Courtesy Reuters

Can Russia Withdraw from Civilization?

IN HIS book, "Civilization on Trial," Arnold Toynbee begins the chapter entitled "Russia's Byzantine Heritage" with the quotation from Horace: Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she will always come back. For Professor Toynbee the saying exemplifies Russia's ineradicable Byzantine heritage. Indeed, in his still better known "Study of History," this distinguished British historian goes so far as to find in Europe two separate "civilizations"--the Western and the Russian Greek Orthodox--both of them descended from the Graeco-Roman but each an independent cultural unit, and presumably as distinct from one another as the Hindu, the Far Eastern, the Arabic or the Mayan civilizations are separate and distinct from them both.

One is tempted to believe that Professor Toynbee has drawn his classifications too neatly in this instance, as one is compelled to doubt the success of the present furious effort of the Soviet rulers to pull the Russian nation out of the European civilization of which it is so inextricably a part. What is a civilization? For Professor Toynbee it is "an intelligible field of study." He explains this definition by saying that the culture of a nation cannot be understood apart from the culture of the whole civilization to which the nation belongs. For him, in other words, a "civilization" is a self-sufficient cultural unit which can be understood by studying its own development (though Professor Toynbee would not exclude consideration of sporadic influences from other civilizations). By implication, therefore, a cultural entity may not be classified as a distinct civilization if one constantly has to refer to ideas from outside that field in order to understand it.

But which ideas belong within "an intelligible field of study?" Must the complex of all ideas of a given civilization be taken into consideration, or only some ideas? Professor Toynbee seems to give different answers to this question. In the study of all civilizations except the Western and the Russian Greek Orthodox he

Loading, please wait...

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.