A summary of Will & Ariel Durant's 'The Lessons of History', with a theoretical model for civilisation.
Author(s): Will & Ariel Durant
Genre: History, Philosophy
Description: The Lessons of History is the philosophy of history espoused by the Durants, distilled from their 10-volume work of universal history 'The Story of Civilization'.
What follows is how I conducted an initial, inspectional reading of this book, followed by analytical notes, and concluding with syntopical notes. You can compare the various stages to see the progress and difference as I move through the stages and take inspiration from it in developing your own webs of knowledge. Notion is an especially powerful tool to help you not just develop a good writing habit, but to develop effective and clean storing of information.
What follows is my analytical reading of the book, including detailed notes of every chapter and discussion points summarising my understanding of this book, my views on these ideas, and further points for discussion.
Main Body Notes
What follows is my syntopical analysis of multiple books around history and civilisation and my attempt at deriving the fundamental principles of history based off their works and my own wider thoughts on the matter. Influences include: Ibn Khaldun, Malik Bennabi, and others whose names I forget but owe my knowledge to.
The Four Principles of Civilisation (a personal contrivance)
Civilisation (الحضارة) can be divided into the Four Principles with further subdivisions:
- The Three Elements - Iron, Blood, Earth (الحديد والدم والأرض)
- Iron represents all metals. Gold for trade, iron for war, steel for building.
- Blood represents biology: humanity, reproduction, family, tribes.
- Earth represents the soil that nourishes and homes us (and tries to kill us).
- The Twin Arches - Culture & Religion (الثقافة والدين)
- Religion provides the arche that acts as the moral basis of civilisation.
- Culture is the lens in which we translate it all via mythologies, rituals, Gods, languages, and so on.
- The Twin Legitimacies - War & Jurisprudence (الحرب والفقه)
- War is the capture of power, and a declaration of one's legitimate right to it by strength of arms. War depends on the Three Elements.
- Jurisprudence is the exercise of power, and the confirmation of its legitimacy through justice, order, and sometimes, mercy. Jurisprudence depends on the Twin Arches.
- The Universal Matters - Time & Space (الزمان والمكان)
- Space is finite and physical, defining where we can move and how fast we can move.
- Time is intangible and inexorable, defining the window of opportunity in which we have to act in this universe.
Civilisation is made up of the Four Principles. It is built by the Three Elements, restricted by the Matters, and organised by the Twin Legitimacies. This "equation" that we call civilisation is managed subjectively across space-time (the Universal Matters) by what we call culture (the first arche). Culture is the intuitive management of the Four Principles through intangible knowledge (intellectual dark matter) such as norms and traditions (rituals, mythologies, religions, etc). Religion (the second arche) gives us the moral system which elevates us above mere animals.
Technology allows us to distort the Universal Matters primarily through advances made in transport and communications technology. The development of railways, cars, telegraphs, and phones in the 19th-20th centuries followed by the internet of the 21st century are all technologies that collapse space-time as nations seek greater advantages over each other in trading at faster and bigger volumes and frequencies, communicate information to each other at greater speeds, and being able to deliver bigger payloads at a faster rate in wars. Technology also allows us to increase the productivity of the Three Elements, producing more food, more metals, more people, more armaments and material for war - which are then turned into commercial and "civilian" uses, e.g. post-WWII economic growth was a direct result of wartime technologies being commercialised.
Software creates the possibility for a fourth element: bits. Iron, blood, and Earth are atoms, and tended to be what our wealth production was based on, but software opens up a vast expanse of bit wealth: software companies, digital currencies, digital content, etc. I am still hesitant about this owing to its lack of endurance, a requisite for being part of the Four Principles. We will only know a thousand years from now. Minerva's owl has a long flight.
Should any one of these principles fail, it can first be seen reflected through cultural rot as creativity declines and rent seeking and mimicry reign, and civilisation is beginning to collapse. As such, maintaining our tawjih, i.e. our conscious orientation of the Four Principles embodied through our culture, is necessary for the stewardship of advanced civilisation. Should this fail, humanity will not be wiped out. As always, it will stubbornly survive. However, it will be forced back into survival conditions for a while before it begins to rebuild what we have squandered. This could be centuries, millennia, or even never for certain races.