Arnold Toynbee was born in London in 1852. Educated at private schools at Blackheath and Woolwich, he attended Pembroke College (1873-74) and Balliol College (1875-78). After graduating in 1878 he became a lecturer in political economy at Oxford University.
Toynbee investigated the science of economics where he attempted to develop a system that would improve the condition of the working class. Toynbee came to the conclusion that individuals had a duty to devote themselves to the service of humanity.
A supporter of the co-operative movement and working class education, Arnold Toynbee died at the age of thirty in 1883. Toynbee's famous book, The Industrial Revolution in England was published after his death. In 1884 Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, East London, was founded in his memory.
5. Arnold Toynbee’s “A Study of History”
Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) was born in London and inherited the fascination for history from his mother, Sarah Edith Marshall (1859-1939), who authored published histories of England and Scotland. As a schoolboy, Toynbee excelled in history and languages, but struggled with maths and natural sciences. An academic education in history was an obvious next step. After having graduated from the elitist Winchester College, Toynbee enrolled in Balliol College at Oxford University in 1906. Toynbee, who was very skilled in Greek and Latin, mainly specialized himself in ancient history. At Oxford, Toynbee was a student of Gilbert Murray, Regius Professor of Greek, who had been among the intellectual team that had assisted Wells with The Outline of History. Murray and Toynbee developed a close relationship, and in 1913 the professor’s daughter became Toynbee’s first wife. At his last year as a student at Balliol, Toynbee won the prestigious Jenkins prize, which allowed him to travel through Italy and Greece in 1911 and 1912, to visit ancient ruins and famous sites from classical history. Toynbee had made such an impression as a student that upon returning to Britain he became a don at Balliol College. He became engaged in teaching ancient history. A conventional academic career seemed in the making.
But Arnold Toynbee aspired nothing of the sort. At Winchester College the scope of history education was largely confined to Athens and Rome, and also at Oxford there was nothing that encouraged macrohistorical thinking. Yet Toynbee thought big. From a very young age he demonstrated a tenor towards a historical perception that far transcended the conventional geographical focus of British historiography. He sought to integrate far off places in Eastern Asia into the same framework as the orthodox areas of historical interests, such as the Roman Empire. The root of this mindset cannot be determined with absolute certainty. A possible original source is a historical atlas that the young Toynbee got as a gift from his uncle, the chemist Percy Frankland (1858-1946), when he was recovering from pneumonia at age thirteen or fourteen. Toynbee would later state that he “learnt volumes from it”.
Toynbee’s broad outlook on history made him realize that his contemporary Western-led world was only a transitory phase. While a student at Balliol, he noticed that “at present the world lies between the English public school man and the German,” to which he added: “that is, till China comes and eats us up”. At this time he was already pondering a grand historical work to express his broad perspective of world history. Toynbee found inspiration in the 5-volume Geschichte des Alterums (1884-1902), written by the German Oxford historian Eduard Meyer (1855-1930), which integrated Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman history into one synthesis of ancient history. Toynbee wanted to do with ancient and modern times what Meyer had done with just the ancient era, but the young English historian was struggling with the question how to organize such a comprehensive work.
The rhythm of academic life increasingly started to displease Toynbee. He did not like teaching, particularly because it took time away from writing the grand historical synthesis that he considered his magnum opus to be. He stayed out of the Great War as the result of a dubious claim of a dysentery infection, allegedly contracted two years prior after drinking from a contaminated stream in Greece. He left Balliol College in 1915 to work for a British government propaganda outfit that was primarily engaged in affecting public opinion in the United States. In May 1917 he took another government job as he transferred to the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office where he was mainly engaged in getting intelligence on affairs concerning the Ottoman Empire and the rest of the Islamic world. During the war, he became a fierce advocate for internationalism and the end of nationalism. McNeill suggests that this position stemmed from the guilt that Toynbee felt for not enlisting while on the continent his peers were slaughtered in the trenches. Staying out of the war had to be justified by attacking the war’s motives. Toynbee aspired a peace-building role in international politics after the war had ended. In 1919, he attended the Paris Peace Conference as a delegate of the Foreign Office, but this experience ended in a disappointment.
From 1916, Toynbee received a monthly endowment from the Countess of Carlisle, his wife’s grandmother, in order to be able to start working on his grand synthesis. However, this did not allow him with sufficient income to maintain his desired social status, and in 1919 he took another academic job to become the Koraes Professor at King’s College of the University of London. This chair was concerned with the study of Greek history, and was funded by the Greek community of London. Toynbee surely was very knowledgeable on Greek history, but he had world history on his mind. Toynbee identified Greece as the eastern outpost of European civilization, which thereby was positioned on the crossroads between East and West. Throughout its history, Greece had been continuously influenced by developments from both Eastern and Western civilization. Studying Greek history, Toynbee argued, was studying all of these developments. He enlarged the geographical scope of his chair far beyond the small Kingdom of Greece, almost equating Greek history with the history of the world. Evidently, the funders of the Koraes Chair were not happy with this approach. They complained that Toynbee was abusing his position to explore topics unrelated to Greece. Also Toynbee’s outspoken support for the Turks in the Greek-Turkish War of 1919-22 was very unpopular among the funders of his chair. He was forced to resign from his position in 1924.
But before that time came, Toynbee experienced a breakthrough in his thinking about his aspired world historical synthesis. In 1920, Toynbee delivered a lecture at Oxford that was thereafter published as “The Tragedy of Greece”. In this delivery, he argued that Greek civilization had to come to its end as the result of “the failure of interstate federation” which had happened during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). The lecture summarized the plan for a history of Greece that Toynbee had been working on for a couple of years, but now the Great War had intervened. All of a sudden his estimation of the end of Greek civilization appeared to have a perfect parallel in the political situation of contemporary Europe. Toynbee had been contemplating a cyclical perception of history for some years. As an undergraduate student he had distinguished parallels between the Persian invasion of Greece in the fifth century BCE and the Ottoman attack on Europe in the fifteenth century CE. And when travelling Italy and Greece in 1911 and 1912, the local landscape revealed repetitive patterns to him. Ancient, medieval, and modern sites – often constructed with a similar function – all lay within the same sight. In Toynbee’s perception, ancient and modern history were integrated into the same grand pattern. But until the early 1920s, the structure of this cyclical pattern had not yet appeared to him.
Now Toynbee recognized that the cyclical pattern of history consisted of recurring tragedy. The human mind was set to lead affairs always back towards a state of war and destruction. In that destructive state all civilizations eventually ceased to be. The concept of civilization was central in this tragic perception of the pattern of the past. In his student days, Toynbee perceived history as a recurring encounter between the two grand cultural blocks of the East and the West a common historical perception in which Toynbee was mainly influenced by Herodotus. During the time of his Koraes appointment, he abandoned this understanding of the past, and replaced it for a notion of world history that was composed of multiple civilizations. Each of these was defined by its particular culture (geographical, political, and economic factors were irrelevant in defining a civilization). Toynbee regarded civilizations as complete wholes that were closed to external cultural influences and could not be disintegrated in accurate historical analysis. Toynbee argued that no single nation-state, the conventional subject of historical study, had a history that was self-explanatory. National history could only be understood by studying historical developments at the level of the civilization to which the nation belonged. All civilizations were going in their entirety and on their own behalf through the universally similar trajectory of rise and inevitable decline.
