A Study of History

By Arnold J. Toynbee; D. C. Somervell | Go to book overview
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THE problem of the relation between civilizations and individuals has already engaged our attention in an earlier part of this Study, and we concluded that the institution which we call a society consists in the common ground between the respective fields of action of a number of individual souls; that the source of action is never the society itself but always an individual; that the action which is an act of creation is always performed by a soul which is in some sense a superhuman genius; that the genius expresses'himself, like every living soul, through action upon his fellows; that in any society the creative personalities are always a small minority; and that the action of the genius upon souls of common clay operates occasionally through the perfect method of direct illumination but usually through the second-best expedient of a kind of social drill which enlists the faculty of mimesis (or imitation) in the souls of the uncreative rank and file and thereby enables them to perform 'mechanically' an evolution which they could not have performed on their own initiative. These conclusions were reached in the course of our analysis of growth, and in general they must clearly be true of the interaction of individuals and societies in all stages of a society's history. What differences of detail are to be detected in these interactions when the society that we are considering has suffered its breakdown and is in process of disintegration ?

The creative minority, out of which the creative individuals had emerged in the growth stage, has ceased to be creative and has sunk into being merely 'dominant', but the secession of the proletariat, which is the essential feature of disintegration, has itself been achieved under the leadership of creative personalities for whose activity there is now no scope except in the organization of opposition to the incubus of the uncreative 'powers that be'. Thus the change from growth to disintegration is not accompanied by any extinction of the creative spark. Creative personalities continue to arise and to take the lead in virtue of their creative power, but they now find themselves compelled to do their old work from a new locus standi. In a growing civilization the creator is called upon to play the part of a conqueror who replies to a challenge with a victorious response; in a disintegrating civilization he is called upon to play the part of a saviour

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A Study of History


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