Will Durant

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In all things I saw the passion of life for growth and greatness, the drama of everlasting creation. I came to think of myself, not as a dance and chaos of molecules, but as a brief and minute portion of that majestic process...
In a measure the Great Sadness was lifted from me, and, where I had seen omnipresent death, I saw now everywhere the pageant and triumph of life.

William James Durant (5 November 18857 November 1981) was an American historian, philosopher and writer, most famous for his works The Story of Philosophy, and The Story of Civilization.

Quotes[edit]

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.
The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionaries are philosophers and saints.
Love one another. My final lesson of history is the same as that of Jesus.
You may think that's a lot of lollipop but just try it. Love is the most practical thing in the world. If you take an attitude of love toward everybody you meet, you'll eventually get along.
It is a mistake to think that the past is dead. Nothing that has ever happened is quite without influence at this moment.
  • I felt more keenly than before the need of a philosophy that would do justice to the infinite vitality of nature. In the inexhaustible activity of the atom, in the endless resourcefulness of plants, in the teeming fertility of animals, in the hunger and movement of infants, in the laughter and play of children, in the love and devotion of youth, in the restless ambition of fathers and the lifelong sacrifice of mothers, in the undiscourageable researches of scientists and the sufferings of genius, in the crucifixion of prophets and the martyrdom of saints — in all things I saw the passion of life for growth and greatness, the drama of everlasting creation. I came to think of myself, not as a dance and chaos of molecules, but as a brief and minute portion of that majestic process... I became almost reconciled to mortality, knowing that my spirit would survive me enshrined in a fairer mold... and that my little worth would somehow be preserved in the heritage of men. In a measure the Great Sadness was lifted from me, and, where I had seen omnipresent death, I saw now everywhere the pageant and triumph of life.
    • Transition (1927)
  • Surely, the time has come for the intellectuals, the liberals, and the radicals of the world to speak out about this new slavery, to call it clearly and bluntly what it is. For it can no longer be doubted that in this dictatorship of the politicians is to be found every abuse which liberals and radicals have denounced in their own society for generations. . . . the Soviet has allowed it people to starve by the thousands. . . . It has choked all competition, and made itself a monopoly of monopolies; it has restored selfdom, conscription of labor, and indentured servitude among a people that has recently liberated itself by revolution and civil war, from these feudal chains; . . . it has keep wages low and labor intense, it has made democracy in the factory only a sham; it has herded and regimented its people like cattle. It has pitilessly industrialized its women under the pretense of emancipating them; it has crowded the population into dingy quarters, and offered every discouragement to the creation of homes. . . . . It is stifled the growth of democracy, and has centralized power into dictatorship of fanatics and machines; it has waged a class war against the peasants, tradesmen, and mental workers; . . . there is no opportunity for the expression of the public will; . . . it has oppressed with unsurpassed barbarity men and women guilty of no other crime then the prosperity attendant upon enterprise, industry, intelligence, and thrift; it has refused to the rights of habeas corpus, of trial by jury, of equality before the law; it has sent it secret police into millions of homes; . . . it has terrorized the public with marching armies, secret police, merciless penalties, and a million spies. It has deported or shot hundreds of thousands of men and women solely for political heresy and non-conformance. It has subjected to censorship every drama and every book, even every opera; it has prostituted the press, the radio and the stage . . . It has suppressed all freedom of speech or assembly, and in effect has raised a thousand obstacles against the freedom of worship and belief. . . Slavery, barbarism and desolation—these fundamentally, despite a thousand minor virtues, is what Russia is today.
    • The Tragedy of Russia: Impressions from a brief visit , New York, NY, Simon and Schuster (1933) pp. 150-54
  • Most of our literature and social philosophy after 1850 was the voice of freedom against authority, of the child against the parent, of the pupil against the teacher. Through many years I shared in that individualistic revolt. I do not regret it; it is the function of youth to defend liberty and innovation, of the old to defend order and tradition, and of middle age to find a middle way. But now that I too am old, I wonder whether the battle I fought was not too completely won. Let us say humbly but publicly that we resent corruption in politics, dishonesty in business, faithlessness in marriage, pornography in literature, coarseness in language, chaos in music, meaninglessness in art.
  • Love one another. My final lesson of history is the same as that of Jesus.
    You may think that's a lot of lollipop but just try it. Love is the most practical thing in the world. If you take an attitude of love toward everybody you meet, you'll eventually get along.
    • When asked, at the age of 92, if he could summarize the lessons of history into a single sentence. As quoted in "Durants on History from the Ages, with Love," by Pam Proctor, Parade (6 August 1978) p. 12. Durant is quoting Jesus (from John 13:34) here, and might also be quoting Jiddu Krishnamurti: "Love is the most practical thing in the world. To love, to be kind, not to be greedy, not to be ambitious, not to be influenced by people but to think for yourself — these are all very practical things, and they will bring about a practical, happy society."
  • Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts — between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life, statesmen sometimes organizing peace instead of war, teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.
    • As quoted in "The Gentle Philosopher" (2006) by John Little at Will Durant Foundation
  • To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves; let us be above such transparent egotism. If you can't say good and encouraging things, say nothing. Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a clever thing to say.
  • Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.
    • "What is Civilization?" Ladies' Home Journal, LXIII (January, 1946)
  • The invention and spread of contraceptives is the proximate cause of our changing morals. The old moral code restricted sexual experience to marriage, because copulation could not be effectively separated from parentage, and parentage could be made responsible only through marriage. But to-day the dissociation of sex from reproduction has created a situation unforeseen by our fathers. All the relations of men and women are being changed by this one factor; and the moral code of the future will have to take account of these new facilities which invention has placed at the service of ancient desires.
    • Our Changing Morals, in The Mansions of Philosophy: A Survey of Human Life and Destiny (1929), Ch. 5. p. 119
  • I know how unfashionable it is now to acknowledge in life or history any genius loftier than ourselves. Our democratic dogma has leveled not only all voters but all leaders; we delight to show that living geniuses are only mediocrities, and that dead ones are myths. … Since it is contrary to good manners to exalt ourselves, we achieve the same result by slyly indicating how inferior are the great men of the earth. In some of us, perhaps, it is a noble and merciless asceticism, which would root out of our hearts the last vestige of worship and adoration, lest the old gods should return and terrify us again. For my part, I cling to this final religion, and discover in it a content and stimulus more lasting than came from the devotional ecstasies of youth.
    • The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time (2002) edited by John Little, Ch. 1 : The Shameless Worship of Heroes

