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Civilizations

This article is about human society. For other uses, see Civilization (disambiguation).

Civilization or civilisation (in British English) generally refers to state polities which combine these basic institutions: a ceremonial centre (a formal gathering place for social and cultural activities), a system of writing, and a city. The term is used to contrast with other types of communities including hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralists and tribal villages. Civilizations have more densely populated settlements divided into social classes with a ruling elite and subordinate urban and rural populations, which, by the division of labour, engage in intensive agriculture, mining, small-scale manufacture and trade. Civilization concentrates power, extending man's control over both nature, and over other human beings.[1]

The emergence of civilization is generally associated with the final stages of the Neolithic Revolution, a slow cumulative process occurring independently over many locations between 10,000 and 3,000 BCE, culminating in the relatively rapid process of state formation, a political development associated with the appearance of a governing elite. This neolithic technology and lifestyle was established first in the Middle East (for example at Göbekli Tepe, from about 9,130 BCE), and Yangtze and later in the Yellow river basin in China (for example the Pengtoushan culture from 7,500 BCE), and later spread. But similar "revolutions" also began independently from 9,000 years ago in such places as Mesoamerica at the Balsas River[2] and in Kuk Swamp in Papua New Guinea. This revolution consisted in the development of the domestication of plants and animals and the development of new sedentary lifestyles which allowed economies of scale and productive surpluses.

Towards the end of the Neolithic period, various Bronze Age civilizations began to rise in various "cradles" from around 3300 BCE. Civilizations, as defined above, also developed in Pre-Columbian Americas and much later in Africa. The Bronze Age collapse was followed by the Iron Age around 1200 BCE, which saw a number of new civilisations emerge, culminating in the Axial Age transition to Classical civilisation. A major technological and cultural transition to modernity began approximately 1500 CE in western Europe, and from this beginning new approaches to science and law spread rapidly around the world.[3]


History of the concept

The word civilization comes from the Latin civilis, meaning civil, related to the Latin civis, meaning citizen, and civitas, meaning city or city-state.[4] Adjectives such as English "civility" developed from this root, but during the 18th century Enlightenment a verb "civilize" came to be commonly used, leading to a new word "civilization" to describe the result. This was used first by authors writing about national and personal improvement such as Victor Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau in France, and Adam Ferguson in Scotland who in his 1767 Essay on the History of Civil Society wrote that, "Not only the individual advances from infancy to manhood, but the species itself from rudeness to civilisation."[5]" The word was therefore opposed to barbarism or rudeness, but the thinking behind the new word was connected to modernism's active pursuit of progress and enlightenment. As such it has always been coloured by Social Darwinist assumptions about superiority and inferiority.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, both during the French revolution, and in English, "civilization" was referred to in the singular, never the plural, because it referred to the progress of humanity as a whole. This is still the case in French.[6] More recently however, "civilizations" (the plural) is sometimes used as a synonym for the broader term "cultures" (defined as "the arts, customs, habits... beliefs, values, behavior and material habits that constitute a people's way of life") in both popular and academic circles.[7] Using the terms "civilization" and "culture" as equivalents is controversial and not generally accepted, so that for example some types of culture are not normally described as civilizations.

Already in the 18th century civilization was not always seen as an improvement. One historically important distinction between culture and civilization stems from the writings of Rousseau, and particularly his work concerning education, Emile. In this perspective, civilization, being more rational and socially driven, is not fully in accordance with human nature, and "human wholeness is achievable only through the recovery of or approximation to an original prediscursive or prerational natural unity". (See noble savage.) From this notion, a new approach was developed especially in Germany, first by Johann Gottfried Herder, and later by philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. This sees cultures (plural) as natural organisms which are not defined by "conscious, rational, deliberative acts" but rather a kind of pre-rational "folk spirit". Civilization, in contrast, though more rational and more successful concerning material progress, is seen as un-natural, and leads to "vices of social life" such as guile, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice.[6] During World War II, Leo Strauss, having fled Germany, argued in New York that this approach to civilization was behind Nazism and German militarism and nihilism.[8]

In his book The Philosophy of Civilization, Albert Schweitzer outlined the idea that there are dual opinions within society: one regarding civilization as purely material and another regarding civilization as both ethical and material. He stated that the current world crisis was, then in 1923, due to a humanity having lost the ethical conception of civilization. In this same work, he defined civilization, saying that it "is the sum total of all progress made by man in every sphere of action and from every point of view in so far as the progress helps towards the spiritual perfecting of individuals as the progress of all progress."