Toynbee’s conception of the closed nature of civilizations was mainly derived from Oswald Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes. The German author believed that civilizations were essentially different from each other, which prevented cross-civilizational influences and cultural borrowing. This conception contrasted to that of another author, F.J. Teggart (1870-1946), whose work also was inspirational to Toynbee. Teggart, born in Ireland and lecturing at the University of California in Berkeley, argued that a comparative study of civilizations could not be confined to the Near East, but also needed to take India and China into account. The plea for a broad geographical scope appealed to Toynbee. But, very much opposite to Spengler, Teggart argued that human progress occurred as the result of contacts between different societies. Toynbee thus was familiar with world historical works that opposed each other on the nature of relations between civilizations. That Toynbee chose to follow Spengler over Teggart probably stemmed from his experiences in the Greek-Turkish War of the early 1920s, which he followed as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. The brutalities that the two parties inflicted upon each other, in a struggle that Toynbee understood as a clash between different civilizations, confirmed the Spenglerian perspective of the impossibility of beneficial intercultural interaction.
In 1925, Toynbee became the Director of Studies at the British Institute of International Affairs (becoming the Royal Institute of International Affairs one year later). The mission statement of his function was to encourage a spirit of international cooperation and peace. His main task consisted of writing an annual survey on international affairs, which he took on with great vigour. The work on the surveys allowed him to do research that could be used for his great historical synthesis. The annual surveys also helped him to appreciate the diversity of ‘the East’, which before he had always perceived as one uniform civilization. Toynbee began writing the manuscript for what would become A Study of History in 1930. The first three volumes of the monumental work were published in 1934. Volumes four, five and six followed in 1939. At this time, Toynbee was hoping that by guiding public opinion he could contribute to the prevention of another war. But then tragedy struck. On March 15 th 1939, his son Tony took his own life. The very same day Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. His family was devastated and it was clear that a new world war would not be avoided.
Toynbee’s A Study of History applies a worldwide scope, but its organizational structure is based on European historical experience. Toynbee believed that civilizations could succeed each other in a process that he referred to as ‘apparentation-and-affiliation’. Historical continuity had the form of new generations of civilizations emerging from previous ones, like a child descends from its parents. Toynbee derived this model of succeeding civilizations from the presumed historical succession of modern Western society from Hellenic civilization. Toynbee defined Hellenic civilization as embracing both Greek and Roman history. For the best part of its history, Hellenic civilization had been divided into multiple political units. Then troubled times came around the years of the Hannibalic War. Hellenic society was no longer creative and was facing decline. But this process could be arrested for some time by unifying the entire civilization into the Roman Empire. Toynbee defined this as the ‘universal state’: the political entity that encompassed the whole of the (previously politically divided) civilization. But the decline of the Hellenic civilization could not be averted. The civilization came to its end with the fall of the Roman Empire. The fall of the Hellenic civilization was followed by the ‘interregnum’ the period between the disappearance of the Hellenic civilization and the emergence of Western society. The interregnum was dictated by two powers, which Toynbee labelled the ‘external and the ‘internal proletariat’ because both of these powers rebelled against the ruling class of Hellenic society. The external proletariat were the barbarians that invaded the Roman Empire from outside and dealt the dying Hellenic civilization its final blow. The internal proletariat was the Christian Church, which developed as an underground institution in the days of the universal state (the Roman Empire) but became dominant in the interregnum. The Christian Church formed the bridge between the Hellenic and the Western civilization. The Church would develop into a ‘universal church’: accomplishing the spiritual unification of the new civilization. In the transition from Hellenic to Western society, the centre of the civilization shifted. What had been the frontier of the Hellenic civilization became the centre of the new Western civilization.
This pattern was used as the mould for the whole of world history. There is established a universal state in the last age of a civilization that subsequently is destroyed by outside invasions, but gives birth to a predecessor civilization through the ‘internal proletariat’ that becomes its universal church and unites the civilization on a spiritual level. All civilizations that Toynbee identified were explained in these same terms. Evidently, not all civilizations equally fitted into this pattern, which required some peculiar reasoning. The sudden emergence of the Ummayad Caliphate in the seventh century left Toynbee with a universal state without a clear pre-existing civilization that it had united. He solved this problem by introducing the concept of a “Syriac” civilization, which he argued had gone underground for a thousand of years – around the time of Alexander’s conquest – yet still had an unconscious presence in the minds of the Arab conquerors of the seventh century.
Other anomalies were dealt with by introducing the concepts of ‘abortive’ and ‘asserted civilizations’. Abortive civilizations had ceased to be while still in a premature phase, as the result of untypical severe challenges, and therefore had never reached the phase of a universal state. Arrested civilizations were faced with a very specific challenge – social or environmental – that demanded their complete focus and all of their energy. By directing all their efforts towards one problem, these societies were able to overcome the particular severity that they were faced with, but had not developed the versatility that characterized the fully-grown human civilization. Therefore, Toynbee claimed, these arrested civilizations had taken the retrogressive path from humanity to ‘animality’. Toynbee’s creativity in dealing with anomalies weakened the persuasiveness of his model, but it allowed him to incorporate societies from a wide geographical scope. His worked included, amongst other, the civilizations of Egypt, China, India, the Andes, and Mexico, but also the aborted or asserted civilizations from Europe’s Celtic fringe, the Eskimos, and the Polynesians. Such a large geographical and cultural diversity within one synthesis was without precedent.
Toynbee had developed a model of genealogical successions of civilizations, in which multiple civilizations could spring from the same predecessor and wherein two previously separated societies could merge to form one new civilization (the Iranic and Arabic civilization had merged to form the Islamic). At this point, Toynbee had parted with the historical philosophy of Spengler, who believed that all civilizations emerged from – and eventually returned to – an a-historical primitive natural condition. Toynbee regarded his work to be an improvement upon that of Spengler, as he had liberated the study to the development of civilizations from the mystical dogmatism of the German author. Toynbee’s main contribution, so he believed, was his empirical explanation for the rise and fall of civilizations, which Spengler had omitted. But in its core, Toynbee’s argument remained close to Spengler’s. The model of civilizational succession, or the complete merger of two civilizations, should not be confused by inter-civilizational exchanges. Civilizations had fixed cultural boundaries, and the moment they started to be breached by barbaric invasions was the moment the civilization was coming to its end.
 Arnold J. Toynbee, Experiences (London, New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1969) 90.
 The biographical information about Arnold J. Toynbee is largely based on: William H. McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
 McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, 16, 30.
 Cited in: McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, 32.
 McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, 78.
 Arnold J. Toynbee, The Tragedy of Greece. A lecture delivered for the Professor of Greek to Candidates for Honours in Literae Humaniores at Oxford in May 1920 (Oxford, 1921).
Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Volumes 1-13. (2 Viewers)
It was forty years ago, in 1964, that I bought ten of the thirteen volumes of Toynbee’s A Study of History. Every once in a while I get some time to dip into these volumes, or some commentary on them. Although reading Toynbee is a solid intellectual exercise, not unlike Edward Gibbon who served as his model, he comes closest to providing some perspective on history that seems to be written by a Baha’i. The very fact that he considers the Baha’i Faith one of the two religions of western civilization(Vol.7B, p.771) is enough to give him an honoured place in my pantheon of important historians.
