The Lessons of History

Authors: Will Durant, Ariel Durant

Will and Arial Durant are historians who spent five decades studying world history and creating an 11-volume Story of Civilization. From Wikipedia: “It totals four million words across nearly 10,000 pages, but is incomplete.” This is a much shorter version of that content, interspersed with actual interview recordings of the Durants from the ‘50s – ‘70s. It begins with a great disclaimer: “Only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed.”

Of interest to me is that this content is already 40ish years old, and yet extremely relevant to understanding today’s world and, I think, the future world as well.

The Durants explain the cycles of human behavior that lead to repetition among our outcomes. From orderly civilization to disorderly chaos and back. From religious underpinning that bind behavior to unregulated societies and back. This is a quote, not from this book, but from one of the longer volumes: “For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready to engulf it by arms, or mass migration, or unchecked fertility. Barbarism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.”

I found one part especially interesting: as a young man Durant has disdain for organized religion. When interviewed in his advanced years, though, he believed his youthful view was the wrong attitude. Instead, he sees religion as very useful for the benefits it bestows on constraining man’s actions. Without this, how could we ever form societies of cooperation?

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