I'm gonna start sth a bit different today. I've recently finished reading "The Lessons of History", a 1968 book written by Ariel and Will Durant, which is essentially the pith and substance of "The Story of Civilization", a massive, eleven-volume work.

And it's bloody brilliant.
The Durants had a knack for synthesis and managed to concentrate a ton of historical teachings into a single book. I've selected a number of quotes that I feel particularly drive the point home (punchlines, really), and that I will share in the next few days.
The quotes cover the 13 chapters composing the book, each of them about a different aspect of humanity presented in the light of history. I will mostly deliver the quotes as is, and simply introduce each chapter briefly.
Let's start with the first chapter "Hesitations", which is about the essence of history, and why writing a book such as the Durants' is tricky. Or, as they put it: "Only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed."
"Do we really know what the past was, what actually happened, or is history a fable not quite agreed upon?"
"Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice."
"The historian always oversimplifies, and hastily selects a manageable minority of facts and faces out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend."
"Our conclusions from the past to the future are made more hazardous than ever by the acceleration of change."
"The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding."
The second chapter of "The Lessons of History" is "History and the Earth", and places humanity in the context of our planet. If history is about zooming out, this is probably a good place to start indeed.
"Human history is a brief spot in space, and its first lesson is modesty."
"Every day the sea encroaches somewhere upon the land, or the land upon the sea; cities disappear under the water, and sunken cathedrals ring their melancholy bells."
"Generations of men establish a growing mastery over the earth, but they are destined to become fossils in its soil."
"Geography is the matrix of history, its nourishing mother and disciplining home."
"The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows."
"Man, not the earth, makes civilization."
That's it for today. I'll resume tomorrow with chapter 3
Time for another short history break. Chapter 3 of "The Lessons of History" is named "Biology and history", and gives a shot at explaining why we behave the way we do as a species.
"The first biological lesson of history is that life is competition."
"We are acquisitive, greedy, and pugnacious because our blood remembers millenniums through which our forebears had to chase, fight and kill to survive, and had to eat to their gastric capacity for fear they should not soon capture another feast. War is a nation's way of eating."
"The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection."
"Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies."
"Only the man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom; and in the end superior ability has its way."
"The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed."
"Nature has no use for organisms, variations, or groups that cannot reproduce abundantly. She has a passion for quantity as prerequisite to the selection of quality."
"If the human brood is too numerous for the food supply, Nature has three agents for restoring the balance: famine, pestilence, and war."
Chapters 4 and 5 tomorrow!
Chapter 4 is named "Race and history", and is about what civilisations are made of.
"The South creates the civilisations, the North conquers them, ruins them, borrows from them, spreads them: this is one summary of history."
"An ethnic mixture may in the course of centuries produce a new type, even a new people; so Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Normans fused to produce Englishmen."
"It is not the race that makes the civilization, it is the civilization that makes the people: circumstances geographical, economic, and political create a culture, and the culture creates a human type."
"Racial antipathies have some roots in ethnic origin, but they are also generated, perhaps predominantly, by differences of acquired culture – of language, dress, habits, morals, or religion. There is no cure for such antipathies except a broadened education."
Chapter 5 is "Character and history", and is about the impact of individuals over the course of history. Or is it the other way around?
"Nothing is clearer in history than the adoption by successful rebels of the methods they were accustomed to condemn in the forces they deposed."
"A Pasteur, a Morse, an Edison, a Ford, a Wright, a Marx, a Lenin, a Mao Tse-tung are effects of numberless causes, and causes of endless effects."
"Nobody, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history."
"So the conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it – perhaps as much more as the roots are more vital than grafts. It is good that new ideas should be heard, (1/2)
for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection, opposition, and contumely; this is the trial heat which innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race." (2/2)
"It is good that the old should resist the young, and that the young should prod the old; out of this tension, as out of the strife of the sexes and the classes, comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole."
Chapter 6 tomorrow!