I find, though, that Toynbee is not easy to read. In fact, it took me at least two decades(1964-1984) to be able to read more than a few pages at a time. His writing, like Gibbon's, like Shoghi Effendi's, requires a good deal of exposure in order to acquire the taste of appreciation. I’m sure Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, would have loved him, as he loved Gibbon and kept a volume of his Decline and Fall beside his bed. Sadly, after 1921, Shoghi Effendi was so swamped with work he had little time to follow the literary developments in the social sciences and the humanities.
Toynbee began his Study of History the same year the Guardian come into office and he finished his final "Reconsiderations" in 1961. The thirteen volumes were his tour de force, his life's labour, his source of future renoun. There is something majesterial about this work of erudition. I think it is more than a coincidence that it was written just as the Baha'i Order was being designed and put into its first shaping. It is impossible for the amateur to assess Toynbee’s work, just as it is impossible to truely appreciate this embryonic Order of the Baha'i community.
When the Kingdom of God on Earth began in 1953 according to Baha'i interpretation of history, Arnold Toynbee was just finishing Vol.10. It was as if this Kingdom had been given a fitting history in which to cloth It and give It a context. At the centre of Tonybee’s thesis is the global imperative to federate. Our survival depends on it. History, as the relationship between God and man, found its raison d’etre in the higher religions. They played a critical role in the story of humankind.
I have observed three reactions to Toynbee. The most common one by far is: “who is he?” To most of the post-war generations Toynbee got lost in a sea of print. He is a heavy dude, not the sort of chap you take to bed for a light night-cap. Others have heard of him but, like the Guardian, just got caught up with life and its busy highways and byways. A third group finds him wonderfully stimulating. For me, he is quintessentially the Baha’i historian-if the Baha'is needed one-and for me at least, they do.
The story of the human experience in history is immensely complex and Toynbee gives one a flavour of this complexity. This third group, also contains a sub-group which has found the time to read Toynbee, but disagrees with just about all his major assumptions. In 1955 in responding to a range of criticisms of his work in The History of Ideas, one of the many journals in the social sciences, Toynbee said he was ‘studying history’. One of the many charges that Toynbee responded to was that he was unconventional and tried to write about too much. In closing his brief response of less than a page Toynbee said he felt like a minor poet, a minor historian. He has given us a lifetime of reading. Given his global perspective, the similarity of assumptions and the rich diversity iof his work,he may come to occupy an important position at some future time. Perhaps after these troubled times become more peaceful and we develop a more literate and cultured sensibility.
In the meantime I will continue to dip into his mind from time to time. A second thirty years would do me fine. We still await that federation which Toynbee hoped for but was not convinced he, or we, would ever see. A certain pertinacity, persistence, determination is required in taking Toynbee along for a ride. An elan vital, an energy is crucial to overcome incipient fatigue, concentration’s lapses and one’s own sheer ignorance. If one stays with him, like the Guardian, he becomes part of one’s own backbone. He occupies several essential strands in my intellectual make-up. His paperback volumes are getting warn. Back in the early 1960s they cost three or four dollars a volume. They have become old friends.
Arnold Toynbee - History
Arnold Toynbee and History — Review
Source : Western Socialist , Boston, USA, September-October 1956
Transcribed : by Adam Buick.
Toynbee and History. Critical Essays and Reviews . Edited by M. F. Ashley Montagu. Porter Sargent Publishers, Boston, 1956, pp. 285 $5.00
Thirty experts in fields related to A Study of History here give their critical appraisals of Toynbee’s monumental work. They all admire Toynbee’s great erudition and industry even though he is full of misinterpretations, factual errors and “proves exactly nothing.” For one reviewer, the Study is “a house of many mansions, all impressive, many beautiful, but built on sand.” Although Toynbee speaks in the name of science and empiricism, he bases his work “on values that are subjective and unverifiable.” Toynbee’s depreciation of the material aspects of civilizations and his mystical orientation, it is said, deprive him of any set of objective criteria for judging the progress and decline of civilizations. The secret of his great popular success may lie in his being the “prophet” of a new cult a kind of “Billy Graham of the eggheads.”
No Marxist is to be found among these experts. Their arguments against, as well as their reverence for Toynbee relate to philosophical and methodological differences within the camp of bourgeois history. They disagree on definitions, wonder about Toynbee’s distinction between civilization and society and speculate on whether civilizations are the historian’s proper field. Criticism is directed not so much at Toynbee’s meaningless developmental scheme — “challenge and response,” which are carried on by “creative minorities” whose spiritual decline leads to the destruction of civilizations — as at Toynbee’s distaste for the modern nation-state and his desire for a world civilization based on the major religions.
Although Toynbee’s philosophy of history is ridiculous, national sovereignty is as obsolete as he regards it to be despite the apparent renaissance of nationalism. This is merely a sign of the decline of old, and the formation of new, empires — accompaniments of the further development and transformation of capitalism. Yet some of these critics attack Toynbee solely on the ground of his anti-nationalism. In contrast to Toynbee’s insistence that “mankind must become one family or destroy itself,” they regard the nation-state, and Israel in particular, as “the greatest triumph of this epoch and the burial ground of broader associations and groupings.”
Compared with this kind of criticism, even Toynbee’s mystical speculations toward a universal religious civilization — nonsensical as they are — appear to be more human and of greater relevance to the trend and the needs of the state. But just as a considerable part of the accumulated data in Toynbee’s work may be read without regard to his subjective frame, so much of this criticism may serve to correct false impressions derived from an uncritical reading of this data. The theoretical constructions of both Toynbee and his critics, however, have no meaning for the Marxist student of history.
Arnold J. Toynbee - Civilizations
Toynbee's ideas and approach to history may be said to fall into the discipline of Comparative history. While they may be compared to those used by Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West, he rejected Spengler's deterministic view that civilizations rise and fall according to a natural and inevitable cycle. For Toynbee, a civilization might or might not continue to thrive, depending on the challenges it faced and its responses to them.
Toynbee presented history as the rise and fall of civilizations, rather than the history of nation-states or of ethnic groups. He identified his civilizations according to cultural or religious rather than national criteria. Thus, the "Western Civilization", comprising all the nations that have existed in Western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, was treated as a whole, and distinguished from both the "Orthodox" civilization of Russia and the Balkans, and from the Greco-Roman civilization that preceded it.
With the civilizations as units identified, he presented the history of each in terms of challenge-and-response. Civilizations arose in response to some set of challenges of extreme difficulty, when "creative minorities" devised solutions that reoriented their entire society. Challenges and responses were physical, as when the Sumerians exploited the intractable swamps of southern Iraq by organizing the Neolithic inhabitants into a society capable of carrying out large-scale irrigation projects or social, as when the Catholic Church resolved the chaos of post-Roman Europe by enrolling the new Germanic kingdoms in a single religious community. When a civilization responds to challenges, it grows. Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the civilizations then sank owing to nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority. Toynbee argued that "Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder." For Toynbee, civilizations were not intangible or unalterable machines but a network of social relationships within the border and therefore subject to both wise and unwise decisions they made.
He expressed great admiration for Ibn Khaldun and in particular the Muqaddimah (1377), the preface to Ibn Khaldun's own universal history, which notes many systemic biases that intrude on historical analysis via the evidence, and presents an early theory on the cycle of civilisations (Asabiyyah).
