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William Durant
1885 - 1981

Historian, author of The Story of Civilization and others

Books by William Durant
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Age of Louis the Fourteenth, The
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Age of Napoleon, The
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Age of Reason Begins, The
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Lessons Of History, The (1998)
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Story of Philosophy, The (1999)
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Historically the belief in heaven and the belief in utopia are like compensatory buckets in a well: when one goes down the other comes up. When the classic religions decayed, communistic agitation rose in Athens (430 B.C.), and revolution began in Rome (133 B.C.); when these movements failed, resurrection faiths succeeded, culminating in Christianity; when, in our eighteenth century, Christian belief weakened, communism reappeared. In this perspective the future of religion is secure.

Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.

1980
Nothing is new except arrangement.

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is what happened on the banks.

Utopias of equality are biologically doomed, and the best that the amiable philosopher can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity.

1968 - from The Lessons of History
Nothing is clearer in history than the adoption by successful rebels of the methods they were accustomed to condemn in the forces they deposed.

1968 - from The Lessons of History
If a man is fortunate, he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children.

The family is the nucleus of civilization.

One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

1972 - quoted in Readers Digest Magazine
In my youth I stressed freedom, and in my old age I stress order. I have made the great discovery that liberty is a product of order.

As soon as liberty is complete it dies in anarchy.

Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.

from The Lessons of History
Forced to choose, the poor, like the rich, love money more than political liberty; and the only political freedom capable of enduring is one that is so pruned as to keep the rich from denuding the poor by ability or subtlety and the poor from robbing the rich by violence or votes.

The experience of the past leaves little doubt that every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity. Substitutes like slavery, police supervision, or ideological enthusiasm prove too unproductive, to expensive, or too transient.

1968 - from The Lessons of History
The Roman government gave them bread and circuses. Today we give them bread and elections...

Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos.

It may be true that you can't fool all the people all the time, but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.

A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. The essential cause of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.

1944 - from Caesar and Christ
To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves; let us be above such transparent egotism...If you can't say good and encouraging things, say nothing. Nothing is often a good thing to say, and always a clever thing to say.

The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes and fears rather than with their minds.

A society in which all potential abilities are allowed to develop and function will have a survival advantage in the competition of groups.

1968 - from The Lessons of History