Characteristics


Social scientists such as V. Gordon Childe have named a number of traits that distinguish a civilization from other kinds of society.[9] Civilizations have been distinguished by their means of subsistence, types of livelihood, settlement patterns, forms of government, social stratification, economic systems, literacy, and other cultural traits.

All civilizations have depended on agriculture for subsistence. Growing food on farms can result in a surplus of food, particularly when people use intensive agricultural techniques such as artificial fertilisation, irrigation and crop rotation. Grain surpluses have been especially important because they can be stored for a long time. A surplus of food permits some people to do things besides produce food for a living: early civilizations included soldiers, artisans, priests and priestesses, and other people with specialized careers. A surplus of food results in a division of labor and a more diverse range of human activity, a defining trait of civilizations. However, in some places hunter-gatherers have had access to food surpluses, such as among some of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and perhaps during the Mesolithic Natufian culture. It is possible that food surpluses and relatively large scale social organization and division of labor predates plant and animal domestication.[10]

Civilizations have distinctly different settlement patterns from other societies. The word civilization is sometimes simply defined as "'living in cities'".[11] Non-farmers tend to gather in cities to work and to trade.

Compared with other societies, civilizations have a more complex political structure, namely the state.[13] State societies are more stratified[14] than other societies; there is a greater difference among the social classes. The ruling class, normally concentrated in the cities, has control over much of the surplus and exercises its will through the actions of a government or bureaucracy. Morton Fried, a conflict theorist, and Elman Service, an integration theorist, have classified human cultures based on political systems and social inequality. This system of classification contains four categories:

  • Hunter-gatherer bands, which are generally egalitarian.[15]
  • Horticultural/pastoral societies in which there are generally two inherited social classes; chief and commoner.
  • Highly stratified structures, or chiefdoms, with several inherited social classes: king, noble, freemen, serf and slave.
  • Civilizations, with complex social hierarchies and organized, institutional governments.[16]

Economically, civilizations display more complex patterns of ownership and exchange than less organized societies. Living in one place allows people to accumulate more personal possessions than nomadic people. Some people also acquire landed property, or private ownership of the land. Because a percentage of people in civilizations do not grow their own food, they must trade their goods and services for food in a market system, or receive food through the levy of tribute, redistributive taxation, tariffs or tithes from the food producing segment of the population. Early human cultures functioned through a gift economy supplemented by limited barter systems. By the early Iron Age contemporary civilizations developed money as a medium of exchange for increasingly complex transactions. To oversimplify, in a village the potter makes a pot for the brewer and the brewer compensates the potter by giving him a certain amount of beer. In a city, the potter may need a new roof, the roofer may need new shoes, the cobbler may need new horseshoes, the blacksmith may need a new coat, and the tanner may need a new pot. These people may not be personally acquainted with one another and their needs may not occur all at the same time. A monetary system is a way of organizing these obligations to ensure that they are fulfilled fairly.

Writing, developed first by people in Sumer, is considered a hallmark of civilization and "appears to accompany the rise of complex administrative bureaucracies or the conquest state."[17] Traders and bureaucrats relied on writing to keep accurate records. Like money, writing was necessitated by the size of the population of a city and the complexity of its commerce among people who are not all personally acquainted with each other. However, writing is not always necessary for civilization. The Inca civilization of the Andes did not use writing at all, yet it still functioned as a society.

Aided by their division of labor and central government planning, civilizations have developed many other diverse cultural traits. These include organized religion, development in the arts, and countless new advances in science and technology.

Through history, successful civilizations have spread, taking over more and more territory, and assimilating more and more previously-uncivilized people. Nevertheless, some tribes or people remain uncivilized even to this day. These cultures are called by some "primitive," a term that is regarded by others as pejorative. "Primitive" implies in some way that a culture is "first" (Latin = primus), that it has not changed since the dawn of humanity, though this has been demonstrated not to be true. Specifically, as all of today's cultures are contemporaries, today's so-called primitive cultures are in no way antecedent to those we consider civilized. Anthropologists today use the term "non-literate" to describe these peoples.