Toynbee's view on Indian civilization may perhaps be summarized by the following quotation.
The vast literature, the magnificent opulence, the majestic sciences, the soul touching music, the awe inspiring gods. It is already becoming clearer that a chapter which has a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in history the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way.
A Study of History
Well I used to have a giant hardback abridgement of this. I remember how it used to near cripple me every time I moved my books around or moved house. You almost needed two guys just to lift this one volume. Or two strong women, of course. Or nine freakishly strong children. I used to read it in bed, and that&aposs why I walk with a limp to this day. Anyway, this guy Toynbee, man alive he never stopped writing, have you seen how many books he wrote? This particular elephantine work is one of those g Well I used to have a giant hardback abridgement of this. I remember how it used to near cripple me every time I moved my books around or moved house. You almost needed two guys just to lift this one volume. Or two strong women, of course. Or nine freakishly strong children. I used to read it in bed, and that's why I walk with a limp to this day. Anyway, this guy Toynbee, man alive he never stopped writing, have you seen how many books he wrote? This particular elephantine work is one of those grandiose Spenglerian surveys of absolutely everything, and he has a Theory. Wikipedia, in a rare burst of fun, describes A Study of History thus -
Of the 26 civilizations Toynbee identified, sixteen were dead by 1940 and nine of the remaining ten were shown to have already broken down. Only western civilization was left standing. He explained breakdowns as a failure of creative power in the creative minority, which henceforth becomes a merely 'dominant' minority that is followed by an answering withdrawal of allegiance and mimesis on the part of the majority finally there is a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole. Toynbee explained decline as due to their moral failure. Many readers, especially in America, rejoiced in his implication (in vols. 1-6) that only a return to some form of Catholicism could halt the breakdown of western civilization which began with the Reformation.
Since he wrote this corpulent classic between 1934 and 1956 but he survived another 20 years, I wonder if he would have been wagging his old head over the evident connections that so many people miss. You may begin with what you feel is a justifiable and harmless Reformation but you do not realise that you are now on a slippery slope which leads straight to boys wearing long hair, girls riding motorcycles, and LSD being put into the water supply.
Toynbee describes the rise and fall of civilisations not as some kind of mystical-natural organisms like Spengler, but like organisations that adapt or die. Those are the important things, nations and ethnicities are just the wallpaper in the rooms. He judges on results - "the Sumerians exploited the intractable swamps of southern Iraq by organizing the Neolithic inhabitants into a society capable of carrying out large-scale irrigation projects" - I wonder if he lived just long enough to call Pol Pot a neo-Sumerian.
Historians mostly sneered at all this overarching giantism but allegedly the public lapped it up – they must have been made of sterner stuff, but it was in the days before junk food had made people’s limbs go all floppy, so they had the physical strength to stagger home with it from the bookshop. Historians these days don’t do this Toynbee Spengler My Great Big Theory of God the Universe and Everything, instead they write about the Guild of Oat-Cake Re-Grinders in Lehrenbreinheimgavau, Upper Munster, 1341 to 1374 and suchlike.
As you know, I think that history will teach us nothing and I firmly reject any supposed link between Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and Johnny Rotten’s Anarchy in the UK. The sex Pistols would have happened anyway, even if the Sumerians had still been in charge.
Toynbee&aposs A Study of History is one of those voluminous treatises that I simply can&apost think of any specific points to include in my review, for the book itself already includes virtually everything worth consideration within the field of study. The topics in which this book concerned were on the cultural level of civilizations and on the spatiotemporal level of the globe in millennia. The main parts of discussion were divided into three sections: concerning peace, war, and confrontation between Toynbee's A Study of History is one of those voluminous treatises that I simply can't think of any specific points to include in my review, for the book itself already includes virtually everything worth consideration within the field of study. The topics in which this book concerned were on the cultural level of civilizations and on the spatiotemporal level of the globe in millennia. The main parts of discussion were divided into three sections: concerning peace, war, and confrontation between civilizations, while for each individual civilization four phases of its lifespan are primary targets of concern: genesis, growth, breakdown, and disintegration. In my review, instead of detailing and paraphrasing the words of Toynbee, I would simply focus on a few interesting ideas/assertions from the book and talk a little bit about my personal understandings regarding these ideas.
First is the idea of substituting capacities -- an idea that's no stranger to us, for we apply the same idea to individuals all the time: we tell people with physical disabilities not to lose hope in sports but to explore with their mental capacity, we encourage students who are bad at sitting inside classrooms to pursue careers in outdoor activities. We see this phenomenon in larger entities such as societies and states as well: countries with limited resources often developed alternative sources of profit, with prime examples such as Japan and Singapore. In Toynbee's book, however, he further extended this idea to civilizations with some modifications. As it turned out, civilizations are also capable of developing substituting capacities -- the conquered colonies of the Roman Empire were able to profoundly influence Rome through their prevailing arts and culture (Greek mythology and philosophy, Eastern architecture, and Christianity are all good examples), while the conquered peoples were often able to form more cohesive national identity under oppression (Jews are the best example). As a Chinese, the history of China seems to me another fitting example of substituting capacity: while China was frequently attacked and conquered by nomads, the nomadic culture of the north would always be assimilated into the mainstream Chinese culture. This idea does seem quite convincing, although I do have some doubts because we see many counterexamples in history, too. Not all those conquered nations were able to rise up on a different battlefield and subjugate their master culturally, and not all those conquered peoples were able to repel the suppression and rejuvenate after centuries of diasporas. There are certainly merits in Toynbee's theory, but the interesting thing about history is that there is never a definite rule of thumb that would always work.
Another very thought-provoking statement in the book was that technological advances were results, instead of causes of the development of civilizations. A converse of this statement goes, the lag in technological development is an indication of the decline of civilization. Toynbee used the "All roads lead to Rome" example -- which was not an exaggeration of Roman transportation at its pinnacle, but as the imperial power declined and centralized government faded away, warlords and local kings built passes and outposts all around their territories, essentially destroying the old Roman road system and leading to the Dark Ages. Again, as a Chinese, this inevitably reminded me of the decline of Chinese civilization in the later imperial periods -- the stagnation in technological breakthroughs wasn't a reason for China's decline, it was a precursor to it. The reason I find this way of thinking important is because that we often invert causes and effects, moreover we also mix causal relations with random occurrences a right way of looking at history involves correctly analyzing the relations between various historical events.
Last but not least, I would like to quickly touch on futurism -- a topic Toynbee spent quite some chapters on. Futurism, in a historical sense, can refer to anything that seeks to cut the ties to the past and traditions and focus solely on tomorrow. This stream of thoughts often caused intense social conflicts and resulted in neither a continuation of the status quo nor a world without any traces of the past. Qin Shi Huang's political and cultural unification of China is a prime example of the effects of futurism the radical policies of burning all the classics and massacring scholars possessing unwanted knowledge turned out to be ineffective and harmful, eventually contributing to Qin's quick downfall. Byzantine's Leo III initiated iconoclasm for purer religions, but only infuriated his Christian neighbors and further caused damages to his empire. Beyond the definition of futurism, I'd argue that any civilization under the guidance of idealism is destined to fall, for history is never a construction of human ideals and reasons.
