”History”: Carthage, Saint-Augustin, Ibn Khaldoun and the determinism of History – Kapitalis

The knowledge of History, however biased it may be, remains beneficial to avoid the errors that have marred its course, thanks to a critical sense, without ever losing sight of the effect of time and the ingratitude of memories. The re-reading of ”History”, the famous essay by the British historian of civilizations Arnold Toynbee, proves this, including through its biases, its silences and its oversights.

By Dr. Mounir Hanablia *

Does History have a meaning, a direction, a meaning, as the two Tunisians, St Augustin and Ibn Khaldoun, meant? According to Arnold Toynbee, from the Western Christian perspective he shares, the answer is clear. His monumental work analyzes the birth, growth, apogee, decline, death, rebirth, mutual influence of civilizations, drawing inspiration from the many examples that punctuate the historical journey of humanity.

This is, at the very least, the vision of a biologist analyzing a living organism, its creation, and trying to predict its end as much as the path of genes in the cells of other living beings. And we can understand that in the current era, a Yuval Harari could envisage the progress of humanity according to a computer perception, that of the exchange of information and algorithms.

Hellenic West and barbaric cultures

But Toynbee, a British subject, carried out his effort of reflection before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the accession of China to the market economy. However, the interest is not altered, quite the contrary. If the hypothesis of a Chinese alternative to the Western mercantile civilization that the chaotic course of Maoism had hinted at in the 60s of the last century, makes us smile today, the historian’s work of synthesis, in search of landmarks in the passage of time, is impressive.

Time and memory are the domains in which the research work sorts out in order to determine what is useful, what is in conformity with the mental standards of the researcher, resulting from the education, the cultural field, what does not l ‘is not. And by doing so the historian inevitably exposes himself to criticism, that of not being objective, but can we blame him for making himself the reflection of his own personality?

Moreover, being a specialist in Greece and Byzantium, it was almost inevitable that what Toynbee called Hellenism would constitute the main reference. However, the concept of Hellenism is undoubtedly a border, one more, established by the Greeks since Marathon, then the Westerner who claims to inherit it, against other cultures, those barbarians of course, from which both are immediately distinguished by their refusal to join. And Toynbee’s views on the various ways in which a militarily defeated civilization triumphs over its victors is only a reflection of that anxiety about immigration that imperialist England has about the reconstitution within the space of sovereignty, of exogenous communities and their culture, which, according to him, the State will inevitably not be able to overcome.

It was a similar prospect that later led to Brexit. But faced with the Hellenism of the Macedonians and then the Romans, the historian distinguishes the civilizations which he qualifies as Syrian, all those which hatched between the Mediterranean, the southern limits of the Anatolian plateau and Armenia, the eastern Zagros Mountains of the Iranian Plateau, and the northern Arabian Desert. It thus encompasses Cham (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan) and Mesopotamia. But can we compare Jerusalem to Babylon?

Religions and civilizations

In reality, the concept of Syrian civilization is surprising. At first sight, it can be considered as a variant of the Mesopotamian mother civilization, but it obscures Phenicia and Carthage, because it highlights Judah and Israel, announcing the arrival of Christianity and then of Islam.

It is interesting to note that these two great monotheistic religions are for the historian only one and the same loan from Hellenism to Syrian civilization, even if the classification of civilizational categories in this book is based fundamentally on the religious fact.

This is already a relativization of the Islamo-Christian antagonism, surprising on the part of a British author heir to the Crusades and of Richard the Lionheart, but nevertheless commendable, even if the Christian cult and credo have more to do with those who were current in pagan Rome.

As for the Jewish fact in Western historiography, the evocation of the introduction of laws from the Old Testament in the Codex of Justinian of the Byzantine Empire is already another subject of astonishment which it is difficult to evaluate. the results. No matter how much we argue about the longevity of Judaism, shouldn’t we consider it in the light of the triumph of the religions of which it was one of the main sources of inspiration? Is this the opinion of a Protestant Christian? And isn’t this supposed exceptional destiny the emanation of the spirit of an Anglican Protestant?

We can also notice the disproportionate place he gives to Mahayana Buddhism simply because of its diffusion in China, while it is far from constituting the determining social fact there. But it is always the same choices of the historian that manifest themselves in this way; Buddhism is important because, according to him, it served as a vehicle for Hellenism in Asia, the proof of which is constituted by the diffusion of an artistic aesthetic of Greco-Indian synthesis to the borders of China.

In all this intellectual construction, Iran, whose author recognizes all the same in Zoroastrianism a decisive role in the elaboration of Jewish eschatology, is singularly absent. And we will always ignore its influence, as well as that of India, in the elaboration of Stoicism which so influenced monotheism, and of Epicureanism, this philosophy of enjoyment which is reminiscent of Hindu Tantrism and which is the basis of Western atheistic materialism at the origin of modernism.

The hidden place and role of Carthage

Finally, the last remark that we can make is obviously the role of Carthage in History, totally hidden. Carthage was a merchant city, the most important among all, established by the Phoenicians with a senate and institutions at its head and which had a large navy even before the rise of Rome. And the Phoenicians having diffused their alphabet in all the known world, it is not prohibited to think that they had constituted the professors of Greek civilization, just as the Greeks were it for the Romans.

Yet it is only as an enemy of Rome that Carthage passed on to posterity through Latin authors, even if the author of its destruction, Scipio the Emilian, had wept thinking of the future of Rome. . But if Hellenism has remained so important in Western historiography, it is perhaps because the Greeks, the Romans, and their heirs, the Westerners, wanted to narrate the facts of their time, according to their vision of the ‘Man, and a similar narrative in rival civilizations, particularly that of Carthage, has no doubt been lost, or obscured.

Nothing proves that History was most often only the random result of battles won or lost over insignificant details like Zama, or so it is said, those of Poitiers (732 and 1356) or Waterloo. Nothing says that history always goes in the direction of what is called progress or civilization. Irreversible environmental damage and the specter of nuclear holocaust should remind us of the annihilation of all who thought of themselves as gods in Greek mythology.

It is appropriate to remember this verse of the Koran which inherited from the Bible its deterministic reading of the historical journey where God announces to the Angels his decision to install on earth a Representative (Caliph), in other words the human being; the latter ask why he would install the one who would do evil and cause blood to flow there and God replies that he knows what they do not know. In other words, knowledge is that superior good which legitimizes the pre-eminence of the human being and makes evil and bloodshed derisory, when it does not prevent them. Knowledge of history, however biased it may be, therefore remains beneficial to avoid the errors that have punctuated its course, thanks to a critical sense, without ever losing sight of the effect of time and the ingratitude of memories.

* Free practice doctor.

”History”, essay by Arnold Toynbee, translated from English by Jacques Potin and Pierre Buisseret, Payot editions, Paris, January 3, 1996 714 pages.

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”History”: Carthage, Saint-Augustin, Ibn Khaldoun and the determinism of History – Kapitalis

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