Thursday, January 27, 2011
It took Will Durant more than three decades to write the monumental The Story of Civilization. After finishing the ten volumes of the Story, it followed the essay The Lessons of History, which reflects both Durant’s erudition and his accumulated wisdom. I read The Lessons of History in 1996 and would like to quote some excerpts from one of the chapters, “Biology and History”.
No ellipsis added between unquoted paragraphs:
So the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection. We are all born unfree and unequal. Nature loves difference. Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of civilization.
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. Leave man free, and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically, as in England and America in the nineteen-century under laissez-faire.
Utopias of equality are biologically doomed.
The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed. Nature has no use of organisms, variations, or groups that cannot reproduce abundantly. She has a passion for quantity as prerequisite to selection of quality. She does not care that a high rate has usually accompanied a culturally low civilization, and a low birth rate a civilization culturally high; and she sees that a nation with low birth rate shall be periodically chastened by some more virile and fertile group.
It is amusing to find Julius Caesar offering (59 B.C.) rewards to Romans who had many children, and forbidding childless women to ride litters or wear jewelry. In the United States the lower birth rate of the Anglo-Saxon has lessened their economic and political power. So the birth rate, like war, may determine the fate of theologies; just as the defeat of the Moslems at Tours (732) kept France and Spain from replacing the Bible with the Koran.
There is no humorist like history.