A Great Civilization is Not Conquered from Without Until It Has Destroyed Itself from Within Quote: Explanation

Cinema often offers more than just entertainment; it provides a canvas for profound ideas and reflections on the human condition. The 2006 film “Apocalypto,” directed by Mel Gibson, opens with a quote that encapsulates one such profound idea: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” Attributed to historian and philosopher Will Durant, this thought-provoking quote hints at the vulnerabilities of even the mightiest civilizations and the dangers that lurk within their own strengths. In this article, we explore the origin of this quote, delve into its deep meaning, and consider its relevance in both historical and contemporary contexts.

The Origin of the Quote:

The quote, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within,” is often attributed to American historian and philosopher Will Durant. Durant and his wife Ariel Durant were prolific writers and historians known for their extensive work on the history of civilization, including “The Story of Civilization” series.

Exploring the Meaning and Analysis:

This powerful quote carries a multitude of meanings and profound implications:

1. Internal Decay and Vulnerability: The quote suggests that the downfall of a great civilization does not primarily result from external invasions or external threats. Instead, it emphasizes that the seeds of destruction lie within the civilization itself. This internal decay can manifest in various forms, including political corruption, social unrest, moral degradation, and economic collapse.

2. The Role of Self-Destruction: The quote acknowledges that the most formidable civilizations are not typically defeated by external forces. Instead, they often engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as infighting, moral decay, or the erosion of the values and principles that once held the society together. This self-inflicted damage weakens the civilization to the point where external conquerors can exploit these vulnerabilities.

3. Lessons from History: Throughout history, numerous great civilizations have followed a similar pattern, where internal strife and decay were precursors to their eventual collapse. The quote serves as a cautionary reminder to learn from these historical lessons and be vigilant about addressing internal issues to maintain the strength and resilience of a civilization.

Expanding on the Topic:

Going beyond the immediate context of the quote, there are several additional considerations:

1. The Contemporary Relevance: The quote has contemporary relevance, serving as a warning against internal strife and division. It reminds us that even the most powerful nations can be weakened by internal discord, political polarization, or the erosion of social cohesion.

2. The Balance of Power: The quote highlights the delicate balance between external and internal threats to civilizations. While external forces can pose dangers, history suggests that it is often internal factors that ultimately lead to a civilization’s decline.

3. The Role of Leadership and Responsibility: The quote underscores the importance of responsible leadership and governance. Leaders have a crucial role in preventing internal decay by fostering unity, upholding values, and addressing the root causes of potential self-destruction.


“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within” is a quote attributed to Will Durant, a historian and philosopher whose work has shaped our understanding of civilization and its rise and fall. This quote reminds us that the most potent civilizations throughout history have often been their own worst enemies. Their internal vulnerabilities, including moral decay, political corruption, and social unrest, have frequently been the primary factors leading to their downfall. Moreover, this quote challenges us to reflect on its significance in the contemporary world, where the lessons from history still hold weight. It serves as a poignant reminder that even the most powerful nations must be vigilant in addressing internal issues to preserve their strength and vitality.

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