The Story of Philosophy (1926)[edit]

  • Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy'.
    • p. 87. The quoted phrases within the quotation are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, 4; Book I, 7
  • Philosophy accepts the hard and hazardous task of dealing with problems not yet open to the methods of science - problems like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, order and freedom, life and death; so soon as a field of inquiry yields knowledge susceptible of exact formulation it is called science.
  • Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art.
  • Philosophy is a hypothetical interpretation of the unknown (as in metaphysics), or of the inexactly known (as in ethics or political philosophy); it is the front trench in the siege of truth.
  • When liberty becomes license, dictatorship is near.
  • Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos.
  • Great organizers, as much as inevitable slaves, tend to stoic moods: it is difficult to be either master or servant if one is sensitive.
  • The death of Alexander (323 BC) quickened this process of decay. The boy-emperor, barbarian though he remained after all of Aristotle’s tutoring, had yet learned to revere the rich culture of Greece, and had dreamed of spreading that culture through the Orient in the wake of his victorious armies.... But he had underrated the inertia and resistance of the Oriental mind, and the mass and depth of Oriental culture. It was only a youthful fancy, after all, to suppose that so immature and unstable a civilizaton as that of Greece could be imposed upon a civilization immesaurably more widespread, and rooted in the most venerable traditions. The quantity of Asia proved too much for the quality of Greece.
  • [on Epicurus] His starting point is a conviction that apathy is impossible, and that pleasure — though not necessarily sensual pleasure — is the only conceivable, and quite legitimate, end of life and action. “Nature leads every organism to prefer its own good toevery other good” — even the stoic finds a subtle pleasure in renunciation. “We must not avoid pleasures, but we must select them”. Epicurus, then, is no epicurean, he exalts the joys of intellect rather than those of sense; *he warns against pleasures that excite and disturb the soul which they should rather quite and appease. In the end he proposes to seek not pleasure in its usual sense, but ataraxia — tranquility, equaninimity, repose of mind; all of which trembles on the verge of Zeno’s “Apathy”
  • ...Lucretius talked epicureanism stoically (like Heine’s Englishman taking his pleasures sadly), and concluded on his stren gospel of pleasure by committing suicide. His noble epic “on the Nature of Things", follows Epicurus in damning pleasure with faint praise. Almost contemporary with Caesar and Pompey, he lived in the midst of turmoil and alarms; his nervous pen is forever inditing prayers to tranquility and peace. One pictures him as a timid soul whose youth had been darkened with religious fears; for he never tires of telling his readers that there no hell, except here, and there are no gods except gentlemanly ones who live in a garden of Epicurus in the clouds, and never intrude in the affairs of men.
  • [after quoting from Lucretius] In the face of warfare and inevitable death, there is no wisdom but in ataraxia, “to look on all things with a mind at peace"." Here, clearly, the old pagan joy of life is gone, and an almost exotic spirit touches a broken lyre. History, which is nothing if not humorous, was never to facetious as when she gave to this abstemious and epic pessimist the name of Epicurean.
  • Nothing in all literature is so depressing as the “Dissertations” of the slave [Epictetus], unless it be the “Meditations” of the Emperor [Marcus Aurelius] ...[after some excerpts from the two books]..... In such passages we feel the proximity of Christianity and its dauntless martyrs; indeed were not the Christian ethic of self-denial, the Christian political ideal of an almost communistic brotherhood of man, and the Christian eschatology of the final conflagration of all the world, fragments of Stoic doctrine floating on the stream of thought? In Epictetus the Greco-Roman soul has lost its paganism, and is ready for a new faith".
  • Both Stoicism and Epicureanism — the apathetic acceptance of defeat, and the effort to forget defeat in the arms of pleasure — were theories as to how one might yet be happy though subjugated or enslaved; precisely as the stoicism of Schopenhauer and the despondent epicureanism of Renan were in the nineteenth century the symbols of a shattered revolution and a broken France.

