'A Study of History' by Arnold Toynbee (1934-1961)

A selection from A Study of History by Arnold Toynbee, 1934-1961.

"Mr. Toynbee's study, belongs... with such works as those of... St. Augustine, Vico, Buckle, and Spengler. It is philosophy of history, metaphysics, even theology... ."
Crane Brinton

[Work in Progress]

Volume I 



"...no single nation or national state of Europe can show a history which is in itself self-explanatory. If any state could do so it would be Great Britain. In fact, if Great Britain (or, in the earlier periods, England) is not found to constitute in herself an intelligible field of historical study, we may confidently infer that no other modern European national state will pass the test.

Is English history, then, intelligible when taken by itself? Can we abstract an internal history of England from her external relations? If we can, shall we find that these residual external relations are of secondary importance? And in analysing these, again, shall we find that the foreign influences upon England are slight in comparison with the English influences upon other parts of the world ? If all these questions receive affirmative answers we may be justified in concluding that, while it may not be possible to understand other histories without reference to England, it is possible, more or less, to understand English history without reference to other parts of the world. The best way to approach these questions is to direct our thought backwards over the course of English history and recall the principle chapters. In inverse order we may take these chapters to be:

a) the establishment of the Industrial System of economy (since the last quarter of the eighteenth century);

b) the establishment of Responsible Parlimentary Government (since the last quarter of the seventeenth century);

c)the expansion overseas... ;

d) the Reformation (since the second quarter of the sixteenth century);

e) the Renaissance... ;

f) the Establishment of the Feudal System (since the eleventh century);

g) the conversion of the English from the religion of the so called Herioc Age to Western Christianity (since the last years of the 6th century).

This glance backwards from the present day over the general course of English history would appear to show that the farther back we look the less evidence do we find of self-sufficiency or isolation. The conversion [from the religion of the so called Heroic Age to Western Christianity], which was really the beginning of all things in English history, was the direct antithesis of that; it was an act which merged half a dozen isolated communities of barbarians in the common weal of a nascent Western Society."

"British national history never has been, and almost certainly never will be, an 'intelligible field of historical study' in isolation; and if that is true of Great Britain it surely must be true of any other national state a fortiori."

"The chapters which caught our eye in our glance backward over the course of English history were real chapters in some story or other, but that story was the history of some society of which Great Britain was only a part, and the experiences were experiences in which other nations besides Great Britain were participants. The 'intellectual field of study', in fact, appears to be a society containing a number of communities of the species represented by Great Britain... ."

"The forces in action are not national but proceed from wider causes, which operate upon each of the parts and are not intelligible in their partial operation unless a comprehensive view is taken of their operation throughout the society. [...] A society, we may say, is confronted in the course of its life by a succession of problems which each member [state] has to solve for itself as best it may. The presentation of each problem is a challenge to undergo an ordeal, and through this series of ordeals the members of the society progressively differentiate themselves from one another. Throughout, it is impossible to grasp the significance of any particular member's behaviour under a particular ordeal without taking some account of the similar or dissimilar behaviour of its fellows and without viewing the successive ordeals as a series of events in the life of the whole society."

"In order to understand the parts we must first focus our attention upon the whole, because this whole is the field of study that is intelligible in itself.

But what are these 'wholes', which form intelligible fields of study, and how shall we discover their spatial and temporal boundaries?"

"This... review of our chapters of English history has given us a means for taking spatial cross-sections, at several different dates, of that society which includes Great Britain and which is 'the intelligible field of historical study' as far as Great Britain is concerned. In taking these cross-sections we shall have to distinquish between certain different planes of social life- the economic, the political and the cultural- because it is already evident that the spatial extension of this society differs perceptibly according to the plane on which we focus our attention. At the present day and on the economic plane the society which includes Great Britain is undoubtedly co-extensive with the whole inhabitable and navigable surface of the Earth. On the political plane, again, the world-wide character of this society at the present day is almost equally apparent. When, however, we pass to the cultural plane the present geographical extension of the society to which Great Britain belongs appears to be very much smaller."

"As we take further cross-sections at earlier dates we find that, on all three planes, the geographical limits of the society which we are examining progressively contract. In a cross-section taken about the year 1675, while the contraction is not perhaps very great on the economic plane..., the boundaries on the political plane shrink until they coincide approximately with those on the cultural plane at the present day. In a cross-section taken about 1475 the overseas portions of the area disappear on all three planes alike, and even on the economic plane the boundaries contract until they, too, coincide approximately with those on the cultural plane, now confined to Western and Central Europe... . In a primitive cross-section, taken about the year 775, the boundaries shrink still further on all three planes. At that date the area of our society is almost restricted to what were then the dominons of Charlemagne together with the English 'successor states' of the Roman Empire in Britain."

"Let us call this society, whose spatial limits we have been studying, Western Christianity... .

And now, having explored the extensions of our Western Society in space, we have to consider its extension in time; and we are at once confronted with the fact that we cannot know its future... .We must content ourselves with the exploration of our Western Society's beginnings."

"During the deep sleep of the interval (crica A.D. 375-675) which intervened between the break-up of the Roman Empire and the gradual emergence of our Western Society out of the chaos, a rib was taken from the side of the older society and was fashioned into the backbone of a new culture of the same species.

It is now plain that in tracing the life of our Western Society backwards behind 775 we begin to find it presented to us in terms of something other than itself- in terms of the Roman Empire and of the society to which that empire belonged."

"To the student of Graeco-Roman history,... both the Christians and the Barbarians would present themselves as creatures of an alien underworld- the internal and the external proliteriat, as he might call them, of the Graeco-Roman (or, to use a better term, Hellenic) Society in its last phase. He would point out that the great masters of Hellenic culture, down to and including Marcus Aurelius, almost ignore their existence. He would diagnose both the Christian Church and the Barbarian warbands as morbid affections which only appeared in the body of the Hellenic Society after its physique had been permanentely undermined by the Hannibalic War."

"In tracing its history back to its origins we strike upon the last phase of another society, the origins of which obviously lie much farther back in the past. The continuity of history, to use an accepted phrase, is not a continuity such as is exemplified in the life of a single individual. It is rather a continuity made up of the lives of successive generations, our Western Society being related to the Hellenic Society in a manner comprable (to use a convenient though imperfect simile) with the relationship of a child to its parent.

If the argument of this chapter is accepted it will be agreed that the intelligible unit of historical study is neither a nation state nor (at the other end of the scale) mankind as a whole but a certain grouping of humanity which we have called a society. We have discovered five such societies in existence to-day, together with sundry fossilized evidences of societies dead and gone; and, while exploring the circumstances of the birth of... our own [society], we have stumbled upon the death-bed of another very notable society to which our own stands in something like the relation of offspring- to which, in a single word, our own society is 'affiliated'."

II. The Comparative Study of Civilizations

...our own Western Society (or Civilization) is affiliated to a predecessor. [...] ...what are the tokens of apparentation-and-affiliationg which we are to accept as valid evidence. What tokens of such relationship did we, in fact, find in the case of our own society's affiliation to the Hellenic Society?
The first of these phenomena was a universal state (the Roman Empire), incorporating the whole Hellenic Society in a single political community in the last phase of Hellenic history. [...] the Roman Empire's fall was followed by a kind of interregnum between the disappearances of the Hellenic and the emergence of the Western Society.
This interregnum is filled with the activities of two institutions: the Christian Church, established within and surviving the Roman Empire, and... the Barbarians from the no-man's-land beyond the Imperial frontiers. We have already described these two forces as the internal proletariat and external proletariat of the Hellenic Society. Though differing in all else they agreed in their alienation from the dominant minority of the Hellenic Society, the leading class of the old society who had lost their way and ceased to lead. In fact the Empire fell and the Church survived just because the Church gave leadership and enlisted loyalty whereas the Empire had long failed to do either the one or the other. Thus the Church, a survival from the dying society, became the womb from which in due course the new one was born.

There are only two out of all the Barbarian 'successor states' of the Roman Empire that can be shown to have any lineal descendants among the nation states of Modern Europe, Charlemagne's Frankish Austrasia and Alfred's Wessex.

The prevalent over-estimate of the Barbarians' contribution [i.e., Chamberlain's Foundations of the Nineteenth Century] to the life of our Western Society can also be traced in part to the false belief that social progress is to be explained by the presence of certain inborn qualities of race. [...] Historians deluded themselves into supposing that the 'infusion of new blood', as they metaphorically described the racial effect of the Barbarian intrusion, could account for those long-subsequent manifestations of life and growth which constitute the history of the Western Society.

...three factors mark the transition from the old to the new society: a universal state as the final stage of the old society; a church developed in the old society and in turn developing the new; and the chaotic intrusion of a barbarian heroic age.

One more symptom in the 'apparentation-and-affiliation' between the Hellenic and the Western Society may be noted..., namely the displacement of the cradle or original home of the new society from the original home of its predecessor. ...a frontier of the old society became... the centre of the new one... .
The Orthodox Christian Society... is clearly twin offspring, with our Western Society, of the Hellenic Society, its geographical displacement being north-eastwards instead of north-westwards. With its cradle or original home in Byzantine Anatolia, much cramped for many centuries by the rival expansion of the Islamic Society, it ultimately secured a vast expansion northwards and eastwards through Russia and Siberia, outflanking the Islamic World and impinging upon the Far East. The differentiation of Western and Orthodox Christendom into two separate societies can be traced in the the schism of their common chrysalis, the Catholic Church, into two bodies, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

...when we scan the background of Islamic Society we discern there a universal church and a Volkerwanderung [migration period] which are not identical with those in the common background of Western and Orthodox Christiandom but are unmistakably analogous to them. The Islamic universal state is the 'Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad. The universal church is, of course, Islam itself. The Volkerwangerung which overran the domain of the Caliphate at its fall proceeded from the Turkish and Mongol nomads of the Eurasian Steppe, the Berber nomads of Northern Africa and the Arab nomads of the Arabian Peninsula.

...the predecessor of the Islamic Society (not yet identified) proves to be the parent not of a single offspring but of twins, in this respect resembling the parental achievement of the Hellenic Society. ...whereas the Western and the Orthodox Society have survived for over a thousand years side by side, one of the offspring of the parent society which we are seeking to identify swallowed up and incorporated the other. We shall call these twin Islamic societies the Iranic and the Arabic.

Behind the 'Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad we find the Ummayad Caliphate of Damascus, and behind that a thousand years of Hellenic intrusion, beginning with the career of Alexander of Macedon in the latter half of the fourth century B.C., followed by the Greek Seleucid monarchy in Syria, Pompey's campaigns and the Roman conquest, and only ending with the Oriental revanche of the warriors of early Islam in the seventh century after Christ. The cataclysmic conquests of the primitive Muslim Arabs seem to respond antistrophically, in the rhythm of history, to the cataclysmic conquests of Alexander. [...] As the Macedonian conquest, by breaking up the Achaemenian Empire (i.e., the Persian Empire of Cyrus and his successors), prepared the soil for the seed of Hellenism, so the Arab conquest opened the way for the Umayyads, and after them the 'Abbasids, to reconstruct a universal state which was the equivalent of the Achaemenian Empire. If we superimpose the map of either empire upon the other we shall be struck by the closeness with which the outlines correspond... . [...] We may express the historical function of the 'Abbasid Caliphate by describing it as a reintegration and resumption of the Achaemenian Empire- a reintegration of a political structure which had been broken up by the impact of an external force and the resumption of a phase of social life which had been interrupted by an alien intrusion.


...the germ of creative power in Christianity was not of Hellenic but of alien origin (in fact of Syriac origin... ). By contrast we can observe that the creative germ of Islam was not alien from, but native to, the Syrian Society. The founder, Muhammad, drew his inspiration primarily from Judaism, a purely Syriac religion, and secondarily from Nestorianism, a form of Christianity in which the Syriac element had recovered its preponderance over the Hellenic. [...] In Christianity we are aware of Hellenic elements, drawn from Hellenic mystery religions and Hellenic philosophy. Similiarly, but to a much slighter extent, we can detect Hellenic influences in Islam. Broadly speaking, however, Christianity is a universal church originating in a germ that was alien to the society in which it played its part, while Islam originated in a germ that was indigenous.

In the fathest background of all... we can make out a time of growth which has left its record in the Vedas. And so we have identified the society apparented to the Hindu Society; let us cal it the indic. The original home of the Indic Society lay in the Indus and Upper Ganges valleys, from which it spread over the whole sub-continent. Its geographical position is therefore virtually identical with that of its successor.

The Jews... are fossils of the Syriac Society as it was before the Hellenic intrusion upon the Syriac World. The Monophysite and Nestorian Christians are relics of the reaction of the Syriac Society against the Hellenic intrusion, successive and alternate protests against the Hellenization of what had been in origin a Syriac religion.

We may push further back into the past and find 'parents' for some of the societies which we have identified as being themselves parents of living specimens.


Were the Mysteries in Classical Greece... a survival from the religion of a submerged society?

...we might reconstruct the actual religious history of the Hellenic World: the rivival of the ancient and traditional Mysteries of Eleusis and the invention of Orphism... out of a syncretism between the orgies of the Thracian Dionysus and the Minoan mysteries of the birth and death of the Cretan Zeus. Undoubtedly both the Eleusinian Mysteries and the Orphic Church did provide the Hellenic Society in the Classical Age with a spiritual sustenance which it needed but could not find in the worship of the Olympians.

On these analogies it is not altogether fantastic to espy, in the Mysteries and Orphism, the ghost of a Minoan universal church ['created by the internal proletariats in their decline'].

see. p 31.

The Egyptiac Society. This very notable society emerged in the lower valley of the Nile during the fourth millennium B.C. and became extinct in the fifth century of the Christian era... .

[The] vast pyramidal tombs... typify the history of the Egyptiac Society in more ways than one. We spoke of this society as existing for some four thousand years, but for half that period the Egyptiac Society was not so much a living organism as an organism dead but unburied. More than half of Egyptiac history is a gigantic epilogue.

[The fourth dynasty] marks the zenith in the characteristic achievement of the Egyptiac Society: the co-ordination of human labour in great engineering enterprises,... the construction of the Pyramids. It was also the zenith in political administration and in art.

The zenith was passed and the decline set in at the transition from the fifth dynasty to the sixth, circa 2350 B.C.,... . [...] The break-up of the Egyptiac united kingdom into a number of small states constantly at war with one another bears the unmistakable stamp of a time of troubles. The Egyptiac time of troubles was followed in about 2052 B.C. by a universal state, founded by the local dynasty of Thebes and consolidated by the twelfth dynasty, circa 1991-1786 B.C. After the twelfth dynasty the universal state broke down, and the consequent interregnum brought its Volkerwanderung in the invasion of the Hyksos.
Here, then, might seem to be the end of this society. If we had.... worked backwards from the fifth century of the Christian Era, we should probably have paused at this point and said: 'We have now traced Egyptiac history back, from its last fading foot-prints in the fifth century after Christ, for twenty-one centuries, and have struck on a Volkerwanderung following a universal state. 

[But] if we now resume our exploration in the forward direction, we shall not find a new society but something quite different. The barbarian 'successor state' is overthrown; the Hyksos are expelled; and the universal state with its capital at Thebes is restored, consciously and deliberately.

The duration of this universal state, repeatedly overthrown and re-established, fills the whole of these two millennia. There is no new society. If we study the religious history of the Egytpiac Society we find that... , after the interregnum, a religion prevailed that had been taken over from the dominant minority of the preceding age of decline. Yet it did not prevail without a struggle, and it first secured its position by coming to terms with a universal church which had been created in the preceding age of decline by the Egyptiac internal proleteriat out of the religion of Osiris.
The religion of Osiris came from the Delta, not from Upper Egypt, where the political history of the Egyptiac Society was made. The main thread of Egyptiac religious history is the rivalry between this god of terrestrial and subterranean nature-- the spirit of vegetation that alternately appears above ground and disappears beneath it-- and the sun god of Heaven, and this theological conflict was bound up with, and was indeed a theological expression of, the political and social conflict between the two sections of society in which the two worships arose. The worship of the sun go, Re, was controlled by the priesthood of Heliopolis, and Re was conceived in the image of the Pharaoh, whereas the worship of Osiris was a popular religion.

Osiris ruled the multitudes of the dead in a shadow world underground. Re... redeemed his devotees from death and raised them alive to the sky. But this apotheosis was reserved for those who could pay the price, a price which was constantly rising until solar immortality became virtually the monopoly of the Pharaoh. [...] The Great Pyramids are the monuments of this endeavour to secure personal immortality by architectural extravagance.

