Language is the most effective and in its effects the most farreaching of the tools of civilisation. As the knowability of the sky depended on the perfection of lenses, so the level of civilisation depends on the perfection of language. Yet the lens alone does not decide the state of astronomy, nor does language determine civilisation. So it is a mistaken view that every linguistic association is at the same time a separate association of civilisation. The idea of national civilisations existing according to language cannot be scientifically maintained.
Astronomy would not have reached its present heights without suitable telescopes, and if the art of providing the necessary lenses were lost, astronomy would not remain for long on its present level. Tools decide the success of work. Level of civilisation depends on the state of the language. Is a language incapable of forming a fairly involved compound sentence a suitable tool for the expression of abstractions? For where abstractions cannot be exactly and conveniently formulated, how is discussion in the field of abstraction and the drawing of increasingly subtle abstract distinctions possible at all — in other words how can the higher reaches of knowledge be cultivated in such a language? In the absence of an instrument the work is not done, even if there is the desire and perhaps talent for it.
Unfortunately, languages cannot be improved. E. Majcwski has justly observed that the effects of the drawbacks of a given language and “the inconvenience are cumulative and grow, so that barely visible in one generation they become of great importance to the nation, sometimes deciding its fate. From small grains of sand accumulating over centuries, broad shoals grow up.” ... “While the better languages became increasingly precious instruments, the less good often deteriorated further, weighed down by the burden of failings becoming increasingly harmful at higher stages of development. And yet to alter anything in a language radically and deliberately is as impossible as to change one’s features, even though we feel their imperfection and faults.”585
Societies which have been endowed by fate with a faulty system of speech become victims of their own language. But until such time as, in the development of civilisation, they outgrow their language, they move from level to level with a sure step, methodically, according to their own system. Then when certain individuals reach out above the capacity of their own tongue, provided they do not drown in the bog of general inferiority and the number of such individuals grows, in the end the matter becomes of general concern and disturbances must result which may produce anarchic conditions in a given civilisation. In a society in this position, the flower of the intelligentsia will begin to introduce a foreign language, and bilingualism may prove to be a transitional stage in a general change of language. A newly adopted language carries forward an old civilisation.
If, for example, the English language were to become the real language of the Chinese or Japanese intelligentsia, and then were to become general, while Chinese and Japanese became dead languages — then (after centuries!) Anglo-Saxon culture would not have been extended to the Chinese and Japanese, but the English language would be serving two civilisations, Latin and Chinese, the latter proceeding to higher levels thanks to an English dress.
If a sufficient number of people fluent in a well-chosen foreign language are not available, stagnation must follow, amid general discontent, and a haphazard grasping at reforms, a confusion of insufficiently thought-out experiments, a chaotic state involving the ruin of the old civilisation and a retreat back through several generations to the level at which the native language suffices. The process would take the form of a recurring series of upheavals, always followed by another halt. I doubt if there can be revolutions more dangerous than linguistic ones.
The historical importance of languages is thus extreme, and their influence incomparably greater than that of race. And what was out of place in the case of race is entirely in order in referring to languages: there exists a hierarchy of languages, according to the degree of their capacity for development. Philology will one day list this hierarchy — a list of the stronger and blunter tools of civilisation. But this will not be a table, of different civilisations since the same language may serve two civilisations.
Civilisations are not formed, established and differentiated according to language. Kinds of civilisation do not depend on kinds of language, but levels in all kinds do. Although language is a spiritual element, it does not determine kinds of civilisation.
Let us now take up the most spiritual factor — religion.
CIVILISATION AND RELIGION
I INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
If a system of communal life is to be comprehensive, it must embrace religion.586 Life without religion cannot be complete — however many-sided, it will fall short of universality. On the other hand, anti-religious life is opposed to the development of civilisation and must have an immediately unfortunate effect on ethics as well as on the fine arts, and after a short period, on other categories of being. Because of the links between the physical and spiritual categories, any crippling of the latter brings in its train deficiencies and even abnormalities in material categories also. A civilisation which makes light of religion will begin to creak everywhere.
In the present consideration of the relationship arising between civilisation and religion it is not intended to examine civilisation from the point of view of religion, nor religion from the point of view of civilisation, but only to prepare material which will help the solution of the following problem: do the resemblances and differences between civilisations result from resemblances and differences of religion; if so is differentiation in civilisation the result of the variety of religions, and are religions therefore the creators of civilisations, i.e. of systems for the organisation of communal life?