The Case for India (1931)[edit]

India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of mature mind, understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all human beings.
  • India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.
  • It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier India has sent to the west, such gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all numerals and the decimal system.
  • It might have been supposed that the building of 30,000 miles of railways would have brought a measure of prosperity to India. But these railways were built not for India but for England; not for the benefit of the Hindu, but for the purposes of the British army and British trade.

Declaration of INTERdependence (1945)[edit]

Rooted in freedom, bonded in the fellowship of danger, sharing everywhere a common human blood, we declare again that all men are brothers, and that mutual tolerance is the price of liberty.
Introduced into the US Congressional Record on October 1, 1945 (PDF Document)
  • Human progress having reached a high level through respect for the liberty and dignity of men, it has become desirable to re-affirm these evident truths:
    • That differences of race, color, and creed are natural, and that diverse groups, institutions, and ideas are stimulating factors in the development of man;
    • That to promote harmony in diversity is a responsible task of religion and statesmanship;
    • That since no individual can express the whole truth, it is essential to treat with understanding and good will those whose views differ from our own;
    • That by the testimony of history intolerance is the door to violence, brutality and dictatorship; and
    • That the realization of human interdependence and solidarity is the best guard of civilization.
  • Rooted in freedom, bonded in the fellowship of danger, sharing everywhere a common human blood, we declare again that all men are brothers, and that mutual tolerance is the price of liberty.

The Story of Civilization (1935–1975)[edit]

I - Our Oriental Heritage (1935)[edit]

Our Oriental Heritage online at the Internet Archive
  • If the average man had had his way there would probably never have been any state. Even today he resents it, classes death with taxes, and yearns for that government which governs least. If he asks for many laws it is only because he is sure that his neighbor needs them; privately he is an unphilosophical anarchist, and thinks laws in his own case superfluous. In the simplest societies there is hardly any government. Primitive hunters tend to accept regulation only when they join the hunting pack and prepare for action. The Bushmen usually live in solitary families; the Pygmies of Africa and the simplest natives of Australia admit only temporarily of political organization, and then scatter away to their family groups; the Tasmanians had no chiefs, no laws, no regular government; the Veddahs of Ceylon formed small circles according to family relationship, but had no government; the Kubus of Sumatra "live without men in authority" every family governing itself; the Fuegians are seldom more than twelve together; the Tungus associate sparingly in groups of ten tents or so; the Australian "horde" is seldom larger than sixty souls. In such cases association and cooperation are for special purposes, like hunting; they do not rise to any permanent political order.
    • Ch. III : The Political Elements of Civilization, p. 21
  • Nothing should more deeply shame the modern student than the recency and inadequacy of his acquaintance with India. Here is a vast peninsula of nearly two million square miles; two-thirds as large as the United States, and twenty times the size of its master, Great Britain; 320,000,000 souls, more than in all North and South America combined, or one-fifth of the population of the earth; an impressive continuity of development and civilization from Mohenjo-daro, 2900 B.C. or earlier, to Gandhi, Raman and Tagore; faiths compassing every stage from barbarous idolatry to the most subtle and spiritual pantheism; philosophers playing a thousand variations on one monistic theme from the Upanishads eight centuries before Christ to Shankara eight centuries after him; scientists developing astronomy three thousand years ago, and winning Nobel prizes in our own time; a democratic constitution of untraceable antiquity in the villages, and wise and beneficent rulers like Ashoka and Akbar in the capitals; minstrels singing great epics almost as old as Homer, and poets holding world audiences today; artists raising gigantic temples for Hindu gods from Tibet to Ceylon and from Cambodia to Java, or carving perfect palaces by the score for Mogul kings and queens — this is the India that patient scholarship is now opening up, like a new intellectual continent, to that Western mind which only yesterday thought civilization an exclusively European thing.
    • Ch. XIV : The Foundations of India § I : Scene of the Drama
  • The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.
    • Ch. XVI : From Alexander to Aurangzeb, § VI : The Moslem Conquest; this has become misquoted in paraphrased form as : "The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.
  • It is in the nature of governments to degenerate; for power, as Shelley said, poisons every hand that touches it. The excesses of the Delhi Sultans lost them the support not only of the Hindu population, but of their Moslem followers. When fresh invasions came from the north these Sultans were defeated with the same ease with which they themselves had won India.
    • Ch. XVI : From Alexander to Aurangzeb, § VII : Akbar the Great
  • While Catholics were murdering Protestants in France, and Protestants, under Elizabeth, were murdering Catholics in England, and the Inquisition was killing and robbing Jews in Spain, and Bruno was being burned at the stake in Italy, Akbar invited the representatives of all the religions in his empire to a conference, pledged them to peace, issued edicts of toleration for every cult and creed, and, as evidence of his own neutrality, married wives from the Brahman, Buddhist, and Mohammedan faiths.
    His greatest pleasure, after the fires of youth had cooled, was in the free discussion of religious beliefs. … The King took no stock in revelations, and would accept nothing that could not justify itself with science and philosophy. It was not unusual for him to gather friends and prelates of various sects together, and discuss religion with them from Thursday evening to Friday noon. When the Moslem mullahs and the Christian priests quarreled he reproved them both, saying that God should be worshiped through the intellect, and not by a blind adherence to supposed revelations. "Each person," he said, in the spirit — and perhaps through the influence — of the Upanishads and Kabir, "according to his condition gives the Supreme Being a name; but in reality to name the Unknowable is vain."
    • Ch. XVI : From Alexander to Aurangzeb, § VII : Akbar the Great

