The plurality and variety of civilisation has, it is true, engaged scholars, but with a strange restriction to the past. Calculations are made of how many civilisations there have been, and their multiplicity today goes as it were unseen. There is no general admission of this contemporary plurality. Tacito consensu it is assumed that there is really only one civilisation, the so-called European, others representing only lower levels of the one, which is in any case spreading over the world, as witnessed by the acceptance of our inventions, the introduction of standing armies under European instructors, imports of cotton for naked Africans, etc. Only the rungs leading to Europeanisation are seen, and the same point of view is applied in research into the past. Although “European” civilisation has not always existed, the stages through which it had to pass can still be seen among “savages” representing an historical collection in space. All endeavours in historical research have been directed to discovery of the plan of these stages, allegedly of universal validity, in the progress from cannibal to Prussian lieutenant.
It is not easy to get rid of learned superstitions. Since I must therefore, be prepared for this book to be held in disrepute because of the absence in it of primitive communism, matriarchy and totemism, I do not stand to lose if I add yet another heresy, deny that homo faber created civilisation, and limit his role to an auxiliary position in the making of the stages of civilisation, whose kind does not in the least depend on technical discoveries.
At present the authority of ergology377 is perhaps at its height. The genesis of the ergological method lies in the old trichotomy, in the old view of prehistoric evolution according to the main elements in the struggle for existence — fishing and hunting, pastoralism, agriculture. This plan dates from the eighteenth century, and was improved upon until the end of the nineteenth. E. List, for example, distinguished five economic epochs: hunting, pastoral, agricultural, agricultural manufacturing, and, finally, agricultural, manufacturing and trading simultaneously. Patterns of this kind have, it is true, been abandoned, but in their place we have ergoist patterns.
For from these first patterns it was only a step to others, namely to the fixing of periods by the most important invention-aids in the struggle for existence. The first attempts are to be found in L. H. Morgan’s Ancient Society (1877) a work which was long a real codex for an uncounted mass of scholars of all languages; but the author gave warning that his was a temporary division, since periods would be established for certain only when the whole history of the acquisition of the means of existence had been properly examined.
After a time establishment of the periods of different techniques was tackled directly. Morgan had already said that social systems were closely dependent on techniques. He distinguished three periods of the savage state: a low pre-fire period, a middle period beginning with the use of fire and having for tools cudgel, flint — up to the bow-and-arrow stage, and a superior level disposing of wooden vessels, twig baskets, log-boats and knowledge of hand-weaving. With pottery begins the barbaric stage — first the bow and club, then the domestication of animals and finally, at a more developed stage of barbarism, the beginnings of metal-working and settled agriculture. The epoch of civilisation follows, its essential feature (according to Morgan) being the manufactures which come more and more to the fore. Morgan supposed that it was only thanks to agriculture that private property emerged, and through it the monogamous family, this in turn leading on to the State, etc. The periods of the development of property were in his view more or less the same as those of the various kinds of struggle for existence, which depended on tools, so that everything finally depended on technique. Although he admitted that in more than one respect the most important department of man’s spiritual development is also embedded in the history of property, however in the upshot, his arguments inconsistently make this spiritual development depend on progress in pottery, weaving, etc.
Limiting myself to the most outstanding scholars, I shall draw attention to the way in which E. du Bois Reymond later divided history into three epochs: the first characterised by building, smelting, casting and stone-quarrying, the second by the three discoveries: compass, gunpowder and printing; and the third by machines driven by heat. According to him, one of the most important causes of the decline of the classical world was its failure to rise above the first level of technique. Paul Barth justly replied that the Germanic tribes did not have techniques superior to those of the Romans, who were in any case always improving theirs. He also drew attention to the fact that primitive peoples sometimes die out at the very time they acquire better tools.378
The French and Catholic school of prehistory and ethnology founded by the famous sociologist Frederic Le Play, introduced a kind of synthesis of the development of the family organisation and the development of technical skill. Its outstanding exponent J. R. Maurice Vignes divided his main work La science sociale d’après les principes de le Play et de ses continuateurs (1897) into sections: I L’âge des productions spontanees, l’âge des machines; II L’âge des machines (fin), l’âge de la houille, dela vapeur et de l’électricité. The organisation of family life depended on the mode of the struggle for existence and on manufacturing technique. Vignes distinguished in the latter three historical periods: hand-tools, machinery, coal. Since agriculture was carried out not with hand-tools alone, it already belongs to the machine period. The acquisition of food began, however, with hunting and fishing, and with these forms of economy the family (in Vigne’s view) was loose, and paternal authority weak; personal property consisted in the bow and tools, while the hut was family property and woods or grazings belonged to the clan. As a result of the keeping of live prey, huntsmen came in time to keep cattle on the steppes, with a patriarchal family life and the land, undivided. In agriculture, slavery, etc. developed. (Sometimes it is not easy to follow Vigne’s arguments because of his indeterminate nomenclature.)
