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.
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.
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".
"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.
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.