A Study of History

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

IV
THE BREAKDOWNS OF CIVILIZATIONS

XIII. THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM

THE problem of the breakdowns of civilizations is more obvious than the problem of their growths. Indeed it is almost as obvious as the problem of their geneses. The geneses of civilizations call for explanation in view of the mere fact that this species has come into existence and that we are able to enumerate twenty‐ six representatives of it—including in that number the five arrested civilizations and ignoring the abortive civilizations. We may now go on to observe that, of these twenty-six, no less than sixteen are now dead and buried. The ten survivors are our own Western Society, the main body of Orthodox Christendom in the Near East, its offshoot in Russia, the Islamic Society, the Hindu Society, the main body of the Far Eastern Society in China, its offshoot in Japan, and the three arrested civilizations of the Polynesians, the Eskimos and the Nomads. If we look more closely at these ten survivors we observe that the Polynesian and Nomad societies are now in their last agonies and that seven out of the eight others are all, in different degrees, under threat of either annihilation or assimilation by the eighth, namely our own civilization of the West. Moreover, no less than six out of these seven (the exception being the Eskimo civilization, whose growth was arrested in infancy) bear marks of having already broken down and gone into disintegration.

One of the most conspicuous marks of disintegration, as we have already noticed, is a phenomenon in the last stage but one of the decline and fall, when a disintegrating civilization purchases a reprieve by submitting to forcible political unification in a universal state. For a Western student the classic example is the Roman Empire into which the Hellenic Society was forcibly gathered up in the penultimate chapter of its history. If we now glance at each of the living civilizations, other than our own, we notice that the main body of Orthodox Christendom has already been through a universal state in the shape of the Ottoman Empire; that the offshoot of Orthodox Christendom in Russia entered into a universal state towards the end of the fifteenth century, after the political unification of Muscovy and Novgorod; and that the Hindu Civilization has had its universal state in the Mughal Empire and its successor, the British Raj; the main body of the

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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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