Meanwhile the religion of Osiris gained ground. The immortality that it offered might be a poor thing compared with residence in Re's sky-heaven, but it was the one consolation to which the masses could look forward under the grinding oppression to which they were subjected in this life in order to secure eternal bliss for their masters. The Egyptiac Society was splitting into a dominant minority and an internal proletariat. Confronted with this danger, the priesthood of Heliopolis sought to render Osiris innocuous by taking him into partnership, but in this transaction Orsiris succeeded in taking far more than he gave. When he entered into the Pharaoh's solar cult he captured the solar ritual of apotheosis for the mass of mankind. The monument of this religious syncretism is the so-called Book of the Dead-- 'an Everyman's guide to Immortality' whcih dominated the religious life of the Egytpiac Society throughout the two mellennia of its 'epilogue'. The idea that Re demanded righteousness rather than pyramids prevailed, and Osiris appears as a judge in the underworld, consigning the dead to the destinies that their lives on Earth have deserved.
Here, under the Egyptiac universal state, we discern the lineaments of a universal church created by an internal proletariat [editors note: see Voegelin's Order and History, Vol. 1, part 1, section 3, for a discussion about the treatment of Egypt by Toynbee, Spengler, and Frankfort].


This thesis of the unity of civilization is a misconception into which modern Western historians have been led by the influence of their social environment. The misleading feature is the fact that, in modern times, our own Western Civilization has cast the net of its economic system all round the World, and this economic unification on a Western basis has been followed by a political unification on the same basis which has gone almost as far; for though the conquests of Western armies and governments have been neither as extensive nor as thorough as the conquests of Western manufacturers and technicians, it is nevertheless a fact that all the states of the contemporary world form part of a single political system of Western origin.
These are striking facts, but to regard them as evidence of the unity of civilization is a superficial view. While the economic and political maps have now been Westernized, the cultural map remains substantially what it was before our Western Society started on its career of economic and political conquest. On the cultural plane, for those who have eyes to see, the lineaments of the four living non-Western civilizations are clear. But many have not such eyes; and their outlook is illustrated in the use of the English word 'natives'... .
When we Westerners call people 'natives' we implicitly take the cultural colour out of our perception of them. We see them as wild animals infesting the country in which we happen to come across them, as part of the local flora and fauna and not as men of like passions with ourselves. So long as we think of them as 'natives' we may exterminate them or, as is more likely to-day, domesticate them and honestly (perhaps not altogether mistakenly) believe that we are improving the breed, but we do not begin to understand them.
But apart from illusions due to the world-wide success of the Western Civilization in the material sphere, the misconception 'the unity of history' [involves] the assumption that there is only one river of civilization, our own, and that all others are either tributary to it or else lost in the desert sands.... . 

The Jews suffered from the illusion that they were not a but the 'chosen people'. What we call 'natives' they called 'gentiles', and the Greeks called 'barbarians'.

Cont here. p. 37-41


History, like the drama and the novel, grew out of mythology, a primitive form of apprehension and expression in which-- as in fairy tales listened to by children or in dreams dreamt by sophisticated adults-- the line between fact and fiction is left undrawn. It has, for example, been said of the Iliad that anyone who starts reading it as history will find that it is full of fiction but, equally, anyone who starts reading it as fiction will find that it is full of history. All histories resemble the Iliad to this extent, that they cannot entirely dispense with the fictional element. [...] In any case, it is hardly possible to write two consecutive lines of historical narrative without introducing such fictitious personifications as 'England', 'France', 'the Conservative Party', 'the Church', 'the Press' or 'public opinion'. 

...the drama and the novel do not present fictions, complete fictions and nothing but fictions regarding personal relationships. If they did, the product, instead of deserving Aristotle's commendation that it was 'truer and more philosophical than history', would consist of nonsensical and intolerable fantasies. When we call a piece of literature a work of fiction... we mean that the work has a fictitious personal foreground; and, if we do not mention that the background is composed of authentic social facts, that is simply because this seems so self-evident that we take it for granted. Indeed, we recognize that the highest praise we can give to a good work of fiction is to say that it is 'true to life', and that 'the author shows a profound understanding of human nature'. 

Volume II




 What is the essential difference between the primitive and the higher societies? It does not consist in the presence or absence of institutions for institutions are the vehicles of the impersonal relations between individuals in which all societies have their existence, because even the smallest of primitive societies is built on a wider basis than the narrow circle of an individual's direct personal ties.
An essential difference between civilizations and primitive societies as we know them... is the direction taken by mimesis or imitation. Mimesis is a generic feature of all social life. Its operation can be observed both in primitive societies and in civilizations, in every social activity from the imitation of the style of film-stars by their humbler sisters upwards. It operates, however, in different directions in the two species of society. In primitive societies, as we know them, mimesis is directed towards the older generation and towards dead ancestors who stand, unseen but not unfelt, at the back of the living elders, reinforcing their prestige. In a society where mimesis is thus directed backward towards the past, custom rules and society remains static. On the other hand, in societies in process of civilization, mimesis is directed towards creative personalities who commanded a following because they are pioneers. In such societies, "the cake of custom," as Walter Bagehot called it in his Physics and Politics, is broken and society is in dynamic motion along a course of change and growth.

(2) RACE

It seems obvious that the positive factor which, within the last 6,000 years, has shaken part of mankind out of the Yin state of primitive societies "on the ledge" into the Yang state of civilizations "on the cliff" must be sought either in some special quality in the human beings who made the transition or in some special feature of the environment in which the transition has taken place or in some interaction between the two. We will first consider the possibility that one or other of these factors taken by itself will give us what we are looking for. Can we attribute the geneses of civilizations to the virtues of some particular race or races?

...the most popular of the racial theories of civilization is that which sets upon a pedestal the xanthotrichous, glaucopian, dolicocephalic variety of homo leucodermaticus, called by some the Nordic man and by Nietzsche "the blond beast"; and it is worth while inquiring into the credentials of this idol of the Teutonic market-place.
Nordic man was first placed on his pedestal by a French aristocrat, the Comte de Gobineau, early in the nineteenth century, and his idolization of "the blond beast" was an incident in the controversies that arose out of the French Revolution. When the French nobility were being dispossessed of their estates, exiled or guillotined, the pedants of the revolutionary party, who were never happy unless they could present the events of their day in a "classical" guise, proclaimed that the Gauls, after fourteen centuries of subjection, were now driving their Frankish conquerors back into the outer darkness beyond the Rhine from which they had come during the Völkerwanderung, and were resuming possession of the Gallic soil which, despite the long barbarian usurpation, had never ceased to be their own.
 To this nonesense Gobineau replied with some more telling nonsense of his own. "I accept your identification", he replied in effect. "Let us agree that the populace of France is descended from the Gauls and the aristocracy from the Franks; that both races have bred pure; and that there is a definite and permanent correlation between their physical and psychic characteristics. Do you really imagine that the Gauls stand for civilization and the Franks for barbarism? Whence came such civilization as you Gauls ever acquired? From Rome. And what made Rome great? Why, a primeval infusion of that same Nordic blood that flows in my Frankish veins. The first Romans-- and likewise the first Greeks, the Achaeans of Homer-- were fair-haired conquerors who had descended from the invigorating north and established their dominion over the feebler natives of the enervating Mediterranean. In the long run, however, their blood was diluted and their race enfeebled; their power and their glory declined. The time had come for another rescue party of fair-haired conquerors to descend from the north and set the pulse of civilization beating again, and among these were the Franks." 
Such is Gobineau's amusing account of a series of facts which we have already handled in a very different manner in our sketches of the origins first of the Hellenic and afterwards of the Western Civilization. His political jeu d'esprit gained plausibility from a contemporary discovery of which Gobineau was quick to take advantage. It was discovered that almost all the living languages of Europe, as well as Greek and Latin, and the living languages of Persia and Northern India as well as classical Iranian and classical Sanskrit, were related to one another as members of one vast linguistic family. It was rightly inferred that the peoples among whom these kindred languages were current were physically related in the same degree as the languages themselves, and that they were all descended from a primitive "Aryan" or "Indo-European" race which had spread, conquering and to conquer, east and west and north and south from its original home: a race which had brought forth the religious genius of Zarathustra and the Buddha, the artistic genius of Greece, the political genius of Rome and-- fitting climax-- our noble selves! Why, this race was responsible for practically all the achievements of human civilization!
The hare which the vivacious Frenchman started was run by heavy-footed German philologists who improved the word Indo-European into Indo-Germanic and located the original home of this imaginary race in the dominions of the King of Prussia. Shortly before the outbreak of the war of 1914-18 Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman who had fallen in love with Germany, wrote a book called The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century in which he added Dante and Jesus Christ to the list of Indo-Germans.
 Americans also had their uses for the "Nordic man". Alarmed by the overwhelming immigration of Southern Europeans during the quarter of a century before 1914, such writers as Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard demanded a restriction of immigration as the only way of preserving - not American social standards but the purity of the American branch of the Nordic race.
 The British Israelite doctrine is a theory of the same type using different terminology and supporting imaginary history with quaint theology.


Modern Western minds have been led to emphasize, and overemphasize, the racial factor in history owing to the expansion of our Western Society over the world during the last four centuries. ...the notion of superior and inferior biological types was just what one might expect to result from such contacts, especially in the nineteenth century, when Western minds had been rendered biology-conscious by the work of Charles Darwin... . 
The Ancient Greeks also expanded, by way of trade and colonization, into the world around them, but it was a much smaller world containing a wide diversity of cultures but not a wide diversity of physical types. 

There is a treatise entitled Influences of Atmosphere, Water and Situation, dating from the fifth century B.C. and preserved among the collected works of the Hippocratean School of Medicine... . Here we read, for example, that 
'Human physiognomies may be classified into the well-wooded and well-watered mountain type, the thin-soiled waterless type, the meadowy marshy type, the well-cleared and well-drained lowland type... . Inhabitants of mountainous, rocky, well-watered country at a high altitude, where the margin of seasonal climatic variation is wide, will tend to have large-built bodies constitutionally adapted for courage and endurance... . Inhabitants of sultry hollows covered with water-meadows, who are more commonly exposed to warm winds than to cold, and who drink tepid water, will, in contrast, not be large built or slim, but thickset, fleshy and dark-haired, with swarthy rather than fair complexions, and with less phlegm than bile in their constitutions. Courage and endurance will not be innate in their characters to the same degree, but will be capable of being produced in them by the co-efficient of institutions... . Inhabitants of rolling, wind-swept, well-watered country at a high altitude will be large-built and un-individualized, with a vein of cowardice and tameness in their characters... . In the majority of cases, you will find that the human body and character vary in accordance with the nature of the country.'

 Both the race theory and the environment theory try to account for the observed diversity in the psychical (intellectual and spiritual) behaviour and performance of different fractions of mankind by supposing that this psychical diversity is fixedly and permanently correlated, in the relation of effect to cause, with certain elements of observed diversity in the non-psychical domain of nature. The race theory finds the differentiating cause in the diversity of human physique, the environment theory in the diverse climatic and geographical conditions in which different societies live.
Egypt has the same dry climate as the vast area surrounding it, but it has one exceptional asset-- an unfailing supply of water and alluvium, provided by the great river which rises, beyond the limits of the Steppe, in an area of abundant rainfall. The creators of the Egyptiac Civilization used this asset to produce a society in sensational contrast with the nomadism on either side of them. Then in the special environment offered by the nile in Egypt the positive feature to which the genesis of the Egyptiac Civilization is due? To establish this thesis we have to show that in every other separate area in which an environment of the Nilotic type is offered, a similar civilization has independently emerged.
The theory stands the test in a neighbouring area where the required conditions are fulfilled, namely the lower valley of the Euphrates and Tigris. Here we find both similar physical conditions and a similar society, the Sumeric.

The Sinic Civilization is sometimes represented as the offspring of the Yellow River because it happened to emerge in the Yellow River Valley, but the Danube Valley with much the same disposition of climate and soil and plain and mountain failed to produce a similar civilization.

...neither race nor environment, taken by itself, can be the positive factor which, within the last six thousand years, has shaken humanity out of its static repose on the level of primitive society and started it on the hazardous quest of civilization.


It is clear that if the geneses of civilizations are not the result of biological factors or of geographical environment acting separately, they must be the result of some kind of interaction between them. In other words, the factor which we are seeking to identify is... not an entity but a relation.

The presence and potency of this duality in the causation of the civilizations... is admitted by a Modern Western archaeologist whose studies begin with a concentration on environment and end with an intuition of the mystery of life:
'Environment... is not the total causation in culture-shaping... . It is, beyond doubt, the most conspicuous single factor... . But there is still an indefinable factor which may best be designated quite frankly as x, the unknown quantity, apparently psychological in kind... . If x be not the most conspicuous factor in the matter, it certainly is the most important, the most fate-laden.' [Means, P.A.: Ancient Civilizations of the Andes, pp. 25-6]
In our present study of history this insistent theme of the super-human encounter has asserted itself already. At an early stage we observed that 'a society... is confronted in the course of its life by a succession of problems' and that 'the presentation of each problem is a challenge to undergo an ordeal'.


The Genesis of the Egyptiac Civilization

When dealing with environment in the previous chapter we assumed, as the Hellenic authors of the environment theory naturally assumed, that environment is a static factor; more particularly, that within the limits of 'historic' time the physical conditions presented by the Afrasian Steppe and the Nile Valley have been always the same as they are today... . But in fact we know that this has not been so. 

'While Northern Europe was covered in ice as far as the Harz, and the Alps and the Pyrenees were capped with glaciers, the Arctic high pressure deflected southwards the Atlantic rainstorms. [...] The parched Sahara enjoyed a regular rainfall, and farther east the showers were not only more bountiful than to-day but were distributed over the whole year, instead of being restricted to the winter... .

'We should expect in North Africa, Arabia, Persia and the Indus Valley parklands and savannahs, such as flourish to-day north of the Mediterranean... . While the mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros and the reindeer were browsing in France and Southern England, North Africa was supporting a fauna that is found to-day on the Zambesi in Rhodesia... .
'...it is reasonable to suspect that in this favourable and indeed stimulating environment man would make greater progress than in the ice-bound north.' [Childe, V. G.: New Light on the Most Ancient East, ch. ii]

But after the close of the Ice Age our Afrasian area began to experience a profound physical change in the direction of desiccation; and simultaneously two or more civilizations arose in an area which had previuosly, like all the rest of the inhabited world, been occupied solely by primitive societies of the paleolithic order. Our archaeologists encourage us to look upon the desiccation of Afrasia as a challenge to which the geneses of these civilizations were the responses. 
'Now we are on the brink of the great revolution, and soon we shall encounter men who are masters of their own food supply through possession of domesticated animals and the cultivation of cereals. It seems inevitable to connect that revolution with the crisis produced by the melting of the northern glaciers and consequent contraction of the Arctic high pressure over Europe and diversion of the Atlantic rainstorms from the South Mediterranean Zone to their present course across Central Europe. 
'That event would certainly tax the ingenuity of the inhabitants of the former grassland zone to the utmost... .'

The Genesis of the Sumeric Civilization

The desiccation of Afrasia likewise impelled the fathers of the Sumeric Civilization to come to grips with the jungle-swamp of the lower valley of the Tigris and Euphrates and to transform it [through canalization and draining] into the Land of Shinar. The material aspect of these two geneses almost coincide.