II - Life of Greece (1939)[edit]

Full text online at the Internet Archive
  • All the problems that disturb us today—the cutting down of forests and the erosion of the soil; the emancipation of woman and the limitation of the family; the conservatism of the established, and the experimentalism of the unplaced, in morals, music, and government; the corruptions of politics and the perversions of conduct; the conflict of religion and science, and the weakening of the supernatural supports of morality; the war of the classes, the nations, and the continents; the revolutions of the poor against the economically powerful rich, and of the rich against the politically powerful poor; the struggle between democracy and dictatorship, between individualism and communism, between the East and the West—all these agitated, as if for our instruction, the brilliant and turbulent life of ancient Hellas. There is nothing in Greek civilization that does not illuminate our own.
    • Preface, P.18
  • a nation is born stoic and dies epicurean
    • Ch. I: Crete, Section IV: The Fall of Cnossus, P.51
  • The Argives ascribed the foundation of their city to Pelasgic Argus, the hero with a hundred eyes; and its first flourishing to an Egyptian, Danaus, who came at the head of a band of “Danaae” and taught the natives to irrigate their fields with wells. Such eponyms are not to be scorned; the Greeks preferred to end with myth that infinite regress which we must end with mystery.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Section II: Argos, P. 116
  • Apparently the legislators felt that to alter certain customs, or to establish new ones, the safest procedure would be to present their proposals as commands of the god; it was not the first time that a state had laid its foundations in the sky.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Section III: Laconia, 4. The Lacedaemonian Constitution P. 123
  • The Spartans themselves were forbidden to go abroad without permission of the government, and to dull their curiosity they were trained to a haughty exclusiveness that would not dream that other nations could teach them anything. The system had to be ungracious in order to protect itself; a breath from that excluded world of freedom, luxury, letters, and arts might topple over this strange and artificial society, in which two thirds of the people were serfs, and all the masters were slaves.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Sec III: Laconia, 5. The Spartan Code P. 131
  • Self-control, moderation, equanimity in fortune and adversity— qualities that the Athenians wrote about but seldom showed—were taken for granted in every Spartan citizen.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Sec III: Laconia, 6. An Estimate of Sparta, P. 132
  • Like Plato and Plutarch, Xenophon was never tired of praising Spartan ways. Here it was, of course, that Plato found the outlines of his Utopia, a little blurred by a strange indifference to Ideas. Weary and fearful of the vulgarity and chaos of democracy, many Greek thinkers took refuge in an idolatry of Spartan order and law. They could afford to praise Sparta, since they did not have to live in it. They did not feel at close range the selfishness, coldness, and cruelty of the Spartan character; they could not see from the select gentlemen whom they met, or the heroes whom they commemorated from afar, that the Spartan code produced good soldiers and nothing more; that it made vigor of body a graceless brutality because it killed nearly all capacity for the things of the mind.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Sec III: Laconia, 6. An Estimate of Sparta, P. 132-133
  • Greek travelers marveled at a life so simple and unadorned, a franchise so jealously confined, a conservatism so tenacious of every custom and superstition, a courage and discipline so exalted and limited, so noble in character, so base in purpose, and so barren in result; while, hardly a day’s ride away, the Athenians were building, out of a thousand injustices and errors, a civilization broad in scope and yet intense in action, open to every new idea and eager for intercourse with the world, tolerant, varied, complex, luxurious, innovating, skeptical, imaginative, poetical, turbulent, free. It was a contrast that would color and almost delineate Greek history.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Sec III: Laconia, 6. An Estimate of Sparta, P. 133
  • In the end Sparta’s narrowness of spirit betrayed even her strength of soul. She descended to the sanctioning of any means to gain a Spartan aim; at last she stooped so far to conquer as to sell to Persia the liberties that Athens had won for Greece at Marathon. Militarism absorbed her, and made her, once so honored, the hated terror of her neighbors. When she fell, all the nations marveled, but none mourned. Today, among the scanty ruins of that ancient capital, hardly a torso or a fallen pillar survives to declare that here there once lived Greeks.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Sec III: Laconia, 6. An Estimate of Sparta, P. 133
  • Perhaps time and chance were ungrateful to the city [Corinth], and her annals fell to be written by men of other loyalties. The past would be startled if it could see itself in the pages of historians.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Sec V: Corinth, P.138
  • In the end we find him [Theognis] back in Megara, old and broken, and promising, for safety’s sake, never again to write of politics. He consoles himself with wine and a loyal wife, and does his best to learn at last the lesson that everything natural is forgivable. (Ch. IV Sparta, Sec VI: Megara, P.141)
  • Today such patients [pilgrims looking for healing] go to Tenos in the Cyclades, where the priests of the Greek Church heal them as those of Asclepius healed their forerunners two thousand five hundred years ago. And the gloomy peak where once the people of Epidaurus sacrificed to Zeus and Hera is now the sacred mount of St. Elias. The gods are mortal, but piety is everlasting.
    • Ch. IV Sparta, Sec VI: Aegina and Epidaurus, P.143
  • Homer was a poet, and knew that one touch of beauty redeems a multitude of sins; Hesiod [the poor poet] was a peasant who grudged the cost of a wife, and grumbled at the impudence of women who dared to sit at the same table with their husbands. Hesiod, with rough candor, shows us the ugly basement of early Greek society—the hard poverty of serfs and small farmers upon whose toil rested all the splendor and war sport of the aristocracy and the kings. Homer sang of heroes and princes for lords and ladies; Hesiod knew no princes, but sang his lays of common men, and pitched his tune accordingly. In his verses we hear the rumblings of those peasant revolts that would produce in Attica the reforms of Solon and the dictatorship of Peisistratus.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec I: Hesiod's Boeotia, P. 151
