudiments of the division of labour in the lives of primitive societies also. Kings, magicians, smiths and minstrels are all 'specialists'- though the fact that Hephaestus, the smith of Hellenic legend, is lame, and Homer, the poet of Hellenic legend, is blind, suggests that in primitive societies specialism is abnormal and apt to be

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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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