“Since man is a moment in astronomic time, a transient guest of the earth, a spore of his species, a scion of his race, a composite of body, character, and mind, a member of a family and a community, a believer or doubter of a faith, a unit in an economy, perhaps a citizen in a state or a soldier in an army, we may ask under the corresponding heads–astronomy, geology, geography, biology, ethnology, psychology, morality, religion, economics, politics, and war – what history has to say about the nature, conduct, and prospects of man. It is a precarious enterprise, and only a fool would try to compress a hundred centuries into a hundred pages of hazardous conclusions. We proceed.” – Will and Ariel Durant
Those who fail to learn from history will repeat it.
History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
— Mark Twain
“As his studies come to a close the historian faces the challenge: Of what use have your studies been? Have you found in your work only the amusement of recounting the rise and fall of nations and ideas, and retelling “sad stories of the death of kings”? Have you learned more about human nature than the man in the street can learn without so much as opening a book? Have you derived from history any illumination of our present condition, any guidance for our judgments and policies, any guard against the rebuffs of surprise or the vicissitudes of change? Have you found such regularities in the sequence of past events that you can predict the future actions of mankind or the fate of states? Is it possible that, after all, “history has no sense,” that it teaches us nothing, and that the immense past was only the weary rehearsal of the mistakes that the future is destined to make on a larger stage and scale?” – Will and Ariel Durant
In The Lessons of History the authors provided a summary of periods and trends in history they had noted upon completion of their momentous eleven-volume The Story of Civilization. Will Durant stated that he and Ariel “made note of events and comments that might illuminate present affairs, future probabilities, the nature of man, and the conduct of states.” The book presents an overview of the themes and lessons observed from 5,000 years of world history, examined from 12 perspectives: geography, biology, race, character, morals, religion, economics, socialism, government, war, growth and decay, and progress.
William James Durant, Mastermind Rational, (November 5, 1885 – November 7, 1981) was a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher. He is best known for The Story of Civilization, 11 volumes written in collaboration with his wife Ariel Durant and published between 1935 and 1975. He was earlier noted for The Story of Philosophy, written in 1926, which one observer described as “a groundbreaking work that helped to popularize philosophy”.
Ariel Durant, Champion Idealist, (10 May 1898 – 25 October 1981) was co-author of The Story of Civilization. Ariel, the former Chaya Kaufman, was born in Prosurov, Russia, and came to New York with her parents in 1900. She changed her name legally after her husband began to call her Ariel ”because she was strong and brave as a boy, and as swift and mischievous as an elf,” he later wrote. She was 15 when she married Will, who was 28.
Husband and wife had quite different personalities: he was shy and retiring, she was outgoing and social. He offered her an outlet for her intellectual curiosity and she introduced him to the world of artists, poets, philosophers and entertainers with whom they socialized in New York and Los Angeles. Ariel became a brilliant conversationalist and sharp debater under the tutelage of the man she called her “teacher, lover, mentor and friend.” Will especially appreciated Ariel’s compulsion to speak her mind, her fun loving appreciation of life, and her championing of women’s rights.
A Mastermind Rational and Champion Idealist Dyad.
Masterminds tend to be much more definite and self-confident than other Rationals, having usually developed a very strong will. Decisions come easily to them; in fact, they can hardly rest until they have things settled and decided. But before they decide anything, they must do the research. Masterminds are highly theoretical, but they insist on looking at all available data before they embrace an idea, and they are suspicious of any statement that is based on shoddy research, or that is not checked against reality. [Please Understand Me II]
Champions have a wide range and variety of emotions, and a great passion for novelty. They see life as an exciting drama, pregnant with possibilities for both good and evil, and they want to experience all the meaningful events and fascinating people in the world. The most outgoing of the Idealists, Champions often can’t wait to tell others of their extraordinary experiences. Champions can be tireless in talking with others, like fountains that bubble and splash, spilling over their own words to get it all out. And usually this is not simple storytelling; Champions often speak (or write) in the hope of revealing some truth about human experience, or of motivating others with their powerful convictions. Their strong drive to speak out on issues and events, along with their boundless enthusiasm and natural talent with language, makes them the most vivacious and inspiring of all the types. [Please Understand Me II]
Ariel Durant started as Will Durant’s student, became his wife and then his equal. A brilliant conversationalist and sharp debater, Ariel’s intellect blossomed under the guidance of the man whom she referred to as her “teacher, lover, mentor and friend,” Will Durant.
