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IV WHAT IS CIVILISATION?

The above rule is in the nature of an extreme generalisation, for we shall not find a corner in the whole range of manifestations of human intelligence where it would not apply. In everything there must be some system, for otherwise anarchy or incompetence supervenes; in one way or the other the result is always the same, well expressed in the common phrase about everything “coming to pieces in one’s hand”. If we cared more for suitable and consistent system in our undertakings there would be in us and around us more “culture of action” (that is established capacity for intelligent actions). And the rule with which we ended the preceding section may be applied to absolutely every human undertaking from the most primitive craft to the most complicated political convolutions.

In our present investigations we are concerned with the development of associations and so with the systems in them, with the systems in family, clan and tribal organisations, and consequently in the social structure, in the organisation of nation and State. All these levels of association may be expressed in the single phrase — communal life. This is of two kinds — private (family) and public; and thus includes everything which is not life in isolation, in opposition to the family and public associations. I include in communal life the solitary room of the scholar, whose isolation is to be a means of increasing the resources and differentiating the kinds of that communal life which is the object of his reflections. Montesquieu’s study, for example, was a real forge of public life, and there are hundreds of similar examples. It is thus not to private but to public life that scientific and also artistic activity belongs.

Let us mentally add together all possible elements of change in family and public life in all the countries of the world and we shall understand what vastness we embrace with the expression “communal life”. From the first hearths to our own days is an immensity of time; from the pygmies to the streets of New York an immense scale of different human attributes. Everywhere and always some kind of communal existence is evident — almost everywhere and always different.

The difference results from the variety of systems applied in communal life. We have gone through enough material — from pre-fire blood-drinkers to the splendid beauty of Hellas — to recognise that peoples differ in accordance with the system by which their communal life is organised. The great differentiating factors in the world are systems. If all peoples held to the same system the only differences in the organisation of communal life would be of level, not of kind; there would be a single kind at different levels of a development possible only along one line common to all ages and countries. But there is no such common axis for the whole of humanity, and so far never has been. For “humanity” has never existed either historically or sociologically, it may be called a literary phantom. In reality there exist only certain associations, fragments of humanity, of which only a few have something in common. There does not exist any organisation of communal life, common to all humanity, and there is also no system common to all humanity.

Let us rather consider which are in reality the largest extant fractions of humanity. Nations do not by any means exist everywhere, and even States not everywhere. But where they exist there is a constant search for some supra-national, supra-State association. While the searching, inventing and patching together of various novelties go on, not always with advantage for the health of “humanity”, there have existed and always exist natural associations on the largest scale, and so powerful that they are more powerful than all powers and armies.

These are civilisations. They resist every attempt at the artificial creation of large-scale associations which take no account of differences in civilisation. Often civilisations — as the highest forces of mankind — overturn and undo all that has been artificially created without reckoning with them. Civilisation is the sum of everything which is common to a certain fragment of humanity; and at the same time the sum of everything by which that fragment differs from others. And since, as we have shown above, everything without exception is included in communal life, civilisation includes no more. The concepts of communal life and of civilisation are therefore close to each other, to such an extent as to give the impression of being co-extensive.

The supra-national association should be sought through investigation whether a given system of communal life does not go beyond the limits of the nation; and into the extent to which people regard the quincunx of life in the same way or similarly but commensurately. Societies holding to essentially the same system of communal life create the same civilisation. Here three kinds of attitude emerge. There are societies which look at all five categories of being in the same way; there are those which, while looking in the same way at certain categories differ on others or on only one category, the degree of difference also varying; there is sometimes uniformity or similarity in fundamental matters and variety in secondary features — but the opposite also happens; there is also complete opposition in everything. In interpreting different systems it is a question of the sum of the whole and of the attitude of man to the whole and to each part separately. Systems of communal life vary with civilisations; or in other words:



Civilisation is the system on which communal life is organised.

Civilisation is simply system. This definition is wide enough to include art and science, ethics and law, economics, education, communications, for all these belong to communal life. For every manifestation of civilisation in any field belongs at the same time to communal life. The isolated man does not create civilisation but the sociable man among men.

The number of systems for the organisation of communal life is clearly unlimited, that is the number of civilisations is unlimited. From the point of view of civilisation, mankind is differentiated to such an extent that only by looking at things from this highest point of the association do we see with entire exactness and certainty that historically and sociologically there is no such thing as mankind. How many civilisations there have been, how many there are cannot be expressed in numbers in the present state of knowledge. We are far from knowing historically all the systems for the organisation of communal life which have existed until now; nor can anyone even count how many there are in the world at present. Not infrequently we possess too little material to describe the systems of lost civilisations, whose memorials are dug up; undoubted memorials are also dug up of communal life which cannot be assigned to a particular civilisation. Among primitive peoples time and again discoveries are made of systems for the organisation of communal life differing from all others hitherto known. And there is a long way to go before all peoples are studied from this angle.

