Bad News About the Border

April 9, 2021

WHENEVER THE NEWS from the southern border worsens, we distribute as a public service this summary of the great Arnold Toynbee’s 12-volume “Study of History,” finished in 1961. It describes in present tense his cycle of a civilization, as prescient as it is troubling:

“The third response (of a declining civilization) concerns the implosion of boundaries. Extension of empire is weakening its power to keep ‘things together.’ Sooner or later the pressure on the limes (as the borders of the Roman Empire were called) will be mounting to a critical climax.Two factors are aggravating the situation. First of all, the guardians of the empire being forced to use the services of the external proletariat, in order to keep up the basic functions of society . . . secondly the spreading of high sophisticated weaponry in neighboring countries. 

“The combination of these two factors will prove to be lethal to the empire. At such a stage developments may go dramatically fast. The hatred of the surrounding societies toward the dominant one, will unleash an uncontrollable aggression, in which the former are overturning the latter, trying to get what they can get or either destroy what they can destroy. It is the stage of chaos, trouble, suffering and the birth of a new heroism, this time on the part of the invaders. It is characterized by ‘dark ages,’ in which everything is first disintegrating, while subsequently being slowly rebuilt (something that may take centuries).

“The invaders — having had no experience in ruling a complicated society — appear not to be able to restore the original high standard of living. The impulse for renewal is on the other hand coming from the new religion, as being developed by the new creative minority in the last days of the original empire. Vitalized by the influx of and mixing with the former barbarians . . . this new religion will then slowly penetrate the various sectors of society, transforming them according to the new teachings, starting a new round of civilization.”


Please remember that Toynbee prefaced his work with the observation that he had never studied a civilization whose decline could not have been reversed by one man or a small group of men. But not, apparently, of the type now in office. — tcl


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