(1) Enough and Too Much

We have now reached a point at which we can bring our present argument to a head. We have ascertained that civilizations come to birth in environments that are unusually difficult and not unusually easy, and this has led us on to inquire whether or not this is an instance of some social law which may be expressed in the formula: 'the greater the challenge, the greater the stimulus'. 
When we turn from the physical to the human environment, we find the same. A challenge which has defeated one respondent is afterwards proved by the victorious response of some later competitor to be not insuperable. 
Let us consider, for example, the relation between the Hellenic Society and the North European barbarians. The pressure here was reciprocal, of each on the other, but let us confine our attention to the pressure of the Hellenic Society on the barbarians. As this civilization radiated deeper and deeper into the interior of the Continent one layer of barbarians after another was confronted with a question of life and death. was it going to succumb to the impact of this potent alien force and suffer a disintegration of its own social fabric in order to become food for assimilation into the tissues of the Hellenic body social? Or was it going to resist assimilation and be enrolled, in virtue of its resistance, in the recalcitrant external proletariat of the Hellenic Society, which would in due course be 'in at the death' of that society and gorge itself on its corpse? In short, would it be the carcass or the vulture? This challenge was presented successively to the Celts and the Teutons. The Celts after a long struggle broke down; after which the Teutons responded with success. 
[The] disintegration of the Celtic layer of European barbarism exposed the Teutonic layer, which lay next behind it, to the same challenge. [...] The Roman frontier reached the Elbe for a moment only, to withdraw immediately to the Rhine-Danube line and to remain there... . The Teutons, unlike the Celts, were proof against assaults of the Hellenic culture... . By the fifth century of the Christian Era, when the Goths and Vandals were harrying the Peloponnese and holding Rome to ransom and occupying Gaul and Spain and Africa, it was abundantly plain that the Teutons had succeeded where the Celts had failed; and this was proof that, after all, the pressure  of the Hellenic Civilization was not so severe that a successful response to it was impossible.
Again, the intrusion of Hellenism upon the Syriac World in the train of Alexander the Great presented a standing challenge to the Syriac Society. Was it, or was it not, to rise up against the intrusive civilization and cast it out? Confronted with this challenge, the Syriac Society made a number of attempts to respond, and these attempts all had one common feature. In every instance the anti-Hellenic reaction took a religious movement for its vehicle. Nevertheless there was a fundamental difference between the first four of these reactions and the last one. The Zoroastrian, the jewish, the Nestorian and the Monophysite reactions were failures; the Islamic reaction was a success.
The Zoroastrian and Jewish reactions were attempts to combat the ascendancy of Hellenism with the aid of religions already rife in the Syriac World before the Hellenic intrusion. In the strength of Zoroastrianism the Iranians in the eastern domain of the Syriac Civilization rose up against Hellenism and expelled it, within two centuries of Alexander's death, from all the reigioneast of the Euphrates. At that point, however, the Zoroastrian reaction reached its limit and the remnant of Alexander's conquest was salvaged for Hellenism by Rome. Nor did the Jewish reaction under the Maccabees succeed in its more audacious attempt to liberate the western homeland of the Syriac Civilization, within sight of the Meditarranean, by an uprising from within. The momentary triumph over the Seleucids was avenged by Rome. In the great Romano-Jewish was of A.D. 66-70, the Jewish community in Palestine was ground to powder, and the Abomination of Desolation, which the Maccabees had once cast out from the Holy of Holies, came back to stay when Hadrian planted on the site of Jerusalem the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. 
As for the Nestorian and Monophysite reactions, they were alternative attempts at turning against Hellenism a weapon which the intruding civilization had forged for itself from a blend of Hellenic and Syriac metal. IN the syncretistic religion of primitive Christianity the essence of the Syriac religious spirit had been Hellenized to a degree which rendered it congenial to Hllenic and uncongenial to Syriac souls. The Nestorian and Monophysite 'heresies' were both of them attempts to de-Hellenize Christianity, and both of them failed as reactions against the Hellenic intrusion. 
A Greek contemporary of the Emperor Heraclius who had witnessed the victory of the East Roman Empire in its last trial of strength with the Persian Sasanids and the victory of the Orthodox Christian hierarchy in its last trial of strength with Nestorian and Monophysite heretics, might have been betrayed, about the year 630 of the Christian Era, into giving thanks to God for having made the earthly trinity of Rome, Catholicism and Hellenism invincible. Yet at this very moment the fifth Syriac reaction against Hellenism was impending. The Emperor Heraclius himself was condemned not to taste of death until he had seen 'Umar the Successor of Muhammad the Prophet coming into his kingdom to undo, utterly and for ever, the work of all the Hellenizers of Syriac domains from Alexander onwards. For Islam succeeded where its predecessors had failed. It completed the eviction of Hellenism from the Syriac World. It reintegrated, in the Arab Caliphate, the Syriac universal state which Alexander had ruthlessly cut short, before its mission had been fulfilled, when he overthrew the Persian Achaemenidae. Finally, Islam endowed the Syriac Society, at last, with an indigenous universal church and thereby enabled it, after centuries of suspended animation, to give up the ghost in the assurance that it would not now pass away without leaving offspring; for the Islamic Church became the chrysalis out of which the new Arabic and Iranic civilizations were in due course to emerge.

Volume III




The Utopian programme [contained in Plato's Republic, Laws, and the last two books of Aristotle's Politics composed in the long aftermath of the catastrophe of the Peloponnesian War] proved a forlorn hope for the salvation of Hellas, and its barrenness was demonstrated experimentally, before Hellenic history had run its course, by the mass-production of artificially manufactured commonwealths in which the main Utopian precepts were duly transplanted into practice. The single commonwealth laid out on a patch of waste land in Crete, which is postulated in Plato's Laws, was actually multiplied a thousandfold in the city states founded by Alexander and the Seleucidae in partibus Orientalium and by the Romans in partibus Barbarorum during the next four centuries. In these 'Utopias in real life' the little bands of Greeks or Italians who were fortunate enough to be enrolled as colonists were liberated for their cultural task of making the light of Hellenism shine upon the outer darkness by having assigned to them an ample labour-force of 'Natives' to do their dirty work. 

In the second century after Christ, when the Hellenic World was enjoying an Indian Summer which contemporaries, and even posterity, long mistook for a Golden Age, it looked as though Plato's most audacious hopes had been fulfilled and transcended. From A.D. 96 to 180 a series of philosopher-kings sat upon a throne which dominated the entire Hellenic World, and a thousand city states were living side by side in peace and concord under this philosophic-imperial aegis. Yet the cessation of evils was only a pause, for all was not well beneath the surface. [...] ...the uninspired respectable prosperity of the second century was followed by the chaotic passionate misery of the third, when the fallahin [Arabic term usually translated as 'peasant'] turned and rent their masters. By the fourth century the tables had been completely turned; for the once privileged ruling class of the Roman municipalities, in so far as it survived at all, was now everywhere in chains. Chained to their kennels and with their tales between their legs, the conscript aldermen of the municipalities of the Roman Empire in extremis could hardly be recognized as the ideological descendants of Plato's magnificent 'human watch-dogs'. 


'It is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition or success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary' Walt Whitman

'I pondered... how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out to be not what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.' William Morris
 Civilizations, it would seem, grow through an elan which carries them from challenge through response to further challenge, and this growth has both outward and inward aspects. 

In considering first the progressive conquest of the external environment, we shall find it convenient to subdivide the external environment into the human environment,... and the physical environment constituted by non-human nature. Progressive conquest of the human environment will normally express itself in the form of geographical extension of the society in question, whereas progressive conquest of the non-human environment will normally express itself in the form of improvements in technique. Let us begin with the former... and see how far this deserves to be considered an adequate criterion of the real growth of a civilization.

 ...the Hellenic Society met the challenge of over-population by geographical expansion: ...after some two centuries (circa 750-550 B.C.) this expansion was brought to a halt by surrounding non-Hellenic powers. Thereafter the Hellenic Society was on the defensive, assaulted by the Persians from the east in its homelands and by the Carthaginians from the west in its more recently acquired domains. During this period, as Thucydides saw it, 'Hellas was repressed from all sides over a long period of time', and, as Herodotus saw it, 'was overwhelmed by more troubles than in the twenty preceding generations' [Thucydides, Bk. I, ch. 17; Herodotus, Bk. VI, ch. 98.]. The modern reader finds it difficult to realize that in these melancholy sentences the two greatest Greek historians are describing the age which, in the sight of posterity, stands out in retrospect as the acme of the Hellenic Civilization: the age in which the Hellenic genius performed those great acts of creation, in every field of social life, which have made Hellenism immortal. [...] ...there can be no disputing that, during this century, the elan of the growth of the Hellenic Civilization was greater than ever before or after. [...] ....the breakdown marked by the Atheno-Peloponnesian War was followed by a fresh outburst of geographical expansion-- the expansion of Hellenism overland, inaugurated by Alexander-- far surpassing in material scale the earlier maritime expansion of Hellas. During the two centuries that followed Alexander's passage of the Hellespont, Hellenism expanded in Asia and the Nile Valley at the expense of all the other civilizations that it encounted-- the Syriac, the Egyptiac, the Babylonic and the Indic. And for some two centuries after that it continued to expand, under the Roman aegis, in the barbarian hinterlands in Europe and North-West Africa. Yet these were the centuries during which the Hellenic Civilization was palpably in process of disintegration.
The history of almost every civilization furnishes examples of geographical expansion coinciding with deterioration in quality. 

...if we turn to the unfinished history of our own Western Civilization and consider its early expansions at the expense of the [other civilizations]..., we may agree that all these [expansions], like the early maritime expansion of Hellas, are examples of geographical enlargement neither accompanied nor followed by any arrest in the expanding civilization's true growth. But when we survey the resumed and this time world-wide expansion of recent centuries we can only pause and wonder.

We will now... consider whether the progressive conquest of the physical environment by improvements in technique will provide us with an adequate criterion of the true growth of a civilization.

This correlation is taken for granted in the classification invented by modern archaeologists, in which a supposed series of stages in the improvement of material technique is taken as indicative of a corresponding succession of chapters in the progress of civilization. In this scheme of thought, human progress is represented as a series of 'Ages' distinguished by technological labels: the Palaeolithic Age, the Neolithic Age, the Chalcolithic Age, the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, to which may be added the Machine Age in which we ourselves are privileged to live. In spite of the wide currency which this classification enjoys,... we can point out several grounds on which it is suspect even a priori.
It is suspect, in the first place, by reason of its very popularity, for it appeals to the preconception of a society which has been fascinated by its own recent technical triumphs. Its popularity is an illustration of the indubitable fact... that each generation is apt to design its history of the past in accordance with its own ephemeral scheme of thought. 

A second reason for regarding the technological classification of social progress with suspicion is because it is a manifest example of the tendency of a student to become the slave of the particular materials for study which chance has placed in his hands. ...because a discarded material apparatus leaves, and a discarded psychic apparatus does not leave, a tangible detritus, and because it is the business of the archaeologist to death with human detritus in the hope of extracting from it a knowledge of human history, the archaeological mind tends to picture Homo Sapiens only in his subordinate role of Homo Faber


The history of the development of technique, like the history of geographical expansion, has failed to provide us with a criterion of the growth of civilizations, but it does reveal a principle by which technical progress is governed, which may be described as a law of progressive simplication. The ponderous and bulky steam-engine... is replaced by the neat and handy internal-combustion engine which can take to the roads with the speed of a railway train and almost all the freedom of action of a pedestrian. Telegraphy with wires is replaced by telegraphy without wires. [...] The Copernican astronomy, which has replaced the Ptolemaic system, presents, in far simpler geometrical terms, an equally coherent explanation of a vastly wider range of movement of the heavenly bodies. 
Perhaps simplification is not quite an accurate, or at least no altogether an adequate, term for describing these changes. Simplification is a negative word and connotes omission and elimination, whereas what has happened in each of these cases is not a diminution but an enhancement of practical efficiency or of aesthetic satisfaction or of intellectual grasp. The result is not a loss but a gain; and this gain is the outcome of a process of simplication because the process liberates forces that have been imprisoned in a more meterial medium and thereby sets them free to work in a more ethereal medium with a greater potency. It involves not merely a simplification of apparatus but a consequent transfer of energy, or shift of emphasis, from some lower sphere of being or of action to a higher. Perhaps we shall be describing the process in a more illuminating way if we call it, not simplification but etherialization. 
 In the sphere of human control over physical nature this development has been described with a finely imaginative touch by a modern anthropologist [in 1929]:
'We are leaving the ground, we are getting out of touch, our tracks grow fainter. Flint lasts for ever, copper for a civilization, iron for generations, steel for a lifetime. Who will be able to map the route of the London-Peking air express when the Age of Movement is over, or to-day to say what is the path through the aether of the messages which are radiated and received? [Heard, Gerald: The Ascent of Humanity, p. 277-8.].

Our illustrations suggest that the criterion of growth, for which we are in search, and which we failed to discover in the conquest of the external environment, either human or physical, lies rather in a progressive change of emphasis and shifting of the scene of action out of this field into another field... . In this other field challenges do not impinge from outside but arise from within, and victorious responses do not take the form of surmounting external obstacles or of overcoming an external adversary, but manifest themselves in an inward self-articulation or self-determination.

...when a series of responses to challenges accumulates into a growth, we shall find, as this growth proceeds, that the field of action is shifting all the time from the external environment into the interior of the society's own body social. 

In Hellenic history, for example, we have seen that the earlier challenges all emanated from the external environment: the challenge of highland barbarism in Hellas itself and the Malthusian challenge, which was met by expansion overseas and involved as its consequence challenges from indigenous barbarians and rival civilizations, the challenges of these latter culminating in the simultaneous counter-attacks of Carthage and Persia in the first quarter of the fifth century B.C. Thereafter, however, this formidable challenge from the human environment was triumphantly surmounted in the fourth centuries beginning with Alexander's passage of the Hellenspont and continuing with the victories of Rome. Thanks to these triumphs, the Hellenic Society now enjoyed a respite of some five or six centuries during which no serious challenge from the external environment was presented to it. But this did not mean that during those centuries the Hellenic Society was exempt from challenges altogether. On the contrary, as we have already noted, these centuries were a period of decline; that is to say, a period in which Hellenism was confronted by challenges to which it was failing to respond with success. ...they were all of them internal challenges resulting from the victorious responce to the previous external challenges... . 

In the following chapters of Hellenic history the arms turned outwards in the conquests of Alexander and the Scipios were soon turned inwards in the civil wars of rival Macedonian diadochi and rival Roman dictators. [...] The cultural conflict between Hellenism and the Oriental civilizations-- Syriac and Egyptiac and Babylonic and Indic-- likewise reappeared within the bosom of the Hellenic Society as an internal crisis in Hellenic, or Hellenized, souls: the crisis that declared itself in the emergence of Isis-worship and Astrology and Mithraism and Christianity and a host of other syncretistic religions. 

They cease not fighting, East and West,
On the marches of my breast.
[Housman, A. E.: A Shropshire Lad, xxviii.]

In our own Western history, so far as it has gone up to date, we can detect a corresponding trend.

The only semblance of an effective external challenge to our society since the 'Osmanlis' second failure to take Vienna has been the challenge of Bolshevism which has confronted the Western World since Lenin and his associates made themselves masters of the Russian Empire in A.D. 1917 [which returned the seat of government back to the Kremlin]. ...even if one day the Communist dispensation were to fulfil the Russian Communists' hopes by spreading all over the face of the planet, a world-wide triumph of Communism over Capitalism would not mean the triumph of an alien culture, since Communism, unlike Islam, is itself derived from a Western source, being a reaction from and a criticism of the Western Capitalism that it combats. The adoption of this exotic Western doctrine as the revolutionary creed of twentieth-century Russia, so far from signifying that Western culture is in jeopardy, really show how potent its ascendancy has come to be. 

There is a profound ambiguity in the nature of Bolshevism which is manifested in Lenin's career. Did he come to fulfil or to destroy the work of Peter the Great? In re-transferring the capital of Russia from Peter's eccentric stronghold to a central position in the interior [the Kremlin, the ancient capital of Moscow], Lenin seems to be proclaiming himself the successor of the Arch-Priest Avvakum and the Old Believers and the Slavophils. Here, we might feel, is a prophet of Holy Russia, embodying the reaction of the Russian soul against the Western Civilization. Yet, when Lenin casts about for a creed, he borrows from a Westernized German Jew, Karl Marx. It is true that the Marxian creed comes nearer to a total repudiation of the Western order of society than any other creed of Western origin which a twentieth-century Russian prophet could have adopted. It was the negative and not the positive elements in the Marxian creed that made it congenial to a Russian revolutionary mind; and this explains why, in 1917, the still exotic apparatus of Western Capitalism in Russia was overthrown by an equally exotic Western anti-capitalist doctrine. ...we see Marxism being converted into an emotional and intellectual substitute for Orthodox Christianity, with Marx for its Moses and Lenin for its Messiah and their collected works for the scriptures of this new atheistic church militant. But the phenomena take on a different aspect when we turn our attention from faith to works and examine what Lenin and his successors have actually been doing to the Russian people. 
When we ask ourselves what is the significance of Stalin's Five Year Plan, we can only answer that it was an effort to mechanize agriculture as well as industry and transport, to change a nation of peasants into a nation of mechanics, to transform the old Russia into a new America. In other words, it was a latter-day attempt at Westernization so ambitious and radical and ruthless that it puts Peter the Great's work into the shade. The present rulers of Russia are working with demonic energy to ensure the triumph in Russia of the very civilization that they are denouncing in the world at large. No doubt they dream of creating a new society which will be American in equipment but Russian in soul-- though this is a strange dream to be dreamed by statesmen for whom a materialist interpretation of history is an article of faith! On Marxian principles we must expect that, if a Russian peasant is taught to live the life of an American mechanic, he will learn to think as the mechanic things, to feel as he feels and to desire what he desires. 

The same ambiguity is revealed in the career of Gandhi, whose involuntary furtherance of the same ubiquitous process of Westernization is still more ironical. The Hindu prophet sets out to sever the threads of cotton which have entangled India in the meshes of the Western World. 'Spin and weave our Indian cotton with your Indian hands', he preaches. 'Do not clothe yourselves with the products of Western power-looms; and do not, I conjure you, seek to drive out these alien products by setting up on Indian soil new Indian power-looms on the Western pattern.' [Editors note: in a television series in 198-?, Milton Friedman singled out the clothing manufacturing of India as a case in point for the need for the introduction of mechanization]. This message, which is Gandhi's real message, is not accepted by his countrymen. They revere him as a saint, but they only follow his guidance in so far as he resigns himself to leading them along the path of Westernization. And thus we see Gandhi to-day promoting a political movement with a Western programme-- the transformation of India into a sovereign independent parliamentary state--with all the western political apparatus of conferences, votes, platforms, newspapers and publicity. 

