The coalescence of the Oikoumenê

June 12 2013

By the year A.D. 1952 the initiative and skill of Western Man had been engaged for some four and a half centuries in knitting together the whole habitable and traversable surface of the planet by a system of communications that was unprecedented in the two features of being literally world-wide and being operated by a technique which was constantly surpassing itself at a perpetually accelerating pace. The wooden caravels and galleons, rigged for sailing in the eye of the wind, which had sufficed to enable the pioneer mariners of Modern Western Europe to make themselves masters of all the oceans, had given way [in the 1840s] to mechanically propelled iron-built ships of relatively gigantic size [some smaller steamships had wooden hulls]; “dirt-tracks” travelled by six-horse coaches had been replaced by macadamized and concrete-floored roads travelled by automobiles; railways had been invented to compete with roads, and aircraft to compete with all land-borne or water-borne conveyances. Concurrently, means of [instantaneous] communication which did not require the physical transportation of human bodies had been conjured up, and put into operation on a world-wide scale, in the shape of telegraphs, telephones, and wireless transmission – visual as well as auditory – by radio. The movement of sea-borne and airborne traffic had been made detectable at long range by radar. There had been no period in the history of any other civilization in which so large an area had been made so highly conductive for every form of human intercourse.

From this perspective, the creation of an electronic World Wide Web (for non-privileged users) in 1994 was the latest stage of a process that had begun with the discovery of Madeira by the Portuguese in 1419.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

3 Responses to “The coalescence of the Oikoumenê”


  1. Travelling while locked up in boxes and sitting at home watching a box, or working in an office looking like a box, has been conducive to the development of a passion for walking long distances in a historical or natural environment.

    Hundreds of millions of people – and ther number is growing by the day – are going or planning to go on a pilgrimage. The incredible success of the Santiago de Compostella road is before our eyes. The excessive alienation of man from its own natural environment – and the nature of mankind is nomadic – requires the reopening and restoration of the ancient routes, largely abandoned by the road systems of the Industrial Revolution, for hikers and pilgrims. There still is a Global Network of Ancient Ways, which we may call the Circulatory System of Human Civilisation, whose aorta is the Silk Road, and this groups of people are endeavouring to restore and make available to all the people of the world by means of a Charter to be presented to the United Nations in the near future.

    • davidderrick Says:

      Giovanni, Thanks. I know you regard Bruce Chatwin as a bit of a fraud, but this has echoes of him (without the fraudulence). The loss of a real sense of the macro-environment has been the greatest spiritual impoverishment of the last 100 years. Would be interested to read anything you have prepared for the UN or others. And how do you avoid charges that you are in essence a historical re-enacter, like those people who dress up to re-stage the English or American civil wars? Or, in Toynbeean language, an “archaist”?


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