The laws of biology are the fundamental lessons of history - humans are subject to the trials of selection and the struggle for existence, like all other animals. The group and nation merely inherits the will of the individual - after all, societies are made up of individuals.
Human nature has largely been unchanged throughout history - the means change, but the motives stay the same.
Humans are born with different abilities, and so inequality among humans is a natural consequence. This is magnified by the complexity of civilization, as each invention is seized by the strong to make themselves stronger, and the weak weaker.
Culture, customs, and morals provide a useful social stabilizing force, and a dampening force on innovation. What practices survive to present day have survived over time because they worked. New changes need to be put through the crucible of criticism before overthrowing the result of centuries of experiment.
Morals change with the times as a reflection of what is necessary to grow and survive.
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Geography is the physical structure that holds history.
Civilization habitually develops along waterways - rivers, lakes, oceans - to provide life and offering inexpensive routes of transport and trade.
The laws of biology are the lessons of history. As animals, we are subject to the same forces as all other living beings - the trials of evolution, the struggle for survival and existence.
All the history and achievements of humans are humbly just a part of the history of life.
If some people seem to supersede biology and are no longer subject to the trials of survival, it’s because they’re protected by their group; the group itself must endure and survive, like individual organisms. (Shortform example: within a society, the wealthy may have a privileged position that places them above the normal struggles of day-to-day survival. But if the society they belong to crumbles, as in a war, the position of the privileged itself crumbles.)
Life has three forces that determine the behavior.
Animals compete to survive. In nature, animals eat one another without a second thought. In civilization, humans consume each other by due process of law.
Cooperation is real, but serves mainly to enhance competition with other groups (whether it’s our family, church, political party, race, or nation).
Our societies are individuals multiplied to a massive scale....
Western history has been biased toward the success of the white man.
Man’s character sets the character of groups and nations.
Human nature includes both positive and negative, balancing action vs inaction; fight vs flight; acquisition vs avoidance; association vs privacy; mating vs refusal; parental care vs filial dependence.
Has human nature changed? The historian authors say no - history shows that humans have conducted themselves the same way, time and time again, throughout thousands of years. The means of exercising human nature have changed; the motives remain the same.
If people have developed, over time, it has been social and cultural evolution rather than biological (which acts on a much longer timescale). Social behavior and culture are transmitted to the next generation by imitation,...
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Morals are the rules by which a society exhorts its members to behave.
Moral codes look superficially different between societies and across history, but they are quite universal and necessary.
Morals change with the times and economic engine, from hunting to agriculture to industry. The morals reflect what is needed for the individual to survive in the society, and for the society to survive in the greater world.
Morals in the Hunting Era
Morals in the Agriculture Era
Even the agnostic historian has to acknowledge that religion has functioned and been seemingly indispensable in every land and age. The authors note that our society is exceptional in history for maintaining moral conduct without the ubiquitous force of religion. Before our time, there is no significant example of a stable society without religion.
Religion has enabled stability by elevating agreements between humans to rigid promises to God.
Religion has provided hope for billions of people - even the unhappy, the suffering, the bereaved, the old enjoy “supernatural comforts” more soothing than any material benefit.
Said Napoleon, religion kept the poor from murdering the rich. For many, hope and faith may be the only thing preventing despair. Destroy that hope, and you risk triggering class war.
Mankind seems to desire a religion rich in mythology, mystery, and miracle.
In the earliest formation of religion, gods seem to have been created to explain natural events (earth, water, winds, sky), without a clear moral purpose. Spurred by fear of the vagaries of the natural world, religion became the worship of natural forces.
Much of history can be interpreted sensibly through the economics lens, as a contest among individuals, groups, and states vying for resources and economic power.
Not all activities are primarily economically motivated - like the teachings of Buddha or the nationalistic fervor of Hitler’s troops. The motives of leaders may be economic, but the passions of the masses may not be.
Money is vital in shaping the direction of history. “The men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.”
Nothing instills the spirit of competition and inventiveness and exhaustive labor like capitalism and self-interest do.
Yet elements of socialism have recurred throughout history. These include state control of commerce, wide government employment, price controls, welfare, progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, and large public works to reduce unemployment.
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Durant believes that the first requirement of freedom is its own limitation - absolute freedom would cause chaos,and the extinction of freedom itself. For the sake of stability, order needs to be established, and that is the role of an organized central government.
In his idea of “five regimes,” Plato saw a natural progression of government from monarchy to aristocracy to democracy to tyranny:
War is a constant in history, there being only 268 years of no war in 3421 years of history.
War occurs for the same reason individuals fight - to compete for more resources and power, for pride, and to survive under threat. Peace is accomplished only through acknowledged supremacy or equal power.
The state inherits the will of the individual, without the individual’s normal boundaries. The individual is constrained by morals and laws, because the state guarantees him basic protection in exchange for his submission. But the state is unfettered, either because it is strong enough to defy interference with its will, or because there is no superstate to offer it protection.
Nationalism gives added force in diplomacy and war.
The authors define civilization as “social order promoting cultural development.” Social order is granted by political order of custom, laws, and morals, and economic order through production and trade.
Looking back at history, all civilizations have ended. What are the patterns of civilization’s growth and decay?
In general, the pattern is one of coherent construction, then of individualistic deconstruction.
If history repeats itself endlessly, then is humanity actually making progress?
It depends on how you define progress.
The authors have no strong conclusion. History has so many examples and counterexamples that almost any conclusion can be drawn, depending on what lens you look through.
If progress is defined as humanity’s control over the environment, there is certainly progress.
Place your understanding of today into context.
What’s an issue you thought was unique to our time, but now realize has happened throughout history?