A Study of History

By Arnold J. Toynbee; D. C. Somervell | Go to book overview
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NOTWITHSTANDING the fact that a certain fixity and uniformity of ethos is its characteristic mark, there cannot but be an element of variety even within a dominant minority. Though it may perform prodigies of sterilization in converting to its own barren esprit de corps the recruits whom it is continually drafting into its repeatedly self-decimated ranks, it cannot prevent itself from putting forth the creative powers that are revealed in the creation not only of a universal state but also of a school of philosophy. Accordingly we find that it is apt to include a number of members who depart very strikingly from the characteristic types of the closed corporation to which they belong.

These characteristic types are the militarist and the more ignoble exploiter who follows in his train. It is hardly necessary to cite examples from Hellenic history. We see the militarist at his best in an Alexander and the exploiter at his worst in a Verres, whose misgovernment of Sicily is exposed in the voluminous orations, or pamphlets, of Cicero. But the Roman universal state owed its long duration to the fact that its militarists and exploiters were followed, after the Augustan settlement, by the innumerable and mostly anonymous soldiers and civil servants who partly atoned for the misdeeds of their predatory predecessors by making it possible for this moribund society to bask for many generations in the pale sunshine of an 'Indian summer'.

Moreover the Roman public servant is neither the only nor the earliest epiphany of the Hellenic dominant minority in an altruistic role. In the age of the Severi, when the reign of the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius was an accomplished fact of Roman history, and when a school of Stoic jurists was translating the Stoic ethos into terms of Roman law, it was obvious that the miracle of transforming the Roman wolf into a Platonic watch-dog had been the work of Greek philosophy. If the Roman administrator was an altruistic agent of the Hellenic dominant minority's practical ability, the Greek philosopher was a still nobler exponent of its intellectual power; and the golden chain of creative Greek philosophers, which ends with Plotinus (circa A.D. 203-62) in the generation that lived to see the Roman public service collapse, had begun with Socrates (circa 470-399 B.C.) in a generation that was already grown up when the Hellenic Civilization broke down.

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A Study of History


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