For many years, my friend and former colleague David Derrick tried to convince me of the great merits of Arnold Toynbee. I never caught his enthusiasm.
But now I can get David’s Toynbee-inflected ardor and intelligence directly through his new weblog, The Toynbee convector.
Here’s a bit of Toynbee which David correctly knew would hit some of my hot buttons:
The general war of 1914 overtook me expounding Thucydides to Balliol undergraduates reading for Literae Humaniores, and then suddenly my understanding was illuminated. The experience that we were having in our world now had been experienced by Thucydides in his world already. I was re-reading him now with a new perception – perceiving meanings in his words, and feelings behind his phrases, to which I had been insensible until I, in my turn, had run into that historical crisis that had inspired him to write his work. Thucydides, it now appeared, had been over this ground before. He and his generation had been ahead of me and mine in the stage of historical experience that we had respectively reached; in fact, his present had been my future. But this made nonsense of the chronological notation which registered my world as “modern” and Thucydides’ world as “ancient.” Whatever chronology might say, Thucydides’ world and my world had now proved to be philosophically contemporary. And, if this were the true relation between the Graeco-Roman and the Western civilizations, might not the relation between all the civilizations known to us turn out to be the same?
And David’s gloss:
And so you have Toynbee. And that electrifying moment in 1914, after Europe and its chocolate soldiers had been sleep-marching towards the greatest catastrophe in their history, is easy to imagine when you read the ominous opening of Thucydides’ work.