As promied I’m reading the first book I plucked from my shelf, Toynbee’s Civilization on Trial and The World and the West, published in 1948 by Oxford University Press. In the early pages, the historial offers this proposition regarding how civilizations fail:

Briefly stated, the regular pattern of social disintegration is a schism of the disintegrating society into a recalcitrant proletariat and a less and less effectively dominant minority (23)

This seems almost tautological as it goes and doesn’t seem to offer much. What is more interesting is the presentation of history as inherently progressive towards a divine end. Rather than see civilization decline as inevitable circularity, he sides with the linear-progressive view of history.

When civilizations rise and fall and in falling give rise to others, some purposeful enterprise, higher than theirs, may all the time be making headway and in a divine plan the learning that comes through the suffering caused by the failures of civilizations may be the sovereign means of progress.

Rather than take issue with this assumption, I’d prefer to use it as a thought experiment. What learning can come from the suffering present in US civilization? Perhaps the lesson learned, if the US experiment fails, is to provide enough avenues for the dominated to become the dominant. We may have a system resilient enough to fend off decline. If the proletariat and the dominant minority interchange enough, then maybe you have no need for decline.

It gets me to thinking about race and class. If you can transition formerly marginalized groups into positions of power (e.g. racial and ethnic minorities, GLBTQ, and women) does that serve to fend off inevitable decline. Can you maintain class-based oppression/domination or do they become the recalcitrant proletariat?