Divided loves

January 22 2014

“Dr Toynbee is, in a sense, ambidextrous. He carries and wields both the history of the past (studied and taught in his Oxford days, and never forgotten since) and also the history of the present (which has been his subject during the thirty years of his connexion with Chatham House): with one hand he elucidates the history of the Greco-Roman past, with the other he describes the present of the twentieth century, and with both he draws the two (the Past and the Present) into contact, analogy, and connexion under common laws. He has something of ambivalence as well as ambidexterity. He is enamoured of the present, but he denounces it (it is a home of parochial States and petrified churches); he loves the past and he hates it (for if you seek to exhume it, by the magic of ‘necromancy’, it turns upon you and rends you). For myself, I could wish that he loved the past with a more undivided love – especially the English past. I could wish that he had mastered English history (including the history of parliament and that of the common law) as he has mastered Hellenistic and Oriental history. He would think more highly of the State and its institutions if he had studied the genesis and growth of English parliamentary institutions and the English common law, and had come to see the service they have rendered to freedom of choice and liberty of thought. As it is, he is content to regard all this as ‘merely a local exception to the general course of political development in Western Christendom’. In the index the entry ‘England’ occupies only half a column, and ‘Great Britain’ only two columns: ‘Egypt’ has six.”

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Ernest BarkerDr Toynbee’s Study of History: A ReviewInternational Affairs, Vol 31, No 1, January 1955.

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