As aforementioned, A Study of History is a voluminous treatise and certainly requires a much longer period of time for digesting the contents than simply reading through the pages. I will almost certainly come back in the future and seek new understandings. . more
I first read "A Study of History" in the 1970s and found it fascinating and insightful. Rather than looking at one nation or area or time span, Arnold Toynbee compared what he called "civilizations" to see if he could find common denominators in their development or their structure. A 2017 re-read, though, revealed some issues.
First, the definition of "civilization" is a little murky, as, for example, he counts the Roman Empire as part of the Hellenic "civilization." At one level, certainly ther I first read "A Study of History" in the 1970s and found it fascinating and insightful. Rather than looking at one nation or area or time span, Arnold Toynbee compared what he called "civilizations" to see if he could find common denominators in their development or their structure. A 2017 re-read, though, revealed some issues.
First, the definition of "civilization" is a little murky, as, for example, he counts the Roman Empire as part of the Hellenic "civilization." At one level, certainly there is continuity and connection, but to say that Sparta and Pergamon, separated by hundreds of years and a vast cultural chasm, are from the same civilization is a stretch. But it only takes a little squinting to make it easy enough to swallow, and the grand idea overrides the pesky little details.
Second, as Toynbee freely admits, there are fewer common patterns than one might expect, and his in-depth examination of one or two aspects of a particular civilization tend to appear more anecdotal than substantial.
Finally, in terms of overall concerns, Toynbee places a major emphasis on the role of what he calls "higher religions." The fact that these religions sometimes bleed over into more than one civilization complicates his original argument that comparing civilizations is an effort that makes sense, and it also leads to perhaps the most fundamental criticism of this extremely impressive work of scholarship and grand analysis.
Though Toynbee identifies 30-some civilizations and can trace the historical record back more than 5,000 years, it's not at all clear that we have any kind of perspective on these large-scale trends Toynbee seeks to identify and trace. Are, for example, the higher religions an artifact of a stage of development, or an enduring aspect of human history that will always be in play? If so, then his emphasis on their importance makes sense if not, they are as evanescent as the importance of stirrups in warfare -- crucial for a brief time but not fundamental in any sense.
Toynbee also discusses his idea of "creative" and "dominant" minorities that are the driving force in civilizations. When the civilization is on the rise, the creative minority leads the way, and the mass of people follow happily, adopting the ideology and goals of that minority (he calls the process "mimesis.") When the civilization begins to stagnate, the creative minority shifts to a dominant minority, and imposes its values (and desire to retain power) on the majority. This was very likely true when only a minority of people had access to education, to the ability to manipulate the levers of power, to economic clout, but with a broader segment of society much more capable of being involved in the processes of civilization, it's unclear if that kind of minority retains the power to create consensus it once had.
And of course the entire idea of the Internet was non-existent when Toynbee finished his work on this edition in 1972, and the global village of Marshall McLuhan was just some academic pipedream. Toynbee's belief that a world government was not only necessary but also inevitable seems more than a little outdated in these fragmented days, though of course the wheels of history grind very slowly and who knows how the planet will be governed after climate change shifts the paradigm.
(There is one very contemporary note that Toynbee anticipated that I can't help but mention. He says that civilizations on the decline deal with barbarians in two ways: They build walls and sell them weapons. Donald Trump, of course, wants to "build that wall," and for generations, the United States has been arms seller to the world, and many of the weapons wielded by the terrorists that Toynbee would likely identify as the 21st century version of barbarians are of American origin.)
All in all, "A Study of History" is very much a creature of its time and place. Toynbee's style old-fashioned and ornate, and he is fond of inserting quotes in their original languages (German, French, Latin) as he assumes his readership is of course somewhat fluent in more than English. He also lingers too long on examples and anecdotes, and after a while, the mind numbs from historical detail piled on top of historical detail.
Nonetheless, "A Study of History" will reward the patient reader. Toynbee views the world and its stories from a vast distance, detached (as best he can) from the random walk of historical events. We are all so caught up in today's disasters and misadventures, and how the recent past has scarred the present and future, that we forget that history does repeat itself in many ways, and that we can shed light on today and tomorrow by looking carefully at centuries long past. "A Study of History" does just that, and though it seems to us that the world has passed it by, it's also possible that future generations will look on it as one of the great achievements of 20th century thought. . more
The first intellectual influence of importance in the life of the English economist Arnold Toynbee (1852-1883) was his father, Joseph, a surgeon and fellow of the Royal Society. Guided by his father, Toynbee developed a taste for the finer models of English prose, especially the Bible, Milton, Gibbon, and Burke. Among the poets, Toynbee esteemed the Elizabethans, Shelley, and Keats. Scott and Thackeray were his favorite novelists. He was early handicapped by fragile health and, in the words of his close Oxford friend Alfred Milner, had “a strange, solitary, introspective youth, for he was never long at school, nor had he …the love of games, the careless mind, or the easy sociability which make school life happy” (1901, pp. 11-12).
At 19 he enrolled in Pembroke College, Oxford, largely because it was one of the cheaper colleges. But he speedily aroused the interest of Benjamin Jowett, master of Balliol College, who had him transferred to Balliol. Although Toynbee’s health was too precarious to permit him to read for honors and he earned in consequence only an ordinary pass degree, his essays were so extraordinary and his personal qualities so outstanding that in 1878 he was made lecturer and tutorial fellow at Balliol.
Toynbee’s impact was partly the effect of what Jowett termed “his transparent sincerity,” the absence of “any trace of vanity or ambition.” Milner, who shared few of Toynbee’s opinions, recalled nevertheless that he “fell at once under his spell and …always remained under it” (1901, p. 15).
Toynbee combined intense religious conviction, saintly character, and dedication to the improvement of the working classes. In 1875 he came to political economy out of the same desire to do good that motivated his immediate Balliol successor, Alfred Marshall. As Milner said, “for the sake of religion he had become a social reformer for the sake of social reform he became an economist.” In his brief life Toynbee campaigned relentlessly for worker housing, parks, free libraries, and “all the now familiar objects of municipal socialism.” He became a guardian under the poor law, a supporter of cooperatives, and a church reformer. One of his major activities was lecturing to working-class audiences on social reform, first in industrial cities like Newcastle and Sheffield and then in London. This aspect of his work was memorialized after his death by the founding of Toynbee Hall in White-chapel, the first university settlement house. At Oxford, “the apostle Arnold,” as he was affectionately called, did much to combat laissez-faire doctrine among both undergraduates and dons.
The Industrial Revolution (1884), published posthumously, was Toynbee’s single book. As his nephew, the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, has said of its detailed findings, “Toynbee’s work has been superseded long ago.” Nevertheless, Toynbee invented the term itself and supplied the argument for considering the industrial revolution as a “single great historical event.” The younger Toynbee’s judgment, in his preface to the 1956 edition of the book, is just: “As a masterly first reconnaissance of a very important field of historical study, this pioneer work by a young man is still as much alive as ever it was” ( 1956, p. ix).
