- This page is about the universal historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee; for the economic historian Arnold Toynbee see this article. For further Toynbees and related topics see the disambiguation page Toynbee.
Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH (April 14, 1889 – October 22, 1975) was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, 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.
Toynbee was the nephew of the 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 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. He was Director of Studies at the RIIA between 1925 and 1955.
He 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. With his research assistant, Veronica M. Boulter, who was to become his second wife, he was co-editor of the RIIA's annual Survey of International Affairs. In 1936 Toynbee was received in the Reichskanzlei by Adolf Hitler (cf. Acquaintances). During World War II, he again worked for the Foreign Office and attended the postwar peace talks.
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; Arnold then married Boulter in the same year.
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 civilisation 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 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. Civilisations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the civilisations then sank owing to nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority (see mimesis). 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, the preface to Ibn Khaldun's own universal history, which notes many systemic biases that intrude on historical analysis via the evidence.
Toynbee's ideas have not seemed overly influential on mainstream historians. Comparative history
, to which his approach belongs, has been in the doldrums, partly as an adverse reaction to Toynbee. 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 very naturally:
Reception and criticism
The ideas Toynbee promoted enjoyed some vogue (he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1947). They may have been early casualties of the Cold War's intellectual climate. Toynbee has been severely criticised by other historians. In general, the critique has been levelled at his use of myths and metaphors as being of comparable value to factual data, and at the soundness of his general argument about the rise and fall of civilisations, which may rely too much on a view of religion as a regenerative force. Many critics complained that the conclusions he reached were those of a Christian moralist rather than of a historian. Hugh Trevor-Roper described Toynbee's work as a "Philosophy of Mish-Mash" - Peter Geyl described Toynbee's ideological approach as "metaphysical speculations dressed up as history" His work, however, has been praised as a stimulating answer to the specialising tendency of modern historical research.
Toynbee was attacked on numerous fronts in two chapters of Walter Kaufmann's From Shakespeare to Existentialism (1959). One of the charges was that "...Toynbee's huge success is confined to the United States where public opinion is heavily influenced by magazines ..." (p.426); another was his focus on groups of religions as the significant demarcations of the world (p.408), as of 1956. Rightly or not, critics attacked Toynbee's theory for emphasizing religion over other aspects of life when assessing the big pictures of civilizations. In this respect, the debate resembled the contemporary one over Samuel Huntington's theory of the so-called "clash of civilizations". For Toynbee's ideas in context, see development of religion. Because he took Judaism, Christianity, Islam and communism as a related group, and contrasted them with Buddhism, his analysis was very different. Toynbee is reputed to have said "The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the Twentieth Century".
In an essay titled The Chatham House Version (1970), Elie Kedourie of the London School of Economics, a historian of the Middle East, attacked Toynbee's role in what he saw as an abdication of responsibility of the retreating British Empire, in failing democratic values in countries it had once controlled. Kedourie argued that Toynbee's whole system and work were aimed at undercutting this imperial role; he included in this denunciation Toynbee's work at the Foreign Office, where he had dealt directly with the Palestine Mandate.
The Toynbees have been prominent in British intellectual society for several generations:
Allusions in popular culture
It is assumed that Arnold J. is the Toynbee referred to on the Toynbee tiles
. His ideas also feature in the Ray Bradbury short story
named "The Toynbee Convector
", and a lesser-known book called (among other titles) Toynbee 22
. He appears alongside T. E. Lawrence
as a character in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
, dealing with the post-World War I
treaty negotiations at Versailles
. He also receives a brief mention in the Charles Harness
classic, The Paradox Men
. Most versions of the Civilization computer game
refer to his work as a historian as well.