Civilization has been spread by colonization, invasion, religious conversion, the extension of bureaucratic control and trade, and by introducing agriculture and writing to non-literate peoples. Some non-civilized people may willingly adapt to civilized behaviour. But civilization is also spread by the technical, material and social dominance that civilization engenders.

Assessments of what level of civilization a polity has reached are based on comparisons of the relative importance of agricultural as opposed to trade or manufacturing capacities, the territorial extensions of its power, the complexity of its division of labor, and the carrying capacity of its urban centres. Secondary elements include a developed transportation system, writing, standardized measurement, currency, contractual and tort-based legal systems, art, architecture, mathematics, scientific understanding, metallurgy, political structures, and organized religion.

Traditionally, polities that managed to achieve notable military, ideological and economic power defined themselves as "civilized" as opposed to other societies or human grouping which lay outside their sphere of influence, calling the latter barbarians, savages, and primitives, while in a modern-day context, "civilized people" have been contrasted with indigenous people or tribal societies.

Cultural identity

"Civilization" can also refer to the culture of a complex society, not just the society itself. Every society, civilization or not, has a specific set of ideas and customs, and a certain set of manufactures and arts that make it unique. Civilizations tend to develop intricate cultures, including literature, professional art, architecture, organized religion, and complex customs associated with the elite.

The intricate culture associated with civilization has a tendency to spread to and influence other cultures, sometimes assimilating them into the civilization (a classic example being Chinese civilization and its influence on nearby civilizations such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam). Many civilizations are actually large cultural spheres containing many nations and regions. The civilization in which someone lives is that person's broadest cultural identity.

Many historians have focused on these broad cultural spheres and have treated civilizations as discrete units. Early twentieth-century philosopher Oswald Spengler,[18] uses the German word "Kultur," "culture," for what many call a "civilization". Spengler believes a civilization's coherence is based on a single primary cultural symbol. Cultures experience cycles of birth, life, decline, and death, often supplanted by a potent new culture, formed around a compelling new cultural symbol. Spengler states civilization is the beginning of the decline of a culture as, "...the most external and artificial states of which a species of developed humanity is capable."[18]

This "unified culture" concept of civilization also influenced the theories of historian Arnold J. Toynbee in the mid-twentieth century. Toynbee explored civilization processes in his multi-volume A Study of History, which traced the rise and, in most cases, the decline of 21 civilizations and five "arrested civilizations." Civilizations generally declined and fell, according to Toynbee, because of the failure of a "creative minority", through moral or religious decline, to meet some important challenge, rather than mere economic or environmental causes.

Samuel P. Huntington defines civilization as "the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species." Huntington's theories about civilizations are discussed below.[19]

Further information: Cultural region

Complex systems

Another group of theorists, making use of systems theory, looks at a civilization as a complex system, i.e., a framework by which a group of objects can be analyzed that work in concert to produce some result. Civilizations can be seen as networks of cities that emerge from pre-urban cultures, and are defined by the economic, political, military, diplomatic, social, and cultural interactions among them. Any organization is a complex social system, and a civilization is a large organization. Systems theory helps guard against superficial but misleading analogies in the study and description of civilizations.

Systems theorists look at many types of relations between cities, including economic relations, cultural exchanges, and political/diplomatic/military relations. These spheres often occur on different scales. For example, trade networks were, until the nineteenth century, much larger than either cultural spheres or political spheres. Extensive trade routes, including the Royal Tombs of Ur it is suggested was traded northwards from Mozambique.

Many theorists argue that the entire world has already become integrated into a single "world system", a process known as globalization. Different civilizations and societies all over the globe are economically, politically, and even culturally interdependent in many ways. There is debate over when this integration began, and what sort of integration – cultural, technological, economic, political, or military-diplomatic – is the key indicator in determining the extent of a civilization. David Wilkinson has proposed that economic and military-diplomatic integration of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations resulted in the creation of what he calls the "Central Civilization" around 1500 BCE.[21] Central Civilization later expanded to include the entire Middle East and Europe, and then expanded to a global scale with European colonization, integrating the Americas, Australia, China and Japan by the nineteenth century. According to Wilkinson, civilizations can be culturally heterogeneous, like the Central Civilization, or homogeneous, like the Japanese civilization. What Huntington calls the "clash of civilizations" might be characterized by Wilkinson as a clash of cultural spheres within a single global civilization. Others point to the Crusades as the first step in globalization. The more conventional viewpoint is that networks of societies have expanded and shrunk since ancient times, and that the current globalized economy and culture is a product of recent European colonialism.