Corresponding transmutations of external into internal challenges have followed the triumph of the Western Civilization over its material environment. The triumphs of the so-called Industrial Revolution in the technical sphere notoriously created a host of problems in the economic and social spheres... .

...let us turn our eyes to the road of to-day on which a mechanical traffic hums and roars. On this road the problems of speed and haulage have been solved... . But... the problem of collisions has become the traffic problem par excellence. Hence on this latter-day road the problem is no longer technological but psychological. The old challenge of human relations between drivers who, having learned how to annihilate space, have thereby put themselves in constant danger of annihilating one another. 

Owing to the extraordinary progress which our latter-day inventors have made in harnessing the energies of physical nature and in organizing the concerted actions of millions of human beings, everything that is now done is our society is done, for good or evil, with tremendous 'drive'; and this has made the material consequences of actions and the moral responsibilities of agents far heavier than ever before.

'In the present-day thinkers attitude towards what is called mechanical progress we are conscious of a changed spirit. Admiration is tempered by criticism; complacency has given way to doubt; doubt is passing into alarm. There is a sense of perplexity and frustration, as in one who has gone a long way and finds he has taken the wrong turning. To go back is impossible: how shall he proceed. [...] An old exponent of applied mechanics may be forgiven if he expresses something of the disillusion with which, now standing aside, he watches the sweeping pageant of discovery and invention in which he used to take unbounded delight. It is impossible not to ask. Whither does this tremendous procession tend? What, after all, is its goal? What its probable influence upon the future of the human race?'
 These moving words propound a question which has been struggling to find expression in all our hearts; and they are words spoken with authority, for they were uttered by the President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in his opening address at the hundred-and-first annual meeting of that historic body. [Sir Alfred Ewing, as reported in The Times, 1st September, 1932.]

We conclude that a given series of successful responses to successive challenges is to be interpreted as a manifestation of growth if, as the series proceeds, the action tends to shift from the field of an external environment, physical or human, to the for interieur of the growing personality or civilization. In so far as this grows and continues to grow, it has to reckon less and less with challenges delivered by external forces and demanding responses on an outer battlefield, and more and more with challenges that are presented by itself to itself in an inner arena. Growth means that the growing personality or civilization tends to become its own environment and its own challenger and its own field of action. In other words, the criterion of growth is progress towards self-determination; and progress towards self-determination is a prosaic formula for describing the miracle by which Life enters into its Kingdom. 


'There are communities, such as those of bees and ants, where, though no continuity of substance exists between the members, yet all work for the whole and not for themselves and each is doomed to death if separated from the society of the rest.'

'There are colonies such as those of corals or of hydroid polyps where a number of animals, each of which by itself would unhesitatingly be called an individual, are found to be organically connected so that the living substance of one is continuous with that of all the rest... . Which is the individual now?'

'Histology then takes up the tale and shows that the majority of animals, including man, our primal type of individuality, are built up of a number of units, the so-called cells. Some of these have considerable independence; and it is soon forced upon us that they stand in much the same general relation to the whole mass as do the individuals of a colony of coral polyps, or better of siphonophora, to the whole colony. this conclusion becomes strengthened when we find that there exist a great number of free-living animals, the protozoa, including all the simplest forms known, which correspond  in all essentials, save their separate and independent existence, with the units building up the body of man... .'

'In a sense... the whole organic world constitutes a single great individual, vague and badly co-ordinated, it is true, but none the less a continuing whole with interdependent parts: if some accident were to remove all the green plants, or all the bacteria, the rest of Life would be unable to exist.' [Huxley, J.S.: The Individual in the Animal Kingdom, pp. 36-8 and 125.] 

Do these observations of organic nature hold good for mankind? Is the individual human being so far from possessing a Cyclopean independence that he is actually no more than a cell in the body social, or, on a wider view, a cellule in the vaster body of 'a single great individual' which is constituted by 'the whole organic world'? The well-known original frontispiece to Hobbes's Leviathan pictures the human body social as an organism built up out of a host of... individual human beings... . Herbert Spencer in the nineteenth century and Oswald Spengler in the twentieth have written of human societies as social organisms in sober earnest. To quote only from the latter:
'A civilization [Kultur] is born at the moment when, out of the primitive psychic conditions of a perpetually infantile humanity, a mighty soul awakes and extricates itself: a form out of the formless, a bounded and transitory existence out of the boundless and persistent. This soul comes to flower on the soil of a country with precise boundaries, to which it remains attached like a plant. Conversely a civilization dies if once this soul has realized the complete sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, creeds, arts, states and sciences, and thereupon goes back into the primitive psyche from which it originally emerged.' [Spengler, O.: Der Untergang des Abendlandes, vol. i, 15th-22nd ed., p. 153.] 

An effective criticism of the thesis of this passage may be found in the work of an English writer which happened to appear in the same year as Spengler's book.

'On the analogy of the physical sciences they [social theorists] have striven to analyse and explain society as mechanism, on the analogy of biology they have insisted on regarding it as an organism, on the analogy of mental science or philosophy they have persisted in treating it as a person, sometimes on the religious analogy they have come near to confusing it with a God.' [Cole, G.D.H.: Social Theory, p. 13.]

The inclination to introduce such analogies is merely an example of myth-making or fictional infirmity of historical minds to which we have already referred: the tendency to personify and label groups or institutions-- 'Britain', 'France', 'the Church', 'the Press', 'the Turf' and so on-- and to treat these abstractions as persons. It is sufficiently evident that the representation of a society as a personality or organism offers us no adequate expression of the society's relation to its individual members.

A society, we may say, is a product of the relations between individuals, and these relations of theirs arise from the coincidence of their individual fields of action. This coincidence combines the individual fields into a common ground, and this common ground is what we call a society. 

Society is a 'field of action' but the source of all action is in the individuals composing it. This truth is forcibly state by Bergson:
'We do not believe in the "unconscious" [factor] in history: "the great subterranean currents of thought", of which there has been so much talk, only flow in consequence of the fact that masses of men have been carried away by one or more of their own number... . It is useless to maintain that [social progress] takes place of itself, bit by bit, in virtue of the spiritual condition of the society at a certain period of its history. It is really a leap forward which is only taken when the society has made up its mind to try an experiment; this means that the society must have allowed itself to be convinced, or at any rate allowed itself to be shaken; and the shake is always given by somebody.' [Bergson, H.: Les Deux Sources de la Morale et de la Religion, pp. 333 and 373.]

The new specific character of these rare and superhuman souls that break the vicious circle of primitive human social life and resume the work of creation may be described as personality. It is through the inward development of personality that individual human beings are able to perform those creative acts, in the outward field of action, that cause the growths of human societies.

In every growing civilization the great majority of the participant individuals are in the same stagnant quiescent condition as the members of a static primitive society. [...] The superior personalities, geniuses, mystics or supermen-- call them what you will-- are no more than a leaven in the lump of ordinary humanity.

The problem of securing that the uncreative majority shall in fact follow the creative minority's lead appears to have two solutions, the one practical and the other ideal.

'The one is by way of drill (dressage)... the other is by mysticism... . The first method inculcates a morality consisting of impersonal habits; the second induces imitation of another personality, and even a spiritual union, a more or less complete identification with it.' [Op. cit., pp. 98-9.]

Can this... social drill... really serve as an effective substitute for the 'strenuous intellectual communion and intimate personal intercourse' which Plato affirmed to be the only means of transmitting a philosophy from one individual to another? It can only be replied that the inertia of mankind in the mass has never in fact been overcome by the exclusive use of the Platonic method; and that, in order to draw the inert majority along in the active minority's train, the ideal method of direct individual inspiration has always had to be reinforced by the practical method of wholesale social drill... .


...creative personalities when they are taking the mystic path... pass first out of action into ecstasy and then out of ecstasy into action on a new and higher plane. [...] The withdrawal makes it possible for the personality to realize powers within himself which might have remained dormant if he had not been released for the time being from his social toils and trammels. Such a withdrawal may be a voluntary action on his part or it may be forced upon him by circumstances beyond his control; in either case the withdrawal iis an opportunity, and perhaps a necessary condition, for the anchorite's transfiguration; 'anchorite', in the original Greek, means literally 'one who goes apart'; but a transfiguration in solitude can have no purpose, and perhaps even no meaning, except as a prelude to the return of the transfigured personality into the social milieu out of which he had originally come... . The return is the essence of the whole movement as well as it final cause. 
This is apparent in the Syriac myth of Moses' solitary ascent of mount Sinai. [...] Yet Yahweh's whole purpose in calling Moses up is to send him down again as the bearer of a new law which Moses is to communicate to the rest of the people because they are incapable of coming up and receiving the communication themselves.  

Plato's simile of the Cave. In this passage Plato likens the ordinary run of mankind to prisoners in a cave, standing with their backs to the light and gazing at shadows cast upon a screen by the realities which are moving about behind them. The prisoners take it for granted that the shadows which they see on the back wall of the cave are the ultimate realities, since these are the only things that they have ever been able to see. Plato then imagines a single prisoner being suddenly released and compelled to turn around and face the light and walk out into the open. The first result of this re-orientation of vision is that the liberated prisoner is dazzled and confused. but not for long; for the faulty of vision is already in him and his eyes gradually inform him of the nature of the real world. He is then sent back to his cave again; and he is just as much dazzled and confused by the twilight now as he was by the sunlight before. As he formerly regretted his translation into the sunlight, so he now regrets his re-translation into the twilight, and with better reason; for in returning to his old companions in the cave who have never seen the sunlight he will be exposed to the risk of a hostile reception. 

'There will assuredly be laughter at his expense, and it will be said of him that the only result of his escapade up there is that he has comeback with his eyesight ruined. Moral: it is a fool's fame even to make the attempt to to up aloft; "and as for the busybody who goes in for all this liberating and translating to higher spheres, if ever we have a chance to catch him and kill him, we will certainly take it".'

Readers of Robert Browning's poetry may be reminded at this point of his fantasy of Lazarus.

Browning's Lazaraus failed to make his 'return' in any effective shape; he became neither a prophet nor a martyr, but suffered the returning Platonic philosopher's less exacting alternative fate of being tolerated but ignored ['regarded as a quite harmless variety of the village idiot']. Plato himself has painted the ordeal of the return in such unattractive colours that it is almost surprising to find him imposing it remorselessly on his elect philosophers. [...] The purpose and meaning of their [the 'elect'] enlightenment is that they should become philosopher-kings. The path which Plato lays down for them is unmistakably identical with the path that has been trodden by the Christian mystics.

Whatever may be the interests of the prisoners, the philosopher, on Plato's showing, cannot minister to the needs o mankind without sacrificing his own happiness and his own perfection. For, when once he has attained enlightenment, the best thing for the philosopher himself is to remain in the light outside the cave and live there happy ever after. it was indeed a fundamental tenet of Hellenic philosophy that the best state of life is the state of contemplation-- the Greek word for whcih has become our English word 'theory' which we habitually use as the opposite of 'practice'. The life of contemplation is placed by Pythagoras above the life of action, and this doctrine runs through the whole Hellenic philosophical tradition down to the Neoplatonists living in the latest age of the Hellenic Society in its dissolution. Plato effects to believe that his philosophers will consent to take a hand in the work of the world from a sheer sense of duty, but in fact they did not; and their refusal may be part of the explanation of the problem why the breakdown which the Hellenic Civilization had suffered in the generation before Plato was never retrieved. [...] Believing that the ecstasy and not the return was the be-all and end-all of the spiritual Odyssey on which they had embarked, they saw nothing but a sacrifice on the altar of duty in the painful passage from ecstasy to return which was really the purpose and culmination of the movement in which they were engaged. Their mystical experience lacked the cardinal Christian virtue of love which inspires the Christian mystic to pass direct from the heights of communion to the slums, moral and material, of the unredeemed workaday world. 

One mythical variant of the motif [of withdrawal and transfiguration leading up to a return in glory and power] is the story of the foundling. A babe born to a royal heritage is cast away in infancy... . In the next stage of the story the infant castaway is miraculously saved alive, and in the third and last chapter the child of destiny, now grown to manhood and wrought to a heroic temper by the hardships through which the has passed, returns in power and glory to enter into his kingdom. 
In the story of Jesus the Withdrawal-and-Return motif perpetually recurs. Jesus is the babe born to a royal heritage-- a scion of David or a son of God himself-- who is cast away in infancy. He comes down from Heaven to be born on Earth; He is born in David's own city of Bethlehem, yet finds no room in the inn and has to be laid in a manger, like Moses in his ark or Perseus in his chest. [...] Thereafter He is saved Herod's murderous design by being taken away privily to Egypt, as Moses is saved from Pharoah's murderous design by being hidden in the bulrushes... . [...] When Jesus becomes conscious of His mission, upon His baptism by John, He withdraws into the wilderness for forty days and returns from His Temptation there in the power of the spirit. Thereafter, when Jesus realizes that His mission is to be lead to His death, He withdraws again into the 'high mountain apart' which is the scene of His Transfiguration, and returns from this experience resigned and resolved to die. Thereafter, again, when He duly suffers the death of mortal man in the Crucifixion, He descends into the tomb in order to rise immortal in the Resurrection. And last of all, in the Ascension, He withdraws from Earth to Heaven in order to 'come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: whose Kingdom shall have no end'.

The flash of intuition in which the Christian concept of the Second Coming was conceived must evidently have been the response to a particular challenge..., and the critics... depreciate this Christian doctrine on the ground that it originated in a disappointment: the disappointment of the primitive Christian community when they realized that their Master had actually come and gone without the looked-for result. He had been put to death, and, as far as could be seen, His death had left His followers without prospects. If they were to find heart to carry on their Master's mission, they must draw the sting of failure from their Master's career by projecting this career from the past into the future; they must preach that He was to come again in power and glory.

Similarly the Shi'ite community in the Muslim World, when they had lost their battle and became a persecuted sect, conceived the idea that the Twelfth Imam... had not died but had disappeared into a cave from which the continued to provide spiritual and temporal guidance for his people, and that one day he would reappear as the promised Mahdi and bring the long reign of tyranny to an end.

[P. 225]


Muhammad was born into the Arabian external proleteriat of the Roman Empire in an age when the relations between the Empire and Arabia were coming to a crisis. At the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries of the Christian Era the saturation-point had been reached in the impregnation of Arabia with cultural influences from the Empire. Some reaction from Arabia, in the form of a counter-discharge of energy, was bound to ensue; it was the career of Muhammad (whose lifetime was circa A.D. 570-632) that decided the form that this reaction was to take... .
There were two features in the social life of the Roman Empire in Muhammad's day that... , in Arabia,... were both conspicuous by their absence. The first of these features was monotheism in religion. The second was law and order in government. Muhammad's life-work consisted in translating each of these elements in the social fabric of 'Rum' into an Arabian vernacular version and incorporating both his Arabianized monotheism and his Arabianized imperium into a single master-institution-- the all-embracing institution of Islam-- to which he succeeded in imparting such titanic driving-force that the new dispensation... burst the bounds of the peninsula and captivated the entire Syriac World from the shores of the Atlantic to the coasts of the Eurasian Steppe.

Muhammad's original entry upon a purely religious mission was a sequel to his return to the parochial life of Arabia after a partial withdrawal of some fifteen years' duration into the life of a caravan-trader between the Arabian oases and the Syrian desert-ports of the Roman Empire along the fringes of the North Arabian Steppe. The second, or politico-religious, stage in Muhammad's career was inaugurated by the Prophet's withdrawal or Hegira (Hijrah) from his native oasis of Mecca to the rival oasis of Yathrib, thenceforth known par excellence as Medina: 'the City' (of the Prophet). In the Hijrah,... Muhammad left Mecca as a hunted fugitive. After a seven years' absence (A.D. 622-9) he returned to Mecca, not as an amnestied exile, but as lord and master of half of Arabia.

Cont. here

Volume IV


One of the most conspicuous marks of disintegration, as we have already noticed, is... when disintegrating civilizations purchases a reprieve by submitting to forcible political unification in a universal state. For a Western student the classic example is the Roman Empire into which the Hellenic Society was forcibly gathered up in the penultimate chapter of its history.

We have... described the nature of these breakdowns in non-material terms as a loss of creative power in the souls of creative individuals or minorities, a loss which divests them of their magic power to influence the souls of the uncreative masses. Where there is no creation there is no mimesis. The piper who has lost his cunning can no longer conjure the feet of the multitude into a dance; and if, in rage and panic, he now attempts to convert himself into a drill-sergeant or a slave-driver, and to coerce by physical force a people that he can now no longer lead by his old magnetic charms, then all the more surely and swiftly he defeats his own intention; for the followers who had merely flagged and fallen out of step as the heavenly music died away will be stung by a touch of the whip into active rebellion.
...when... a creative minority degenerates into a dominant minority which attempts to retain by force a position that it has ceased to merit, this change in the character of the ruling element provokes, on the other side, the secession of a proletariat which no longer admires and imitates its rulers and revolts against its servitude. We have also seen that this proletariat, when it asserts itself, is divided from the outset into two distinct parts. There is an internal proletariat, prostrate and recalcitrant, and an external proletariat beyond the frontiers who now violently resist incorporation.
On this showing, the nature of the breakdowns of civilization can be summed up in three points: a failure of creative power in the minority, an answering withdrawal of mimesis on the part of the majority and a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole.