Obviously it is impossible to belittle tools and techniques as a whole — Erazm Majewski made the point well when he said: “Only by artificial tools does man create a balance between his physical side, unequal to action corresponding to his will, and the physical side, finding expression in that will”.379 But it is a far cry from this to regarding tools as the chief movers of history. Lacombc and Weber (Le rythme du progrès) limited the overriding importance of tools to the first phase of humanity, which was stated to have been technical and not theological, as Comte had claimed.380 Are these not “modernistic” somnia vigilantium?
Ergotism became the basis of all proto-historic synthesis to such an extent that even the greatest opponents of the school of the elder Morgan did not dare cast doubt on it. In Bonn Professor Graebner tried the same thing as Morgan and Du Roy-Reymond, making the single reservation that the limits of the periods could not be fixed with complete accuracy, since they overlapped. The German Catholic school of ethnology devised the Kultur-Kreise, whose number was finally fixed at seven (alternatively at eight) by Father Wilhelm Schmidt, one of the most eminent of all ethnologists, a monk at St. Gabriel outside Moedling in Austria, author of numerous works, who in 1925 began publication of his monumental synthesis Voelker und Kulturen (with the cooperation of Father Wilhelm Koppers). This school also links a certain level of technical ability with a certain level of social and spiritual development. For example, the first circle: club, bone, bow, with traces of animism and monogamy; second circle: stone, cudgel, pike, reed, flute, the beginnings of drawing, and in addition, animism and magic. The way in which the family and its institutions were established are among the essential features of every “circle”. Unfortunately this is all still confused with “sexual totemism” and similar unnecessary intrusions. With all respect for this school from Graebner to Father Schmidt, I am more convinced by K. Buecher when he writes in Arbeit und Rhytmus: “There can be nothing less correct than those learned constructions linking new cultural epochs with the appearance of pottery or ironwork, with the invention of the plough or the hand-mill. Peoples who know very well how to make axes and even pipes from iron, still use wooden pikes and arrows, or cultivate the ground with a wooden spade although they have no lack of cattle which could draw the plough for them”.381 Truly it would be hard to find a stronger argument against the classification of civilisation by work.
It is not possible to keep to any kind of chronology of work, since in different parts of the world inventions did not follow in the same order. Ethnology knows tribes which have ceramics and fight with pikes. The extent to which material civilisation defeats all systematic arrangement is very well illustrated by the fact that there was no bronze age on Polish territory. In negro Africa also the iron age immediately followed upon the stone age, in the same way as in Australia and Oceania, in the greater part of America and Northern Asia. This alone would mean at least two systems. If classification by work is unsuited to indicate the sequence of phases alleged to be inevitable and the same for all civilisations, it will be even less use in differentiating between civilisations. Is there even one discovery which could not be passed from one civilisation to another, or indeed anywhere even one discovery which has influenced the essence of a particular civilisation?
Can the human race be divided according to any kind of classification by work, even indirectly, for instance by use of the razor? The mediaeval Orthodox, regarding shaving as a sin, would come near the Ainos and the English of Dickens’s time; whereas the AngloSaxons of today would then be closer in civilisation to the Mongols. Aid from ergoism must once for all he given up in issues basic to the science of civilisation.382
The passage of a certain object from country to country may sometimes be an indication of the roads by which civilising influences entered — but not necessarily. For example, the universally-known case of the Maria Teresa thalars in Abyssinia and the Sudan. The range of wine and olives is not a bad indication of the range of influence of the old Roman civilisation, whereas the range of tea is very different from the range of Chinese civilisation, and tea-drinking no longer has anything in common with the spread of the teachings of Confucius. Curiously, Korea, so close to China, is not tea-drinking.383 How much of America wanders the world with potatoes? But enough of this.
Inventions — from the club to the aeroplane — may determine the levels of civilisation in each civilisation separately; in each the question calls for special investigations. For example, the railways changed the tempo of life in Western Europe — but in Russia not at all. The pot, the well and the mill, those three epochs of classification by work, were not everywhere of help to women; in many lands they reinforced the servitude of wives. But the well made possible regular communications in desert lands, with important consequences for civilisation. Every invention must be judged separately in differing lands and times.
It is a strange thing that we do not understand the question of classification by work, which is generally regarded as something specifically “archaeological”. It nevertheless exists equally in our days, eternally young and always producing new fruit. The telephone belongs to it, the radio and everything which is to be discovered tomorrow. But has Brahmin civilisation altered a jot since Hindus became railway officials? Has there been some change in Japanese ideas as a result of the motor-car? And more important, have all our inventions changed anything in us? Change around us does not mean change in us.
On the other hand, humanist “inventions” like the will and hereditary names have changed the world. The application of mathematics to physical products is truly imposing in its results, but much more important is its application in the humanist field. Social institutions based on calculation of probability change communal life more than electrification, and the discovery of amortisable credit (unfortunately wasted and suppressed in Poland) has accomplished incomparably more than all technical discoveries together. Homo faber did not establish civilisation, nor did he make civilisations different. He has only contributed to the attainment, of higher levels.
Let us pass to other conditions for the differentiation of civilisations, looking for factors of a higher order. Let us first consider whether and to what extent civilisation depends on race, language and religion.