A Study of History

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

XXI. THE RHYTHM OF DISINTEGRATION

IN the last chapter we sought, and found, a parallel—which involved also an inevitable contrast—between the roles of creative personalities in growing and in disintegrating societies. We are now to pursue a similar line of investigation in a different part of our subject and to look for a parallel—which will presumably again involve a contrast—between what may be called the rhythm of growth and the rhythm of disintegration. The underlying formula in each case is one with which we are already very familiar, since it has accompanied us all through this Study; it is the formula of challenge-and-response. In a growing civilization a challenge meets with a successful response which proceeds to generate another and a different challenge which meets with another successful response. There is no term to this process of growth unless and until a challenge arises which the civilization in question fails to meet—a tragic event which means a cessation of growth and what we have called a breakdown. Here the correlative rhythm begins. The challenge has not been met, but it none the less continues to present itself. A second convulsive effort is made to meet it, and, if this succeeds, growth will of course be resumed. But we will assume that, after a partial and temporary success, this response likewise fails. There will then be a further relapse, and perhaps, after an interval, a further attempt at a response which will in time achieve a temporary and partial success in meeting what is still the same inexorable challenge. This again will be followed by a further failure, which may or may not prove final and involve the dissolution of the society. In military language the rhythm may be expressed as rout-rally‐ rout-rally-rout ....

If we revert to the technical terms which we devised early in this Study and have so constantly used, it is at once apparent that the time of troubles following a breakdown is a rout; the establishment of the universal state, a rally; and the interregnum which follows the break-up of the universal state, the final rout. But we have already noticed in the history of one universal state, the Hellenic, a relapse into anarchy following the death of Marcus Aurelius in A.D. 180 and a recovery under Diocletian. There might prove to be more than one relapse and recovery in the history of any particular universal state. Indeed the number of such relapses and recoveries might be found to depend on the power of the lens that we applied to the object under examination.

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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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