An Italian Toynbee

“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder,” the historian Arnold Toynbee wrote, and these words could certainly be Ms. Fallaci’s.” (Tunku Varadarajan)

Arts & Letters links to the WSJ interview of Fallaci:

The impending Fall of the West, as she sees it, now torments Ms. Fallaci. And as much as that Fall, what torments her is the blithe way in which the West is marching toward its precipice of choice.

But she sees hope in a place surprising for a journalist if not for (traditionally) an Italian: “I feel less alone when I read the books of Ratzinger.” She is especially moved by “If Europe Hates Itself.”

I had asked Ms. Fallaci whether there was any contemporary leader she admired, and Pope Benedict XVI was evidently a man in whom she reposed some trust. “I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true. It’s that simple! There must be some human truth here that is beyond religion.”

Religion & history intertwine in our desire to understand ourselves. She notes: “Look at the school system of the West today. Students do not know history!” And, reading this, I remember a short while ago a friend scoffed at Texas’ “jingoism” in requiring two semesters of American history survey (with some majors a course in Texas history can be substituted) and one in state & another in federal government. Jingoism is one word for it, perhaps. Respect. A certain humility that we can learn from the past. There is all that. Simply, I argued, how can we know who we are if we don’t know from what we came?

But, I’ve known him for many years and he would argue, we are not what we came from nor where we are. We are pure mind & pure will, moving unfettered through the world. But we aren’t that and believing we are is likely to lead to a life neither very productive nor happy. Those classes are important pragmatically – that perspective helps us vote more thoughtfully. While often dogma (& recycled, disproved dogma at that) may rule in a class, the facts remain, glistening and complicated.

Fallaci is right not only about Italy and not only about Europe but about the risk we, too, face. I hope that that course requirement, even accepting that sense of history is often abused, builds a base of glistening facts about human nature & human deeds on which later generations who think as she & the Pope & . . . does will be able to build.

1 thought on “An Italian Toynbee”

  1. Alas, in Europe we also know what sort of horrors “pure mind and pure will” can lead to. That is why the lack of knowledge of history – in Britain we suffer from it especially – is so tragic.

Comments are closed.