Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Arnold J. Toynbee, fully Arnold Joseph Toynbee

English Economic Historian

"As human beings, we are endowed with freedom of choice, and we cannot shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is up to us."

"Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal which takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice."

"My own view of history is that human beings do have genuine freedom to make choices. Our destiny is not predetermined for us; we determine it for ourselves."

"Neither race nor environment, taken by itself, can be the positive factor which, within the last six thousand years, has shaken humanity out of its static repose on the level of primitive society and started it on the hazardous quest of civilization."

"Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor."

"The history of almost every civilization furnishes examples of geographical expansion coinciding with deterioration in quality."

"The cause of the breakdowns of civilizations is not to be found in loss of command over the human environment, as measured by the encroachment of alien human forces... The most that an alien enemy has achieved has been to give an expiring suicide his coup de grace."

"Religion, after all, is the serious business of the human race."

"Though sixteen civilizations may have perished already to our knowledge, and nine others may be now at the point of death, we - the twenty-sixty - are not compelled to submit the riddle of our fate to the blind arbitrament of statistics. The divine spark of creative power is still alive in us, and, if we have the grace to kindle it into flame, then the stars in their courses cannot defeat our efforts to attain the goal of human endeavor."

"A human being may be defined as a personality with a will of its own capable of making moral choices between good and evil."

"We have been God-like in our planned breeding of our domesticated plants and animals, but we have been rabbit-like in our unplanned breeding of ourselves."

"Adversity in the things of this world opens the door for spiritual salvatin."

"Civilization is a movement, not a condition. A voyage and not a harbor."

"Anybody who set up in the present-day world to be a prophet… would rightly be treated as a figure of fun."

"A life which does not go into action is a failure."

"God’s love is unlimited but… his power is not."

"Familiarity breeds acquiescence as well as contempt."

"Human actions are not the mechanical effects of causes; they are purposive executions of decisions between alternative possible choices."

"Every historic culture-pattern is an organic whole in which all the parts are interdependent."

"Historical events are not inevitable; it’s only in retrospect that they seem so."

"If mankind cannot now bring itself at last to live as one family, the penalty, in our new situation, must be genocide sooner or later."

"In an age in which mankind’s collective power has suddenly been increased, for good or evil, a thousand-fold through the tapping of atomic energy, the standard of conduct demanded from ordinary human beings can be no lower than the standard attained in times past by rare saints."

"In an age in which mankind’s collective power has suddenly been increased, for good or evil, a thousandfold through the tapping of atomic energy, the standard of conduct demanded from ordinary human beings can be no lower than the standard in times past by rare saints."

"Human dignity… can be achieved only in the field of ethics, and ethical achievement is measured by the degree in which our actions are governed by compassion and love, not by greed and aggressiveness."

"If the first step of Man’s road toward sainthood is the renunciation of Man’s traditional role of being his brother’s murderer, the second step would be an acceptance of Man’s new role of being his brother’s keeper."

"It is the historical function of civilizations to serve, by their downfalls, as stepping stones to the progressive process of the revelation of always deeper religious insight, and the gift of ever more grace to act on this insight."

"It is said to have been reported to one of the Roman emperors, as a piece of good news, that one of his subjects had invented a process for manufacturing unbreakable glass. The emperor gave orders that the inventor should be put to death and the records of his invention should be destroyed. If the invention had been put on the market, the manufacturers of regular glass would have been put out of business; there would have been unemployment that would have caused political unrest, and perhaps revolution."

"Lifelong part-time education is the surest way of raising the intellectual and moral level of the masses."

"Mythology… is an intuitive form of apprehending and expressing universal truths."

"Man has been a dazzling success in the field of intellect and “know-how” and a dismal failure in the things of spirit."

"Myths are unenlightening if they do not transcend experience, and unwarrantable if they contradict it."

"Only through a harmonization of human wills, in a compact freely entered into in the light of divine necessity, can peace prevail among men."

"Our generic evil of an institution of any kind is that people who have identified themselves with it are prone to make an idol of it."

"So long as a church is proscribed, it can build up a new society at its own peril without being implicated in the old society’s weaknesses and sins."

"So far there has been no known human society in which the distinction between right and wrong, and the obligation to do right, have been denied."

"Religion is Man’s attempt to get into touch with an absolute spiritual Reality behind the phenomena of the Universe, and, having made contact with It, to live in harmony with It."

"Personalities are inconceivable except as agents of spiritual activity."

"Science’s horizon is limited by the bounds of Nature, the ideologies by the bounds of social life, but the human soul’s range cannot be confined within either of these limits."

"Suffering is the essence of life, because it is the inevitable product of an unresolved tension between a living creature’s essential impulse to try to make itself into the centre of the Universe and its essential dependence on the rest of Creation and on the Absolute Reality."

"The action of the creative individual may be described as a twofold motion of withdrawal-and-return: withdrawal for the purpose of his personal enlightenment, return for the task of enlightening his fellow men."

"The aim of all education is, or should be, to teach people to educate themselves."

"The aim, and test, of progress under a truly Christian dispensation on Earth would not lie in the field of mundane social life; the field would be the spiritual life of individual souls in their passage through this earthly life from birth into this world to death out of it."

"The distinctive characteristics of human nature are the freedom of the human consciousness and the human will."

"The brotherhood of Man presupposes the fatherhood of God."

"The emergence of a superman or a great mystic or a genius or a superior personality inevitably precipitates a social conflict. The conflict will be more or less acute, according to the degree in which the creative individual happens to rise above the average level of his former kin and kind. But some conflict is inevitable, since the social equilibrium which the genius has upset by the mere fact of his personal emergence has eventually to be restored either by his social triumph or by his social defeat."

"The historian’s elemental question: “How has this come out of that?”"

"The human race’s prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenseless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenseless against ourselves."

"The greater the power that we have to change the World into something nearer to our ideal, the greater becomes our distress at our failing to perform those beneficent and useful acts of creation which we know to be within our power."

"The missions of the higher religions are not competitive; they are complementary. We can believe in our own religion without having to feel that it is the sole repository of truth."

"The regular social progress though which a growing society advances from one stage in its growth to another is a compound movement in which a creative individual or minority first withdraws from the common life of the society, then works out, in seclusion, a solution for some problem with which the society as a whole is confronted, and finally re-enters into communion with the rest of society in order to help it forward on its road by imparting to it the results of the creative work which the temporarily secluded individual or minority has accomplished during the interval between withdrawal and return."