FOSSIL SOCIETIES?-1 ( Post No.8662)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8662

Date uploaded in London – – – –11 SEPTEMBER 2020   

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R. Nanjappa


India is the base of Hindu civilization. But it has been under threat from1. Muslim invasions and rule 2. British colonial rule 3.Secular Indian govt. after Independence which has completely de-Indianised our education so that the youth of India (those under 35) are almost totally alienated from our roots. Hindus have no leadership on the religious or social or political fronts- leadership that will positively and unapologetically work for Hindus.Our religious leadership is either obscurantist (the orthodox speaking for a simple return to the past) or reformist in various degrees ( eg. new gurus and cults.) On the social side, Hindus are now divided on the basis of communities, with an eye on vote bank politics.. In the circumstances, Hindus are not conscious that they are a civilization or aware of the dangers facing them and the need to defend themselves intelligently.

This and two other essays (part 2 and part 3) are like the general introduction, with a global view.


There are many good writers on any subject. But most of their books get dated. There are some great writers whose books acquire added value as time passes. They stand up and defy time, and rise above the temporary concerns of particular societies and times. Arnold Toynbee is such a great writer. 

ARNOLD TOYNBEE, (1889-1975) was a great historian of the last century. He studied world history not as the political story of nations and rulers  but as the unfolding of civilisations. He looked at over 25 civilizations for which records were available and inquired into what caused their origin, rise, development, decay and eventual collapse.


He proposed that- 

1.A civilization could flourish only if it could meet the various challenges. 

2. It was a small minority in each civilisation which really contributed to its survival and growth. He called it ” the creative minority “. Eventually, it became a merely “dominant minority ” enjoying the status and demanding the privileges, but making no creative contribution. This was the main reason for downfall. 
3. Societies turned to become mere fossils in the absence of creative renewal.
He gave his analysis in a massive study  running into 12 volumes titled ” A Study of History “. It was published between 1934 and 1961.

There is an abridged edition in two volumes- even this is voluminous. Toynbee dealt with issues more fundamental than political or social history of national units as commonly understood; therefore he cannot be considered a narrow academic historian in the conventional sense. He is   a philosopher of history or meta-historian. He is among historians what Einstein is among so-called scientists.

   Other ‘professional’ or conventional academic historians tended to dispute Toynbee’s ideas, holding that he promoted fancy theories and used known facts to sustain them. But this is what every historian does! They take the ‘facts’ or events and explain them in their own way. Are they not weaving their own theories? Toynbee commanded enormous public attention and esteem, but not much academic following. As usual in such cases, the very mass of his writings, with unending streams of details deterred quick mastery of his work.


We get a feeling that most people tend to judge him without studying his work thoroughly- as we often do in serious matters! For instance, how many of us have studied enough of the literature on GDP or global warming to come to an informed understanding? We rely on some authority and feel scientists or specialists will take care! Do we board a plane fully knowing how the engine works? Alas! It is the same scientists who first created global warming, then denied it and now are at a loss to understand its full magnitude and implications! The scientists surely do take care of how their bread is buttered !

There are of course areas where we may disagree with Toynbee. For instance, we may not agree with the way he has dealt with Buddhism vis a vis Hinduism. In fact not many Westerners understand or can ever do justice to the connection between Hinduism and Buddhism properly. For that we need someone like Ananda Coomaraswamy, to be born in the West! But there are areas where Toynbee provides us with true insights. These are coming to haunt us now.


The very fact that the major nations of Europe thought of forming the European Union shows that the idea of civilization is more solid than that  of a nation state! The modern idea of the nation state is hardly two centuries old. The nation states that fought two world wars in the last century were mainly Christian! They fought the wars because they forgot their common bonds! It took two bloody wars to remind them of their common elements! It is the recognition of the common factors or interessts above national identities that prompted statesmen to forge European Union.

Today, the West is not a Christian civilization any more, as the State is separated from the Church-though Christians live there. The State is governed by secular-humanist ideals after the Enlightenment, and the public space for religion is shrinking. But what is forgotten is that even the humanist ideal as developed in the West has appeal only to those nations which were Christian in the first place, and/or were subject to their influence. The Muslims are not guided by the ideal of humanism in matters of government.  

                                        *                   (to be continued)


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