A Study of History

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

VII. THE CHALLENGE OF THE ENVIRONMENT

(1) THE STIMULUS OF HARD COUNTRIES

Lines of Inquiry

WE have now, perhaps, established the truth that ease is inimical to civilization. Can we next proceed one step farther? Can we say that the stimulus towards civilization grows positively stronger in proportion as the environment grows more difficult ? Let us review the evidence in favour of this proposition and then the evidence against it, and see what inference emerges. Evidence indicating that the difficulty and the stimulus of an environment are apt to increase pari passu is not hard to lay hands upon. Rather, we are likely to be embarrassed by the wealth of illustrations that leap to the mind. Most of these illustrations present themselves in the form of comparisons. Let us begin by sorting out our illustrations into two groups in which the points of comparison relate to the physical environment and the human environment respectively; and let us first consider the physical group. It subdivides itself into two categories: comparisons between the respective stimulating effects of physical environments which present different degrees of difficulty; and comparisons between the respective stimulating effects of old ground and new ground, apart from the intrinsic nature of the terrain.


The Yellow River and the Yangtse

Let us, as a first example, consider the different degrees of difficulty presented by the lower valleys of the two great rivers of China. It seems that when man first took in hand the watery chaos of the lower valley of the Yellow River (Hwang Ho), the river was not navigable at any season; in the winter it was either frozen or choked with floating ice, and the melting of this ice every spring produced devastating floods which repeatedly changed the river's course by carving out new channels, while the old channels turned into jungle-covered swamps. Even to-day, when some three or four thousand years of human effort have drained the swamps and confined the river within embankments, the devastating action of the floods has not been eliminated. As recently as 1852 the channel of the Lower Hwang Ho was entirely changed and its outflow into the sea shifted from the southern to the northern side of the Shantung Peninsula, a distance of over a hundred miles. The Yangtse, on the other hand, must always have been navigable, and its floods, though they occasionally assume devastating proportions, are less

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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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