Time for another short history break. Chapter 6 of "The Lessons of History" is titled "Morals and history", and flips on its head the idea of morals (or lack thereof) as a product of modern society, to some extent
"Pugnacity, brutality, greed, and sexual readiness were advantages in the struggle for existence."
"Man's sins may be the relics of his rise rather than the stigmata of his fall."
"For fifteen hundred years [the] agricultural moral code of continence, early marriage, divorceless monogamy, and multiple maternity maintained itself in Christian Europe and its white colonies."
"Gradually, then rapidly and ever more widely, the Industrial Revolution changed the economic form and moral superstructure of European and American life. (1/2)
[…] The authority of father and mother lost its economic base through the growing individualism of industry. […] The old agricultural moral code began to die." (2/2)
"Men and women have gambled in every age. In every age men have been dishonest and governments have been corrupt; probably less now than generally before."
"So we cannot be sure that the moral laxity of our times is a herald of decay rather than a painful or delightful transition between a moral code that has an agricultural basis and another that our agricultural civilization has yet to forge into social order and normality."
"The freedom of the part varies with the security of the whole; individualism will diminish in America and England as geographical protection ceases."
Chapter 7 tomorrow!
Time for another history break (yay!). Chapter 7 of "The Lessons of History" is "Religion and history" and, unsurprisingly, there is a lot to be said, and probably some acknowledgement to be made:
"Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion, since he sees it functioning, and seemingly indispensable, in every land and age."
"For since the natural inequality of men dooms many of us to poverty or defeat, some supernatural hope may be the sole alternative to despair."
"The Roman Catholic Church labored to reduce slavery, family feuds, and national strife, to extend the intervals of truce and peace, and to replace trial by combat or ordeal with the judgments of established courts."
"It [the Roman Catholic Church] softened the penalties exacted by Roman or barbarian law, and vastly expanded the scope and organization of charity."
"Nature and history do not agree with our conceptions of good and bad; they define good as that which survives, and bad as that which goes under; and the universe has no prejudice in favor of Christ as against Genghis Khan."
"Education, which was the sacred province of god-inspired priests, becomes the task of men and women shorn of theological robes and awe, and relying on reason and persuasion to civilize young rebels who fear only the policeman and may never learn to reason at all."
"Catholicism survives because it appeals to imagination, hope, and the senses; because its mythology consoles and brightens the lives of the poor; and because the commanded fertility of the faithful slowly regains the lands lost to the Reformation."
"Catholicism has sacrificed the adherence of the intellectual community, and suffers increasing defections through contact with secular education and literature; but it wins converts from souls wearied with the uncertainty of reason."
"If another great war should devastate Western civilization, the resultant destruction of cities, the dissemination of poverty, and the disgrace of science may leave the Church, as in A.D. 476, the sole hope and guide of those who survive the cataclysm."
"Generally religion and puritanism prevail in periods when the laws are feeble and morals must bear the burden of maintaining social order; (1/2)
skepticism and paganism (other factors being equal) progress as the rising power of law and government permits the decline of the church, the family, and morality without basically endangering the stability of the state." (2/2)
"There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion."
"As long as there is poverty there will be gods."
Now I usually don't comment on the quotes, but what I find striking when I read these ones in particular, and that the Durants could hardly have foreseen in the 60s,
is that the rise of the Internet – and the information explosion at large – seemingly offered another escape to the "souls wearied with the uncertainty of reason", which is basically "conspiracism", to put it simply.
Now conspiracy theories are nothing new, but it's clearly become a way of life to many (think of the all-encompassing, worldwide QAnon phenomenon, for instance).
If I've got no agency over my fate, there is comfort in believing that it's all part of a higher being's plan; alternatively, I can regain some control with the belief that I know what's *truly* going on; that at least, no one's fooling me, and others who think like me.
