Civilizations. “Challenge and Response” by Arnold Toynbee

In his “Challenge and Response” Arnold J. Toynbee tries to find difference between primitive and higher societies. This issue has always been rather controversial. Throughout the centuries a number of scientists have been trying to work out the criteria which could differentiate primitive societies from the higher ones. Some decades earlier most of the scientists asserted that primary differences between these societies were the division of labour and the presence of institutions which help to realize impersonal relations between the individuals of a society. Toynbee, however, states that these are not the essential differences, since primitive societies may also have their institutions and can be united by totemism, tabus, exogamy, etc.; likewise, the division of labour in primitive societies cannot be denied. The book “Challenge and Response” by Arnold J. Toynbee defines mimesis as one of the differences between primitive and high societies; it discovers fundamentality of the nature of the Universe and concludes that everything in the world is based on perfection.

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To begin with, Toynbee sees mimesis (or imitation) as the feature which may distinguish primitive societies from the higher ones. He believes that both primitive and higher societies may possess this feature. The distinction, however, lies in directions of this imitation in different societies. Thus, in primitive society, imitation is directed towards older generations and older members of the society who evoke respect and sometimes even worship. When mimesis is directed towards the past, the society usually remains static, while the society where it is directed towards future is in constant growth and development. The members of higher society tend to imitate creative personalities, which accounts for their development.

According to Toynbee, the fundamentality of the nature of the Universe lies exactly in alternations of movement, pause, and movement. These alternations may be described in terms of Ying and Yang, where Ying can be regarded as static and Yang as dynamic. Higher society enters Yang-activity civilization, irrespective of the fact that, in correspondence with the Chinese formula, Ying should come first (in other words, the development of our society would not be possible if it started with Ying). What the society should be searching for now is the positive factor which set it in motion and let it develop.

Finally, the author concludes that everything in the Universe begins with perfection. To prove this, he analyzes different mythological stories based on perfection. Among these are encounters of two superhuman personalities, as in the book of Genesis (Yahweh and Serpent), the Book of Job (the Lord and Satan), Goethe’s Faust (the Lord and Mephistopheles), Scandinavian Volupsa (Gods and Demons), Euripides’ Hippolytus (Artemis and Aphrodite), and other myths. Each of these stories opens with the State of Yin. However, just like in the story about Adam and Eve, a certain impulse made people to change this state into a dynamic one for there was no room for development in their society.

In sum, in “Challenge and Response” Arnold Toynbee names imitation as one of the features which distinguishes primitive and higher societies. This feature is common to both the societies, but they differ in the direction of imitation; in the primitive society the imitation is directed towards the past and in the higher society it is directed towards the future. Toynbee also concludes that fundamentality of the Universe lies in the alternations of static and dynamic and that any society is primarily based on perfection, which is with time broken due to the society’s striving for development.

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