A Study of History

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

XVI. FAILURE OF SELF-DETERMINATION

(1) THE MECHANICALNESS OF MIMESIS

OUR inquiry into the cause of the breakdowns of civilizations has led us, so far, to a succession of negative conclusions. We have found out that these breakdowns are not acts of God—at any rate in the sense that lawyers attach to that phrase; nor are they vain repetitions of senseless laws of Nature. We have also found that we cannot attribute them to a loss of command over the environment, physical or human; they are due neither to failures in industrial or artistic techniques nor to homicidal assaults from alien adversaries. In successively rejecting these untenable explanations we have not arrived at the object of our search; but the last of the fallacies we have just cited has incidentally given us a clue. In demonstrating that the broken-down civilizations have not met their death from an assassin's hand we have found no reason to dispute the allegation that they have been victims of violence, and in almost every instance we have been led, by the logical process of exhaustion, to return a verdict of suicide. Our best hope of making some positive progress in our inquiry is to follow up this clue; and there is one hopeful feature in our verdict which we can observe at once. There is nothing original about it.

The conclusion at which we have arrived at the end of a rather laborious search has been divined with sure intuition by a modern Western poet:

In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:
We are betrayed by what is false within.

This flash of insight (from Meredith's Love's Grave) was not a new discovery. We can find it in earlier and higher authorities. It reveals itself in the last lines of Shakespeare's King John:

This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
... Nought shall makes us rue
If England to itself do rest but true.

It likewise reveals itself in the words of Jesus (Matt. xv. 18-20):

'Whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly and is cast out into the draught. But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out

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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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