To Will Durant, she was the embodiment of life itself; fun loving, controversial, unafraid to speak her mind (in fact, refusing to do otherwise) and a champion of women’s rights. Born Chaya, which means “life” (Ida in English) Kaufman on May 10, 1898 in Proskurov (now Khmelnitski) Russia to Jewish parents, Chaya immigrated with her mother, three sisters and older brother to the United States, landing in New York in November of 1901, Chaya would grow up on the streets and learn to fight and fend for herself at an early age.
At the age of 13 she discovered the Ferrer School, which specialized in libertarian education. Not long after she began attending, a young man by the name of Will Durant signed on to be a teacher in that institution. He immediately was attracted to the young student, who reminded him so much of a sprite that he nicknamed her “Puck.” According to Ariel’s recollection:
Will for years called me Puck, from one of Shakespeare’s flighty fairies; but in his premature autobiography, Transition (1927), he rechristened me Ariel, from another fairy – forgetting that they were both male. This has become my legal name…
By the time she reached the age of 15, teacher and student had fallen in love. Realizing the potential problems that would attend such a student-teacher relationship, Durant resigned his position and spoke to Chaya’s mother about marriage. Despite some initial misgivings, Mrs. Kaufman in time gave her consent to the union and accompanied Will Durant to City Hall to witness the marriage. Chaya herself almost missed the service, as she had opted to roller skate to the locale and, to everyone’s relief (and after one or two falls en route) Chaya arrived at City Hall – out of breath, but ready to start a new chapter in her life as a married woman.
The first years of marriage were not easy; Chaya (now Puck) was still a restless spirit and many was the night she spent looking at her young husband’s back as he prepared for his twice weekly lectures – their sole source of income at that point. During the day, she was left at their home alone as Will attended College and lectured on philosophy to bring in money. Puck ran away at least twice during these early years, but always called for Will to come and pick her up. She preferred the company of artists and poets to philosophers, but in spending time with Will she began to understand that philosophy need not be boring and inconsequential to real-world issues. Soon she caught the fever herself and began debating her husband on certain points (both at home and on the lecture platform) and began to hold her own in the company of such distinguished philosophers and friends as Bertrand Russell and George Santayana.
Durant’s affection increased ever more for his wife as he witnessed the blossoming of her intellect. He offered encouragement, support and, in time, grew to trust her judgment on key points. It was a perfect example of the Chinese symbol of yin-yang; the pair could not have been more different and yet they came to rely on their interdependence for their very existence.
The Durants shared a love story as remarkable as their scholarship; they detail this in Dual Autobiography. After Will went into the hospital, Ariel stopped eating. Will died after he heard that Ariel had died. They died within two weeks of each other in 1981 (she on October 25 and he on November 7).
He conceived of philosophy as total perspective, or, seeing things sub specie totius, a phrase inspired by Spinoza’s sub specie aeternitatis. He sought to unify and humanize the great body of historical knowledge, which had grown voluminous and become fragmented into esoteric specialties, and to vitalize it for contemporary application.
Will Durant fought for equal wages, women’s suffrage and fairer working conditions for the American labor force. Durant not only wrote on many topics but also put his ideas into effect. Durant, it has been said widely, attempted to bring philosophy to the common man. He authored The Story of Philosophy, The Mansions of Philosophy, and, with the help of his wife, Ariel, wrote The Story of Civilization.
He was trying to improve understanding of viewpoints of human beings and to have others forgive foibles and human waywardness. He chided the comfortable insularity of what is now known as Eurocentrism, by pointing out in Our Oriental Heritage that Europe was only “a jagged promontory of Asia”. He complained of “the provincialism of our traditional histories which began with Greece and summed up Asia in a line” and said they showed “a possibly fatal error of perspective and intelligence”.
As early as 1912, Will Durant envisioned writing a five-part history of civilization, told through the stories of famous people of the times. This was a very different approach from historical research of the time: it made history very readable to the general public, and the volumes were well received by a nation recovering from world war, though some strict historical academicians were harsh critics. The Story of Civilization tries to show the interrelations between science, politics, economics, art, religion and literature of the past 6,000 years. It became an 11-volume opus published between 1935 and 1975.
“Ariel began helping Will with this massive project by classifying and organizing his copious notes. As his literary assistant, she worked by his side in relative anonymity for many years. She began supplementing and complementing his research and soon was a critic and contributor. Ariel began to conduct much of the research herself for volume 4, as Will was now in his seventies. In 1961, when the seventh volume was published, Ariel Durant received joint author credit for that and the remaining four volumes. Her own interests in women, France, and England had an impact on the focus and content of the multivolume series. The Durants were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1968 for Rousseau and Revolution, the tenth volume of the series.”