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The Lessons of History - Will & Ariel Durant - Notes

Notes & Images

1. History and the Earth

  • Impact of climate on civilizations.

  • Generations of men establish a growing mastery over the earth, but they are destined to become fossils in its soil.

one archaeologist presented research that suggests that climate change affected the way cultures developed and collapsed in the cradle of civilization ó ancient Mesopotamia more than 8,000 years ago.
  • Most of the civilizations developed around major rivers.

  • The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows.

  • Humans, not the earth makes civilization.

2. History and Biology

  • The first biological lesson is that life is a competition.

  • Competition is not only the life of trade, it is the trade of life - peaceful when food 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.

  • Competing groups have the qualities of competing individuals - acquisitiveness, pugnacity, partinsanship, pride.

  • Until the states become members of a large and effective protective group they will continue to act like individuals and families in the hunting stage.

  • Second biological lesson of history is that life is a selection.

  • In the struggle for existence some individuals are better equipped than others to meet the tests of survival.

  • Inequality is not only natural and in-born, it grows with compexity of civilization.

  • Leave men free, and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically, as in England and America in the nighteenth century under laisseze-faire.

  • Only the men who is below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desires freedom; and in the end superior ability has its way.

  • Utopias are biologically doomed, and the best that the amiable philosopher can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity.

  • Third biological lesson of history is that life must breed.

  • Nature is more interested in the species than in the individual.

  • She sees to it that a nation with a low birth rate shall be periodically chastened by some more verile & ferile group.

  • If the human blood is too numerous for the food supply, nature has three agents for restoring the balances: famine, pestilence & the war.

  • Birth rate vs death rate determines growth and decadence.

  • Much of what we call intelligence is the result of individual education, opportunity & experience.

  • "There is no humorist like history".

4. History and Race:

  • Every race believes that their race is superior.

  • History is color-blind, and can develop a civilization under almost any skin.

  • If the people in Africa have produced no great civilization, it is probably because of climatic & geographical conditions frustrated them.

  • It is remarkable how many american of non-white race have risen to high places in the profession, arts and sports in the last 150 years despite a social obstacle.

5. History and Character:

  • Means and instrumentalities change; motives and ends remain the same; to act or rest, to acquire or to give, to fight or retreat, to seek or association or privacy, to mate or reject, to offer or resent parental care.

  • Evolution in men during recorded time has been social rather than biological; it has processed not by heritable variations in the species but mostly by economic, political, intellectual, and moral innovation transmitted in individuals and generations by immitation, custom & education.

  • Intellect is therefore a vital force in history, but it can also be dissolvent and destructuve power.

  • Conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it, perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital vital than grafts.

  • It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled ro go through the mill of objection, opposition and contumely; this is the trial heat which innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race.

  • It is good that the old should resist the young, and the young should prod the old; out of this tension, as out of the strife of the sexes and the classes, comes a creative and basic unity & movement of the whole.

6. Morals and History:

  • Morals differ in time and space.

  • Morals codes differ because they adjust themselves to historical & environmental conditions.

  • In every age, sins, corruption, dishonesty has been there.

  • Perhaps, discipline will be restored in our civilization through the milatary training required by the challenges of war.

  • Individualization will diminish in America & England as geographical protection ceases.

  • Sexual license may cure itself through its own excess.

  • Our unmoored children may live to see order and modesty become fashionable.

  • Clothing will be more stimulating than nudity.

7. Religion and History

  • Even skeptics have shown respect to religion.

  • Religion has helped bereived, the suffering, the unhappy more than natural aid.

  • It has brought order in the society.

  • Utopias and Heaven are buckets in a wall --> when one goes down, the other goes up.

  • When religion declines, communism grows.

  • Relation between the state and church.

  • Colleges once allied to churches have been captured by businessmen and scientists.

  • The propoganda of patriotism, capitalism or communism succeeds to the inclination of a supernatural & moral creed.

  • Enlightenment and peace reduces the need for religion.

  • If war comes up, destroys people, religion will come back.

  • Atheism ran wild in the India of Buddha's youth and Buddha himself founded a religion without a god.

  • After his death, Buddhism deveoped a complex theology, including gods, saints and hell.

  • Generally, religion and puritanism prevail in periods when the laws are freeble and morals must bear the burden of maintaining social order.

  • As long as there is suffering and pain and poverty, there will be gods.

8. 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.

  • Industrial revolution, democracy, feminism, birth control, socialism, the decline of religion, the loosening of morals, the liberation of literature from dependence upon aristocratic patronage.

  • Replacment of romanticism by realism in fiction.

  • The economic interpretation of history.

  • Economic ambitions, not the face of Helen, "fairer than the evening or clad in the beauty of a thousand stars."

  • Invading barbarians found Rome weak because the agricultural population which had formerly supplied the legion with hardy and patriotic warriors fightening for land had been replaced by slaves laboring listlessly on vast farms owned by one man or a few.

  • “History reports that 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 that history is inflationary, and that money is the last thing a wise man will hoard.

  • Every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity.

  • Substitutes such as slavery, police supervision, or ideological enthusiasm proves too underproductive, too expensive or too transient.

  • Normally, production is utmost important. Destruction is the last resort or needed during the times of the war.

  • Concentration of wealth is because of concentration of ability and regularly recurs in history.

9. Socialism and History

  • The struggle of socialism against capitalism is part of the historic rhythm in the concentration and dispersion of wealth.

  • China experimented with socialism (Taoism and even before).

  • Why socialism first came to Russia?

  • 1917. Russian Revolution -> defeated the Czar.

  • Economy was in ruin.

  • Germany was attacking.

  • Communism was needed for a strong and united state.

  • The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality.

  • East is west and west is east, and soon the twain will meet.


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