What... causes the breakdowns of civilizations?

One of the perennial infirmities of human beings is to ascribe their own failure to forces that are entirely beyond their control. ...in the decline and fall of the Hellenic Civilization it was a commonplace of various schools of philosophers to explain the social decay which they deplored but could not arrest as the incidental and inevitable effect of an all-pervasive onset of 'cosmic senescence'. This was the philosophy of Lucretius (cf. De Rerum Natura, Bk. II, 11. 1144-74) in the last generation of the Hellenic time of troubles, and the same theme recurs in a work... written by one of the Fathers of the Western Church, St. Cyprian, when the Hellenic universal state was beginning to break up three hundred years later. He writes:

You ought to be aware that the age is now senile. It has not now the stamina that used to make it upstanding, nor the vigour and robustness that used to make it strong... . There is a diminution in the winter rains that give nourishment to the seeds in the earth, and in the summer heats that ripen the harvest... . This is the sentence that has been passed upon the World; this is the law of God; that what has been must die, and what has grown up must grow old.'

Modern physical science has knocked the bottom out of this theory... . [...] Sir James Jeans writes:

'Taking a very gloomy view of the future of the human race, let us suppose that it can only expect to survive for two thousand million years longer, a period about equal to the past age of the Earth. ...Humanity, although it has been born in a house only seventy years old, is itself only three days old... . Utterly inexperienced beings, we are standing at the first flush of the dawn of civilization... . In time the glory of the morning must fade into the light of common day, and this, in some far distant age, will give place to evening twilight, presaging the final eternal night. But we children of the dawn need give but little thought to the far-off sunset.' [Jeans, Sir J.: Eos: or the Wider Aspects of Cosmogony, pp. 12-13, 83-4.]

However, our latter-day Western advocates of a predestinarian or deterministic explanation of the breakdowns of civilizations do not attempt to link up the destinies of these human institutions with the destiny of the Physical Universe as a whole. They appeal instead to a law of senescence and death with a shorter wave-length, for which they claim jurisdiction over the whole kingdom of life on this planet. Spengler, whose method is to set up a metaphor and then proceed to argue from it as if it were a law based on observed phenomena, declares that every civilization passes through the same succession of ages as a human being; but his eloquence on this theme nowhere amounts to proof, and we have already noticed that societies are not in any sense living organisms.

We may dismiss the theory that breakdowns occur when each civilization draws near the close of its biological life-span, because civilizations are entities of a kind that is not subject to the laws of biology... .

We have still to consider one further hypothesis, generally referred to as the cyclical theory of history.
The invention of this theory of cycles in the history of Mankind was a natural corollary to the sensational astronomical discovery, apparently made in the Babylonic Society at some date between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C. [editors note: 'Chaldean astronomy'], that the three conspicuous and familiar cycles-- the day-and-night, the lunar month and the solar year-- were not the only examples of periodic recurrence in the movements of the heavenly bodies; that there was also a larger co-ordination of stellar movements embracing all the planets as well as Earth, Moon and Sun; and that 'the music of the spheres', which was made by the harmony of this heavenly chorus, came round full circle, chord for chord, in a great cycle which dwarfed the solar year into insignificance. The inference was that the annual birth and death of vegetation, which was manifestly governed by the solar cycle, had its counterpart in a recurrent birth and death of all things on a time-scale of the cosmic cycle.
The interpretation of human history in these cyclic terms evidently fascinated Plato (Timaeus, 21 E-23 C, and Politicus, 269 C-273 E), and the same doctrine reappears in one of the most famous passages in Virgil, from the Fourth Eclogue:-

'Already the last age foretold in the Cumaean prophecy has come;
The great order of the ages comes to birth again afresh.
Already the Virgin and the Golden Age are returning;
Already a new race is being sent down from High Heaven...
There will be another Tiphys and another Argo to carry a chosen band of heroes.
The old wars will be refought and once again great Achilles will be sent to Troy.'
[Editors note: Thucydides, in his narritive of the Paloponnesian War, says that he is concerned not with the fabulous in History but the truth precisely because it provides not only "a knowledge of the past" but also thereby "of the future also, which will surely, after the course of human things, represent again hereafter, if not the very image, yet the near resemblance of the past-- if such shall judge my work to be profitable, I shall be well content.' Note: recall that Toynbee finds in the outbreak of the Great War an echo of the events of 431 B.C.]

Shelley in the last chorus of his Hellas... begins as a Virgilian reminiscence and ends on a note which is altogether Shelley's own:
THE world's great age begins anew,
  The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
  Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
  From waves serener far;
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
  Against the morning star;
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.
A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
  Fraught with a later prize;
Another Orpheus sings again,
  And loves, and weeps, and dies;
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.
O write no more the tale of Troy,
  If earth Death's scroll must be—
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
  Which dawns upon the free,
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.
Another Athens shall arise,
  And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
  The splendour of its prime;
And leave, if naught so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven can give.
Saturn and Love their long repose
  Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than One who rose,
  Than many unsubdued:
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
But votive tears and symbol flowers.
O cease! must hate and death return?
  Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
  Of bitter prophecy!
The world is weary of the past—
O might it die or rest at last!
If the law of the Universe is really the sardonic plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose [“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”], no wonder that the poet cries, in Buddhist mood, for release from the wheel of existence, which may be a thing of beauty so long as it is merely guiding the stars in their courses, but which is an intolerable treadmill for our human feet.
Does reason constrain us to believe, quite apart from any alleged influence of the stars, in a cyclical movement of human history? Have we not, in the course of this Study, ourselves given encouragement to such a supposition? What of those movements of Yin and Yang, Challenge and Responce, Withdrawal and Return, Apparentation and Affiliation, which we have elucidated? Are they not variations on the trite theme that 'History repeats itself'?
Certainly, in the movement of all these forces that weave the web of human history, there is an obvious element of recurrence. Yet the shuttle which shoots backwards and forwards across the loom of Time in a perpetual to-and-fro is all this time bringing into existence a tapestry in which there is manifestly a developing design and not simply an endless repetition of the same pattern [editors note: recall the phrase attributed to Mark Twain 'History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes']. This, too, we have seen again and again. The metaphor of the wheel in itself offers an illustration of recurrence being concurrent with progress. The movement of the wheel is admittedly repetitive in relation to the wheel's own axle, but the wheel has only been made and fitted to its axle in order to give mobility to a vehicle of which the wheel is merely a part, and the fact that the vehicle, which is the wheel's raison d'etre, can only move in virtue of the wheel's circular movement round its axle does not compel the vehicle itself to travel like a merry-go-round in a circular track. 
This harmony of two diverse movements-- a major irreversible movement which is born on the wings of a minor repetitive movement-- is perhaps the essence of what we mean by rhythm... . [...] The sombre cycle of birth, reproduction and death has made possible the evolution of all the higher animals up to Man. [...] The planetary 'Great Year' [editors note: 'procession of the equinox'] itself, which is perhaps the origin of the whole cyclic philosophy, can no longer be mistaken for the ultimate and all-embracing movement of a stellar cosmos in which our local solar system has now dwindled to the diminutiveness of a speck of dust under the mighty magnifying lenses of our latter-day Western asrtronomy. The repetitive 'music of the spheres' dies down to a mere subsidiary accompaniment... in an expanding universe of star-clusters which are apparently receding from one another with incredible velocity... . 
Thus the detection of periodic repetitive movements in our analysis of the process of civilization does not imply that the process itself is of the same cyclic order as they are. On the contrary, if any inference can legitimately be drawn from the periodicity of these minor movements, we may rather infer that the major movement which they bear along is not recurrent but progressive. Humanity is not an Ixion bound for ever to his wheel nor a Sisyphus for ever rolling his stone to the summit of the same mountain and helplessly watching it roll down again.
This is a message of encouragement for us children of the Western Civilization as we drift to-day alone, with none but stricken civilizations around us.



...the view has been widely held that civilizations, like primitive societies, lose their lives as the result of successful assaults upon them on the part of external powers; and a classic exposition of this view is given by Edward Gibbon in The History of the Decline and fall of the Roman Empire. [...] The Hellenic Society, embodied in a Roman Empire which was at its zenith in the Age of the Antonines, is represented as having been overthrown by a simultaneous assault from two alien enemies attacking on two different fronts: the North European barbarians issuing out of the no-man's-land beyond the Danube and the Rhine and the Christian Church emerging from the subjugated but never assimilated Oriental provinces. 
It never occurred to Gibbon that the Age of the Antonines was not the summer but the 'Indian summer' of Hellenic history. The degree of his hallucination is betrayed by the very title of his great work. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire! The author of a history that bears that name and that starts in the second century of the Christian Era is surely beginning his narrative at a point that is very near the end of the actual story. For the 'intelligible field of historical study' with which Gibbon is concerned is not the Roman Empire but the Hellenic Civilization, of whose far-advanced disintegration the Roman Empire itself was a monumental symptom. [...] ...for this Empire was already doomed before it was established. It was doomed because the establishment of this universal state was nothing but a rally which could delay, but not permanently arrest, the already irretrievable ruin of the Hellenic Society.
If Gibbon had set himself to tell this longer story from its beginning he would have found that 'the triumph of Barbarism and Religion' was not the plot of the piece, but only a nepilogue to it-- not the cause of the breakdown but only an inevitable accompaniment of a dissolution in which the long process of disintegration was bound to end. 
In these circumstances the historian-coroner would not concentrate his attention on the epilogue but would try to determine exactly when and how the suicide had first laid violent hands upon himself. In prospecting for a date he would probably lay his finger on the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C.... . [...] In any case he would declare that the mortal blow was delivered six hundred years earlier than Gibbon supposed, and that the hand that dealt it was the victim's own.

[Fill in gap here a little, i.e., p 265]

...in the history of the Orthodox Christian Society [the 'Eastern Roman Empire'] the last act has been, not 'the triumph of Barbarism and Religion', but the triumph of an alien civilization which has been swallowing the moribund society whole and has been incorporating its fabric into its own social tissues.
We have stumbled here upon an alternative way in which a civilization may lose its identity. 'The triumph of Barbarism and Religion' means that the moribund society has been thrown on to the scrap-heap by an iconoclastic revolt on the part of its own external and internal prolitariats, in order that one or other of these insurgent forces may win a free field for bringing a new society to birth. In this event the older society passes away, yet in a sense it still lives on vicariously, in the younger civilization's life, through the relationship which we have learnt to call 'Apparentation and Affiliation'. In the alternative event, when the old civilization is not thrown on to the scrap-heap to make way for its offspring but is swallowed and assimilated by one of its own contemporaries, the loss of identity is manifestly more complete in one sense though less so in another.

The instance in which this process of extinction through assimilation has come to our notice is the incorporation of the main body of the Orthodox Christian Society into the body social of our own Western Civilization. But we can see at once that all the other extant civilizations are in course of travelling along the same road. This is the current history of the offshoot of Orthodox Christendom in Russia; of the Islamic and Hindu societies; and of both branches of the Far Eastern Society. [...] We can see, too, that a number of the civilizations now extinct lost their identity in the same way. The process of Westernization... was brought to bear on the Mexic and Andean societies of the New World nearly two centuries earlier, and in both these cases the process seems now to be virtually complete. The Babylonic Society was incorporated into the Syriac Society in the last century B.C., and the Egyptiac Society was absorbed into the same Syriac body social a few centuries later. This Syriac assimilation of the Egyptiac Society-- the longest lived and most firmly compacted and unified civilization that has ever yet been seen-- is perhaps the most extraordinary feat of social assimilation so far known. 
If we now glance at the group of living civilizations that are in process of being assimiliated by our own Western Civilization, we shall find that the process is proceeding at different paces on different planes.
On the economic plane every one of these societies has been caught in the network of relations which our Modern Western Industrialism has spread all over the habitable world.

On the political plane, also, the children of all these apparently moribund civilizations have been seeking admission to membership of the Western comity of states through various doors. On the cultural plane, however, there is no uniform corresponding tendency. [...] Arabs, Persians, Hindus, Chinese and even Japanese are accepting our Western culture with conscious mental and moral reservations, in so far as they are accepting it at all. As for the Russians, the equivocal character of their response to the challenge from the West has been considered on an earlier page and in another connexion (see pp. 239-40).
On this showing, the present tendency towards a unification of the World within a Western framework on the economic, political and cultural planes alike may prove to be neither so far advanced nor so well assured of ultimate success as it would appear to be at first sight.


In all the cases reviewed the most that an alien enemy has achieved has been to give an expiring suicide his coup de grace.

...the normal effect of blows and pressures from outside is stimulating and not destructive; and, if this thesis is accepted, it confirms our conclusion that a loss of command over the human environment is not the cause of the breakdowns of civilizations.



The conclusion at which we have arrived at the end of a rather laborious search has been divined with sure intuition by a modern Western poet:

In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:
We are betrayed by what is false within.
[Meredith's Love's Grave]
What is the weakness which exposes a growing civilization to the risk of stumbling and falling in mid-career and losing its Promethean elan?

Growth is the work of creative personalities and creative minorities; they cannot go on moving forward themselves unless they can contrive to carry their fellows with them in their advance... . [...] ...the only means by which mankind in the mass can be set in motion towards a goal beyond itself is by enlisting the primitive and universal faculty of mimesis. For this mimesis is a kind of social drill; and the dull ears that are deaf to the unearthly music of Orpheus' lyre are well attuned to the drill sergeant's word of command.

...just because mimesis is a kind of drill, it is a kind of mechanization of human life and movement.

When we speak of 'an ingenious mechanism' or 'a skilled mechanic', the words call up the idea of a triumph of life over matter, of human skill over physical obstacles. [...] In drilling his platoon the sergeant expands himself into a Briareus whose hundred arms and legs obey his will almost as promptly as if they had been organically his own.

But, when we have lost ourselves in admiration of these natural and human mechanical triumphs, it is disconcerting to be reminded that there are other phrases-- 'machine-made goods', 'mechanical behaviour'-- in which the connotation of the word 'machine' is exactly the reverse, suggesting not the triumph of life over matter but the triumph of matter over life. Though machinery be designed to be the slave of man, it is also possible for man to become the slave of his machines. A living organism which is ninety per cent. mechanism will have greater opportunity or capacity for creativity than an organism which is fifty per cent. mechanism, as Socrates will have more time and opportunity to discover the secret of the Universe if he has not got to cook his own meals, but the organism that is a hundred per cent. mechanism is a robot.
Thus a risk of catastrophe is inherent in the use of the faculty of mimesis which is the vehicle of mechanization in the social relationships of human beings... .

[cont. p278]

Volume V



Cited as 'a letter to the author':
I do not think the danger before us is anarchy, but despotism, the loss of spiritual freedom, the totalitarian state, perhaps a universal world totalitarian state. As a consequence of strife between nations or classes there might be local and temporary anarchy, a passing phase. Anarchy is essentially weak, and in an anarchic world any firmly organized group with rational organization and scientific knowledge could spread its dominion over the rest [Editors note: India, it was said, was subjected to many successive conquests for this reason]. And, as an alternative to anarchy, the World would welcome the despotic state. Then the World might enter upon a period of spiritual 'petrification', a terrible order which for the higher activities of the human spirit would be death. The petrification of the Roman Empire and the petrification of China would appear less rigid because [in our case] the ruling group would have much greater scientific means of power. (Do you know Macaulay's essay on 'History'? He argues that the barbarian invasions were a blessing in the long run because they broke up the petrification. "It cost Europe a thousand years of barbarism to escape the fate of China." There would be no barbarian races to break up a future world totalitarian state.)
It seems to me possible that in such a totalitarian state, while philosophy and poetry would languish, scientific research might go on with continuous fresh discoveries. ... I think, generally speaking, natural science may florish under a despotism. It is to the interest of the ruling group to encourage what may increase their means of power. That, not anarchy, is for me the nightmare ahead, if we do not find a way of ending our present fratricidal strife. But there is the Christian Church there, a factor to be reckoned with. It may have to undergo martyrdom, conquer the scientific rationalist world-state of the future.

A violent intrusion of the Hellenic Society upon the Syriac World broke the Syriac universal state in pieces long before its role was played out... . [Both Judaism and Zoroastrianism] each on its own ground,... became champions of the Syriac Civilization in its struggle against an intrusive Hellenism. Judaism, in its advanced western position within sight of the Mediterranean, was inevitably cast for the forlorn hope, and it duly broke itself against the material power of Rome in the Romano-Jewish wars of A.D. 66-70, 115-17 and 132-5.