History

Early civilizations

Further information: Prehistory and Cradle of Civilization


The Neolithic Era

Main article: Neolithic

The process of sedentarization is first thought to have occurred around 12,000 BCE in the Levant region of southwest Asia though other regions around the world soon followed. The emergence of civilization is generally associated with the Neolithic, or Agricultural Revolution, which occurred in various locations between 8,000 and 5,000 BCE, specifically in southwestern/southern Asia, northern/central Africa and Central America.[23] This revolution marked the beginning of stable agriculture and animal domestication which enabled economies and cities to develop.

The Bronze Age

Main article: Bronze Age

The Iron Age

Main article: Iron Age

The Iron Age is the period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing agricultural practices, religious beliefs and artistic styles. The Iron Age as an archaeological term indicates the condition as to civilization and culture of a people using iron as the material for their cutting tools and weapons.[24] The Iron Age is the third principal period of the three-age system created by Christian Thomsen (1788–1865) for classifying ancient societies and prehistoric stages of progress.[25]

Karl Jaspers, the German historical philosopher, proposed that the ancient civilizations were affected greatly by an Axial Age in the period between 800 BCE–200 BCE during which a series of male sages, prophets, religious reformers and philosophers, from China, India, Iran, Israel and Greece, changed the direction of civilizations.[26] William Hardy McNeill proposed that this period of history was one in which culture contact between previously separate civilizations saw the "closure of the oecumene", and led to accelerated social change from China to the Mediterranean, associated with the spread of coinage, larger empires and new religions. This view has recently been championed by Christopher Chase-Dunn and other world systems theorists.

Medieval to Early Modern

Further information: Middle Ages and Early Modern period

Modernity

Further information: Modernity
Further information: cultural bloc, Major world religions, world language and The Clash of Civilizations

Fall of civilizations

Main article: Societal collapse

There have been many explanations put forward for the collapse of civilization. Some focus on historical examples, and others on general theory.

