There has been recently a return on the part of some writers to the Greek theory that the course of history follows a cyclical pattern. An important motivation for this return is the conviction that neither the theory of progress nor the classical Christian understanding of history can explain the setback which has befallen Western culture. One of the most famous explanations of the current dilemma to employ this pattern was that offered by the German writer, Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), in the Decline of the West (1918-1922). Drawing his analogy from biology, Spengler argued that each civilization has a life cycle of its own, in the course of which it passes from youth to senility and final decay. He concluded that its life span approximated 1000 years, thus providing himself with a timetable by means of which he could predict the future of Western culture. Since he believed that Western Civilization has begun about the year 900, he felt certain that it had just about run its course. What he regarded as a great dearth of creative art and philosophy in recent times only confirmed his prediction. Appearing as it did as World War I was ending, a war which many had believed the progress of man had rendered highly unlikely, Spengler's book gained considerable notoriety. It influenced a young British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee, who was then thinking along some of the very same lines Spengler traced. [excerpt]
An excerpt from Toynbee's abridgment of D.C. Somervell's book, A Study of History, has been removed due to copyright restrictions. A later edition of Toynbee's abridgment is available here.
This is the publisher's version of the work. This publication appears in Gettysburg College's institutional repository by permission of the copyright owner for personal use, not for redistribution.
Bloom, Robert L. et al. "2. Toynbee and the Cyclical Pattern of History. Pt. XXIV: Historical Meaning." Ideas and Institutions of Western Man (Gettysburg College, 1958), 17-27.