Arnold Toynbee, Study of History, philosophy of history, rise, fall, civilizations
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Arnold Toynbee
Study of History

Arnold Joseph Toynbee (April 14, 1889 - October 22, 1975), British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934 - 1961, (also known as History of the World) was very popular in its time.

Toynbee, a prolific author, was the nephew of a great economic historian, Arnold Toynbee, with whom he is sometimes confused. Born in London, Arnold J was educated at Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford. He worked for the Foreign Office during both World War I and World War II. He was Director of Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (1925-1955) and Research Professor of International History at the University of London.

Toynbee was interested in the seeming repetition of patterns in history and, later, in the origins of civilisation. It was in this context that he read Spengler’s Decline of the West and although there is some superficial similarity, both men describe the rise, flowering and decline of civilisations, their work moved in different directions.
Toynbee agreed with Spengler that there were strong parallels between their situation in Europe and the ancient Greco-Roman civilization. Toynbee saw his own views as being more scientific and empirical than Spengler's, he described himself as a "metahistorian" whose "intelligible field of study" was civilization.

In his Study of History Toynbee describes the rise and decline of 23 civilisations. His over-arching analysis was the place of moral and religious challenge, and response to such challenge, as the reason for the robustness or decline of a civilisation. He described parallel life cycles of growth, dissolution, a "time of troubles," a universal state, and a final collapse leading to a new genesis. Although he found the uniformity of the patterns, particularly of disintegration, sufficiently regular to reduce to graphs, and even though he formulated definite laws of development such as "challenge and response," Toynbee insisted that the cyclical pattern could, and should, be broken.
Toynbee’s books, huge in scale, achieved wide prominence but he was more admired by the History reading public than by fellow historians, who criticised him for contorting information to fit his alleged patterns of history.

The ideas he promoted had some vogue (Toynbee actually appeared on the Cover of Time magazine in 1947). They have not however proved to be of decisive influence on other historians. Toynbee's work was subject to an effective critique by Pieter Geyl and an article written by Hugh Trevor-Roper, "Arnold Toynbee's Millenium" - descibing Toynbee's work as a "Philosophy of Mish-Mash" - dramatically undermined Toynbee's reputation.

Emerson's call for a
transcendentalist approach
to the study of History

R G Collingwood
philosophy of history

Arnold Toynbee
A Study of History
Wilhelm Dilthey
Introduction to the Human Sciences


Popular European History pages
at Age-of-the-Sage


The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree by a particular "Philosophy of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay "History"
Italian Unification - Cavour, Garibaldi and
the Unification of Risorgimento Italy
Otto von Bismarck &
The wars of German unification
Italian unification map
Risorgimento Italy
Map of German unification
1 The European Revolution of 1848 begins
A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events.

2 The French Revolution of 1848
A particular focus on France - as the influential Austrian minister Prince Metternich, who sought to encourage the re-establishment of "Order" in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic turmoils of 1789-1815, said:-"When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

3 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
"Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to assert a distinct existence separate from the dynastic sovereignties they had been living under.

4 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

5 The Monarchs recover power 1848-1849
Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform conservative elements to support the return of traditional authority. Louis Napoleon, (who later became the Emperor Napoleon III), attains to power in France offering social stability at home but ultimately follows policies productive of dramatic change in the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.

Introductory quotations
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"Central" mysticism insights
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"Other" spiritual wisdom
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"Central" poetry insights
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"Other" poetry wisdom
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Spirituality & the wider world
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