  • Ibn Khaldūn's Muqaddimah influenced theories of the analysis, growth and decline of the Islamic civilization.[27] He suggested repeated invasions from nomadic peoples limited development and led to social collapse.
  • Edward Gibbon's work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was a well-known and detailed analysis of the fall of Roman civilization. Gibbon suggested the final act of the collapse of Rome was the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE. For Gibbon:
    The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the cause of the destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The story of the ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it has subsisted for so long.[Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 2nd ed., vol. 4, ed. by J. B. Bury (London, 1909), pp. 173–174.-Chapter XXXVIII: Reign Of Clovis.--Part VI. General Observations On The Fall Of The Roman Empire In The West.]
  • Theodor Mommsen in his "History of Rome (Mommsen)", suggested Rome collapsed with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE and he also tended towards a biological analogy of "genesis," "growth," "senescence," "collapse" and "decay."
  • Oswald Spengler, in his "Decline of the West" rejected Petrarch's chronological division, and suggested that there had been only eight "mature civilizations." Growing cultures, he argued, tend to develop into imperialistic civilizations which expand and ultimately collapse, with democratic forms of government ushering in plutocracy and ultimately imperialism.
  • Arnold J. Toynbee in his "A Study of History" suggested that there had been a much larger number of civilizations, including a small number of arrested civilizations, and that all civilizations tended to go through the cycle identified by Mommsen. The cause of the fall of a civilization occurred when a cultural elite became a parasitic elite, leading to the rise of internal and external proletariats.
  • Joseph Tainter in "The Collapse of Complex Societies" suggested that there were diminishing returns to complexity, due to which, as states achieved a maximum permissible complexity, they would decline when further increases actually produced a negative return. Tainter suggested that Rome achieved this figure in the 2nd century CE.
  • Jared Diamond in his 2005 book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" suggests five major reasons for the collapse of 41 studied cultures: environmental damage, such as deforestation and soil erosion; climate change; dependence upon long-distance trade for needed resources; increasing levels of internal and external violence, such as war or invasion; and societal responses to internal and environmental problems.
  • . Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences, 2006).
  • Peter Heather argues in his book The Fall of the Roman Empire: a New History of Rome and the Barbarians[28] that this civilization did not end for moral or economic reasons, but because centuries of contact with barbarians across the frontier generated its own nemesis by making them a much more sophisticated and dangerous adversary. The fact that Rome needed to generate ever greater revenues to equip and re-equip armies that were for the first time repeatedly defeated in the field, led to the dismemberment of the Empire. Although this argument is specific to Rome, it can also be applied to the Asiatic Empire of the Egyptians, to the Han and Tang dynasties of China, to the Muslim Abbasid Caliphate, and others.
  • Bryan Ward-Perkins, in his book The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization,[29] shows the real horrors associated with the collapse of a civilization for the people who suffer its effects, unlike many revisionist historians who downplay this. The collapse of complex society meant that even basic plumbing disappeared from the continent for 1,000 years. Similar Dark Age collapses are seen with the Late Bronze Age collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean, the collapse of the Maya, on Easter Island and elsewhere.
  • Arthur Demarest argues in Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization,[30] using a holistic perspective to the most recent evidence from archaeology, paleoecology, and epigraphy, that no one explanation is sufficient but that a series of erratic, complex events, including loss of soil fertility, drought and rising levels of internal and external violence led to the disintegration of the courts of Mayan kingdoms which began a spiral of decline and decay. He argues that the collapse of the Maya has lessons for civilization today.
  • Jeffrey A. McNeely has recently suggested that "A review of historical evidence shows that past civilizations have tended to over-exploit their forests, and that such abuse of important resources has been a significant factor in the decline of the over-exploiting society."[31]
  • ", considers that the fall in the energy return on investments; the energy expended to energy yield ratio, is central to limiting the survival of civilizations. The degree of social complexity is associated strongly, he suggests, with the amount of disposable energy environmental, economic and technological systems allow. When this amount decreases civilizations either have to access new energy sources or they will collapse.

Future

Political scientist Samuel Huntington[32] has argued that the defining characteristic of the 21st century will be a clash of civilizations. According to Huntington, conflicts between civilizations will supplant the conflicts between nation-states and ideologies that characterized the 19th and 20th centuries. These views have been strongly challenged by others like Edward Said, Muhammed Asadi and Amartya Sen.[33] Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued that the "true clash of civilizations" between the Muslim world and the West is caused by the Muslim rejection of the West's more liberal sexual values, rather than a difference in political ideology, although they note that this lack of tolerance is likely to lead to an eventual rejection of (true) democracy.[34] In Identity and Violence Sen questions if people should be divided along the lines of a supposed 'civilization', defined by religion and culture only. He argues that this ignores the many others identities that make up people and leads to a focus on differences.

Some environmental scientists see the world entering a Planetary Phase of Civilization, characterized by a shift away from independent, disconnected nation-states to a world of increased global connectivity with worldwide institutions, environmental challenges, economic systems, and consciousness.[35][36] In an attempt to better understand what a Planetary Phase of Civilization might look like in the current context of declining natural resources and increasing consumption, the Global scenario group used scenario analysis to arrive at three archetypal futures: Barbarization, in which increasing conflicts result in either a fortress world or complete societal breakdown; Conventional Worlds, in which market forces or Policy reform slowly precipitate more sustainable practices; and a Great Transition, in which either the sum of fragmented Eco-Communalism movements add up to a sustainable world or globally coordinated efforts and initiatives result in a new sustainability paradigm.[37]

Author Derrick Jensen argues that modern civilization is intrinsically directed towards the domination of the environment and humanity itself in a harmful and destructive fashion.[38]

The Kardashev scale classifies civilizations based on their level of technological advancement, specifically measured by the amount of energy a civilization is able to harness. The Kardashev scale makes provisions for civilizations far more technologically advanced than any currently known to exist (see also: Civilizations and the Future, Space civilization).

See also

References

Notes

External links

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