  • By this piecemeal revolution the royal office was shorn of all its powers, and its holder was confined to the functions of a priest. The word king remained in the Athenian constitution to the end of its ancient history, but the reality was never restored. Institutions may with impunity be altered or destroyed from above if their names are left unchanged.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 2. Athens Under the Oligarchs, P. 159
  • Meanwhile, in the towns, the middle classes, unhindered by law, were reducing the free laborers to destitution, and gradually replacing them with slaves. Muscle became so cheap that no one who could afford to buy it deigned any longer to work with his hands; manual labor became a sign of bondage, an occupation unworthy of freemen. The landowners, jealous of the growing wealth of the merchant class, sold abroad the corn [grain] that their tenants needed for food, and at last, under the law of debt, sold the Athenians themselves.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 2. Athens Under the Oligarchs, P. 160-161
  • As the seventh century [BC] drew to a close, the bitterness of the helpless poor against the legally entrenched rich had brought Athens to the edge of revolution. Equality is unnatural; and where ability and subtlety are free, inequality must grow until it destroys itself in the indiscriminate poverty of social war; liberty and equality are not associates but enemies. The concentration of wealth begins by being inevitable, and ends by being fatal.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 2. Athens Under the Oligarchs, P. 161
  • He [Solon] made it a crime to speak evil of the dead, or to speak evil of the living in temples, courts, or public offices, or at the games; but even he could not tie the busy tongue of Athens, in which, as with us, gossip and slander seemed essential to democracy.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 3. The Solonian Revolution, P. 166
  • He [Solon] laid it down that those who remained neutral in seditions should lose their citizenship, for he felt that the indifference of the public is the ruin of the state.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 3. The Solonian Revolution, P. 166
  • Unlike Lycurgus, Minos, Hammurabi, and Numa, he [Solon] made no claim that a god had given him these laws; this circumstance, too, revealed the temper of the age, the city, and the man. Invited to make himself a permanent dictator he refused, saying that dictatorship was “a very fair spot, but there was no way down from it.”
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 3. The Solonian Revolution, P. 167
  • Probably Athens had needed, after Solon, just such a man as Peisistratus: one with sufficient iron in his blood to beat the disorder of Athenian life into a strong and steady form, and to establish by initial compulsion those habits of order and law which are to a society what the bony structure is to an animal—its shape and strength, though not its creative life. When, after a generation, the dictatorship was removed, these habits of order and the framework of Solon’s constitution remained as a heritage for democracy. Peisistratus, perhaps not knowing it, had come not to destroy the law but to fulfill it.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 3. The Dictatorship of Peisistratus, P. 171
  • The “tyranny” of Peisistratus was part of a general movement in the commercially active cities of sixth-century Greece, to replace the feudal rule of a landowning aristocracy with the political dominance of the middle class in temporary alliance with the poor. Such dictatorships were brought on by the pathological concentration of wealth, and the inability of the wealthy to agree on a compromise. Forced to choose, the poor, like the rich, love money more than political liberty; and the only political freedom capable of enduring is one that is so pruned as to keep the rich from denuding the poor by ability or subtlety and the poor from robbing the rich by violence or votes. Hence the road to power in Greek commercial cities was simple: to attack the aristocracy, defend the poor, and come to an understanding with the middle classes.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 3. The Dictatorship of Peisistratus, P. 171
  • Forced to depend upon popularity instead of hereditary power, the dictatorships for the most part kept out of war, supported religion, maintained order, promoted morality, favored the higher status of women, encouraged the arts, and lavished revenues upon the beautification of their cities. And they did all these things, in many cases, while preserving the forms and procedures of popular government, so that even under despotism the people learned the ways of liberty. When the dictatorship had served to destroy the aristocracy the people destroyed the dictatorship; and only a few changes were needed to make the democracy of freemen a reality as well as a form.
    • Ch. V Athens, Sec IV: Attica, 3. The Dictatorship of Peisistratus, P. 173
  • Good sites [for immigration and colonization around the Mediterranean] were nearly always occupied, and had to be conquered by stratagem or force; the Greeks, in such matters, recognized no morals loftier than our own. In some cases the conquerors reduced the prior inhabitants to slavery, with all the irony of pilgrims seeking freedom; more often they made friends of the natives by bringing them Greek gifts, charming them with a superior culture, courting their women, and adopting their gods; the colonial Greeks did not bother about purity of race, and could always find in their teeming pantheon some deity sufficiently like the local divinity to facilitate a religious entente.
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec I: Causes and Ways, P.181
  • Through these busy centers of vitality and intelligence the Greeks spread into all of southern Europe the seeds of that subtle and precarious luxury called civilization, without which life would have no beauty, and history no meaning.
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec I: Causes and Ways, P.181
