Saturday, April 14, 2012

Toynbee wrote history of civilizations

Arnold Toynbee
It is the birthday of British historian Arnold Toynbee (1889), whose 12-volume A Study of History (first published in 1934; completed in 1961) was a comparative bestseller in history circles and drew as much criticism as it did praise. Toynbee was so popular in the United States that he appeared on the cover of Time magazine in the March 17, 1947 issue. Toynbee advanced the idea that moral failure was contributing to the decline of the West and that only a return to Christianity could stop it. The religious message was contained in the first six volumes of his work but dropped in the last six, contributing to his loss of favor with the public. If anything, Toynbee was flexible. He was for Greece and against Turkey before he was for Turkey and against Greece, accusing the Greek regime of atrocities in occupied Turkish territories. He was for Zionism and an independent Jewish state before he was against an independent Jewish state and for an independent Palestinian state. Toynbee disagreed with German historian/philosopher Oswald Spengler, whose The Decline of the West proposed that civilizations have a lifespan of 1,000 years and that decline and decay was inevitable. Toynbee suggested that decline was not necessarily inevitable depending upon the civilization's response to its challenges. "Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder," he wrote, suggesting that civilizations die from inside by not creatively responding to crises. When the creative minority is ignored, he believed, society begins to break down.

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