Sunday, May 31, 2009

History becomes a celestial city

Present in the photograph above are three of the books written by Will and Ariel Durant, while the inset photograph below shows them late in life. Perhaps the greatest lesson noted by the Durants in their study of history comes in the form of the following words, found in Volume 3 of their 11-volume series, "The Story of Civilization -- Caesar And Christ -- Epilogue: Why Rome fell:"

"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars."

The lessons of history often determine survival

Part II

Arriving today is the concluding half of a brief survey of the book, "The Lessons of History," which is a summation of the conclusions, thoughts and beliefs drawn by Will and Ariel Durant after four decades spent studying and writing about civilization as it has evolved since the dawn of history.

This book was written by the Durants after completion of their 11-volume study titled, "The Story of Civilization," and meant to be more-or-less the concluding chapter to their work -- a look back at what history has to say about the nature, the conduct and the future prospects of mankind. Here, then, is the final chapter:

VIII. Economics and History

Normally and generally men are judged by their ability to produce -- except in war, when they are ranked according to their ability to destroy.

Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history ....

We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution.

IX. Socialism and History

These abuses (price manipulation, business chicanery, and irresponsible wealth) must be hoary with age, for there have been socialistic experiments in a dozen countries and centuries ....

The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality. East is West and West is East, and soon the twain will meet.

X. Government and History

Hence most governments have been oligarchies -- ruled by a minority, chosen either by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies ....

Does history justify revolutions? .... If race or class war divides us into hostile camps, changing political argument into blind hate, one side or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword. If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all; and a martial government, under whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic world.

XI. History and War

War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war. [Durant compiled those numbers based upon the year the book first was published, in 1968.] ....

Some conflicts are too fundamental to be resolved by negotiation; and during the prolonged negotiations (if history may be our guide) subversion would go on. A world order will come not by a gentlemen's agreement, but through so decisive a victory by one of the great powers that it will be able to dictate and enforce international law, as Rome did from Augustus to Aurelius.

XII. Growth and Decay

On one point all are agreed: civilizations begin, flourish, decline, and disappear -- or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving steams ....

Life has no inherent claim to eternity, whether in individuals or in states. Death is natural and if it comes in due time it is forgivable and useful, and the mature mind will take no offense from its coming ....

Nations die. Old regions grow arid, or suffer other change. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts, and moves on, taking his memories with him. If education has deepened and broadened those memories, civilization migrates with him, and builds somewhere another home. In the new land he need not begin entirely anew .... Rome imported Greek civilization and transmitted it to Western Europe; America profited from European civilization and prepares to pass it on, with a technique of transmission never equaled before.

XIII. Is Progress Real?

Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again .... We may not have excelled the selected geniuses of antiquity, but we have raised the level and average knowledge beyond any age in history ....

If progress is real despite our whining, it is not because we are born any healthier, better, or wiser than infants were in the past, but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of the pedestal which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises as the ground and support of our being. The heritage rises, and man rises in proportion as he receives it.

History is, above all else, the creation and recording of that heritage; progress is its increasing abundance, preservation, transmission, and use. To those of us who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man's follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing.

The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning in human existence except that which man puts into it; let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death. If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.

10 comments:

Katy said...

Wonderful post Fram, fascinating, thank you. A lot to take in here - I think I need to come back when my brain is fresher to read again and comment properly, if I may.

Just one thought in passing for now though: "Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew..." - this seems on the face of it a very different take from Jung's concept of 'collective consciousness' and makes me wonder if that's a result of 2 distinct disciplines (history and psychology) or if in fact they're actually talking about different things.

Fram said...

You are in tough mode, Katy, I mean with your questions.

I do not feel qualified to really draw comparisons to Jung and the Durants since my knowledge of Jung's work is superficial, but his popularity cannot be denied and some I do read tend to give him considerable credence. Joseph Campbell again, for example.

Personally, like the Durants, I tend to put more credence in the visible (historical fact/archaeological rubble) than in the invisible (psychological theory/mythological memories). I tend to see civilization as William Golding saw it in his "Lord of the Flies" or George Stewart in his "Earth Abides."

Then, too, I know for a simple fact that should I awake in the morning and civilization be gone, Fram the First would instantly become Fram the Merciless in regard to the preservation of himself and his "tribe." Under such a scenario, I have reservations that Jung would long survive.

Interesting to think/talk about, and if I am missing something, whistle.

Natalie said...

Good evening, Mr. Fram,
Thank you for stopping by and your precious comments.
May I leave words as they are?.. The poem was written on behalf of my mother – she’s not well… and always puzzled at humanity’s material appetite and lack of kindness…
I will write my comments tomorrow – not fully recovered after my trip, you know…

Fram said...

Welcome back to the mysterious sea of blogs, Natalie.

Certainly, comment if you wish, or say hello only, if that is your mood.

Your poem and words and mother are your own. If I had known the poem was not your own thoughts about yourself, I would not have suggested changing the words. My apologies.

Take care ....

TheChicGeek said...

Hi Fram :)
"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." So very true.
The importance of the recording of our heritage and preserving it, passing it on to our children IS what makes us rise to higher levels. Unfortunately, mankind does not always listen to past history. We often think we are better and more enlightened, therefore we will have a better outcome. Society often does not pay attention.

"To those of us who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man's follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing." I don't think anyone could state better the case for the importance of studying history than in those very words. Perfect!

I'm glad you have introduced me to the Durants :)
Have a Happy Day, Fram!
xox

Fram said...

Just to begin on a sour note so I do not end on one, I firmly believe one of the greatest failures of leadership in the history the U.S. is taking place in Washington, D.C., at this moment, partially due to arrogance bordering on megalomania and partially because so many elected officials have no concept of the successes and the failures of past experiments in social or economic engineering.

George Santanya, another philosopher who often is quoted, put it this way: "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are content to repeat it."

So simple, yet so incomprehensible to so many.

Now, Kelly, to end on the happy note. History is a "celestial city, a spacious country of the mind," where always will exist endless life and countless events for enjoyment and for learning to anyone who has the ability and the ambition to read.

TheChicGeek said...

Ooooo, you said that really well :D
Perfect!

Fram said...

Thank you, ma'am ....

A Cuban In London said...

I've just read your two posts on history (will move on to the Minnehaha in a minute).

I totally agree with the quote on the Roman empire. And to me what caused their realm to collapse was also a self-belief that became arrogance. Unfortunately that lesson has not been heeded by successor governments or empires.

Your two posts on history had me asking myself many questions, especially because I am mightily interested in it.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Fram said...

It seems to me most, if not all answers to earthly problems might be found through the study of history, CiL, but too few do it, and fewer yet choose to accept proven methods and solutions over their own self-taught biases, prejudices, beliefs and opinions. Such is the way of children; such is the way of the world.

For some of us, religious and philosophical answers also are to be found through the study of history.

Very nice to see you roaming through here.

Something special ....