The volume has a second significance. In it Toynbee challenged the dominant economics of his time, allied himself with Walter Bagehot and T. E. Cliffe Leslie in the formulation of an alternative technique, and assisted in the development of an English version of the German arguments over the relative claims of history and analysis (the Methodenstreit). Never an extremist in this controversy, always willing to concede that deductive economics had its place, he nevertheless criticized a “wrong use of deduction … a neglect on the part of those employing it to examine closely their assumptions and to bring their conclusions to the test of fact.” No wonder the deductive theorists produced such “absolutely untrue” doctrines as the wages fund. Historical method, on the other hand, was capable not only of tracing the “actual causes of economic development” but of identifying the “stages of economic development,” comparing them with “those which have obtained in other countries and times,” and ultimately evolving “laws of universal application.” As an example of good historical method, Toynbee cited approvingly Maine’s researches on the evolution of contract.
Toynbee believed economic policies should be related to historical circumstances. Hence, the relative merits of laissez-faire and state action cannot be judged a priori. Although Toynbee’s socialism was not of the collectivist variety, he favored extensive social legislation, relied heavily on the type of municipal socialism with which the Fabians were to be identified, and held high hopes for such voluntary workers’ associations as trade unions, cooperatives, and friendly societies.
Toynbee neither won nor lost the methodological argument. As the contemporary historian of economic thought T. W. Hutchison has said, “the inquiries of Bagehot, Toynbee, and Leslie …were scarcely followed up in subsequent decades” (1953, p. 429). Alfred Marshall, England’s leading economist between 1890 and 1920, incorporated just enough historical material in his work to blunt the edge of controversy between marginalists and historians. But the methodological issues were discussed only casually and were scarcely settled convincingly by either Marshall or his followers.
Toynbee died suddenly of a “brain fever” in his thirty-first year. His widow, Charlotte, survived him by nearly a half century.
[For the historical context of Toynbee’s work, seeeconomic thought, article onthe historical SCHOOL and the biographies ofbagehot leslie maine. For discussion of the subsequent development of Toynbee’s ideas, seeindustrialization.]
Arnold Toynbee, Who Charted Civilizations’
Arnold Toynbee, the historian of the rise and fall of civilizations, died yesterday at a nursing home in York, England. He was 86 years old and had been incapacitated for the last 14 months as a result of stroke.
Few works of history had such a precise and romantic origin as Arnold Joseph Toynlbee's “A Study of History.” The
3½‐million word, 12‐volume Istory of mankind, which took 40 years to complete, was begun on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1921, when the author was traveling west from Istanbul on the fabled Orient Express. He had ,spent the day watching the awesome Thracian, countryside slip by and pondering the region's glorious and gory past.
“That evening I was still, standing at the window, overwhelmed by the beauty of the Bela Palanka Gorge in the light of the full moon, as our train bore down upon Nish,” he recalled, adding:
“If I had been cross‐examined on my activities during that day, I should have sworn that my attention had been wholly absorbed by the entrancing scenes that were passing continually before my outward eye. Yet, before I went to sleep that night, I found that I had put down on half a sheet of notepaper a list of topics which, in its contents and their order, was substantially identical with the plan of this book as it now stands.”
Mr. Toynbee's idea germinated for about six years, for real work on “A Study of History” was not undertaken until 192728, when he elaborated his outline into detailed notes. After journey around Asia in 1929, he applied himself to the task of writing, and the first three volumes were published in 1934. By 1939 he had issued Volume VI, and Volumes VII‐X came off the press in 1954. Volume XI, chiefly an atlas and gazetteer, followed in 1959. The final volume, entitled “Reconsiderations,” was published in 1961.
Volume XII was occasioned by the clangorous disputation that was set off by “A Study of History” virtually from the outset, for Mr. Toynbee had ventured what few historians dared: an interpretation of history as well as a chronicling of it. He had, moreover, sought to recount the events of thousands of years in an unconventional fashion.
A Panoramic View
Instead of narrating episodes or telling the story of this or that nation or people, Mr. Toynbee ranged over all recorded history in dazzlingly erudite detail. Taking a panoramic view, he was fascinated by the rise and fall of civilizations, of which he counted 26 from ancient times to the present. He, once explained his approach to history this way:
“The histories of all the civilizations that have now , come to light cannot be arranged in a single series leading up to the present state of any one living civilization or any one living, nation.
“Instead of the beanstalk pattern of history, we have to draw for ourselves a tree pattern, in which the civilizations rise, like so many branches, side by side,1 and this pattern is suggested by, the most important feature in the history of the Modern Age. In this age our Western Civilization has collided with all the other surviving civilizations all over the face of the planet—with the Islamic civilization,’ with the Hindu, with the Chinese, with the Aztec and so on —and we can take a comparative view of the effects of these simultaneous collisions upon the parties to them.
“This comparative treatment can be extended to the whole of history.”
Applying the view that cornparison of civilizations, or societies, was the way to write meaningful history, Mr. Toynbee devoted the first six volumes of his study to searching out the pattern of genesis, growth and breakdown of civ
ilizations since the emergence
of man. In the process he realized’ that some of his civilizations
had developed uhiversal churches and universal political structures and that they had also been obliged, in their heroic’ ages, to meet barbarian threats.’ These phenomena were treated in great detail in succeeding volumes.
He suggested that spiritual rather than material forces controlled the course of history and that individuals played a creative (or destructive) role in the unfolding of events. Rejecting “the dogma that ‘life is just one damned thing after another,'” Mr. Toynbee argued that the end of history is the Kingdom of God and that history is “God revealing Himself.”
He did not, however, regard God as the province of any one religion, but as a force or feeling that “wells up from a deeper level of the psyche.” In this sense, he wrote about a dream he once had of himself. (The dream was in Latin,but it could well have been in Greek, for he dreamed fluently in these languages as well as in English.)
In the vision, the historian saw himself holding on to crucifix above the altar of a Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire as a voice cried out, “Amplexus expecta [Cling and wait]!”
The dream demonstrated, according to Mr. Toynbee, the intimate relationship of God and man, the psychic nature of religious feeling.
Few modern historians professed to find Divinity in human affairs, and this contentention, subtly argued, further served to set Mr. Toynbee off from others in his craft. His vast erudition also put him apart. He wrote and conversed about little‐known aspects of history with the same assuredness that he displayed in dealing with more widely known developments.
In the later years of his life, when his renown was estab fished and when he was much in demand as a lecturer and television panelist, the world saw a pale, lean and distinguished‐looking man with white hair, slightly impaired hearing and jittery but graceful hands.
A Gregarious Man
Although he was capable of losing his temper and shouting when crossed, he was generally a model of sweet reasonableness and charm. His manner was offhand rather than professoinal, which often astonished those who expected him to be oracular. His amiability was such that be was willing to engage almost anyone in conversation.
Once, in the basement barbershop of a Chicago hotel, friend noticed that he was “talking and talking” with the barber. The friend said afterward, “You were having quite a discussion.” “Yes,” Mr. Toynbee replied, “we were discussing international affairs. He has some very sound views.” I This gregariousness was part of Mr. Toynbee's heritage and upbringing. He was born in London on April 14, 1889, the son of Harry Toynbee, a social worker, and Sarah Marshall Toynbee, one of the first women in Britain to receive a college degree.
He was named for an uncle, a social reformer and economist who gave his name to Toynbee Hall, a London settle
ment house where university students could learn firsthand about the poor. Brought up in an atmosphere at once bookish and practical, young Arnold was introduced to history through his childhood reading about Greece and Rome. He was sent to Winchester and then to Balliol College, Oxford, a citadel of intellectualism, where he received a thoroughgoing classical education, which he extended with further studies in Greece.
