posted on Jul, 6 2015 @ 03:58 PM
I think Arnold Toynbee would have predicted something like the present crisis between Greece and the rest of Europe,
His theories offer insights which may help to explain the problem, even if they don’t promise a solution.
It helps if we understand his theory of the way civilisations have developed in Europe.
The starting-point is what he called the Hellenic Civilisation- based on Greek culture and Roman rule, and centred around the Mediterranean.
When this broke up, two distinct civilisations grew up to take its place.
A Latin-based culture, centred on the western Mediterranean, spread into western Europe and developed into a Catholic or Western Civilisation.
A Greek-based culture, centred on the eastern Mediterranean, and spreading into the Balkans and Russia, developed into an Orthodox Civilisation.
Though Russia was counted by Toynbee as a distinct “daughter-civilisation” in its own right.
In mediaeval times, these were almost two self-contained universes. (The whole theory of the Papacy has always been based on the psychology of “our
social horizon constitutes the whole world”)
North of the Mediterranean, the religious boundary between them left countries like Poland, Bohemia, and Croatia on the western or Catholic side.
During the Cold War, this cultural boundary was submerged under the Iron Curtain, which ran further west.
In my opinion, though, the dissolution of the Iron Curtain may have allowed the old cultural difference to re-emerge.
For culture is not just about religion.
The Western Civilisation includes western political theories and behaviour and western economic theories and behaviour among the products of its
It seems to me (from a distance, admittedly) that these “western” cultural patterns are more “at home” in the old Catholic countries, like
Poland and the Czech Republic, than they are in the old Orthodox countries like Russia or the Ukraine or Serbia or Romania.
In a sense, they still belong to two different civilisations.
The other important concept is the “universal state”.
This is what Toynbee calls the empire which unites the territory of a specific civilisation.
Normally the last power left standing following a series of hard-fought wars, by which time the civilisation is exhausted enough to welcome an
Rome, of course, was the universal state of the Hellenic Civilisation.
The Byzantine Empire was the universal state of the Orthodox world.
Until recently, the civilisation of Western Europe has contained too much fighting energy to allow the creation of a universal state. No one power has
been strong enough to “knock out” its last opponents, in the same way that Rome “knocked out” Carthage. Though some have tried.
Toynbee did not live long enough to see the Common Market develop into the European Union, but he would have understood what was happening- perhaps
more clearly than the architects of the Union themselves.
After Europe had been exhausted by the wars of the twentieth century, this was the first draft of an attempt to create, by peaceful means, the
universal state of the civilisation based on Western Europe (one of the two successors to Rome).
The problem was that they were not consciously defining their aim in this way.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, they seem to have been guided by a geographers’ definition of Europe (“everywhere rest of Russia”), and
setting their sights accordingly.
Was it their historic task (as Toynbee might put it) to establish the universal state of the original civilisation of Western Europe, first
Latin/Catholic, later Catholic/Protestant, and more recently rather secularised?
If so, it might have been better for them to keep within that territory, and consolidate their work within those limits, rather than expanding
enthusiastically into the historic territories of the Orthodox world.
I think this could be the root of what may be a fundamental incompatibility between Greece and the European Union.
In Toynbee’s terms, they belong to two historically different civilisations.
This difference would make them alien to each other, to a degree, in thinking and behaviour.
That would account for some of the criticism which the Greeks receive in the western press. They are not living up to the standards of a culture which
is not their own.
If the two parties could gently disengage from each other, with as little violence as possible, that might be the best solution in the long-term for
But there is one further complication.
Orthodox Greece has always had more in common with Orthodox Russia than with Western Europe.
We can’t discount the possibility that they might seek economic help from Russia instead, as has been threatened, and this could have an impact on
the structure and strategy of NATO.
So the implications of this crisis may be as much about “World War Three” as about “Global Meltdown”.