  • Miletus, southernmost of the Ionian Twelve [Cities], was in the sixth century [BC] the richest city of the Greek world... Milesian merchants, overflowing with profits, lent money to enterprises far and wide, and to the municipality itself. They were the Medici of the Ionian Renaissance. It was in this stimulating environment that Greece first developed two of its most characteristic gifts to the world — science and philosophy. The crossroads of trade are the meeting place of ideas, the attrition ground of rival customs and beliefs; diversities beget conflict, comparison, thought; superstitions cancel one another, and reason begins. Here in Miletus, as later in Athens, were men from a hundred scattered states; mentally active through competitive commerce, and freed from the bondage of tradition by long absences from their native altars and homes. Milesians themselves traveled to distant cities, and had their eyes opened by the civilizations of Lydia, Babylonia, Phoenicia, and Egypt... Meanwhile wealth had created leisure; an aristocracy of culture was growing up in which freedom of thought was tolerated because only a small minority could read. No powerful priesthood, no ancient and inspired text limited men’s thinking
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 1. Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy P.187-188)
  • Nevertheless the new plant [Philosophy], mutation though it was, had its roots and ancestry. The hoary wisdom of Egyptian priests and Persian Magi, perhaps even of Hindu seers, the sacerdotal science of the Chaldeans, the poetically personified cosmogony of Hesiod, were mingled with the natural realism of Phoenician and Greek merchants to produce Ionian philosophy. Greek religion itself had paved the way by talking of Moira, or Fate, as ruler of both gods and men: here was that idea of law, as superior to incalculable personal decree, which would mark the essential difference between science and mythology, as well as between despotism and democracy. Man became free when he recognized that he was subject to law. That the Greeks, so far as our knowledge goes, were the first to achieve this recognition and this freedom in both philosophy and government is the secret of their accomplishment, and of their importance in history.
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 1. Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy P.188-189)
  • [The great Ionian sage] Thales was born about 640, probably at Miletus, reputedly of Phoenician parentage, and derived much of his education from Egypt and the Near East; here, as if personified, we see the transit of culture from East to West... To him tradition unanimously ascribed the introduction of mathematical and astronomical science into Greece... As some Greek myths made Oceanus the father of all creation, so Thales made water the first principle of all things, their original form and their final destiny... The significance of his thought lay not in reducing all things to water, but in reducing all things to one; here was the first monism in recorded history. Aristotle describes Thales’ view as materialistic; but Thales adds that every particle of the world is alive, that matter and life are inseparable and one, that there is an immortal “soul” in plants and metals as well as in animals and men; the vital power changes form, but never dies."
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 1. Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy P.189-190)
  • In his old age he [Thales] received by common consent the title of sophos, or sage; and when Greece came to name its Seven Wise Men it placed Thales first. Being asked what was very difficult, he answered, in a famous apophthegm, “To know thyself.” Asked what was very easy, he answered, “To give advice.” To the question, what is God? he replied, “That which has neither beginning nor end.” Asked how men might live most virtuously and justly, he answered, “If we never do ourselves what we blame in others.”
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 1. Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy P.190)
  • This heyday of Miletus produced not only the earliest philosophy, but the earliest prose, and the first historiography, in Greece. Poetry seems natural to a nation’s adolescence, when imagination is greater than knowledge, and a strong faith gives personality to the forces of nature in field, wood, sea, and sky; it is hard for poetry to avoid animism, or for animism to avoid poetry. Prose is the voice of knowledge freeing itself from imagination and faith; it is the language of secular, mundane, “prosaic” affairs; it is the emblem of a nation’s maturity, and the epitaph of its youth.
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 1. Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy P.192)
  • The poverty of Greek prose before Herodotus is bound up with the conquest and impoverishment of Miletus in the very generation in which prose literature began. Internal decay followed the custom of history in smoothing the path of the conqueror. The growth of wealth and luxury made epicureanism fashionable, while stoicism and patriotism seemed antiquated and absurd; it became a byword among the Greeks that “once upon a time the Milesians were brave.” Competition for the goods of the earth became keener as the old faith lost its power to mitigate class strife by giving scruples to the strong and consolations to the weak.
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 1. Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy P.193)
  • When, about 560 [BC], Croesus began to subject to Lydian rule the Greek coast of Asia from Cnidus to the Hellespont, Miletus saved its independence by refusing to help her sister states. But in 546 Cyrus conquered Lydia, and without much difficulty absorbed the faction-torn cities of Ionia into the Persian Empire. The great age of Miletus was over. Science and philosophy, in the history of states, reach their height after decadence has set in; wisdom is a harbinger of death.
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 1. Miletus and the Birth of Greek Philosophy P.194)
  • Greece respected wisdom as India respected holiness, as Renaissance Italy respected artistic genius, as young America naturally respects economic enterprise. The heroes of Greece were not saints, or artists, or millionaires, but sages; and her most honored sages were not theorists but men who had made their wisdom function actively in the world... People liked to quote, for example, the remarks of [the sage] Bias — that the most unfortunate of men is he who has not learned how to bear misfortune; that men ought to order their lives as if they were fated to live both a long and a short time; and that “wisdom should be cherished as a means of traveling from youth to old age, for it is more lasting than any other possession.”
    • Ch. VI The Great Migration, Sec IV: The Ionian Dodecapolis, 2. Polycrates of Samos P.195)
  • Water is the usual drink, but everyone has wine, for no civilization has found life tolerable without narcotics or stimulants.
    • Ch. XII : Work and Wealth in Athens, p. 270
  • No man who is in a hurry is quite civilized.
    • Ch. XII : Work and Wealth in Athens, p. 277