Civilisation of some kind exists everywhere communal life exists. But this life does not necessarily embrace all five categories of being; the organisation of communal life may be incomplete. For there exist incomplete, defective, fragmentary civilisations which are, however, entirely logical in what they do embrace. Not embracing all the categories, they may also not embrace all the divisions of any given category. In this respect there is a great variety of defectiveness. Moreover, the system of organising communal life accepted in a certain society may give one category considerable preponderance over another, and inside a category, to a certain division of it; this preponderance may be disproportionate, and the insignificance of other categories also disproportionate. Here there arises an unlimited number of all kinds of combinations. Civilisations may be complete and incomplete, one-sided, many-sided and universal, uniform and more or less mixed, original and derivative in whole or part.

The plenitude of civilisation consists in possesion by society of an organisation of communal life — private (that is family) and public, social and State — of material institutions and a moral-intellectual system such that all departments of life, feeling, thought and action are harmoniously and logically coordinated.

Many will certainly feel doubt about the use of the expression “civilisation” to signify absolutely every kind of manifestation of life, since it has already been agreed to divide these latter into material and spiritual and to call only one of them civilisation. How typical it is that some authors use the expression to signify development of the material side of life, and others the exact opposite, using the name for the spiritual side. It is the best proof of the extent to which terminology is still mobile, doubtful. The opposite of civilisation is said to be culture signifying now this, now that side of life in different authors.

The division into culture and civilisations stems from W. Humboldt. For him civilisation is “die Vermenschlichung der Voelker in ihren äusseren Einrichtungen und Gebräuchen und der darauf Bezug habenden inneren Gesinnung“, to which culture adds learning and art. Guizot did not oppose civilisation and culture, but frequently used the expression “culture” in a more specific sense, e.g. bourgeois culture. Like Humboldt, Kant put learning and art in culture and called civilisation the outward polish; the sphere of morality constituted for him a third factor alongside the other two. Wilhelm Wundt includes under culture “spiritual goods”, and calls civilisation the “external political and social forms of life”; he assumes that “culture is connected with nationality, and civilisation attached to the idea of mankind as a whole united under the leadership of cultured peoples”.375 H. S. Chamberlain says of the Chinese that they possess much civilisation, a full mead of pietas and courtesy, but little culture, and that for lack of techniques. In another place he says that the cynics had much civilisation, being distinguished by their moral severity, but because they despised learning and economic goods they had very little culture. And the last century of the Roman Republic could in his view be called an age of culture but not of civilisation, since as a result of the civil wars there was much inhumanity and immorality.376 From these examples it is evident that even in the same author there is no precision in the use of the two expressions.

On the whole, however, among German and French writers inner life is generally termed civilisation and external life culture, whereas among Polish writers the opposite is true of the use of these terms. Why, I am unable to say, but conclude that the present general position is unimportant, that no scientific developments have occurred to settle once for all this corner of terminology, since there is nothing fixed in it.

Moreover the actual setting of the material and spiritual sides of life over against each other appears to me no more than a literary formula. It never happens in reality and never was in history. I have already drawn attention to the way in which the corporal and spiritual categories of life impinge upon one another, how they are sometimes in such close harness that it is hard to distinguish between them; thousands of ties bind them without cease, often indivisibly. In historical research I have never found the material and spiritual development of any people taking place in even the slightest degree of detachment.

Historical treatment of the material side of life as an alleged inevitable opposition to the spiritual led to the so-called materialist view of history, which would explain all historical phenomena by the struggle for material existence. With it there spread a strangely false view of the actual struggle itself. A truly unparalleled onesidedness possessed minds which could accept that “struggle for existence” is to be understood only as struggle for prosperity. Such exclusiveness is surely found in reality only among degenerates. The struggle for existence is three-fold, three times more difficult than the adherents of historical materialism suppose, but also three times higher, more worthy of man: normal men struggle for moral and intellectual as well as material existence, but never for the material alone. The whole impulse of life consists in keeping afloat or rising as an individual who is respected and considered worthy of human friendship; in developing one’s intellect to the utmost, in addition to assuring one’s daily bread and the comforts of life. It would surely be an exceptional kind of man who would agree to be rich on condition of becoming at the same time an object of general contempt and mockery; human ambition normally reaches higher than money-bags, and prosperity is rather regarded as a means to make the moral and intellectual struggle for existence easier. Moreover even the cannibal chieftain makes war on his neighbours not only for the next-door sheep but also for the importance of his tribe (in European terms, for “prestige”.) War frequently breaks out among semi-savages for “honour”, with material advantages falling to the victors thereafter, as it were by force of inertia, although when embarking on hostilities they have had no thought of material advantages and often may have no conception of them at all. Among completely primitive peoples moral hardship, humiliation, scorn are felt more painfully than material hardship.

