Tuesday, January 24, 2012


British Historian

Arnold Joseph Toynbee (14 April 1889 – 22 October 1975), was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, were popular and celebrated as a great History Study.

A Study of History, 1934–1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global perspective.

A religious outlook permeates the Study and made it especially popular in the United States, for Toynbee rejected Greek humanism, the Enlightenment belief in humanity's essential goodness, and what he considered the "false god" of modern nationalism.

Toynbee in the 1918-1950 period was a leading British consultant to the government on international affairs, especially regarding the Middle East.

Arnold J. Toynbee was the son of Harry Valpy Toynbee, grandson of Joseph Toynbee, and nephew of the economic historian Arnold Toynbee (1852–1883), with whom he is sometimes confused.

His sister Jocelyn Toynbee was a noted archaeologist and art historian.

Arnold J. Toynbee was born in London on 14 April 1889, and was educated at Winchester College and Balliol College, Oxford.

He began his teaching career as a fellow of Balliol College in 1912, and thereafter held positions at King's College London (as Professor of Modern Greek and Byzantine History), the London School of Economics and the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) in Chatham House.

Toynbee was Director of Studies at the RIIA between 1929 and 1956.
It paid L1200 a year, and in return, he edited its annual "Survey of International Affairs" from 1920-46.

His first marriage was to Rosalind Murray (1890–1967), daughter of Gilbert Murray, in 1913; they had three sons, of whom Philip Toynbee was the second.

They divorced in 1946; Toynbee then married his research assistant, Veronica M. Boulter, in the same year.

He died on 22 October, 1975, aged 86.


Toynbee worked for the Political Intelligence Department of the British Foreign Office during World War I and served as a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

He was director of studies at Chatham House, Balliol College, Oxford University, 1924-43.
Chatham House conducted research for the British Foreign Office and was an important intellectual resource during World War II when it was transferred to London.
With his research assistant, Veronica M. Boulter (later his wife) Toynbee was co-editor of the RIIA's annual Survey of International Affairs, which became the "bible" for international specialists in Britain.


Toynbee was a leading analyst of developments in the Middle East.
His support for Greece and hostility to the Turks during the World War had gained him an appointment to the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History at the University of London.

However, after the war he changed to a pro-Turkish position, accusing Greece's military government in occupied Turkish territory of atrocities and massacres.

This earned him the enmity of the wealthy Greeks who had endowed the chair, and in 1924 he was forced to resign the position.

His stance during World War I reflected less sympathy for the Arab cause and a pro-Zionist outlook.
He also expressed support for a Jewish State in Palestine, which he believed had "begun to recover its ancient prosperity" as a result.

Toynbee investigated Zionism in 1915 at the Information Department of the Foreign Office, and in 1917 he published a memorandum with his colleague Lewis Namier which supported exclusive Jewish political rights in Palestine.

In 1922 he was influenced by the Palestine Arab delegation which was visiting London, and he adopted their views.
His subsequent writings show the way he changed his outlook on the subject, and in the late 1930s he moved away from supporting the Zionist cause and moved toward the Arab camp.
By the 1950s he was an opponent of the state of Israel.


Toynbee was troubled by the Russian Revolution, for he saw Russia as a non-Western society and the revolution as a threat to Western society.


As an influential opinion shaper, Toynbee was invited to have a private interview with Adolf Hitler in the Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery) in 1936.
Hitler emphasized his limited expansionist aim of building a greater German nation, and his desire for British understanding and cooperation.
Toynbee was convinced of Hitler's sincerity, and endorsed Hitler's message in a confidential memorandum for the British prime minister and foreign secretary.
During World War II, he again worked for the Foreign Office and attended the postwar peace talks.


In 1934-1954, Toynbee's ten-volume "A Study of History", came out in three separate installments.
He followed Oswald Spengler in taking a comparative topical approach to independent civilizations.
Toynbee's said they displayed striking parallels in their origin, growth, and decay. Toynbee rejected Spengler's biological model of civilizations as organisms with a typical life span of 1,000 years.

Of the 21 civilizations Toynbee identified, sixteen were dead by 1940 and four of the remaining five were under severe pressure from the one named Western Christendom - or simply The West.

He explained breakdowns of civilizations as a failure of creative power in the creative minority, which henceforth becomes a merely 'dominant' minority; that is followed by an answering withdrawal of allegiance and mimesis on the part of the majority; finally there is a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole.

Toynbee explained decline as due to their moral failure.
Many readers, especially in America, rejoiced in his implication (in vols. 1-6) that only a return to some form of Catholicism could halt the breakdown of western civilization which began with the Reformation.

Volumes 7-10, published in 1954 abandoned the religious message and his popular a
audience slipped away, while scholars gleefully picked apart his mistakes.


Toynbee's ideas and approach to history may be said to fall into the discipline of Comparative history.

While they may be compared to those used by Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West, he rejected Spengler's deterministic view that civilizations rise and fall according to a natural and inevitable cycle.
For Toynbee, a civilization might or might not continue to thrive, depending on the challenges it faced and its responses to them.

Toynbee presented history as the rise and fall of civilizations, rather than the history of nation-states or of ethnic groups.

He identified his civilizations according to cultural or religious rather than national criteria.
Thus, the "Western Civilization", comprising all the nations that have existed in Western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, was treated as a whole, and distinguished from both the "Orthodox" civilization of Russia and the Balkans, and from the Greco-Roman civilization that preceded it.

With the civilizations as units identified, he presented the history of each in terms of challenge-and-response.
Civilizations arose in response to some set of challenges of extreme difficulty, when "creative minorities" devised solutions that reoriented their entire society.

Challenges and responses were physical, as when the Sumerians exploited the intractable swamps of southern Iraq by organizing the Neolithic inhabitants into a society capable of carrying out large-scale irrigation projects; or social, as when the Catholic Church resolved the chaos of post-Roman Europe by enrolling the new Germanic kingdoms in a single religious community.

When a civilization responds to challenges, it grows.

Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the civilizations then sank owing to nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority.

Toynbee argued that "Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder."

For Toynbee, civilizations were not intangible or unalterable machines but a network of social relationships within the border and therefore subject to both wise and unwise decisions they made.

He expressed great admiration for Ibn Khaldun and in particular the Muqaddimah (1377), the preface to Ibn Khaldun's own universal history, which notes many systemic biases that intrude on historical analysis via the evidence, and presents an early theory on the cycle of civilisations (Asabiyyah).

Toynbee's view on Indian civilization may perhaps be summarized by the following quotation.

The vast literature, the magnificent opulence, the majestic sciences, the soul touching music, the awe inspiring gods.
It is already becoming clearer that a chapter which has a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self destruction of the human race.

At this supremely dangerous moment in history the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way.


Toynbee's ideas have annoyed many historians and he was seldom cited after 1960.


Comparative history, to which his approach belongs, has been in the doldrums.
The Canadian economic historian Harold Adams Innis is a notable exception.
Following Toynbee and others (Spengler, Kroeber, Sorokin, Cochrane), Innis examined the flourishing of civilizations in terms of administration of empires and media of communication.

Toynbee's overall theory was taken up by some scholars, for example, Ernst Robert Curtius, as a sort of paradigm in the post-war period.
Curtius wrote as follows in the opening pages of European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (1953 English translation), following close on Toynbee, as he sets the stage for his vast study of medieval Latin literature.
Not all would agree with his thesis, of course; but his unit of study is the Latin-speaking world of Christendom and Toynbee's ideas feed into his account




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