III - Caesar and Christ (1944)[edit]

Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
  • What astonishes us is that such a government could last so long (508 to 49 B.C.) and achieve so much. Perhaps it endured because of its muddling adaptability to change, and the proud patriotism formed in the home, the school, the temple, the army, the Assembly, and the Senate. Devotion to the state marked the zenith of the Republic, as unparalleled political corruption marked its fall. Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision, and heroism. When she had overcome them all she flourished for a moment and then began to die.
    • Chapter 2, Part 2
  • The issuance of this guaranteed currency promoted the profession and operations of finance. The older Romans used temples as their banks, as we use banks as our temples; and the state continued to the end to use its strongly built shrines as repositories for public funds, perhaps on the theory that religious scruples would help discourage robbery.
    • Chapter 4, Part 6
  • If we sum up Greek thought in the first two centuries of our era, we find it, despite Lucian, overwhelmingly religious. Men had once lost faith in faith and taken to logic; now they were losing faith in logic and were flocking back to faith. Greek philosophy had completed the circuit from primitive theology through the skepticism of the early Sophists, the atheism of Democritus, the reconciliatory blandishments of Plato, the naturalism of Aristotle, and the pantheism of the Stoa back to a philosophy of mysticism, submission, and piety.
    • Chapter 13, Part 4
  • His [Herod's] character was typical of an age that had produced so many men of intellect without morals, ability without scruple, and courage without honor. He was in his lesser way the Augustus of Judea: like Augustus he overlaid the chaos of freedom with dictatorial order, beautified his capital with Greek architecture and sculpture, enlarged his realm, made it prosper, achieved more by subtlety than by arms, married widely, was broken by the treachery of his offspring, and knew every good fortune but happiness.
    • Chapter 25, Part 3
  • [On Paul the Apostle] As in so many men, his faults and virtues were near allied and mutually indispensable. He was impetuous and courageous, dogmatic and decisive, domineering and energetic, fanatical and creative, proud before man and humble before God, violently wrathful and capable of the tenderest love. He advised his followers to “bless them that persecute you,” but he could hope that his enemies—“the party of circumcision”—“would get themselves emasculated.” He knew his failings, struggled against them, and begged his converts to “put up with a little folly from me.” The postscript to his first epistle to the Corinthians sums him up: “This farewell I, Paul, add in my own hand. A curse upon anyone who has no love for the Lord! Lord, come quickly! The blessing of the Lord Jesus be with you! My love be with you all.” He was what he had to be to do what he did.
    • Chapter 27, Part 2
  • Historically the belief in heaven and the belief in utopia are like compensatory buckets in a well: when one goes down the other comes up. When the classic religions decayed, communistic agitation rose in Athens (430 B.C.), and revolution began in Rome (133 B.C.); when these movements failed, resurrection faiths succeeded, culminating in Christianity; when, in our eighteenth century, Christian belief weakened, communism reappeared. In this perspective the future of religion is secure.
    • Chapter 28, Part 5 (Footnote 2)
  • There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
    • Chapter 30, part 1, p. 652
  • A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.
    • Epilogue: "Why Rome Fell", p. 665

