Quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Our current media culture attempts to explain the world via the last 24 hours in 140 characters. The world appears a lot different with of a little knowledge of the last 6,000 years or 600,000 years for that matter. The Durants offer a remarkably impartial, perhaps amoral, view of human history — while humbly acknowledging that all history is biased. The general thesis that emerges is that times change, but human nature is largely the same. This can be a remarkably optimistic or pessimistic realization. This book can make you feel very small, but it can also remind you that we are standing on the shoulders of giants — we are arguably in the penthouse of civilization. Not a bad place to be. Things like war, wealth inequality, class warfare, culture changes, changes in leadership, etc., have all happened many times throughout history.
History when properly studied is a multi-disciplinary exercise. History is not just names and dates. It’s geology, biology, religion, art, music, politics, science, technology, economics, psychology, etc.
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“History smiles at all attempts to force its flow into theoretical patterns or logical grooves; it plays havoc with our generalizations, breaks all our rules; history is baroque.”
Human history is a brief spot in space, and its first lesson is modesty.
The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows. So the first biological lesson of history is that life is 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 eat- ing. It promotes co-operation because it is the ultimate form of competition. The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection.
If we knew our fellow men thoroughly we could select thirty per cent of them whose combined ability would equal that of all the rest.
Utopias of equality are biologically doomed, and the best that the amiable philosopher can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity. The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed.
The South creates the civilizations, the North conquers them, ruins them, borrows from them, spreads them: this is one summary of history.
It is not the race that makes the civilization, it is the civilization that makes the people: circumstances geographical, economic, and political create a culture, and the culture creates a human type. Society is founded not on the ideals but on the nature of man
the imitative majority follows the innovating minority
History in the large is the conflict of minorities; the majority applauds the victor
out of this tension, as out of the strife of the sexes and the classes, comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole.
A larger knowledge stresses the universality of moral codes, and concludes to their necessity.
Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence.
Man’s sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.
Industriousness became more vital than bravery, regularity and thrift more profitable than violence, peace more victorious than war.
sin has flourished in every age.
In every age men have been dishonest and governments have been cor- rupt; probably less now than generally before.
We must remind ourselves again that history as usually written (peccavimus) is quite different from history as usually lived: the his- torian records the exceptional because it is interesting-because it is exceptional.
Meanwhile history assures us that civilizations decay quite lei- surely.
Heaven and utopia are buckets in a well: when one goes down the other goes up; when religion declines Communism grows.
Does history support a belief in God? … the answer must be a reluctant negative.
Nature and history do not agree with our conceptions of good and bad; they define good as that which survives, and bad as that which goes under;
One lesson of history is that religion has many lives, and a habit of resurrection.
“I do not know what the heart of a rascal may be; I know what is in the heart of an honest man; it is horrible.” - Joseph de Maistre
There is no significant example in history, be- fore our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.
“As long as there is poverty there will be gods.” History, according to Karl Marx, is economics in action
the discovery of America was a result of the failure of the Crusades. (trying to trade with the east)
the men who can manage money manage all.
history is inflationary, and that money is the last thing a \vise man will hoard.
every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity.
The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history.
Good sense prevailed; moderate elements secured the election of Solon … his reforms had saved Athens from revolution.
The government of the United States, in 1933-52 and 1960-65, fol- lowed Solon’s peaceful methods, and accomplished a moderate and pacifying redistribution;
there have been socialistic experiments in a dozen countries and centuries.
Power naturally converges to a center,
If we were to judge forms of government from their prevalence and duration in history we should have to give the palm to monarchy; democracies, by contrast, have been hectic interludes.
Hence most governments have been oligarchies-ruled by a minority
If the majority of abilities is contained in a minority of men, minority government is as inevitable as the concentration of wealth;
But in most instances the effects achieved by the revolution would apparently have come without it through the gradual compulsion of economic developments.
the sanity of a group lies in the continuity of its traditions; in either case a break in the chain invites a neurotic reaction
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.
The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction
When money failed, murder was available
Every advance in the complexity of the economy puts an added premium upon superior ability, and intensifies the concentration of wealth, responsibility, and political power.
All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government.
If equality of educational opportunity can be established, democracy will be real and justified.
democracy is today sounder than ever before.
In the last 3,42 I years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war.
The causes of war are the same as the causes of competition among individuals: acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and pride; the desire for food, land, materials, fuels, mastery.
In the military interpretation of history war is the final arbiter, and is accepted as natural and necessary by all but cowards and simpletons.
Even a philosopher, if he knows history, will admit that a long peace may fatally weaken the martial muscles of a nation.
The general smiles. “You have forgotten all the lessons of history,”
we may make contact with ambitious species on other planets or stars; soon thereafter there will be interplanetary war. Then, and only then, will we of this earth be one.”
We have defined civilization as “social order promoting cultural creation.”
History repeats itself, but only in outline and in the large.
History repeats itself in the large because human nature changes with geological leisureliness
On one point all are agreed: civilizations begin, flourish, decline, and disappear-or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams.
a challenge successfully met … raises the temper and level of a nation, and makes it abler to meet further challenges.
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.
science is neutral: it will kill for us as readily as it will heal, and will destroy for us more readily than it can build.
We double, triple, centuple our speed, but we shatter our nerves in the process, and are the same trousered apes at two thousand miles an hour as when we had legs.
Have we really outgrown intolerance, or merely transferred it from religious to national, ideological, or racial hostilities?
Have we given ourselves more freedom than our intelligence can digest? History is so indifferently rich that a case for almost any conclusion from it can be made by a selection of instances.
Consider education not as the painful accumulation of facts and dates and reigns, nor merely the necessary preparation of the individual to earn his keep in the world, but as the transmission of our mental, moral, technical, and aesthetic heritage as fully as possible to as many as possible, for the enlargement of man’s understanding, control, embellishment, and enjoyment of life.
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.
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.