A Study of History

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

XI. AN ANALYSIS OF GROWTH

(1) SOCIETY AND THE INDIVIDUAL

IF, as we have been led to think, self-determination is the criterion of growth, and if self-determination means self‐ articulation, we shall be analysing the process by which growing civilizations actually grow if we investigate the way in which they progressively articulate themselves. In a general way it is evident that a society in process of civilization articulates itself through the individuals who 'belong' to it, or to whom it 'belongs'. We can express the relation between the society and the individual indifferently by either of these formulae, contradictory though they are; and this ambiguity seems to show that both formulae are inadequate and that, before setting out on our new inquiry, we shall have to consider what is the relation in which societies and individuals stand to each other.

This is, of course, one of the stock questions of sociology, and there are two stock answers to it. One is that the individual is a reality which is capable of existing and of being apprehended by itself and that a society is nothing but an aggregate of atomic individuals. The other is that the reality is the society; that a society is a perfect and intelligible whole, while the individual is simply a part of this whole which cannot exist or be conceived as existing in any other capacity or setting. We shall find that neither of these views will bear examination.

The classic picture of an imaginary atomic individual is the Homeric description of the Cyclops, quoted by Plato for the same purpose as ours in quoting it now:

Mootless are they and lawless. On the peaks
Of mountains high they dwell, in hollow caves,
Where each his own law deals to wife and child
In sovereign disregard of all his peers. i

It is significant that this atomic way of life is ascribed to no ordinary human beings, and in fact no human beings have ever lived Cyclops-fashion, for man is essentially a social animal inasmuch as social life is a condition which the evolution of man out of sub-man pre-supposes and without which that evolution could not conceivably have taken shape. What, then, of the alternative answer which treats man as simply a part of a social whole ?

'There are communities, such as those of bees and ants, where,

____________________
i
Odyssey, Bk. IX, ll. 112-15, quoted by Plato: Laws, Bk. II, 640 B.

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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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