Thursday 2014-08-28

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant

This book tries to be a short survey of all history.

"Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice."
-- Hesitations
Heaven and utopia are buckets in a well: when one goes down the other goes up; when religion declines Communism grows.
-- Religion and History
The propaganda of patriotism, capitalism, or Communism succeeds to the inculcation of a supernatural creed and moral code. Holydays give way to holidays.
-- Religion and History
in upper- and middle-class France and Italy religion is "a secondary sexual characteristic of the female."
-- Religion and History
Agamemnon, Achilles, and Hector would never have been heard of had not the Greeks sought commercial control of the Dardanelles; economic ambition, not the face of Helen "fairer than the evening air clad in the beauty of a thousand stars," launched a thousand ships on Ilium; those subtle Greeks knew how to cover naked economic truth with the fig leaf of a phrase.
-- Economics and History
We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevi­ table, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial re­ distribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation.
-- Economics and History
Szuma Ch'ien (b. c.I45 B.C.) informs us that to prevent private individuals from "re­ serving to their sole use the riches of the mountains and the sea in order to gain a fortune, and from putting the lower classes into sub­ jection to themselves," 44 the Emperor Wu Ti (r. 140 B.C. - 87 B.C.) nationalized the resources of the soil, extended governmental direc­ tion over transport and trade, laid a tax upon incomes, and estab­ lished public works, including canals that bound the rivers together and irrigated the fields. The state accumulated stockpiles of goods, sold these when prices were rising, bought more when prices were falling; thus, says Szuma Ch'ien, "the rich merchants and large shop­keepers would be prevented from making big profits, ... and prices would be regulated in the Empire." 45 For a time, we are told, China prospered as never before. A combination of "acts of God" with human deviltry put an end to the experiment after the death of the Emperor. Floods alternated with droughts, created tragic short­ ages, and raised prices beyond control.
-- Socialism and History
After the breakdown of Roman democracy in the class wars of the Gracchi, Marius, and Caesar, Augustus organized, under what in effect was monarchical rule, the greatest achievement in the history of statesmanship-that Pax Romana which maintained peace from 30 B.C. to A.D. 180 throughout an empire ranging from the Atlantic to the Euphrates and from Scotland to the Black Sea. After him monarchy disgraced itself under Caligula, Nero, and Domitian; but after them carne Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Mar­ cus Aurelius-"the finest succession of good and great sovereigns," Renan called them, "that the world has ever had." "If," said Gibbon, "a man were called upon to fix the period during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the acces­ sion of Nerva to the death of Marcus Aurelius. Their united reigns are possibly the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government." In that brilliant age, when Rome's subjects complimented themselves on being under her rule, monarchy was adoptive: the emperor transmitted his au­ thority not to his offspring but to the ablest man he could find; he adopted this man as his son, trained him in the functions of govern­ ment, and gradually surrendered to him the reins of power. The sys­ tem worked well, pardy because neither Trajan nor Hadrian had a son, and the sons of Antoninus Pius died in childhood. Marcus Aurelius had a son, Commodus, who succeeded him because the phi­ losopher failed to name another heir; soon chaos was king.
-- Government and History
if war continues to absorb and dominate it, or if the itch to rule the world requires a large military establishment and appropriation, the freedoms of democracy may one by one suc­ cumb to the discipline of arms and strife. If race or class war divides us into hostile camps, changing political argument into blind hate, one side or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword. If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all; and a martial govern­ ment, under whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic worlld.
-- Government and History
In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war
-- History and War