Toured Greek Ruins
His Greek sojourn included both training at the British Archeological School in Athens and walking tours among the ruins of classical Greece and Crete. Contemplating the death Of these civilizations, he began to ponder their relationship to his own times.
Returning to Britain in 1912, he became a fellow and tutor in ancient history at Balliol for three years. At the same time he began to write on the contemporary British and world scene, contributing articles to The Nation, a London periodical, and publishing two books, “Nationality and the War” and “The New Europe.” Neither was regarded as remarkable.
Realizing that politics is history's present tense, Mr. Toynbee left Balliol in 1915 to work in the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office and then, in 1919, to serve in the Middle Eastern section of the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. His fluency in five languages. his scholarly knowledge of the Middle East and his acquisitive intellect combined to make him a model (if selfeffacing) civil servant. His true interest, however, was not Government service, but the gathering and dispensing of historical knowledge.
Thus, in 1919, he went to the University of London, where he taught Byzantine and modern Greek history and literature and, later, international history. Whenever he could, he traveled, for he liked to see for himself the actual sites of historical events.
He was in Turkey in 1921 as a correspondent for The Manchester Guardian, reportinr,'’ the Greco‐Turkish War, and back there two years afterward to write articles for the magazine Asia.
Edited Yearbook Series
A writer of extraordinary energy, from whose fountain pen words flowed easily, Mr. Toynbee undertook to edit a series of international year. hooks for the Royal Institute l of International Affairs. He produced these from 1923 to 1946, and the income helped support him as he researched and wrote the initial volumes of “A Study of History.” He also wrote articles for magazines in Britain and the United States and a book describing his travels in China in 1929.
Mr. Toynbee interrupted his scholarly pursuits in World War Il to return to Government service as director of the Research Department of the Foreign Office and as a member of the British delegation to the peace talks in Paris in 1946.
By the time the war broke out. he had achieved his first burst of fame for his mas terwork, six volumes of which had been published by 1939. Oddly, that fame began in the United States, for Mr. Toynbee was virtually ignored by professional historians in Britain. Indeed, The English Historical Review, the major journal, did not review “A Study of History” until 1956.
One explanation for that coolness was the author's attack on parochial histories and on the prestigious “Cambridge Modern History,” a joint Work of Many specialists. A further explanation was that Mr. Toynbee's one‐man attempt at a historical synthesis was thought presumptuous.
Review Stirred Interest
In this country, on the other hand, Charles A. Beard, then among the most eminent of American historians, reviewed the first three volumes of “A Study of History” promptly in 1935 in The American Historical Review. Although Mr. Beard objected to Mr. Toynbee's comparative method, the review created popular interest in the work, which was subsequently analyzed in some detail by Time magazine.
Some of the most extravagant encomiums appeared there. The work was described in one article as “the most provocative work on historical itheory written in England since Karl Marx's ‘Capital.'”
Years later, during the cold war, Time scored Mr. Toynbee for his less than hostile attitudes toward the Soviet Union.
“Toynbee shares the widespread and dangerously simple view that Soviet Russia is continuation of old‐style imperialism on the world scene, only ‘cloaked’ by Communism,” the magazine said in 1954. It added that the Briton, “an eminent historian when dealing with the distant past,” was “just another minor pundit when dealing with the present.”
Although Mr. Toynbee won readership, his style did not make for easy going.
Abridged by Somervell
Partly to simplify intellectual mastication of the original and partly to meet the demand for a physically comfortable book, two abridgements of “A Study of History” were prepared by D. C. Somervell with Mr. Toynbee's cooperation. One condensed the first six volumes and the second shrank Volumes VII through X. (Volumes XI and XII have not been abridged.)
The first abridgement, issued here in 1947, was a Book‐ofthe‐Month Club selection and was on the best‐seller list for many weeks. The second was also widely sold.
Although Mr. Toynbee had some complimentary things to say about the Soviet Union as a great power, Marxists condemned his conception of historical development because he rejected materialist and economic determinism and stressed the role of religion in civilization.
Mr. Toynbee was also the subject of much probing in the United States. His influnce, according to Prof. Ashley Montagu of Princeton, “is inescapable.” Two major collections of appraisal were issued here, one thy Professor Montagu and another by Prof. Edward T. Garigan of Loyola. Both included essays by ranking historians as well as remarks by Mr. Toynbee.
Virtually all these critics agreed on the sweep of his vision and the earnestness of his convictions, although many disputed his specific findings.
Defending himself and his views on his 75th birthday in 1964, he said:
“I have never made the choice between being a historian of politics, economics, religion, the arts, science and tech nology: my conscious and deliberate aim has been to be student of human affairs stud ied as a whole, instead of their being partitionea into the socalled‐ ‘disciplines.’
“In taking this line, I hope I have jumped clear out of the 18th century into the 21st without having got my feet tangled in the 19th or in the 20th. I feel confident that the tradition of the past is also ‘the wave of the future.’
“We are now moving into chapter in human history in which our choice is going to be, not between a whole world and a shredded‐up world, but between one world and no world. I believe that the human race is going to choose life and good, not death and evil.
View of Next Century
“I therefore believe in the imminence of one world, and believe that, in the 21st century, human life is going to be a unity again in all its aspects and activities. I believe that, in the field of religion, sectarianism is going to be subordinated to ecumenicalism that, in the field of politics, nationalism is going to be subordinated to world government and that, in the field of study, specialization is going to be subordinated to a comprehensive ‘view of human affairs.”
When Mr. Toynbee retired from the Royal Institute of International Affairs in 1955, he was freed for new rounds of travel, lectures and books. He visited the United States frequently, teaching at, among other institutions, the University of Denver, New Mexico State University and Mills College in California. He also lectured on television here and wrote “America and the World Revolution.”
Among his later books were “Change and Habit” and “Acquaintances,” recollections of such public figures as Field Marshal Jan Smuts, Col. T. E. Lawrence, Jawaharlal Nehru and Adolf Hitler. In a somewhat lighter vein, he also wrote of his travels in “Between Niger and Nile,” in which he was, in effect, a historical guide to that section of Africa. Others were “Between Oxus and Jurnna” and “East to West: A Journey Round the World.”
Among books on his eariy specialty, classical history, some of the most important were “Greek Historical Thought,” an annotated anthology published in 1924 “Greek Civilisation and Character” (1924), and the twovolume “Hannibal's Legacy,” describing the rise of Rome (1965).
Two years ago, he published “Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World,” a study of the reign of. the 10th‐century Byzantine emperor. His final book, “Mankind and Mother Earth,” is scheduled for publication here next spring, according to Oxford University Press.
Mr. Toynbee married twice. His first wife was Rosalind Murray, the daughter of Gilbert Murray, the celebrated classical scholar. They were married in 1913 and divorced in 1946. The same year Mr. Toynbee married Veronica Boulter, his longtime secretary and researcher.
His wife survives him, as do two sons by his first marriage, Philip Toynbee, the war correspondent and novelist, and Lawence, a painter. Some Toynbee Reflection
Some thoughts of Arnold Toynbee:
History in the objective meaning of the word, is the process of change in the subjective meaning, it is the study of how and why one situation changes into another.
