His words......"It is a mistake to think that the past is dead. Nothing that has ever happened is quite without influence at this moment. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated in this second of time. You, too, are your past; often your face is your autobiography; you are what you are because of what you have been; because of your heredity stretching back into forgotten generations; because of every element of environment that has affected you, every man or woman that has met you, every book that you have read, every experience that you have had; all these are accumulated in your memory, your body, your character, your soul. So with a city, a country, and a race; it is its past, and cannot be understood without it.
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".Elsewhere Will Durant speaks of his weariness with reading of the destructive side of history, and his determination to present the creative history of the race.As I gained a little maturity, I eventually purchased all the volumes of the Durant's "Story of Civilization" (his wife, Ariel, co-authored some of the books, starting with the eighth) and their short, concise "Lessons of History".
What a Story it is - presented as a fascinating and gripping history of the glories and failures of the myriad civilizations that have succeeded each other in the last 5,000 years. Such a short little breath in the timelessness of the earth....
He speaks of Religions and Civilizations, and the tensions between them which mark the highest stages of every civilization, and I paraphrase his words.......
Religion offers guidance to bewildered men, and it culminates by establishing a unity of morals and belief which assists in reaching the pinnacle of their relationship. However, as knowledge and technology grow or alter they clash with mythology and theology, and intellectual history takes on the character of a 'conflict between science and religion'.
The relationship ends by fighting suicidally in the lost cause of the past.
When the intellectual classes abandon the ancient theology and the moral code allied with it then conduct, deprived of its religious support, deteriorates into 'epicurean chaos; and life itself, shorn of consoling faith,' becomes burdensome to all.
In the end 'society and its religion tend to fail together, like body and soul, in a harmonious death. Meanwhile, among the oppressed, another myth arises, gives new form to human hope, new courage to human effort, and after centuries of chaos builds another civilization'.
What a mixture of pessimism and optimism - technology and science abound whilst conduct and morality fall into disarray, but there is always the Phoenix which arises in the form of new order and creativity.
I find it hopeful and encouraging to have this perspective of the whole of history, - it gives faint hope to my dismay with the moral code which, on the whole, seems to be making inroads into our society, and I can carry on life on the banks of the stream, - gentle, ordinary, striving and loving.
Ah, I do fall into these philosophical fits now and then, but when I received the Durant Foundation Newsletter today I abandoned my struggle with Vista and took consolation in Will and Ariel Durant's wonderful life together and their combined contribution to knowledge and wisdom....
You won't be sorry if you follow the link and visit the site.