In the course of the material struggle for existence an ethical question constantly presents itself: what is worthy and what is unworthy in the struggle for prosperity. And a higher level of intellect contributes to a higher level of ethics. For although it is the particular property of the intellectual struggle for existence that it may be conducted in isolation from the material and moral, and although in the course of strictly intellectual development ethical questions are less in evidence than in the struggle for prosperity — nevertheless intellectual development at a certain stage comes to be concerned with criticism of both material and moral issues, and as it were absorbs the whole of ethics, which becomes an inseparable part of it.

This is perhaps the most complicated puzzle of the whole of human existence. We know very little about maintaining harmony in simultaneous moral, intellectual and practical education, about how to harmonise these three main departments of social life. Nevertheless we see increasingly clearly how entangled they are, how it is only exceptionally possible to isolate one kind of struggle for existence. For communal life to lean to one side of the struggle, to the material, for instance, passing over the other two, would mean a disturbance whose over-long continuance would necessarily end in popular anarchy and the decline of civilisation, or at least of the local culture or the given social class, according to the area and sphere affected by the morbid one-sidedness. Moreover, lop-sidedness in the struggle for existence weakens it, curtails possible results, reduces efficiency. This is, of course, a direct consequence of the reciprocal relations between the five categories of being and their harmony, as already shown.

The indissoluble knot of the threefold struggle for existence makes it impossible for the historian to treat material and spiritual civilisation separately. Eduard Meyer is also right not to acknowledge a division between political and cultural history, because history must present the whole of life. By the history of culture he understands the history of both material and cultural development; and so here in his view belong ethics, literature, art, economy. In Polish nineteenth century history as well as in the opening phase of the new Polish State a strangely (almost fantastically) close tie may be observed between politics and literature, popularity of a literary education alongside unparalleled economic ignorance. There is no room here for talk of separate historical treatment for material and spiritual affairs, but indeed the historian may manage without separate terms for them.

For the historian, qualitative distinction between civilisation and culture is superfluous. Everything that has been written on the point is at best worthless for historical studies, if not actually disadvantageous for historical research, introducing fictions in place of realities.

On the other hand, sufficient account has not so far been taken of another factor which is without a name. It is well known that every civilisation may contain certain variants distributed geographically, ethnographically or according to class. Let us consider, for example, the mediaeval system of organising communal life in Catholic Europe. That there was one common civilisation will not be denied, but nor can the differences existing against that background: in the West, the feudal system, in Poland no feudal system; alongside the dynastic States of the fourteenth century, in Poland the emergent idea of the national State; one system of collective life in the towns, another among the knighthood; the differences in civilisation between the milieu of the troubadours and the Hansa cities. The long list of such differences in the Catholic Middle Ages was no shorter in other epochs, and in our own days it is considerable. From the Neapolitan fisherman to the English miner, the Spanish bullfighter to the Swedish engineer, what variety! The differences stand out while the similarities are evident only to a practised eye, trained to look at things scientifically.

For the sum of resemblances during the period from the beginnings of Monte Cassino to our own days determines the unity and continuity of our Latin civilisation, in all its variants. These variants are departments of our civilisation. The relationship is that of the part to the whole, and is similar in other civilisations.

The historian is constantly dealing with these component parts of civilisation, but he does not do so systematically, methodically. We are faced with a basic category of historical research which has hitherto been treated occasionally and superficially, as the fact that there are as yet no names to describe these variants eloquently testifies. We do not know how to designate something which it is essential to distinguish and which forces itself upon us at every step. What expression should be used to describe, for example, the relationship between Latin civilisation in Poland and in Western Europe, as a relationship of part to whole? If we describe more than one thing by the same name we lose the feeling of this relationship, the relationship of part to whole.

In this book these parts will be called cultures. To all charges of the unsuitability of this designation, I reply in advance that I will begin to employ another expression immediately one is indicated to me. Somehow these variants of civilisation must be named, and I have taken an expression which is free, because not required for the use hitherto made of it — an improper use, as I have pointed out. Thus there is Arab civilisation and Moorish culture, Latin, civilisation and Polish culture, Turanian civilisation and Uighur and Afghan cultures.

On the other hand I reject terminology for the separate designation of the spiritual and material: civilisation may be material and spiritual, culture may also be spiritual and material. To distinguish one side from the other, I add an adjective. But since such distinction does not exist historically, it will only exceptionally be proper to employ these concepts. By thus establishing nomenclature, we shall avoid all doubts and inaccuracies. With accurate description of the object of investigation we emerge from chaos to science.

There should be a warning against mixing science of civilisation with history of civilisation. When there is talk of the history of civilisation it is necessary to ask which, for every civilisation has its separate history, whereas the science of civilisation must be concerned with all civilisations. It seems to me that there cannot be a scientific history of any civilisation until there has first been a certain development in the science of civilisation; for it is first necessary to decide certain general questions — above all the problem of the causes and genesis of civilisations.

The heart of all scientific investigations in the field of civilisations lies in the problem: Whence the plurality and variety of civilisations? This problem is the knot in which all the threads of all the looms of History are tangled. It cannot be cut, but must be patiently undone.


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