America is very unwilling to admit that the earthly paradise has tragedy, you see, and if America has tragedy, she can't be the earthly paradise—she has got to uproot her original dream of being the earthly paradise.
While we are lowering the age of sexual awareness—and frequently the age of sexual experience, too—to veritably Hindu degree, we are at the same time prolonging the length of education.
We force our boys and girls to become sex‐conscious at 12 or 13, and then we ask them to prolong their post:graduate studies till they are nearly 30. How are they expected to give tneir minds to education during those last 16 or 17 sex‐haunted years?
Technology is, of course, only a long Greek name for a bag of tools and we have to ask ourselves: What are the tools that count in this competition in the use of tools as means to power?
The would‐be saviour of a disintegrating society necessarily a saviour with a sword, but the sword may either drawn or sheathed.
Machinery perplexes and dismays me, and I have been born into the Western machine age. Why was I not born in third‐century B.C. Syria or seventh‐century A.D. China? I should not then haVe been harassed by machinery as am in the contemporary West. I heartily dislike this side contemporary Western life, and, in the eyes of the rest the world, mechanization is what the contemporary West stands for.
It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal behind it.
The most obvious way of reconciling oneself to death is to make sure of enjoying life before death snatches from us. The New York Times/Denis Cameron Arnold Toynbee during an interview in London in 1969
Philosophy of History Part XX: Arnold Toynbee and the Challenge of Civilization
Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) was a British historian and philosopher who is best remembered for his monumental Study of History, released in twelve volumes between 1934 and 1961. In this work he traced the rise and fall of twenty-one civilizations, which he defined as the self-contained political and cultural product of a creative minority.
In the early days of their ascent, they win power and prestige by responding creatively and successfully to external challenges—war, natural disaster, encounters with other cultures, etc.—and their superior position is the just reward of that accomplishment. So, in the early days of Rome, the Roman Senators (to take an example) produced Coriolanus and Brutus, Scipio and Fabius, and won the admiring obedience of the whole of Roman society.
However, when these elites cease to respond creatively to changing circumstances, and simply mimic an idealized past, they lose their legitimacy as elites. So Caesar and Pompey, though great in their own right, responded less creatively and more oppressively to the challenges of their own day than their predecessors, and later on Constantine and Justinian continued the trend. When once-inspiring leadership degenerates into oppression in the name of a remote and irrelevant mythology, the elite loses its legitimacy, and the civilization becomes internally divided. Then it becomes easy prey to disasters, like the plague, or foreign enemies, like the Germanic tribes. “Civilizations die from suicide,” Toynbee said, “not from murder.”
When this happens the elite declare a “universal state,” the imagined universality of which seems to compensate for their diminishing power in the real world. Similarly, the people declare a “universal church,” which preserves their values in the face of internal and external oppression. So both the Emperors and Patriarchs of Constantinople continued to declare the universality of their institutions even as their actual sphere of influence diminished with every generation, until at last the Sultan marched into Constantinople and put an end to their pretensions. According to legend, the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI, was turned into a statue and whisked away at the last moment by an angel. “The marble emperor” was then hidden in a cave, there to sleep away the ages until Rome should rise again. So the story of the decline and fall of the Empire could well be told, according to Toynbee, as the transformation of an actual into a dreamlike power, which it continues to exercise to this day.
Toynbee was an immensely popular and influential historian in his time. The full twelve volume set has sold over seven thousand copies, and the abridgement over three hundred thousand. He was featured in Time Magazine and the BBC, and came as close to being a celebrity as a modern historian is likely to get. His reception among other historians was much cooler. He was frequently criticized for making sweeping generalizations, and his taxonomy of pre-civilizations, full civilizations, fossil civilizations, etc., appeared to many both arbitrary and unilluminating. Civilization studies in general have been rejected for just this reason, and also because they seem to imply that some societies are intrinsically better (i.e., “more civilized”) than others—an assumption with which modern historians, living as they do in a post-imperial age, are no longer comfortable. Instead, they usually prefer to reject all such world-historical schemes, and work on tightly focused monographs that treat a manageable amount of evidence.
However, world history has survived the abandonment of the “study of civilizations” approach epitomized by Toynbee’s Study of History, and continues to make substantial contributions to our knowledge of the past. Toynbee remains, in that sense, an important figure in the history of history.
This post is the twentieth is a series on the philosophy of history the previous article in the series is here the next one is here.
Daniel Halverson is a graduate student studying the history of Science and Technology of nineteenth-century Germany. He is also a regular contributor to the PEL Facebook page.
Arnold Toynbee - History
Arnold Toynbee (1852-1881) died before the age of thirty but nevertheless in his short life as a scholar his thinking did much to change how education could be developed through work in the poorer parts of Britain’s cities. He lectured in economic history at Oxford University where he was very critical of the effects of the industrial revolution which he saw emerging all around him. Toynbee observed that: “The effects of the industrial revolution prove that free competition may produce wealth without producing well-being". Large-scale poverty was becoming concentrated in urban slums and he could not remain indifferent to its consequences. He therefore urged his students to show some real engagement in working with the growing population of poor people.
Using the ideas of Edward Denison (1840-1970), Toynbee proposed schemes for ‘university extension’, a form of outreach and supplementary learning by which students working in the most deprived communities would apply and ‘extend’ their course material through voluntary work. Students would become more aware of daily living conditions and this confrontation with the harsh reality of social inequality would not only sharpen their sense of social responsibility, but also bridge class divisions. This idea was later labelled Practical Socialism (1888) by Toynbee’s ideological ally, the Anglican priest Samuel Barnett. The model received plenty of support in the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, from where it gained international recognition.
After Toynbee’s death, Barnett continued to promote the concept of university extension through the establishment of university settlements. These provided accommodation so that students would not only work to enhance the living conditions of the poor, they could also live among them for at least a year. The aim was that this arrangement would strengthen the links between scholars and the residents of urban slums, and achieve better results in terms of social improvement and mutual learning. In 1884 Toynbee Hall opened in East London. Graduate students came to live on the premises, while often working elsewhere. They contributed to local life by studying the lives of their working class neighbours and organising activities that contributed to community building, (informal) education and social solidarity. Students based in the settlements worked to improve the system of benefits for the poor, secure better pension rights and generally enhance living conditions. Among them was the philanthropist Charles Booth, for whom Toynbee Hall served as a base while he worked on Life and Labour of the People in London (1889). This study mapped poverty in London at the end of the 19th century and influenced both social research and the fight against poverty for decades afterwards.
Toynbee Hall quickly became an inspiring example of community development in both the US and Europe. Jane Addams visited Toynbee Hall in 1888 and became so enthusiastic that she exported the idea to North America.
At the beginning of the 20th century, one of the people to live and work at Toynbee Hall for a short period of time was William Beveridge and he was followed by a number of students who went on to become prominent social theorists and politicians.
Arnold Toynbee also happens to be an ancestor of Polly Toynbee, currently a leading journalist often writing on social issues in The Guardian. Her book Hard work (2003) was based on direct experience of living on poverty wages and made an impressive contribution to describing the difficulties faced every day by people at the bottom of the social ladder, portraying the real life and (in)humanity behind statistics.
This text was written by Jan Steyaert, based on the Dutch version by Wim Verzelen
Date of first publication: 12-2010
Date of latest revision: 04-2013