I love it when I encounter someone else who read the late great Arnold Toynbee.
In the middle of last century, a towering historian, Arnold Toynbee, wrote a monumental work. His central thesis was that civilizations are like human beings: they are born, grow up, mature, age and die. This was not really new – the German historian Oswald Spengler said something similar before him (The Decline of the West). But Toynbee, being British, was much less metaphysical than his German predecessor, and tried to draw practical conclusions.
Among Toynbee’s many insights, there was one that should interest us now. It concerns the process by which border districts attain power and take over the state.
Take for example, German history. German civilization grew and matured in the South, next to France and Austria. A rich and cultured upper class spread across the country. In the towns, the patrician bourgeoisie patronized writers and composers. Germans saw themselves as a “people of poets and thinkers”.
But in the course of centuries, the young and the energetic from the rich areas, especially second sons who did not inherit anything, longed to carve out for themselves new domains. They went to the Eastern border, conquered new lands from the Slavic inhabitants and carved out new estates for themselves.
The Eastern land was called Mark Brandenburg. “Mark” means marches, borderland. Under a line of able princes, they enlarged their state until Brandenburg became a leading power. Not satisfied with that, one of the princes married a woman who brought as her dowry a little Eastern kingdom called Prussia. So the prince became a king, Brandenburg was joined to Prussia and enlarged itself by war and diplomacy until Prussia ruled half of Germany.
The Prussian state, located in the middle of Europe, surrounded by strong neighbors, had no natural borders – neither wide seas, nor high mountains, nor broad rivers. It was just flat land. So the Prussian kings created an artificial border: a mighty army. Count Mirabeau, the French statesman, famously said: “Other states have armies. In Prussia, the army has a state.” The Prussians themselves coined the phrase: “The soldier is the first man in the state”.
Unlike most other countries, in Prussia the word “state” assumed an almost sacred status. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and a great admirer of Prussia, adopted this ideal, calling his future creation “Der Judenstaat” – the Jew-State.
Toynbee, not being given to mysticism, found the earthly reason for this phenomenon of civilized states being taken over by less civilized but hardier border people.
The Prussians had to fight. Conquer the land and annihilate part of its inhabitants, create villages and towns, withstand counterattacks by resentful neighbors, Swedes, Poles and Russians. They just had to be hardy.
At the same time, the people at the center led a much easier life. The burghers of Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich and Nuremberg could take it easy, make money, read their great poets, listen to their great composers. They could treat the primitive Prussians with contempt. Until 1871 when they found themselves in a new German Reich dominated by the Prussians, with a Prussian Kaiser.
This kind of process has happened in many countries throughout history. The periphery becomes the center.
No, the Cascadia Chapter of the Pacific Green Party of Oregon must insert at this point: the national interests of the United States and the national interests of the eastern outpost Israel do not coincide.
However much I am impressed with the Toynbee citation, I disagree with the conclusion. The periphery has always in some sense included the juncture of Asia Africa, and Europe. Which is itself the center of civilization. From Toynbee’s viewpoint the so-called United States is the periphery.