[Small gap]

Two successive failures [Zororastrianism and Judaism, and Nestorianism and Monophysitism]... did not reduce the militant Syriac opponents of Hellenism to apathy and despair. A third attempt followed and was crowned with success; and this final political triumph of the Syriac society over Hellenism was achieved through the instrumentality of yet another religion of Syriac origin. At long last Islam overthrew the Roman Empire in South-Western Asia and North Africa and provided a universal church for a reconstructed Syriac universal state, the 'Abbasid Caliphate.'

The true hall-marks of the proletarian is neither poverty nor humble birth but a consciousness-- and the resentment that this consciousness inspires-- of being disinherited from his ancestral place in society.

The German Jew Karl Marx... has painted, in colours borrowed from the apocalyptic visions of a repudiated religious tradition, a tremendous picture of the secession of a proletariat and the ensuing class war. The immense impression which the Marxian materialist apocalypse has made upon so many millions of minds is in part due to the political militancy of the Marxian diagram; for, while this 'blue-print' is the kernel of a general philosophy of history, it is also a revolutionary call to arms. Whether the invention and vogue of this Marxian formula of the class war are to be taken as signs that our Western Society has its feet already set upon the path of disintegration, is a question which will occupy us in a later part of this Study, when we come to look into the prospects of this Western Civilization of ours. In this place we have cited Marx... because he is the classic exponent of class war for our world in our age; and, second, because his formula conforms to the traditional Zoroastrian and Jewish and Christian apocalyptic pattern... .
According to the Communist prophet... the class war is bound to issue in a victorious proletarian revolution; but this bloody culmination of the struggle will also be the end of it, for the victory of the proletariat will be decisive and definitive and the 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat', by which the fruits of the victory are to be harvested during the post-revolutionary period, is not to be a permanent institution. A time is to come when a new society which has been classless from birth will be old enough and strong enough to dispense with the dictatorship. Indeed, in its final and permanent acme of well-being the New Society of the Marxian Millennium will be able to cast away not only the Dictatorship of the Proletariat but also every other institutional crutch, including the state itself.
The interest of the Marxian eschatology for our present inquiry lies in the surprising fact that this lingering political shadow of a vanished religious belief does accurately plot out the actual course which the class war or horizontal schism in a broken-down society is apt to follow as a matter of historical fact.

Volume VI


XXIV. The Mirage of Immortality

In the history of the Roman Empire, which was the universal state of the Hellenic civilization, we find the generation that had witnessed the establishment of the Pax Augusta asserting, in evidently sincere good faith, that the Empire and the City that had built it have been endowed with a common immortality. Tibullus (circa 54-18 B.C.) signs of 'the walls of the eternal city' while Virgil (70-19 B.C.) makes his Iuppiter, speaking of the future Roman scions of Aeneas' race, say: 'I give them empire without end.' Livy writes with the same assurance of 'the city founded for eternity'.
The shock administrated by the fall of Rome in A.D. 410 to the citizens of a transient universal state which they had mistaken for an everlasting habitation [...] was felt from Palestine to Gaul... .
One manifest cause... of the persistence of the belief in immortality of the universal state is the impressiveness of the institution itself... . A universal state captivates hearts and minds because it is the embodiment of a rally from the long-unhalted rout of a Time of Troubles, and it was this aspect of the Roman Empire that eventually won the admiration of originally hostile Greek men of letters, writing in the Age of the Antonines, which Gibbon long afterwards was to adjudge the period when the human race attained its highest point of felicity.
'There is no salvation in the exercise of a dominion divorced from power. To find oneself under the dominion of one's superiors is a "second best" alternative; but this "second best" proved to be the best of all in our present experience of the roman Empire. This happy experience has moved the whole World to cleave to Rome with might and main. The World would no more think of seceding Rome than a ship's crew would think of parting company with the pilot. You must have seen bats in a cave clinging tight to one another and to the rocks; and this is an apt image of the whole World's dependence on Rome. In every heart today the focus of anxiety is the fear of becoming detached from the cluster. The thought of being abandoned by Rome is so appalling that it precludes any thought of wantonly abandoning her.
'There is an end of those disputes over sovereignty and prestige which were the causes of the outbreak of all the wars of the past; and, while some of the nations, like noiselessly flowing water, are delightfully quiet—rejoicing in their release from toil and trouble, and aware at last that all their old struggles were to no purpose—there are other nations which do not even know of remember whether they once sat in the seat of power. In fact we are witnessing a new version of the Pamphylian's myth (or is it Plato's own?). At a moment when the states of the World were already laid out on the funeral pyre as the victims of their own fratricidal strife and turmoil, they were all at once presented with the [Roman] dominion and straightway came to life again. How they arrived at this condition they are unable to say. They know nothing about it, and can only marvel at their present wellbeing. They are like sleepers awakened who have come to themselves and now dismiss from their thoughts the dreams that obsessed them only a moment ago. They no longer find it credible that there were ever such things as wars....The entire Inhabited World now keeps perpetual holiday....so that the only people who still need pity for the good things that they are missing are those outside your empire—if there are any such people left....' [Aristeides, P. Aelius (A.D. 117-189): In Romam.]

This quaint scepticism on the question whether there were in fact any people worth mentioning outside the Roman Empire is characteristic, and is our justification for calling such institutions universal states. They were universal not geographically but psychologically. 

On the morrow of the breakdown of the Hellenic society Plato... had idealized the comparative stability of the Egytpiac culture; and a thousand years later, when this Egyptiac culture was still in being while the Hellenic civilization had arrived at its last agonies, the last of the Neoplatonists pushed their reputed master's sentiment to an almost frenzied pitch of uncritical admiration.
Thanks to the obstinacy of the Egyptiac universal state in again and again insisting on returning to life after its body had been duly laid on the salutary funeral pyre, the Egyptiac civilization lived to see its contemporaries-- the Minoan, the Sumeric, and the Indus culture-- all pass away and give place to successors of a younger generation, some of which had passed away in their turn while the Egyptiac society still kept alive. Egyptiac students of history could have observed the birth and death of the First Syriac, Hittite, and Babylonic offspring of the Sumeric civilization and the rise and decline of the Syriac and Hellenic offspring of the minoan. Yet the fabulously long-drawn-out epilogue to the broken-down Egyptiac society's natural term of life was but an alternation of long stretches of boredom with hectic bouts of demonic energy, into which this somnolent society was galvanized by the impact of alien bodies social. 

...a universal state that kicks again and again against the pricks of death will weather away in the course of ages, like the pillar of salt that was fabled to be the petrified substance of a once living woman.


These imposing polities are the last works of dominant minorities in the disintegrating bodies social or moribund civilizations. Their conscious purpose is to preserve themselves by conserving the wasting energies of the society with whose fortunes their own are bound up. This purpose is never in the long run fulfilled.

In the words of Bossuet, 'All the great empires which we have seen on the Earth have contributed by divers means to the good of religion and the glory of God, as God himself has declared by His prophets'. 


...the administrative history of the Roman Empire during the two centuries following its establishment. The Roman secret of government was the principle of indirect rule. [...] The burden of administration was to be left to... local authorities. This policy was never deliberately revised; yet, if we resurvey the Empire at the end of two centuries of the Roman Peace, we shall find that the administrative structure has been in fact transformed. The client principalities have been turned into provinces... . [...] By the end of the story the whole administration of the Empire had passed into the hands of a hierarchically organized bureaucracy. 

This dominant spirit of the age endows these new stop-gap institutions thrown up by a universal state with a 'conductivity'... . 

'As the surface of the Earth bears all mankind, so Rome receives all the peoples of the Earth into her bosom, as the rivers are received by the sea.' Thus wrote Aelius Aristeides, whom we have quoted already, and the same simile was employed by the writer of this Study in a passage written before he had become acquainted with the work of Aristeides.
'The writer can best express his personal feeling about the Empire in a parable. It was like the sea round whose shores its network of city-states was strung. The Mediterranean seems at first sight a poor substitute for the rivers that have given their waters to make it. Those were living waters...; the sea seems just salt and still and dead. But, as soon as we study the sea, we find movement and life there also. There are silent currents circulating perpetually from one part of the sea to another... .'


A universal state is imposed by its founders, and accepted by its subjects, as a panacea for the ills of a Time of Troubles. In psychological terms it is an institution for establishing and maintaining concord; and this is the true remedy for a rightly diagnosed disease. The disease is that of a house being divided against itself, and this schism cuts both ways. There is the horizontal schism between contending social classes and the vertical schism between warring states. 

The toleration practised by the founders of a universal state, for the negative purpose of eliminating strife among themselves, gives the internal proletariat a chance to found a universal church, while the atrophy of the martial spirit among the subjects of the universal state gives the external proletariat of barbarians, or a neighbouring alien Civilization, a chance of breaking in and seizing for itself the dominion over an internal proletariat that has been conditioned to be passive on the political plane, however active on the religious.
The relative incapacity of the dominant minority to profit by the conditions that this minority itself has called into existence is illustrated by its almost invariable failure to propagate a philosophy or a 'fancy religion' of its own from above downwards. On the other hand, it is remarkable to observe how effective a use the internal proletariat are apt to make of the pacific atmosphere of a universal state for propagating, from below upwards, a higher religion, and eventually establishing a universal church.
'The Middle Empire' of Egypt, for instance, which was the original Egyptiac universal state, was used to this effect by the Osirian church. The Neo-Babylonian Empire, which was the Babylonic universal state, and its successive alien successor-states, the Achaemenian (Persian) Empire and the Seleucid Monarchy, were similarly used by Judaism and its sister-religion Zoroastrianism. The opportunities offered by the Roman Peace were seized by a number of competing proletarian religions-- by the worship of Cybele and Isis and by Mithraism and Christianity. 

In the eyes of the authors of the Books of Deutero-Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah the Achaemenian Empire was the chosen instrument of Yahweh for the propagation of Judaism, and Pope Leo the Great (A.D. 440-61) similarly regarded the Roman Empire as providentially ordained by God to facilitate the spread of Christianity. In his eighty-second sermon he wrote: 'In order that the effects of this ineffable act of grace (i.e., the Incarnation) might be spread throughout the World, God's providence previously brought into existence the Roman Empire.' 
The idea became a commonplace of Christian thought... .

In contrast to these cases in which a higher religion... has been tolerated by its government from first to last, there are other in which its peaceful progress have been interrupted by official persecutions... .

The untoward after-effects on Christianity of the trial of strength that was the prelude to its triumph over the Roman Imperial regime were comparatively slight. During the three centuries ending with the conversion of Constantine the Church was never out of danger of falling foul of Roman policy... .

Yet the Christian Church did not come through this ordeal unscathed. Instead of taking to heart the lesson of the triumph of Christian gentleness over Roman force, she presented her discomfited persecutors with a gratuitous vindication and a post-humous moral revenge by taking to her bosom the sin which had consummated their failure. She quickly became and long remained a persecutor herself.




When in 167 B.C. the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, Epiphanes had placed a statue of Olympian Zeus in the Holy of Holies of Yahweh's temple at Jerusalem, the horror and indignation of the Jews at seeing 'the abomination that maketh desolate' [Dan. xi. 31 and xii. 11.] 'standing where it ought not' [Mark xiii. 14.] were so intense that they could not rest until they had thrown off every vestige of Seleucide rule [Editors note: the Maccabean Revolt]. Again, when in A.D. 26 the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate smuggled into Jerusalem, draped and under cover of night, Roman military standards bearing the Emperor's image in medallions, the reaction of the Jews was so vehement as to compel Pilate to remove the offensive emblems.

Volume VII



...it is... not surprising that the champions of a universal state, whose fortunes are on the wane, should dislike the spectacle of a universal church growing within its bosom. The church is therefore likely to be regarded, from the standpoint of the imperial government and its supporters, as a social cancer responsible for the decline of the state. 

An explosion of this hostile feeling was evoked in A.D.416 in the heart of Rutilius Namatianus, a 'die-hard' pagan Gallic devotee of Imperial Rome, by the sad sight of desert islands colonized-- or, as he would have said, infested-- by Christian monks: 

'Now, as we move, Capraria lifts itself
Out of the sea; squalid the isle, and filled
With men who shun the light; they dub themselves
"Monks", with a Grecian name, because they wish
To dwell alone, observed by none. They dread
The gifts of Fortune, while her ills they fear.
Who, to shirk pain, would choose a life of pain?
What madness of a brain diseased so fond
As, fearing evil, to refuse all good?' [De Reditu Suo, Book I, lines 439-46, trans. by Dr. G. F. Savage-Armstrong (London 1907, Bell).

Before the end of his voyage Rutilius suffered the sadder sight of another island that had captivated a fellow countryman of his own. 

'The wave-girt Gorgon rises mid-sea
'Twixt Pisa and Cyrnus one on either side.
I shun the cliffs, memorials as they are
Of late disaster; one of my own race
Here perished by a living death. For lately
A high-born youth of our own nation, one
Not lacking wealth or marriage-relatives,
Driven by madness, man and earth forsook
And, as a superstitious exile, sought
A shameful lurking-place. The ill-starred wretch
Deemed that the spark divine by squalor thrives,
And on his own life laid more cruel stripes
Than might the offended deities themselves.
Less potent is this sect than Circe's drugs?
Then bodies were transformed, but not men's minds.' [Ibid., lines 515-26]

Through these lines there breathes the spirit of a still pagan aristocracy who saw the cause of the ruin of the Roman Empire in the abandonment of the traditional worship of the Hellenic pantheon.
This controversy between a sinking Roman Empire and a rising Christian Church... stirred the feelings not only of contemporaries directly concerned, but also of a posterity contemplating the event across a great gulf of time. In the statement 'I have described the triumph of Barbarism and Religion', Gibbon not only sums up the seventy-one chapters of his book in nine words but proclaims himself a partisan of Celsus and Rutilius. The cultural peak of Hellenic history, as he saw it, in the Antonine Age stood out clear across an intervening span of sixteen centuries which, for Gibbon, represented a cultural trough.

This view, which is implicit in Gibbon's work, has been put clearly and sharply by a twentieth-century anthropologist who is a figure of comparable stature in his own field: 

'The religion of the great mother, with its curious blend of crude savagery and spiritual aspirations, was only one of a multitude of similar Oriental faiths which in the later days of paganism spread over the Roman Empire, and by saturating the European peoples with alien ideals of life undermined the whole fabric of ancient civilization.
'Greek and Roman society was built on the conception of the subordination of the individual to the community, of the citizen to the state; it set the safety of the commonwealth, as the supreme aim of conduct, above the safety of the individual whether in this world or in a world to come. Trained from infancy in this unselfish ideal, the citizens devoted their lives to the public service and were ready to lay them down for the common good; or, if they shrank from the supreme sacrifice, it never occurred to them that they acted otherwise than basely in preferring their personal existence to the interests of their country. All this was changed by the spread of Oriental religions which inculcated the communion of the soul with God and its eternal salvation as the only objects worth living for, objects in comparison with which the prosperity and even the existence of the state sank into insignificance. The inevitable result of this selfish and immoral doctrine was to withdraw the devotee more and more from the public service, to concentrate his thoughts on his own spiritual emotions, and to breed in him a contempt for the present life, which he regarded merely as a probation for a better and an eternal. The saint and the recluse, disdainful of earth and rapt in ecstatic contemplation of heaven, became in popular opinion the highest ideal of humanity, displacing the old ideal of the patriot and hero who, forgetful of self, lives and is ready to die for the good of his country. The earthly city seemed poor and contemptible to men whose eyes beheld the City of God coming in the clouds of heaven.
'Thus the centre of gravity, so to say, was shifted from the present to a future life, and, however much the other world may have gained, there can be little doubt that this one lost heavily by the change. A general disintegration of the body politic set in. [...] Men refused to defend their country and even to continue their kind. In their anxiety to save their own souls and the souls of others, they were content to leave the material world, which they identified with the principle of evil, to perish around them. This obsession lasted for a thousand years. The revival of Roman Law, of the Aristotelian philosophy, of ancient art and literature at the close of the Middle Ages marked the return of Europe to native ideals of life and conduct, to saner, manlier views of the world. The long halt in the march of civilization was over. The tide of Oriental invasion had turned at last. It is ebbing still.' [Frazer, Sir J. G.: The Golden Bough: Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion, 2nd edn. (London, 1907, Macmillan), pp. 251-3. In a footnote the author concedes that the spread of Oriental religion was not the only cause of the downfall of ancient civilization.]

It was still ebbing when the present lines were being written in 1948, and the present writer was wondering what the gentle scholar would have had to say, if he had been revising The Golden Bough for a fourth edition at that date, about some of the ways in which Europe's return 'to native ideals of life and conduct' had manifested itself during the forty-one years since the publication of this provocative passage. Frazer and his like-minded contemporaries had proved to be the last generation of Western neo-pagans of a rational and tolerant school which had first emerged in Italy in the fifteenth century of the Christian Era. [...] The words of Frazer had been re-uttered by the voice of Alfred Rosenberg [ideologue of the race theory of the Nazi party and author of The Myth of the Twentieth Century] with a different ring. Yet the fact remains that Rosenberg and Frazer were both propounding an identical Gibbonian thesis.