That's oversimplifying it of course, but hey, we're on Twitter 🤷🏻‍♂️

Anyway, that's it for chapter 7. I'll take a break over the weekend, and resume on Monday with chapters 8 and 9
"The Lessons of History", chapter 8: "Economics and history". This one observes that concentration of wealth seems inevitable, and that there are only two ways to go about it. It also makes me want to buy #bitcoin , for some reason
(And for those catching this partway through and wondering the hell is this, here's how it started https://twitter.com/osteel/status/1315613490841899008)
"Political forms, religious institutions, cultural creations, are all rooted in economic realities."
"The men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all."
"Perhaps it is one secret of their power that, having studied the fluctuations of prices, [bankers] know that history is inflationary, and that money is the last thing a wise man will hoard."
"Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history."
"In progressive societies the concentration [of wealth] may reach a point where the strength of number in the many poor rivals the strength of ability in the few rich."
"We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial re-distribution."
"All economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation."
Chapter 9 is named "Socialism and history", and is about the false dichotomy between socialism and capitalism, which look bound to converge, eventually:
"In free enterprise the spur of competition and the zeal and zest of ownership arouse the productiveness and inventiveness of men."
"There is much truth in such claims today, but they do not explain why history so resounds with protests and revolts against the abuses of industrial mastery, price manipulation, business chicanery, and irresponsible wealth."
"Other factors equal, internal liberty varies inversely as external danger."
"The longest-lasting regime of socialism yet known to history was set up by the Incas in what we now call Peru, at some time in the thirteenth century."
"The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality. East is West and West is East, and soon the twain will meet."
Chapter 10 tomorrow!
Chapter 10 of "The Lessons of History" is "Government and history", and it puts democracy in perspective with other forms of government. For some reason, I went on a quoting rampage with this one:
"Since men love freedom, and the freedom of individuals in society requires some regulation of conduct, the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos."
"If we were to judge forms of government from their prevalence and duration in history we should have to give the palm to monarchy; democracies, by contrast, have been hectic interludes."
"Most governments have been oligarchies – ruled by a minority, chosen either by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies."
"Aristocracy withdraws a few men from the exhausting and coarsening strife of economic competition, and trains them from birth […] for the tasks of government; these tasks require a special preparation that no ordinary family or background can provide."
"The services of aristocracy did not save it when it monopolized privilege and power too narrowly, when it oppressed the people with selfish and myopic exploitation, (1/2)
when it retarded the growth of the nation by a blind addiction to ancestral ways, when it consumed the men and resources of the state in the lordly sport of dynastic or territorial wars." (2/2)
"Then the excluded banded together in wild revolt; the new rich combined with the poor against obstruction and stagnation; the guillotine cut off a thousand noble heads; and democracy took its turn in the misgovernment of mankind."
"To break sharply with the past is to court the madness that may follow the shock of sudden blows or mutilations. As the sanity of the individual lies in the continuity of his memories, so the sanity of a group lies in the continuity of its traditions."
"Since wealth is an order and procedure of production and exchange rather than an accumulation of goods, and is a trust in men and institutions rather than in the intrinsic value of paper money or checks, violent revolutions do not so much redistribute wealth as destroy it."
"Every advance in the complexity of the economy puts an added premium upon superior ability, and intensifies the concentration of wealth, responsibility, and political power."
"Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign."
"It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that “you can’t fool all the people all the time,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country."
"All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government."
"If equality of educational opportunity can be established, democracy will be real and justified. For this is the vital truth beneath its catchwords: that though men cannot be equal, their access to education and opportunity can be made more nearly equal."
"If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all; and a martial government, under whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic world."
Chapter 11 tomorrow!
Chapter 11 of "The Lessons of History" is "History and war", and is slightly reminiscent of 1984. This will the only chapter I will cover today, although it's a short one; it will allow me to wrap up with the last, concluding two chapters tomorrow and on Friday.
"In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war." (Remember, the book was published in 1968)
"War, or competition, is the father of all things, the potent source of ideas, inventions, institutions, and states. Peace is an unstable equilibrium, which can be preserved only by acknowledged supremacy or equal power."