- The Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation, with a speech delivered by Lord Bryce in the House of Lords (Hodder & Stoughton 1915)
- Nationality and the War (Dent 1915)
- The New Europe: Some Essays in Reconstruction, with an Introduction by the Earl of Cromer (Dent 1915)
- Contributor, Greece, in The Balkans: A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey, various authors (Oxford, Clarendon Press 1915)
- Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce (Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1916)
- The Belgian Deportations, with a statement by Viscount Bryce (T. Fisher Unwin 1917)
- The German Terror in Belgium: An Historical Record (Hodder & Stoughton 1917)
- The German Terror in France: An Historical Record (Hodder & Stoughton 1917)
- Turkey: A Past and a Future (Hodder & Stoughton 1917)
- The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations (Constable 1922)
- Introduction and translations, Greek Civilization and Character: The Self-Revelation of Ancient Greek Society (Dent 1924)
- Introduction and translations, Greek Historical Thought from Homer to the Age of Heraclius, with two pieces newly translated by Gilbert Murray (Dent 1924)
- Contributor, The Non-Arab Territories of the Ottoman Empire since the Armistice of the 30th October, 1918, in H. W. V. Temperley (editor), A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, Vol. VI (Oxford University Press under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs 1924)
- The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923” (Oxford University Press under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs 1925). Published on its own, but Toynbee writes that it was “originally written as an introduction to the Survey of International Affairs in 1920-1923, and was intended for publication as part of the same volume”.
- With Kenneth P. Kirkwood, Turkey (Benn 1926, in Modern Nations series edited by H. A. L. Fisher)
- The Conduct of British Empire Foreign Relations since the Peace Settlement (Oxford University Press under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs 1928)
- A Journey to China, or Things Which Are Seen (Constable 1931)
- Editor, British Commonwealth Relations, Proceedings of the First Unofficial Conference at Toronto, 11-21 September 1933, with a foreword by Robert L. Borden (Oxford University Press under the joint auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs 1934)
- A Study of History
- Vol I: Introduction; The Geneses of Civilizations
- Vol II: The Geneses of Civilizations
- Vol III: The Growths of Civilizations
- (Oxford University Press 1934)
- Editor, with J. A. K. Thomson, Essays in Honour of Gilbert Murray (George Allen & Unwin 1936)
- A Study of History
- Vol IV: The Breakdowns of Civilizations
- Vol V: The Disintegrations of Civilizations
- Vol VI: The Disintegrations of Civilizations
- (Oxford University Press 1939)
- D. C. Somervell, A Study of History: Abridgement of Vols I-VI, with a preface by Toynbee (Oxford University Press 1946)
- Civilization on Trial (Oxford University Press 1948)
- The Prospects of Western Civilization (New York, Columbia University Press 1949). Lectures delivered at Columbia University on themes from a then-unpublished part of A Study of History. Published “by arrangement with Oxford University Press in an edition limited to 400 copies and not to be reissued”.
- Albert Vann Fowler (editor), War and Civilization, Selections from A Study of History, with a preface by Toynbee (New York, Oxford University Press 1950)
- Introduction and translations, Twelve Men of Action in Greco-Roman History (Boston, Beacon Press 1952). Extracts from Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch and Polybius.
- The World and the West (Oxford University Press 1953). Reith Lectures for 1952.
- A Study of History
- Vol VII: Universal States; Universal Churches
- Vol VIII: Heroic Ages; Contacts between Civilizations in Space
- Vol IX: Contacts between Civilizations in Time; Law and Freedom in History; The Prospects of the Western Civilization
- Vol X: The Inspirations of Historians; A Note on Chronology
- (Oxford University Press 1954)
- An Historian's Approach to Religion (Oxford University Press 1956). Gifford Lectures, University of Edinburgh, 1952-1953.
- D. C. Somervell, A Study of History: Abridgement of Vols VII-X, with a preface by Toynbee (Oxford University Press 1957)
- Christianity among the Religions of the World (New York, Scribner 1957; London, Oxford University Press 1958). Hewett Lectures, delivered in 1956.
- Democracy in the Atomic Age (Melbourne, Oxford University Press under the auspices of the Australian Institute of International Affairs 1957). Dyason Lectures, delivered in 1956.
- East to West: A Journey round the World (Oxford University Press 1958)
- Hellenism: The History of a Civilization (Oxford University Press 1959, in Home University Library)
- With Edward D. Myers, A Study of History
- Vol XI: Historical Atlas and Gazetteer
- (Oxford University Press 1959)
- D. C. Somervell, A Study of History: Abridgement of Vols I-X in one volume, with a new preface by Toynbee and new tables (Oxford University Press 1960)
- A Study of History
- Vol XII: Reconsiderations
- (Oxford University Press 1961)
- Between Oxus and Jumna (Oxford University Press 1961)
- America and the World Revolution (Oxford University Press 1962). Public lectures delivered at the University of Pennsylvania, spring 1961.
