Career & Major Works
In 1912, Toynbee was appointed as a teacher and a fellow of ancient history at 'Balliol College.' In 1915, he joined the intelligence department of the 'British Foreign Office.'
In 1915, he began his research on Zionism (supporting a Jewish State in Israel) at the 'Information Department' of the 'British Foreign Office.' He had also served the 'Political Intelligence Department' of the 'British Foreign Office,' during the war.
He then released his first set of books, namely, 'The Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation,' 'Nationality and the War,' 'The New Europe: Some Essays in Reconstruction,' and 'The Balkans: A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey.'
He edited and co-authored 'The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire' with Viscount Bryce. The book was published in 1916. The same year, he released 'British View of the Ukrainian Question' and 'The Destruction of Poland: A Study in German Efficiency.'
Subsequently, he wrote 'The Belgian Deportations,' 'The German Terror in Belgium: An Historical Record,' 'The German Terror in France: An Historical Record,' and 'Turkey: A Past and a Future,' all published in 1917.
During World War I, Toynbee had strongly displayed his apathy toward the 'Great Arab Revolt' against the Ottoman Empire. He came out as a pro-Zionist.
He thoroughly believed that a Jewish State in Palestine would bring back "its ancient prosperity."
In 1917, he and his colleague Lewis Namier co-published a memorandum to support his Zionistic beliefs that Jews in Palestine should be granted political rights.
In 1919, he served as a delegate to the 'Paris Peace Conference.' He was appointed as a professor of Byzantine and modern Greek studies at 'King's College' of the 'University of London,' a position he held until 1924.
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He also became the college's 'Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature,' a position he earned due to his support for Greece and hostility toward Turks during the war.
From 1921 to 1922, amidst the Greco-Turkish War, he worked as a correspondent for the Manchester wing of ‘The Guardian’). He also published 'The Western Question in Greece and Turkey' in 1922.
That year, he developed an inclination toward the views and beliefs of the Palestine Arab delegation that had visited London. His transformed outlook was evident in his subsequent writings. Toward the end of the 1940s, Toynbee had completely aborted his Zionistic approaches and beliefs. He became a supporter of the Arab camp and its causes.
Toynbee's transformation from being a staunch supporter of the Greeks to adopting a pro-Turkish approach earned him the hatred of many influential Greeks who aided the 'Koraes Chair.' He ultimately had to resign in 1924.
From 1924 to 1943, he served as the director of studies at 'Chatham House,' 'Balliol College,' where along with his research assistant, Veronica M. Boulter, Toynbee co-edited the annual 'Survey of International Affairs' for the 'Recording Industry Association of America' from 1925 to 1977. The research findings eventually became a standard set of theories for British international specialists.
From 1925 to 1955, he was a research professor and the director of studies at the 'Royal Institute of International Affairs' in London. That year, he was appointed as a research professor of international history at the 'London School of Economics.' He retired from the position in 1956.
As a prominent analyst of developments in the Middle East, Toynbee openly held the Greek military responsible for the mayhems and massacres in Turkey.
In 1937, he became a 'Fellow of the British Academy,' the national academy for the humanities and social sciences in the U.K. While working on his most celebrated work, 'A Study of History,' Toynbee released a score of smaller and less significant writings.
Published in 1934, 'A Study of History' was a critical analysis of the inevitable cycle of the growth, development, and decay of civilizations. This extensive work was a commercial and an academic marvel.
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'A Study of History' prompted numerous discussions, lectures, and seminars. Toynbee had participated in a few of them. The work also inspired similar works of other philosophers.
In 1936, he spoke at the 'Nazi Law Society' in Berlin. Impressed by his thoughts, Adolf Hitler asked Toynbee to interview him.
Toynbee believed in Hitler's vision of building a greater German nation with support from the British. He hence conveyed the message to the British prime minister and foreign secretary through a confidential memorandum.
From 1943 to 1946, he served as the director of the research department of the 'Foreign Office' at the 'London School of Economics.'
In 1947, Toynbee was featured on the cover of 'Time' magazine. The journal published an article praising 'A Study of History' and compared it with Karl Marx's 'Capital.'
‘BBC,’ too, featured Toynbee on programs where he discussed and commented on the prevailing enmity between the East and the West. He also talked about the reasons leading to such hostile situations and threw light on the average non-Westerner’s perspective of the Western world.
Prominent Canadian historians had received most of Toynbee's work positively. Eminent scholar Ernst Robert Curtius used his theories as a prelude to his 'European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages,' a study of medieval Latin literature published in 1948, soon after the end of World War II.
In 1956, Toynbee's lectures were compiled and published under the title 'An Historian's Approach to Religion.'
The 1950s witnessed his shift from supporting a Jewish State in Palestine to opposing the same. One of the reasons for the shift was his concern about a potential nuclear war as a result of the demand.
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Toynbee initially referred to the Russian Revolution as a threat to the Western society. He considered the Soviet Union a non-Western state. The decade also saw a shift in his thoughts regarding the Soviets.
In 1952, he regarded the Soviets as victims of Western hostility. Such statements triggered a controversy, and 'The Times' lambasted him for calling communism a "spiritual force."
By 1960, Toynbee's philosophies had begun to fade away from academics and the media. Currently, his ideas are no more cited. One of the prime reasons for this is the lack of factual data that supports his theories. Most of his theories are based on the religious beliefs of Christianity that have little reference to historical facts.
His theories that were published in the early 1960s and a controversial lecture at 'McGill University' earned him a debate invitation from Dr. Yaakov Herzog, the erstwhile Israeli ambassador to Canada. During the lecture, Toynbee showed no support for the Jewish demand of having a state. He also compared the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to what the ‘Nazis’ had done to the Jews. He referred to the Jews as a "fossil" civilization.
The debate took place at the 'B'nai B'rith Hillel House' in Montreal on January 31, 1961. Herzog's statements made the audience believe in his victory over Toynbee's statements that lacked facts. Herzog condemned his comparison between the Israelis and the ‘Nazis.’
According to Michael Bar-Zohar, Herzog's biographer, his wife, Pnina Herzog, had heard Toynbee's wife saying, "I told you not to take part in this debate!"
Following his devastating defeat in the debate, Toynbee softened his views on Israelis and urged them to contribute to the worldwide endeavor of opposing a potential nuclear war. He simultaneously maintained his argument that Jews had neither historic nor legal claims over Palestine.
A recent edition of the journal 'Kivunim Hadashim' (''New Directions'') featured two of his articles written shortly after the debate, in which he had referred to Israel and the Jews.
On May 5, 1972, Toynbee had a rendezvous with Daisaku Ikeda, the president and founder of the international Nichiren Buddhist organization 'Soka Gakkai International' (SGI), in London. They both discussed and condemned the catastrophic impacts of a nuclear war. They met again in May the following year.
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Their views were later published in the book titled 'Choose Life,' which has been translated in 24 languages to date.
Toynbee had penned the foreword to the English version of Ikeda's most prominent work, 'The Human Revolution.'