The Lessons of History

Will and Ariel Durant

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History and the Earth

Trade routes will follow less and less the rivers and seas; men and goods will be flown more and more directly to their goal. Countries like England and France will lose the commercial advantage of abundant coast lines conveniently indented; countries like a Russia, China and Brazil, which were hampered by the excess of their land mass over their coasts, will cancel part of that handicap by taking to the air.

Biology and History

  • “The first biological lesson of history is that life is competition”, we cooperate with our group or tribe in order to strengthen it relative to other groups and tribes. “We are acquisitive, greedy, and pugnacious because our blood remembers millenniums through which our forebears had to chase and fight and kill in order to survive, and had to eat to their gastric capacity for fear they should not soon capture another feast.”
  • “The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection. In the competition for food or mates or power some organisms succeed and some fail. In the struggle for existence some individuals are better equipped than others to meet the tests of survival.” There is no true equality, “Nature loves difference as the necessary material of selection and evolution; identical twins differ in a hundred ways, and no two peas are alike.” These inequalities grow with the advancement of civilization as a natural consequence.
  • Freedom and equality are opposites, you cannot have perfect freedom without extreme inequality, and you cannot have perfect equality with any freedom.
  • “Only the man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom; and in the end superior ability has its way.”
  • “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. A society in which all potential abilities are allowed to develop and function will have a survival advantage in the competition of groups.”
  • “The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed. Nature has no use for organisms, variations, or groups that cannot reproduce abundantly.”

“The Greeks of Plato’s time behaved very much like the French of modern centuries; and the Romans behaved like the English. Means and instrumentalities change; motives and ends remain the same: to act or rest, to acquire or give, to fight or retreat, to seek association or privacy, to mate or reject, to offer or resent parental care.”

“Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence. Probably every vice was once a virtue— i.e., a quality making for the survival of the individual, the family, or the group. Man’s sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall.”

War is a nation’s way of eating.

Only man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality.

What we call intelligence is the result of individual education, opportunity, and exprierence; and there is no evidence that such intellectual acquirements are transmitted in the genes. Even the children of Ph.D.s must be educated and go through their adolescent measles of errors, dogmas, and isms.

Race and History

History is color-blind, and can develop a civilazation ( in any favorable environment) under almost any skin.

If the Negros of Africa have produced no great civilization it is probably because climatic and geographical conditions frustrated them; would any of the white “races” have done better in those invironments ? It is remarkable how many American Negroes have risen to high places in the professions, arts, and letters in the last one hundred years despite a thousand social obstacles.

It is not the race that makes the civilization, it is the civilization that makes the people.

Morals and History

If we divide economic history into three stages – hunting, agriculture, industry – we may expect that the moral code of one stage will be changed in the next. In the hunting stage a man had to be ready to chase and fight and kill. When he had caught his prey ha ate to the cubic capacity of his stomach, being uncertain when he might eat again; insecurity is the mother of greed.

We must remind ourselves again that history as usually written is quite different from history as usually lived.

Religion and History

Heaven and utopia are buckets in a well: when one goes down the other goes up; when religion declines Communism grows.

“It was fear that first made the gods.”

“As long as there is poverty there will be gods”.

  • Generally religion and puritanism prevail in periods when the laws are feeble and morals must bear the burden of maintaining social order; skepticism and paganism (other factors being equal) progress as the rising power of law and government permits the decline of the church, the family, and morality without basically endangering the stability of the state.”
  • “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion. France, the United States, and some other nations have divorced their governments from all churches, but they have had the help of religion in keeping social order.”

Economics and History

Normally and generally men are judged their ability to produce- except in war, when they are ranked according to their ability to destroy.

The relative equality of Americans before 1776 has been overwhelmed by a thousand forms of physical, mental, and economic differentiation, so that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is now greater than at any time since Imperial plutocratic Rome. In progressive societies the concentration may reach a point where the strenght of number in the many poor rivals the strengh of ability in the few rich; then the unstable equilibrium generates a critical situation, which history has diversely met by legislation redistributing wealth or by revolution distributing poverty.

“Solon reduced all personal debts, and ended imprisonment fo debt; he canceled arrears fo taxes and mortgage interest; he established a graduated income tax that made the rich pay at a rate twelve times that required of the poor; he reorganized the courts on a more popular basis; and he arranged that the sons of those who had died in war for Athens should be brought up and educated at the government’s expense. The rich protested that his measures were outright confiscation; the radicals complained that he had not redivided the land; but within a generation almost all agreed that his reforms had saved Athens from revolution.”

The government of United States in 1933-1952 and 1960-1965, followed Solon’s peaceful methods, and accomplished a moderate and pacifying redistribution; perhaps someone has studied history.

History and War

War is one of the constants of history, and has no dimished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3421 years off recorded history only 268 have seen no war. We have acknowledge was as at present the ultimate form of competion and natural selection in the human species.

“Perhaps we are now restlessly moving toward that higher plateau of competion; 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 his earth be one.”

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