We have contested the view that churches are cancers eating away the living tissues of a civilization; yet we might still agree with Frazer's dictum, at the close of the passage quoted, that the tide of Christianity, which had flowed so strongly in the last phase of the Hellenic society, had been ebbing in these latter days, and that the post-Christian Western society that had emerged was of the same order as the pre-Christian Hellenic. This observation opens up a second possible conception of the relation between churches and civilizations, a view expressed by a Modern Western scholar in the following passage:
'The old civilization was doomed... To the orthodox Christian, on the other hand, the Church stood, like Aaron, between the dead and the living, as a middle term between the things of the Next World and of This. It was the Body of Christ and therefore eternal; something worth living for and working for. Yet it was in the World as much as the Empire itself. The idea of the Church thus formed an invaluable fixed point round which a new civilization could slowly crystallize.'

On this view universal churches have their raison d'etre in keeping the species of society known as civilizations alive by preserving a precious germ of life through the perilous interregnum, between the dissolution of one mortal representative of the species and the genesis of another. A church would thus be part of the reproductive system of civilizations, serving as egg, grub, and chrysalis between butterfly and butterfly. The writer of this Study had to confess that he had been satisfied for many years with this rather patronizing view of the role of the churches in history; [Editor of the Abridgements note: In a spiritually sensitive soul the same view may, of course, breed a mood of melancholy rather than complacency: 'As Classical Civilization collapsed, Christianity ceased to be the noble faith of Jesus the Christ: it became a religion useful as the social cement of a world in dissolution. As such, it assisted at the rebirth of Western European Civilization after the Dark Ages. It has endured to be the nominal creed of clever and restless peoples who are ceasing to give even lip-service to its ideals. As to its future, who can prophesy?' (Barnes, E. W.: The Rise of Christianity (London 1947, Longmans, Green), p. 336.)] and he still believed that this conception of them as chrysalises, unlike the conception of them as cancers, was true as far as it went; but he had come to believe that it was only a small part of the truth about them. 

If we cast our eyes over the civilizations... still alive..., we shall see that every one of them had in its background some universal church through which it was affiliated to a civilization of an older generation.

...a nascent church may make its own fortune by doing for a stagnant secular society the service that is now its most urgent need. It can open new channels for the baulked energies of Mankind. In the Roman Empire,
'The victory of Christianity over Paganism... furnished the orator with new topics of declamation and the logician with new points of controversy. Above all, it produced a new principle, of which the operation was constantly felt in every part of Society. It stirred the stagnant mass from the inmost depths. It excited all the passions of a stormy democracy in the listless population  of an overgrown empire. The fear of heresy did what the sense of oppression could not do; it changed men, accustomed to be turned over like sheep from tyrant to tyrant, into devoted partisans and obstinate rebels. The tones of an eloquence which had been silent for ages resounded from the pulpit of Gregory. A spirit which had been extinguished on the plains of Philippi revived in Athanasius and Ambrose.' [Macauley, Lord: 'History', in Miscellaneous Writings (London 1860, Longmans, Green, 2 vols.), vol. i, p. 267.]

...the church, which previously, in the 'conceptive' phase, had drawn vitality from an old civilization, and, in the 'gestative' phase, had navigated the course through the storms of the interregnum, proceeds to give out vitality to the new civilization conceived within its womb. We can watch this creative energy flowing out, under religious auspices, into secular channels on the economic and political, as well as the cultural, planes of social life.

On the economic plane... . By the time of writing, a quarter of a millennium had passed since a new secular society had completed a long-drawn-out process of extricating itself from the chrysalis of a Western Catholic Christian Church; yet the marvellous and monstrous apparatus of Western technology was still visibly a by-product of Western Christian monachism [Editors note: monasticism]. The psychological foundation of this mighty material edifice was a belief in the duty and dignity of physical labour-- laborare est orare ['to work is to pray']. This revolutionary departure from the Hellenic conception of labour as vulgar and servile would not have established itself if it had not been hallowed by the Rule of Saint Benedict.

As for the political sphere,... the Papacy [moulded] a Respulica Christiana that promised to enable Mankind to enjoy simultaneously the benefits of parochial sovereignties and of a universal state without suffering the drawbacks of either. In giving, through ecclesiastical coronation, its blessing to the political status of independent kingdoms, the Papacy was bringing back into political life the multiplicity and variety that had been so fruitful in the growth stage of the Hellenic society, while the political disunity and dissension that had brought the Hellenic society to ruin were to be mitigated and controlled by the exercise of an overriding spiritual authority which the Papacy claimed as the ecclesiastical heir of the Roman Empire. The secular parochial princes were to dwell together in unity under the guidance of an ecclesiastical shepherd.

When we pass from the political to the cultural contributions of 'parturient' churches to nascent civilizations... . [...] Christianity... found itself constrained to attempt the tour de force of presenting its faith in the alien intellectual terms of the Hellenic schools. In Western Christendom this Hellenic intellectual alloy became overwhelmingly dominant after it had been reinforced in the twelfth century by the 'reception' of Aristotle. The Christian Church made a notable contribution to the intellectual progress of the West by founding and fostering the universities... .



So far we have worked on the assumption that civilizations have been the protagonists in history and that the role of churches, whether as hindrances (cancers) or helps (chrysalises) has been subordinate. Let us now open our minds to the possibility that the churches might be the protagonists, and that the histories of the civilizations might have to be envisaged and interpreted in terms not of their own destines, but of their effect on the history of Religion. The idea may seem novel and paradoxical, but it is, after all, the method of approach to history employed in the collection of books that we call the Bible. 

On this showing, the successive rises and falls of the primary and the secondary civilizations are examples of a rhythm-- observed in other contexts-- in which the successive revolutions of a wheel carry forward the vehicle which the wheel conveys. And, if we ask why the descending movement in the revolution of the wheel of civilization should be the means of carrying forward the chariot of Religion, we shall find the answer in the truth that Religion is a spiritual activity and that spiritual progress is subject to a 'law' proclaimed by Aeschylus in the two words [Grk script]-- 'we learn by suffering'. If we apply this intuition of the nature of spiritual life to a spiritual endeavour that culminated in the flowering of Christianity and her sister higher religions, the Mahayana, Islam, and Hinduism, we may discern in the passions of Tammuz and Attis and Adonis and Osiris a foreshadowing of the Passion of Christ. 
Christianity had arisen out of spiritual travail that was a consequence of the breakdown of the Hellenic civilization; but this was the latest chapter of a longer story. Christianity had Jewish and Zoroastrian roots, and these roots had sprung from the earlier breakdowns of two other secondary civilizations, the Babylonic and the Syriac. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah, in which the well-springs of Judaism were to be found, had been two of the many warring parochial states of the Syriac world; and the overthrow of these mundane commonwealths and the extinction of all their political ambitions were the experiences that had brought the religion of Judaism to birth and had evoked its highest expression in the elegy of the Suffering Servant, composed in the sixth century B.C. during the last throes of the Syriac Time of Troubles, on the eve of the foundation of the Achaemenian Empire.
This was not, however, the beginning of the story, for the Judaic root of Christianity had a Mosaic root of its own, and this preprophetic phase of the religion of Israel and Judah had been the outcome of a previous secular catastrophe, the break-up of the 'New Empire' of Egypt, into whose internal proletariat the Israelites had been, according to their own traditions, conscripted. These same traditions told that the Egyptiac episode in their history had been preceded by a Sumeric initiation, in which Abraham, having received a revelation from the One True God, had been led to extricate himself from the doomed imperial city of Ur, at some time during the disintegration of the Sumeric civilization. Thus the first step in the spiritual progress which was to culminate in Christianity was traditionally associated with the first instance known to historians of the collapse of a universal state. In this perspective Christianity could be seen to be the climax of a spiritual progress which had not merely survived successive secular catastrophes but had drawn from them its cumulative inspiration. 
On this reading, the history of Religion appears to be unitary and progressive by contrast with the multiplicity and repetitiveness of the histories of civilizations; and this contrast in the time dimension presents itself in the space-dimension as well; for Christianity and the other three higher religions surviving in the twentieth century of the Christian Era had a closer affinity among themselves than coeval civilizations had been apt to have with one another. This affinity was conspicuously close as between Christianity and the Mahayana, which shared the same vision of God as a self-sacrificing saviour. As for Islam and Hinduism, they too reflected insight into the nature of God which gave them a distinctive meaning and mission of their own. Islam was a reaffirmation of the unity of God against the apparent weakening of Christianity's hold on this important truth, and Hinduism reaffirmed the personality of God as an object of human devotion against an apparent denial of the existence of personality in the Primitive Buddhist system of philosophy. The four higher religions were four variations on a single theme.
But, if so, why was it that, at least in the religions of Judaistic origin, Christianity and Islam, Man's glimpse of the unity of revelation had been confined hitherto to a few rare spirits, whereas the ordinary outlook had been the opposite? In the official view of each of the Judaistic higher religions, the light that shone through its own private window was the only full light, and all its sister religions were sitting in twilight, if not in darkness. The same standpoint was maintained by each sect of each religion as against its sister sects; and this refusal of diverse denominations to recognize what they had in common and to admit each other's claims gave occasion for the agnostic to blaspheme. 

When we ask the question whether this deplorable state of affairs is likely to continue indefinitely... . We have to remember... that, unless the human race uses its newly found techniques to extinguish animal life on this planet, human history is still in its infancy, and is likely to continue for countless thousands of years. In the light of that prospect the notion of an indefinite continuance of the present state of religious paraochialism becomes absurd. Either the various churches and religions will snarl each other out of existence until no more is left of any of them..., or else a unified human race will find salvation in a religious unity. We have now to see if we can envisage, however tentatively, what the nature of that unity might be.

Either a single religion might prove victorious or the competing religions might reconcile themselves to living side by side, as in the Sinic and Indic worlds.

Which was the more likely outcome? In the past, intolerance had prevailed with higher religions of Judaic origin had been in the field, while 'live and let live' had been the rule when the Indic ethos had been paramount. The answer in the present case might be determined by the nature of the adversaries whom the higher religions would find in their path.
Why did Christianity, after recognizing and proclaiming the Jewish insight that God is Love, readmit the incongruous Jewish concept of the Jealous God? This regression, from which Christianity had suffered grievous spiritual damage ever since, was the price that Christianity had paid for her victory in her life-and-death struggle with the worship of Caesar; and the restoration of peace through the Church's victory did not dissolve, but, on the contrary, confirmed, the incongruous association of Yahweh and Christ. In the hours of victory the intransigence of the Christian martyrs passed into the intolerance of the Christian persecutors. This early chapter of the history of Christianity was ominous for the spiritual prospects of a twentieth-century Westernizing world, because worship of Leviathan, on which the early Christian Church had inflicted a defeat which had appeared to be decisive, had reasserted itself with the sinister emergence of a totalitarian type of state in which the Modern Western genius for organization and mechanization had been enlisted, with diabolic ingenuity, for the purpose of enslaving souls as well as bodies to a degree which had not been within the power of the worst-intentioned tyrants of the past. It looked as if, in a modern Westernizing world, the war between God and Caesar might have to be waged again; and it looked as if, in that event, the morally honourable yet spiritually perilous role of serving as a church militant would once again fall upon Christianity. 

Christians born into the twentieth century of the Christian Era had therefore to reckon with the possibility that a second war with Caesar-worship might cost the Christian Church a second set-back towards Yahweh-worship before she had recovered from the first. Yet, if they had faith to believe that, in the end, the revelation of God as Love incarnate in a suffering Christ would turn stony hearts into hearts of flesh, they might venture to peer into the prospects for Religion in a politically united world that would have been liberated by the Christian revelation from the worship of Yahweh as well as from the worship of Caesar.
When, towards the end of the fourth century of the Christian Era, the victorious Church began to persecute those who refused to join it, the pagan Symmachus entered a protest which contained the words: 'the heart of so great a mystery can never be reached by following one road only.' In this sentence the pagan came nearer to Christ than his Christian persecutors. Charity is the mother of insight, and uniformity is not possible in Man's approach to the One True God, because human nature is stamped with the fruitful diversity which is the hallmark of God's creative work. Religion exists to enable human souls to receive the divine light, and it could not fulfil this purpose if it did not faithfully reflect the diversity of God's human worshippers. [...] If each of these religions did not genuinely satisfy some widely experienced human need, it is hardly conceivable that each of them should have succeeded in securing for such long periods the allegiance of so large a portion of the human race. In this light the diversity of the living higher religions would cease to be a stumbling-block and would reveal itself as a necessary corollary of the diversity of the Human Psyche.

Perhaps the one conceivable justification for the existence of the Modern Western Civilization, on the view of history that we are now presenting, was that it might perform for Christianity and her three living sister religions the service of providing them with a mundane meeting-ground on a world-wide scale, by bringing home to them the unity of their own ultimate values and beliefs, and by confronting them all alike with the challenge of a recrudescence of idolatry in the peculiarly vicious form of Man's corporate worship of himself.


 [cont. p 93]


Volume VIII 

Volume IX


Volume X



In Jewish eyes, Christianity's allegedly miraculous captivation of the Hellenic society was by no means 'the Lord's doing'. The posthumous triumph of a Jewish rabbi who had been saluted by his followers, in Gentile style, as the son of a god by a human mother was a pagan exploit of the same order as the earlier triumphs of kindred legendary 'demigods' such as Dionysus and Heracles. Judaism flattered herself that she could have anticipated Christianity's conquests if she had stooped to conquer by descending to Christianity's level. Though Christianity had never repudiated the authority of the Jewish Scriptures-- indeed, she had bound them up with her own-- she had made her facile conquests by betraying, as Jewish eyes saw it, the two cardinal Judaic principles, the First and Second of the Ten Commandments, Monotheism and Aniconism (no 'images'). So now, in face of a still impenitent Hellenic paganism, plainly visible under a veneer of Christianity, the watchword for Jewry was to persevere in bearing witness to the Lord's everlasting Word.
This 'patient deep disdain' with which a sensationally successful Christianity continued to be regarded by an unimpressed and unshaken Jewry would have been less embarrassing for Christians if Christianity herself had not combined a sincere theoretical loyalty to a Jewish legacy of Monotheism and Aniconism with those practical concessions to the polytheism and idolatry of Hellenic converts for which she was arrainged by her Jewish critics. The Christian Church's reconsecration of the Jewish Scriptures as the Old Testament of the Christian Faith was a weak spot in Christianity's armour through which the shafts of Jewish criticism pierced the Christian conscience.

After the nominal conversion, en masse, of an Hellenic Gentile world in the course of the fourth century of the Christian Era, the domestic controversy within the bosom of the Church tended to overshadow the polemics between Christians and Jews; but the theological warfare on this older front seems to have flared up again in the sixth and seventh centuries in consequence of a puritanical house-cleaning in Jewry which, in the Palestinian Jewish community, had been taken in hand towards the close of the fifth century. This domestic campaign, within Jewry, against a Christian-like laxity in the matter of mural decoration of synagogues had its repercussions on the Jewish-Christian battlefront. But, when we turn to the parallel controversy within the Christian Church between iconophiles and iconophobes, we are struck with its persistence and ubiquity. We find this 'irrepressible conflict' bursting out in almost every provence of Christendom and in almost every succeeding century of the Christian Era.

In the seventh century of the Christian Era a new factor was introduced into the argument in the shape of a new actor who made a sensationally brilliant appearance on the historical stage. Yet another religion now sprang, as Christianity had sprung, but this one full-grown, from the loins of Jewry. Islam was as fanatically monotheist and aniconist as any Jew could desire, and the sensational successes of its devotees in the military-- and soon also in the missionary-- field gave Christendom something new to think about. ...the triumphs of the Primitive Muslim Arab conquerors supplied fresh fuel for the controversies that had long been smouldering round the problem of Christian 'idolatry'.
In A.D. 726 the ghost of a Judaic iconophobia, long hovering in the wings, was brought into the centre stage by the Iconoclastic Decree of the great East Roman Emperor, Leo Syrus. This attempt to impose what amounted to a renaissance in the religious field by means of political authority proved a failure. The Papacy identified itself enthusiastically with the popular 'idolatrous' opposition, and thereby took a long step towards emancipating itself from Byzantine authority. [...] The West had to wait nearly eight centuries more for its Judaic renaissance; and when this came it was a movement from below upwards; its Leo Syrus was Martin Luther.
In the Protestant Reformation in Western Christendom, Aniconism was not the only Judaic ghost that succeeded in reasserting itself. [...] The Protestants' professed objective was a return to the pristine practice of the Primitive Church; yet here we see them obliterating a difference between Primitive Christianity and Judaism on which the Primitive Church had insisted. [...] Could it have escaped their notice that Paul, whom they delighted to honour, had made himself notorious by repudiating the Mosaic Law? The explanation was that these religious enthusiasts, in Germany, England, Scotland, New England, and elsewhere, were in the grip of one of the most potent of renaissances and were bent on turning themselves into imitation-Jews, as enthusiastic Italian artists and scholars had been bent on turning themselves into imitation-Athenians. Their practice of inflicting on their children at baptism some of the most unTeutonic sounding proper names to be found in the Old Testament was a revealing symptom of this mania for calling a dead world back to life.
We have already introduced, by implication, a third element in the Judaic renaissance of Western Protestantism, namely bibliolatry, the idolization of a sacred text as a substitute for the idolization of sacred images.

