The Lessons of History
|The Lessons of History
|Will & Ariel Durant
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If you think of reading books as an investment of your time, then this book definitely has one of the top ROI’s. The lessons and patterns of history that the authors, Will and Ariel Durant, learned while working on a 10 volume set, “The Story of Civilization”, are compiled and explained in a reader-friendly manner in only 100 pages. My new life goal now is to read the 10 volume set :)
History and the Earth
- History is subject to geology. Every day the sea encroaches somewhere upon the land, or the land upon the sea; cities disappear under the water, and sunken cathedrals ring their melancholy bells.
- Geography is the matrix of history, its nourishing mother and disciplining home. Its rivers, lakes, oases, and oceans draw settlers to their shores, for water is the life of organisms and towns, and offers inexpensive roads for transport and trade.
- The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows. The character and contour of a terrain may offer opportunities for agriculture, mining, or trade, but only the imagination and initiative of leaders, and the hardy industry of followers, can transform the possibilities into fact; and only a similar combination can make a culture take form over a thousand natural obstacles. Man, not earth, makes civilization.
Biology and History
- History is a fragment of biology; the life of man is a portion of the vicissitudes of organisms on land and sea.
- The first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. Competition is not only the life of trade it is the trade of life — peaceful when good abounds, violent when the mouths outrun the food.
- Co-operation is real, and increases with social development, but mostly because it is a tool and form of competition we co-operate in our group — our family, community, club, church, party, “race,” or nation — in order to strengthen our group in its competition with other groups.
- War is a nation’s way of eating. It promotes co-operation because it is the ultimate form of competition.
- The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection. … In the struggle for existence some individuals are better equipped that others to meet thefts of survival.
- Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization.
- Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.
- The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed. Nature has no use for organisms, variations, or groups that cannot reproduce abundantly. … She is more interested in the species than in the individual, and makes little difference between civilization and barbarism.
Race and History
- The role of race in history is rather preliminary than creative.
- It is not the race that makes the civilization, it is the civilization that makes the people: circumstances geographic, economic, and political create a culture, and the culture creates a human type.
Character and History
- Society is founded not on the ideals but on the nature of man, and the constitution of man rewrites the constitutions of states.
- Evolution in man during recorded time has been social rather than biological… Custom and traditions within a group correspond to the type and heredity in the species, and to instincts in the individual; they are ready adjustments to typical and frequently repeated situations.
- In our table of character elements imitation is opposed to innovation, but in vital ways it co-operates with it. As submissive natures unite with masterful individuals to make the order and operation of a society, so the imitative majority follows the innovating minority, and this follows the originative individual, in adapting new responses to the demands of environment or survival.
- History in the large is the conflict of minorities; the majority applauds the victor and supplies the human material of social experiment.
- The conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it — perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts.
Morals and History
- Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence. Probably every vice was once a virtue — i.e., a quality making for the survival of the individual, the family, or the group. Man’s sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.
- We must remind ourselves again that history as usually written is quire different from history as usually lived: the historian records the exceptional because it is interesting — because it is exceptional.
- We cannot be sure that the moral laxity of our times is a herald of decay rather than a painful or delightful transition between moral code that has lost its agricultural basis and another that our industrial civilization has yet to forge into social order and normality.
Religion and History
- In one way Christianity lent a hand against itself by developing in many Christians a moral sense that could no longer stomach the vengeful God of the traditional theology.
- One lesson of history is that religion has many lives, and a habit of resurrection.
Economics and History
- History, according to Karl Marx, is economics in action — the contest, among individuals, groups, classes, and states, for food, fuel, materials, and economic power. Political forms, religious institutions, cultural creations, are all rooted in economic realities.
- The motives of the leaders may be economic, but the result is largely determined by the passions of the mass. In many instances political or military power was apparently the cause rather than the result of economic operations, as in the seizure of Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917, or in army coups that punctuate South American history.
- The men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.
- Perhaps it is one secret of their power that, having studied the fluctuations of prices, they know history is inflationary, and that money is the last thing a wise man will hoard.
- In progressive societies the concentration [of wealth] may reach a point where the strength of number in the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.
- The concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.
Socialism and History
- The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality.
Government and History
- Since men love freedom, and the freedom of individuals in society requires some regulation of conduct, the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos.
- Since wealth is an order and procedure of production and exchange rather than an accumulation of goods, and is a trust in men and institutions rather than in the intrinsic value of paper money or checks, violent revolutions do not so much redistribute wealth as destroy it.
- The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.
History and War
- Peace is an unstable equilibrium, which can be preserved only by acknowledging supremacy or equal power.
- The 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.
Growth and Decay
- History repeats itself, but only in outline and in the large. … There is no certainty that the future will repeat the past.
Is Progress Real?
- Have our laws offered the criminal too much protection against society and the state? Have we given ourselves more freedom than our intelligence can digest?
- If education is the transmission of civilization, we are unquestionably progressing. 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. So our finest contemporary achievement is our unprecedented expenditure of wealth and oil in the provision of higher education for all.
- 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 on a higher level of that 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.