VI - The Reformation (1957)[edit]

I feel for all faiths the warm sympathy of one who has come to learn that even the trust in reason is a precarious faith, and that we are all fragments of darkness groping for the sun.
  • I have tried to be impartial, though I know that a man's past always colors his views, and that nothing else is so irritating as impartiality.
    • Preface
  • To all Christian governments Christianity was not a rule of means but a means of rule; Christ was for the people, Machiavelli was preferred by the kings. The state in some measure had civilized man, but who would civilize the state?
    • Chapter 6, p. 229
  • II feel for all faiths the warm sympathy of one who has come to learn that even the trust in reason is a precarious faith, and that we are all fragments of darkness groping for the sun. I know no more about the ultimates than the simplest urchin in the streets.
    • Preface

XI - The Age of Napoleon (1975)[edit]

Co-written with Ariel Durant
  • Power dements even more than it corrupts, lowering the guard of foresight and raising the haste of action.
    • Ch. IV : The Convention: September 21, 1792 - October 26, 1795, Part V : The Reign of Terror: September 17, 1793 - July 28, 1794, § 4 : The Revolution Eats Its Children

Fallen Leaves (2014)[edit]

It is Life that educates, and perhaps love more than anything else in life.
Fallen Leaves : Last Words on Life, Love, War and God (2014)
  • Children and fools speak the truth; and somehow they find happiness in their sincerity.
    • Ch. 1 : Our life begins
  • See him, the newborn, dirty but marvelous, ridiculous in actuality, infinite in possibility, capable of that ultimate miracle, growth.
    • Ch. 1 : Our life begins
  • Life is that which is discontent, which struggles and seeks, which suffers and creates.
    • Ch. 1 : Our life begins
  • Childhood may be defined as the age of play; therefore some children are never young, and some adults are never old.
    • Ch. 1 : Our life begins
  • Man is as young as the risks he takes.
    • Ch. 2 : On Youth
  • Happiness is the free play of the instincts, and so is youth.
    • Ch. 2 : On Youth
  • Let us ask the Gods not for possessions, but for things to do; happiness is in making things rather than consuming them.
    • Ch. 2 : On Youth
  • Youth is learning to read (which is all that one learns in school), and is learning where and how to find what he may later need to know (which is the best of the arts that he acquires in college). Nothing learned from a book is worth anything until it is used and verified in life; only then does it begin to affect behavior and desire. It is Life that educates, and perhaps love more than anything else in life.
  • It is life that educates, and perhaps love more than anything else in life.
    • Ch. 2 : On Youth
  • The principle of the family was mutual aid; but the principle of society is competition, the struggle for existence, the elimination of the weak and the survival of the strong.
    • Ch. 2 : On Youth
  • Here is a fulfillment of long centuries of civilization and culture; here, in romantic love, more than the triumph of thought or the victories of power is the topmost reach of human beings.
    • Ch. 2 : On Youth
  • Wisdom, if it were young, would cherish love, nursing it with devotion, deepening it with sacrifice, vitalizing with parentage, making all things subordinate to it till the end. Even though it consumes us in its service and overwhelms us with tragedy, even though it breaks us down with separations, let it be first. How can it matter what price we pay for love?
    • Ch. 2 : On Youth
  • Middle age begins with marriage; for then work and responsibility replace carefree play, passion surrenders to the limitations of social order, and poetry yields to prose.
    • Ch. 3 : On Middle Age
  • As we find a place in the economic world the rebellion of youth subsides; we disapprove of earthquakes when our feet are on the earth. We forget then the radicalism then in a gentle liberalism — which is radicalism softened with the consciousness of a bank account.
    • Ch. 3 : On Middle Age
  • She is a woman now, and not an idle girl, not a domestic ornament or a sexual convenience anymore.
    • On the maturation of women, Ch. 4 : On Old Age
  • A man is as old as his arteries, and as young as his ideas.
    • Ch. 4 : On Old Age
  • Here and everywhere is the struggle for existence, life inextricably enmeshed with war. All life living at the expense of life, every organism eating other organisms forever.
    • Ch. 4 : On Old Age
  • Life is that which can hold a purpose for three thousand years and never yield. The individual fails, but life succeeds. The individual is foolish, but life holds in its blood and seed the wisdom of generations. The individual dies, but life, tireless and undiscourageble, goes on, wondering, longing, planning, trying, mounting, longing.
    • Ch. 5 : On Death
  • Space, subjectively, is the coexistence of perceptions — perceiving two objects at once.
    • Ch. 6 : Our Souls
  • Time, subjectively, is the conscious sequence of perceptions.
    • Ch. 6 : Our Souls
  • By mind I mean the totality of perceptions, memories and ideas in an organism.
    • Ch. 6 : Our Souls
  • A sensation is the feeling of an external stimulus or an internal condition.
    • Ch. 6 : Our Souls

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