Civilization is social order
promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute
it: economic provision, political organization, moral
traditions and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts.
It begins where chaos and insecurity end. For when
fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are
free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the
understanding and embellishment of life.
biological conditions are only prerequisites to
civilization; they do not constitute or generate it.
Subtle psychological factors must enter into play.
There must be political order, even if it be so near
to chaos as in Renaissance Florence or Rome; men must
feel, by and large, that they need not look for death
or taxes at every turn. There must be some unity of
language to serve as medium of mental exchange.
Through church, or family, or school, or otherwise,
there must be a unifying moral code, some rules of
the game of life acknowledged even by those who
violate them, and giving to conduct some order and
regularity, some direction and stimulus. Perhaps
there must also be some unity of basic belief, some
faith -- supernatural or utopian -- that lifts
morality from calculation to devotion, and gives life
nobility and significance despite our mortal brevity.
And finally there must be education -- some
technique, however primitive, for the transmission of
culture. Whether through imitation, initiation or
instruction, whether through father or mother,
teacher or priest, the lore and heritage of the tribe
-- its language and knowledge, its morals and
manners, its technology and arts -- must be handed
down to the young, as the very instrument through
which they are turned from animals into men.
The disappearance of
these conditions -- sometimes of even one of them --
may destroy a civilization. A geological cataclysm or
a profound climatic change; an uncontrolled epidemic
like that which wiped out half the population of the
Roman Empire under the Antonines, or the Black Death
that helped to end the Feudal Age; the exhaustion of
the land or the ruin of agriculture through the
exploitation of the country by the town, resulting in
a precarious dependence upon foreign food supplies;
the failure of natural resources, either of fuels or
of raw materials; a change in trade routes, leaving a
nation off the main line of the world's commerce;
mental or moral decay from the strains, stimuli and
contacts of urban life, from the breakdown of
traditional sources of social discipline and the
inability to replace them; the weakening of the stock
by a disorderly sexual life, or by an epicurean,
pessimist, or quietist philosophy; the decay of
leadership through the infertility of the able, and
the relative smallness of the families that might
bequeath most fully the cultural inheritance of the
race; a pathological concentration of wealth, leading
to class wars, disruptive revolutions, and financial
exhaustion: these are some of the ways in which a
civilization may die.
For civilization is
not something inborn or imperishable; it must be
acquired anew by every generation, and any serious
interruption in its financing or its transmission may
bring it to an end. Man differs from the beast only
by education, which may be defined as the technique
of transmitting civilization.
Civilizations are the
generations of the racial soul. As family-rearing,
and then writing, bound the generations together,
handing down the lore of the dying to the young, so
print and commerce and a thousand ways of
communication may bind the civilizations together,
and preserve for future cultures all that is of value
for them in our own.
Let us, before we die,
gather up our heritage, and offer it to our children.