A Study of History

"The challenge of being called upon to create a political world-order, the framework for an economic world-order … now confronts our Modern Western society."

Toynbee does not see the breakdown of civilizations as caused by loss of control over the physical environment, by loss of control over the human environment, or by attacks from outside. Rather, it comes from the deterioration of the "Creative Minority", which eventually ceases to be creative and degenerates into merely a "Dominant Minority".

He argues that creative minorities deteriorate due to a worship of their "former self," by which they become prideful and fail adequately to address the next challenge they face.

The final breakdown results in "positive acts of creation;" the dominant minority seeks to create a Universal state to preserve its power and influence, and the internal proletariat seeks to create a Universal church to preserve its spiritual values and cultural norms.

He argues that the ultimate sign a civilization has broken down is when the dominant minority forms a "universal state", which stifles political creativity within the existing social order. The classic example of this is the Roman Empire, though many other imperial regimes are cited as examples. Toynbee writes:

"First the Dominant Minority attempts to hold by force—against all right and reason—a position of inherited privilege which it has ceased to merit; and then the Proletariat repays injustice with resentment, fear with hate, and violence with violence. Yet the whole movement ends in positive acts of creation. The Dominant Minority creates a universal state, the Internal Proletariat a universal church, and the External Proletariat a bevy of barbarian war-bands."

Before the process of disintegration, the dominant minority had held the internal proletariat in subjugation within the confines of the civilization, causing these oppressed to grow bitter. The external proletariat, living outside the civilization in poverty and chaos, grows envious. Then, in the social stress resulting from the failure of the civilization, the bitterness and envy increase markedly.

Volume 1 of the book, written in the 1930s, contains a discussion of Jewish culture which begins with the sentence

The subject is extensively debated with input from critics in Vol XII, Reconsiderations, published in 1961.