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The Return of Civilization—and of Arnold Toynbee?

  • Krishan Kumar (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

After a period of neglect, civilization as a concept seems once more to have regained popularity among a number of historians and social scientists. Why? What is the appeal of civilization today? And might the return of civilization also herald a return to the work of Arnold Toynbee, once regarded as the towering figure of civilizational analysis? This paper considers the history of the concept of civilization, and argues for the continuing importance and relevance of Toynbee's multi-volume A Study of History within that tradition. The claim is that, whatever the weaknesses of Toynbee's general approach, the civilizational perspective he adopts allows him to cast an illuminating light on many important historical questions. Moreover his belief in the “philosophical contemporaneity” and equal value of all civilizations should make him peculiarly attractive to those many today who reject Eurocentrism and who are increasingly persuaded of the need to consider the total human experience from earliest times up to the present.

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