For the sake of precision, I define what I mean by religion, which is a system embracing the relation of the natural to the supernatural world. Until recently stereotyped methods were employed for the investigation of religions in the belief that it was possible to deal with them all at once. This produced fantastic theories. Today nobody believes that religions emerged from ancestor-worship, and “astral” religion and the “Babylonian outlook” are treated as nonsense by serious scholars.587
The relation of every religion to civilisation ought to be investigated separately, so that it is the more necessary to distinguish between them. Religions are of three kinds — local, tribal and universal in membership; three also in essence — with monolatry alongside with polytheism and monotheism.
After proto-historic monotheism, religions became local and so fell into monolatry, for no monotheist religion can be local; by the logic of things monotheism is linked with universality. Monolatry is something basically different. If it had obtained among the majority of peoples, each would honour its own separate god and none of these gods would be the god of even two peoples. From the total of monolatries polytheism would then have developed — a team of tribal gods not even making up a mythology because all totally alien to each other.
In classical times, the Romans discovered one of the ways of ruling Italy permanently was to centre on Rome the cults of numerous local religions. Local and tribal religions were also associated with the expeditions of Alexander the Great, who offered sacrifice to all the gods along his route.
A local religion is attached to territory; in the event of a change of population, it is transferred from one people to another, from one race to another. The opposite is true of a tribal religion, which is attached to a people regardless of its place of abode. Tribal religions arose among nomads who, being fed up of constantly changing gods, realised that in fact they had none of their own. Not distinguishing monolatry but mistakenly reckoning it as monotheism, a whole series of scholars reached the fantastic conclusion that monotheism was the prerogative of nomads.
Evidently neither a local nor a tribal religion can be true. True monotheism proclaims only one God common to all peoples, and to each of them separately, identical for all: monotheism and universal religion go together. Brahminism, universal in principle, never lived up to itself, never went outside India, but deteriorated into a polytheistic religion, local even although the locality is a vast region. Unquestionably universal are Islam, Buddhism and Christianity.
If local and tribal are lower than universal, do adherents of universal religions automatically belong to higher civilisations? What has historical induction to teach us on the matter?
Through monotheism the Arabs and (to a point) the Jews attained a superior level of civilisation, but it is also certain that the pagan Scipios stood above them; if the Scipios had possessed belief in the One True God, they would have risen to a still higher level of civilisation. It is equally beyond doubt that monotheists would be falling to a lower level if they returned to polytheism. But such movement, whether lower or higher, takes place within the frame of the civilisation to which those concerned already belong. A monotheist Roman would never have become Jewish by civilisation, since it would have meant a lowering of his cultural level. In this matter there can be discussion only of levels, not of kinds of civilisation.
In following links with civilisations, conclusions from external resemblances between religions are to be guarded against. For example, there have always been processions, prayer-strings, etc. There were processions to Eleusis, and today flocks of pilgrims cross the Tibetan mountains, while in China a “fleet of junks” sails to the sacred island Pu-Tu, and “processional boats” are no rarity. In Constantinople rosaries are to be seen “wound round the hand of a fashionable gentleman distinguishable from the average European only by his fez, and round the hand of the hamal who carries loads in the port”. In Japan “every sect has different prayerstrings, as St. Francis Xavier noticed”.588 All this has no connection with the relationship of religions to civilisations.
In the Old Testament external resemblances can be found with the religion of old Persia, while “the later Mithraism, through the medium of the Persian religion, borrowed very many of the religious beliefs and practices of monotheism”.589 But it would be necessary to investigate separately whether influences on the organisation of communal life followed the same paths.
We face a great problem — the extent to which religion creates civilisation or civilisation religion. Buckle asserted that “religion is the consequence of the perfecting of humanity and not the cause of it”.590 On the other hand, Fustel de Coulanges argued that social always follows religious progress, and is evoked by it.591 The recently deceased Durkheim held that religion is the mother of all institutions. The contemporary P. J. Andre is of opinion that “the birth of a new religion means the birth of a new civilisation”.592 Le Bon went furthest in this direction, emphasising that even tha slightest change in religious beliefs brings a whole series of changes in the life of a people.593
And yet the religious changes in sixteenth century England certainly did not effect changes in the five categories of being. The Englishman who is converted to Catholicism at the present day does not change his civilisation; he belonged to Latin civilisation as an Anglican and continues to do so as a Catholic. Undoubtedly a man who passes from paganism to Christianity changes a great deal; which is also the case if he rejects it by passing over to Islam — very important changes took place on such occasions in North Africa and later in the Balkans. But against this may be set facts from the decline of the Roman Empire, when the flower of the Roman intelligentsia, in accepting baptism, remained within Roman civilisation and strove to carry it on. Thus there is no general rule; the matter must be investigated in the case of each religion separately.
Religion creates civilisation only when it draws under its sacral legislation the five categories of being, when it is the determining factor not only for morals but also in categories of health, the struggle for existence, art and learning.