"The state has our instincts without our restraints."
"In the individual, pride gives added vigor in the competitions of life; in the state, nationalism gives added force in diplomacy and war."
That's it! Chapter 12 tomorrow
Penultimate history break! Chapter 12 of "The Lessons of History" is titled "Growth and decay", and summarises the life and death of civilisations:
"On one point all are agreed: civilizations begin, flourish, decline, and disappear—or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams."
"Probably most states (i.e., societies politically organized) took form through the conquest of one group by another, and the establishment of a continuing force over the conquered by the conqueror."
"When the group or a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change."
"As education spreads, theologies lose credence, and receive an external conformity without influence upon conduct or hope."
"The moral code loses aura and force as its human origin is revealed, and as divine surveillance and sanctions are removed."
"In antiquity and modernity alike, analytical thought dissolved the religion that had buttressed the moral code."
"Caught in the relaxing interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and a restless disorder of family and morals, in all but a remnant clinging desperately to old restraints and ways."
"Few souls feel any longer that 'it is beautiful and honorable to die for one’s country.'"
"A decisive defeat in war may bring a final blow, or barbarian invasion from without may combine with barbarism welling up from within to bring the civilization to a close."
"Do civilizations die? Again, not quite. Greek civilization is not really dead; only its frame is gone and its habitat has changed and spread; it survives in the memory of the race, and in such abundance that no one life, however full and long, could absorb it all."
"Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul. As life overrides death with reproduction, so an aging culture hands its patrimony down to its heirs across the years and the seas."
Final chapter tomorrow!
Chapter 13 of "The Lessons of History" is named "Is progress real?", and is the closing chapter of the book. Unsurprisingly, it's all about perspective:
"Since we have admitted no substantial change in man’s nature during historic times, all technological advances will have to be written off as merely new means of achieving old ends."
"Science is neutral: it will kill for us as readily as it will heal, and will destroy for us more readily than it can build."
"Sometimes we feel that the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, which stressed mythology and art rather than science and power, may have been wiser than we, who repeatedly enlarge our instrumentalities without improving our purposes."
"We have multiplied a hundred times our ability to learn and report the events of the day and the planet, but at times we envy our ancestors, whose peace was only gently disturbed by the news of their village."
"Have we really outgrown intolerance, or merely transferred it from religious to national, ideological, or racial hostilities?"
"Has all the progress of philosophy since Descartes been a mistake through its failure to recognize the role of myth in the consolation and control of man? 'He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow, and in much wisdom is much grief.'"
"History is so indifferently rich that a case for almost any conclusion from it can be made by a selection of instances."
"No matter how many difficulties we surmount, how many ideals we realize, we shall always find an excuse for being magnificently miserable."
"If we take a long-range view and compare our modern existence, precarious, chaotic, and murderous as it is, with the ignorance, superstition, violence, and diseases of primitive peoples, we do not come off quite forlorn."
"If the prolongation of life indicates better control of the environment, then the tables of mortality proclaim the advance of man, for longevity in European and American whites has tripled in the last three centuries."
"We should not be greatly disturbed by the probability that our civilization will die like any other. […] Perhaps it is desirable that life should take fresh forms, that new civilizations and centers should have their turn."
"If education is the transmission of civilization, we are unquestionably progressing. […] We may not have excelled the selected geniuses of antiquity, but we have raised the level and average of knowledge beyond any age in history."
"If progress is real despite our whining, it is not because we are born any healthier, better, or wiser than infants were in the past, (1/2)
but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of that pedestal which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises as the ground and support of our being. The heritage rises, and man rises in proportion as he receives it." (2/2)
"History is, above all else, the creation and recording of that heritage; progress is its increasing abundance, preservation, transmission, and use."
So there you have it! "The Lessons of History", in a hundred quotes or so.

There's obviously much more this book and I encourage anyone to read it; maybe especially if, like me, you're not particularly a history buff.
You can follow @osteel.
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