- The Economy of the Western Hemisphere (Oxford University Press 1962). Weatherhead Foundation Lectures delivered at the University of Puerto Rico, February 1962.
- The Present-Day Experiment in Western Civilization (Oxford University Press 1962). Beatty Memorial Lectures delivered at McGill University, Montreal, 1961.
- The three sets of lectures published separately in the UK in 1962 appeared in New York in the same year in one volume under the title America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, Oxford University Press.
- Universal States (New York, Oxford University Press 1963). Separate publication of part of Vol VII of A Study of History.
- Universal Churches (New York, Oxford University Press 1963). Separate publication of part of Vol VII of A Study of History.
- With Philip Toynbee, Comparing Notes: A Dialogue across a Generation (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1963). "Conversations between Arnold Toynbee and his son, Philip … as they were recorded on tape."
- Between Niger and Nile (Oxford University Press 1965)
- Hannibal's Legacy: The Hannibalic War's Effects on Roman Life
- Vol I: Rome and Her Neighbours before Hannibal's Entry
- Vol II: Rome and Her Neighbours after Hannibal's Exit
- (Oxford University Press 1965)
- Change and Habit: The Challenge of Our Time (Oxford University Press 1966). Partly based on lectures given at University of Denver in the last quarter of 1964, and at New College, Sarasota, Florida and the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee in the first quarter of 1965.
- Acquaintances (Oxford University Press 1967)
- Between Maule and Amazon (Oxford University Press 1967)
- Editor, Cities of Destiny (Thames & Hudson 1967)
- Editor and principal contributor, Man's Concern with Death (Hodder & Stoughton 1968)
- Editor, The Crucible of Christianity: Judaism, Hellenism and the Historical Background to the Christian Faith (Thames & Hudson 1969)
- Experiences (Oxford University Press 1969)
- Some Problems of Greek History (Oxford University Press 1969)
- Cities on the Move (Oxford University Press 1970). Sponsored by the Institute of Urban Environment of the School of Architecture, Columbia University.
- Surviving the Future (Oxford University Press 1971). Rewritten version of a dialogue between Toynbee and Professor Kei Wakaizumi of Kyoto Sangyo University: essays preceded by questions by Wakaizumi.
- With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions and, for the first time, illustrations (Thames & Hudson 1972)
- Constantine Porphyrogenitus and His World (Oxford University Press 1973)
- Editor, Half the World: The History and Culture of China and Japan (Thames & Hudson 1973)
- Toynbee on Toynbee: A Conversation between Arnold J. Toynbee and G. R. Urban (New York, Oxford University Press 1974)
- Mankind and Mother Earth: A Narrative History of the World (Oxford University Press 1976), posthumous
- Richard L. Gage (editor), The Toynbee-Ikeda Dialogue: Man Himself Must Choose (Oxford University Press 1976), posthumous. The record of a conversation lasting several days.
- E. W. F. Tomlin (editor), Arnold Toynbee: A Selection from His Works, with an introduction by Tomlin (Oxford University Press 1978), posthumous. Includes advance extracts from The Greeks and Their Heritages.
- The Greeks and Their Heritages (Oxford University Press 1981), posthumous
- Christian B. Peper (editor), An Historian's Conscience: The Correspondence of Arnold J. Toynbee and Columba Cary-Elwes, Monk of Ampleforth, with a foreword by Lawrence L. Toynbee (Oxford University Press by arrangement with Beacon Press, Boston 1987), posthumous
- The Survey of International Affairs was published by Oxford University Press under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs between 1925 and 1977 and covered the years 1920-1963. Toynbee wrote, with assistants, the Pre-War Series (covering the years 1920-1938) and the War-Time Series (1938-1946), and contributed introductions to the first two volumes of the Post-War Series (1947-1948 and 1949-1950). His actual contributions varied in extent from year to year.
- A complementary series, Documents on International Affairs, covering the years 1928-1963, was published by Oxford University Press between 1929 and 1973. Toynbee supervised the compilation of the first of the 1939-1946 volumes, and wrote a preface for both that and the 1947-1948 volume.
- William H. McNeill (1989). Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506335-X.
- Ankerl, Guy Global communication without universal civilization. Geneva: INU Press.