Cont. p. 258

Volume XI


Volume XII

Note: see here for this section (this section is not contained in the abridgement). 


ISLAM's epiphany was dramatic by comparison with Christianity's and Buddhism's, Jesus's life and death passed unnoticed at the time, except among the obscure and tiny band of His Galilaean Jewish disciples. Our information about His ministry comes exclusively from the scriptures of the Christian Church. We should know next to nothing about it if our only sources were the Hellenic literature in Greek and Latin and the Jewish literature in Aramaic of the first century of the Christian Era. Siddhartha Gautama's ministry, likewise, is known only from the Pali scriptures of the Hinayana, though, according to these records, Gautama, unlike Jesus, was something of a public figure in His own lifetime. He was a king's son; and, after He had renounced His worldly heritage, He still consorted with kings during His ministry. Yet Buddhism did not make a political impact on the World on a grand scale till about two hundred years, and Christianity not till about three hundred years, after the founder's day, when their respective political fortunes were made by the conversions of Ashoka and Constantine. On the other hand, Islam made a comparable impact during the founder's own lifetime, and its political fortunes were made by the founder himself.
Muhammad yielded, in the thirteenth year of his ministry, to the temptation which, according to the Gospels, was resisted by Jesus at the beginning of His. For twelve years Muhammad had been a sincere and intrepid but utterly unsuccessful prophet. He had won only a tiny band of converts; most of these had had eventually to take asylum in Abyssinia; and Muhammad himself was in daily danger of meeting Jesus's fate. After his acceptance of the invitation from the people of Yathrib (subsequently known as Medina) to become the head of their state, Muhammad proved to be not only a prophet but also a political genius.
Before his death he had compelled the commercial oligarchy of his native city-state Mecca to capitulate to him, and had shown his statesmanship-and also the generosity of his character-in the moderateness of the terms with which he had contented himself.
In addition he had extended his rule from the city-state of Yathrib over a large part of the Arabian Peninsula besides Mecca, and his troops had made a probing raid on the Roman Empire's dominions in Transjordan. This piece of audacity had met with prompt chastisement, but it was premonitory of the sweeping conquests that were to be made by Muhammad's immediate political successors. Within less than twenty years of his death they had conquered the whole of the Sasanian Persian Empire and the best part of the Roman Empire: that is to say, Syria, in the broadest sense of the word, and also Egypt.
These dramatically rapid military and political successes of early Islam have given some Western students of history the impression that the epiphany of Islam made an unusually sharp break in the history of the Old-World Oikoumene [
οἰκουμένη] and that it had no antecedents and no precedents. Christopher Dawson's dictum [1. In The Dynamics of World History, p.257] that history 'allows the whole world situation to be suddenly transformed by the action of a single individual like Muhammad or Alexander' has already been quoted in this volume.[2. On p. 16 See also P 16, footnote 6.] A. L. Kroeber has expressed the same view. 'Islam', he says,[3A.L. Kroeber: The Nature of Culture, p.388.] 'had no infancy and no real growth, but sprang up, Minerva-like, full- blown with the life of one man.'

Volume XIII


Among innumerable angles of vision the historian's is only one. Its distinctive contribution is to give us a vision of God's creative activity on the move in a frame which, in our human experience of it, displays six dimensions. The historical angle of vision shows us the physical cosmos moving centrifugally in a four-dimensional frame of Space-Time; it shows us Life on our own planet moving evolutionarily in a five-dimensional frame of Life-Time-Space; and it shows us human souls raised to a sixth dimension by the gift of the Spirit, moving, through a fateful exercise of their spiritual freedom, either towards their Creator or away from Him.

...the longer the writer of this Study lived, the more glad he was that he had been born early enough in the Western Civilization's day to have been taken to church as a child every Sunday as a matter of course and to have received his formal education at a school and a university in which the study of the Greek and Latin classics, by which the Medieval Western study of Scripture and Theology had been replaced as a result of a fifteenth-century Italian renaissance, had not yet been ousted in its turn by a study of Western vernacular languages and literatures... .
 After it has received its first impulse to study History by being made aware of History through the impress of an historic social environ- ment, the mind obtains its next impulse through a mutation of receptivity into curiosity. This transition from a passive to an active mood inspires the apprentice in History to take the initiative, go into action, and set off on aerial voyages of discovery into unknown skies. Without this creative stirring of curiosity, the most familiar, impressive, and numerous monuments of History will perform their eloquent dumb-show to no effect, because the eyes to which they will be address- ing themselves will be eyes that see not. 1 This truth that a creative spark cannot be struck without a response as well as a challenge was borne in upon the Modern Western philosopher-pilgrim Volney when he visited the Islamic World in the years a.d. 1783-5. 2 Volney had been born and brought up on one of the fringes of the Oikoumene, in Transalpine Western Europe, in a region which had been drawn into the current of the histories of the civilizations only as recently as the time of the Hanni- balic War (gerebatur 218-201 B.C.), 3 whereas the region that Volney was visiting had been a theatre of History for some three or four thou- sand years longer than Gaul, and was proportionately well stocked with those relics of the Past of which the France of Volney's day could show comparatively few. Yet, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century of the Christian Era, the living generation in the Middle East were squat- ting among the amazing ruins of extinct civilizations, piled stratum upon stratum, without being moved to inquire what these monuments were ; when, how, or why they had been first erected and then overthrown or allowed to decay ; or what light these historic tragedies might throw upon the meaning of Human Life. The curiosity to ask these questions had been stirred, not on the spot, in the cradle of Civilization, where the stimulus was at its maximum, but in a corner of the Old World where the stimulus was relatively weak. Yet, in Western Europe in the Modern Age of Western history, the faint impress of History which this weak stimulus had made on receptive minds had aroused in them a curiosity that was keen enough to draw Volney from his native France to Egypt in Ad 1783 and, in his wake, the goodly company of French savants who seized the opportunity offered to them in a.d. 1798 by Bonaparte of accompanying his expeditionary force. Unlike these intrepid men of science, neither Napoleon himself nor his officers and men were drawn to Egypt primarily by History's call; the mainsprings of their action were the barbarian's restlessness and ambition ; yet Napoleon knew that he was striking a note to which even the uneducated rank-and-file of an eighteenth-century Western army would respond when he reminded them, before going into action on the decisive battlefield of Imbabah, 1 that forty centuries of History were looking down on them 2 from the Pyramids which their audacious march on Cairo had now brought within their view. We may be sure that Murad Bey, the commander of the opposing Mamluk force, never thought of wasting his breath by addressing any similar exhortation to his own incurious comrades.
The curiosity of each of the great historians had always been canalized into the task of answering some question of practical significance to his generation which could be formulated, in general terms, as 'How has this come out of that?' [...] The creative stimulus might be a momentous event..., such, for example, as the mental challenge which Herodotus received from the Persian War. 
 An historian born in a.d. 1889 who was still alive in a.d. 1952 had in- deed already heard a long peal of changes rung on the historian's elemen- tal question 'How has this come out of that ?' How, first and foremost, had it happened that he had lived to see the immediately preceding generation's apparently reasonable expectations so rudely disappointed ? In liberal-minded middle-class circles in democratic Western countries in a generation that had been born round about the year a.d. i860, it had seemed evident by the close of the nineteenth century that a trium- phantly advancing Western Civilization had now carried human progress to a point at which it could count upon finding the Earthly Paradise just round the next corner. This fin-de-siecle liberal Western hope had been a secularized version of Christ's promise in the Gospels : 'Verily I say unto you that there be some of them that stand here which shall not taste of death till they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power.' 2 How was it that this hapless generation had lived to see, instead, not the second coming of the Son of Man, but the advent of Antichrist ? What fell miscarriage had overtaken the world-wide and perpetual peace that had been confidently augured in a.d. 1851 at the opening of a Great Ex- hibition in London and had then apparently been achieved twenty years later, after the end of the Franco-Prussian War of a.d. 1 870-1 ? How had this peace come to be shattered in a.d. 19 14 and a.d. 1939 by the successive explosions of two world wars in one lifetime ? How had the twentieth century of the Christian Era come to see the eighteenth cen- tury's 'laws of civilized warfare' thrown to the winds ? How had Human Nature prevailed upon itself to perpetrate the atrocities which Turkish hands had committed against the Armenians, and German hands against the Belgians, the Jews, the Poles, and all their other victims? Such wickedness, if not incompatible with Human Nature, was at least irre- concilable with a Western Civilization's moral heritage from Christianity ; and, if Turkish atrocities could be explained as anachronistic outcrops of a residual savagery in the hearts of recent proselytes to a Western way of life, how was a Western historian to explain the apostasy of Germans who were native-born children of the Western household ? How, through this welter of war and crime, had the political map of the Oikoumene come to be changed beyond all recognition ? How had the Ottoman Em- pire, the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, and the British Raj in India come to be replaced by a litter of successor-states ? How had the number of the Great Powers in a Western World come to be reduced, within a period of thirty-two years, from the figure of eight at which it had stood at the outbreak of a First World War in a.d. 19 14 to the figure of two at which it stood at the close of a Second World W r ar in a.d. 1945 ? How was it that these two survivors, the Soviet Union and the United States, were, both of them, located outside Western Europe ? How had this West European peninsula of Asia, which had dominated the entire Oikoumene for 231 years ending in a.d. 19 14, come, by A.D. 1945, to be dwarfed by an outer ring of new countries conjured into life by West European enterprise ? How had distance come, for human purposes, to be annihilated by the invention of the art of flying ? And how had Man- kind's conquest of the Air come to be enslaved to the service of a sub- sequently invented atomic weapon which threatened to annihilate the Western Civilization and perhaps Life itself on this planet ?

The disappointment of his elders' secularized messianic expectations might have moved a twentieth-century Western historian to study the history of the quest for an Earthly Paradise upon which the Western Society had embarked towards the end of the seventeenth century of the Christian Era in its recoil from the Early Modern Western Wars of Religion. The shattering breach of the forty-three years' peace (duraverat a.d. 1871-1914), which had resulted in the dwarfing of Western Europe and the polarization of military and political power in the World round two non-European centres, might have moved him to study the history of a Modern Western Balance of Power. [...] The conversion of the 'temperate and undecisive contests' of Gibbon's day 1 into wars of annihilation by the conquest of the Air and the splitting of the Atom might have moved him to study the history of the human consequences of the technological triumphs of a Late Modern Western science.
Thanks to his professional good fortune in being born into a Time of Troubles that was, by definition, an historian's golden age, the present writer was, in fact, moved to interest himself in each of these historical questions that were flung at him by current events; but his professional good fortune did not end here; for he had also been as fortunate as Turgot in his education. ...in England in a.d. 1896-1911, as in France in the mid-eighteenth century, the Western middle class not only recognized its Hellenic cultural heritage but set so high a value upon this spiritual heirloom that it made the Greek and Latin classics the staple medium of its higher education. Born, though he was, 162 years later than the great French historian civil servant, the writer, happening also to be born in an intellectually more conservative Western country, had been born just in time to receive in England a there then still undiluted Early Modern Western education in Hellenism. [...] An Hellenically-educated Westerner could not easily fall into the error of seeing in Western Christendom the best of all possible worlds, nor, a fortiori, into the grosser error of equating a post- Western Christian Civilization with 'Civilization' sans phrase;  and no Hellenically-educated Western historian could consider the historical questions that his own contemporary Western social milieu was putting to him without referring them to the oracles of a Hellas in which he had found his spiritual home. 
To illustrate this intellectual consequence of an Early Modern Western classical education from the cases in point, the present writer could testify that he was unable to observe the disappointment of his liberal-minded elders' expectations without being reminded of Plato's disillusionment with a Periclean Attic democracy. He could not live through the experience of the outbreak of war in A.D. 1914 without realizing that the outbreak of war in 431 B.C. had brought the same experience to Thucydides. [...] There was a sense in which the two dates a.d. 1914 and 431 B.C. were philosophically contemporaneous with one another... .

The dwarfing of Western Europe, in a post-Modern Age of Western history, by a circle of giant Powers that had sprung up around her on the fringes of an expanding Western World, reminded him of the dwarfing of a pre- Alexandrine Hellas, in a post-Alexandrine Age of Hellenic history, by Macedonian successor-states of the Achaemenian Empire, a Carthaginian thalassocracy in the Western Mediterranean, and a Roman Common- wealth in Italy which had found their battlefields in Ionia, the Aegean, Continental European Greece, and Sicily.
It will be seen that in the present writer's social milieu there were two factors — neither of them personal to himself, but both of them properties of the rock from which he had been hewn — which, between them, had a decisive influence on his approach to a study of History. The first of these factors was the current history of his own Western World in his own lifetime; the second was an Hellenic education that was the precious legacy of a fifteenth-century Western renaissance of Hellenic life and letters. By perpetually interacting with one another, as they did, these two factors worked together to make the writer's view of History binocular. [...] He thus came to look upon History as a comparison in two terms. 

For a Chinese receiving his traditional classical education at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of the Christian Era, it would still be a novel idea that any civilization other than the Sinic and its living Far Eastern successor could be deserving of any serious consideration ; for, by this date, little more than half a century had elapsed since the Chinese had had their first experience of finding themselves defenceless against the assaults of 'south-sea barbarians' armed with new-fangled weapons. An invincibly Sinic-minded Chinese contemporary of the writer's might perhaps still have contrived to ignore the existence of any civilizations beyond the two which, between them, had meant everything to his forebears ; but a similarly blinkered vision was impossible for any Westerner of the same generation.
It was impossible because, within the last four hundred years, a Western Society which had conquered the Ocean had thrust itself into contact with no less than eight other representatives of its own species in the Old World and the New; and it had since become doubly impossible for Western minds to ignore the existence or to deny the significance of other civilizations besides their own and the Hellenic because, within the last century, these Westerners who had already conquered a previously virgin Ocean had gone on to conquer a previously buried Past. Within the fifty years following Napoleon's arrival at Alexandria, three hundred years after Vasco da Gama's arrival at Calicut, a new Western science of Archaeology had added to the number of the civilizations within the ken of Western minds by disinterring at least four buried civilizations — the Egyptiac, the Babylonic, the Sumeric, and the Mayan —and the writer was to live to see this list extended by the rediscovery of the Hittite and Minoan civilizations and the Indus and Shang cultures. In a generation which had acquired this wide historical horizon, a Western historian who had been led by his traditional Hellenic education to make historical comparisons in two terms could not be content till he had converted this dual into a plural. He was bound to go on to collect, for comparative study, as many specimens as he could find of the species of Society of which the Hellenic Society and the Western Society were merely two representatives.

When he had thus succeeded in multiplying his terms of comparison more than tenfold, he could no longer ignore a supreme question which his original comparison in two terms had already threatened to raise. The most portentous single fact in the Hellenic Civilization's history was the eventual dissolution of a society whose breakdown had been registered in 43 1 B.C. by the outbreak of the Great Atheno-Peloponnesian War; and, if there was any validity in the writer's habitual procedure of drawing comparisons between Hellenic history and Western, it would seem to follow that the Western Society, for its part, must at any rate be not immune from the possibility of coming to a similar end in its turn, even though there might be no a priori necessity that its history should take, sooner or later, this tragic Hellenic course. The consideration of so dire a possibility could, however, be kept at bay so long as the history of the Hellenic Civilization remained the only other term of comparison in the writer's mental field, since the rules of Logic did not exact the inference of a general and inexorable law of History from a single case which might, after all, perhaps have been a lusus Naturae. When, how- ever, a Western student of History had collected as many as twenty-six specimens of societies of the species 'Civilizations' which had duly come to birth..., and when he had gone on to observe that, of these twenty-six, no less than sixteen were already dead by the time of writing, 2 he was bound to infer from this wider range of instances that death was indeed a possibility which confronted every civilization, not excluding the still living society into which he himself happened to have been born.

What was this 'door of Death' through which sixteen out of twenty- six civilizations within a twentieth-century Western historian's ken had disappeared already ? In setting out to answer a question that had thus been forced upon him by an illuminating multiplication of an originally binocular view of History, the writer was led into a study of the break- downs and disintegrations of civilizations; and through studying their breakdowns and disintegrations he was led on into a complementary study of their geneses and growths. And so this Study of History came to be written.

[Note: check the above couple of paragraphs against the abridgement]