Examination of the relation of religions to civilisations did not produce only negative results. While it proved that religions do not cause the variety of civilisations, at the same time a bridge appeared between associations of a higher order and supra-tribal associations. Suddenly the horizon of our observations broadened far beyond the triple law and high above it. And we reached higher because raised by the abstract inherent in the very problem of religion, from whatever angle it is examined. It was sufficient to touch the theme to be forced into the land of abstractions. For the first time in the argument of this book appeared the concepts of society, State, nation. Let us use the bridge and continue on the path indicated.
In the opening chapters it at once fell to be stated that progress is more dependent on abstractions than on material factors; moreover it proved that abstract ideas direct matter. Without abstract ideas physical matters would often come to a standstill. For man educated himself on abstractions, and as this can already be seen in prehistory, as prehistory escapes in this way from the materialist presentation of history, its application to historical time and moreover to high levels of development remains to be shown.
The progress of abstract ideas may be said to begin with ths development of the concept of time. We touched upon the question of time in Chapter II, at the end of the section devoted to prehistoric economy. There we stopped at measurements of time based on phenomena of nature. Even the cycle may subsist at a very low level of civilisation, like the burning of the tacuara in the Brazilian forests, which leads the cabocio to observe cycles of approximately thirty years. The cycle most widespread in the world — of sixty years — emerged theoretically in China long ages ago, at a still relatively low level in the development of Chinese civilisation, and thence it spread to Korea, Mongolia and Tibet. Among the Mongols it was still known in the old form as late as the seventeenth century.645
Measures of time resting on deliberate inquiry, and so on scientific foundations, lead to the calendar. But actual possession of a calendar does not constitute proof that the people concerned acquired a superior grasp of time, and so increased their ability for abstraction. It might have seemed that the calendar, creating awareness of the growth of the years, must by simple logic lead to the era. But it was not so — neither the ancient Egyptians nor the Chinese possessed or possess the era. Indication of the passage of time by dynasties is after all child’s play. But the Hindus have no idea of any chronology, and European scholars regard themselves as “orientated” when they can limit their chronological doubts on things Hindu to between five and eight centuries — and that in the epoch contemporary with our Middle Ages, not in dark ages. How careful about the calendar were (and are) the Jews — what careful and subtle calculations when the “new moon” will appear in Jerusalem over the Temple and when on the neighbouring hills; but they did not invent the era for themselves, and Biblical scholars have perhaps no less difficulty with chronology than the Hindu scholars. The Fifty-year jubilee sacral cycle was not adopted, while they only invented the era of the creation of the world in Roman times, in order to show how much more ancient they were than those for whom it was sufficient to reckon “from the foundation of the city”. The Maya peoples were also outstanding as calendologists, and employed an exact chronological order; but in the present state of research it is hard to say whether they knew the era.
As the calendar does not everywhere lead to the era, so the era does not necessarily lead to historical awareness. It is impossible to do without these rungs, but it is possible not to make use of them and to go no higher. Invention of the era (even if by imitation) did not provide the Jews with the historical instinct, did not and still has not made them even historically aware. Similarly deprived of the sense of history is Arabic civilisation, although it has the era (hedzhra). Adoption of Islam (together with the hedzhra) by a considerable sector of Turanian civilisation did nothing to bring these peoples closer to history; for instance Turkey was always without the historical instinct. For this the memory of certain events is not enough. Even the Malagasy can indicate time according to “when Queen Rasuherin travelled among the Betsile” or “when the French came here”,646 but he has no means of telling when Rasuherin ruled, when the French appeared. The tradition of facts without chronology is nothing; even chronology itself is only a distant prelude.
Historic consciousness in a society and the drawing by it of the conclusions which follow, is a peak in the development of the relation of man to time. Only one of the ancient civilisations attained this peak, namely the Roman, and it handed on this heritage to those societies which are the heirs of Roman civilisation. And so even the era may be no more than a measurement of time, differing from the day or month only quantitatively, not qualitatively. It is some other factor which introduces the qualitative difference.
The issue is control of time, as nature and space are controlled. Does not the measurement of distance by time, practised even at very primitive levels, contain a “fourth measure of space”? It is an excellent auxiliary means for the control of space; but a given area can only be regarded as under control when a man may go in any direction according to a decision taken beforehand, and return from any point by a road determined in advance. Here the crude empricism is not enough; there must be an awareness of directions, and that requires that a certain place be regarded as a starting point; the relation of the sectors of a given area to every point within it must be known. But with the increased control of space resulting from man’s inventions, muscle-power counts for less, and spiritual forces gain increasing preponderance — and command of the physical. However, control of nature or space never represents reinforcement for ethics; of the spiritual forces in this field only the intellect derives advantage. In all intellectual activity morality is raised only indirectly, in so far as “all is connected with all”. It is in any case not difficult but increasingly easy to recognise in the development of control over space the development of abstract concepts also.
Control of space has more than one point in common with control of time. As one consists in being able freely and deliberately to move about a fixed space through places fixed in advance, so control of time consists in something which can be dependent on human will happening in accordance with one’s intention, in the fraction of time fixed for it. The ruler of time divides and spaces it along the paths of his life as he wills. A date is to time what a goal is in space, and is the criterion of the degree of control over time. For it is this which becomes the scaffolding of tradition, through which development of the historical sense takes place. But we must understand that it is possible to know how to forecast an eclipse of the sun and not to know how to control time and to remain entirely passive in face of it.
By fixing a date man limits his freedom and marks a stage in his self-control. Control of time thus exercises the will, fertilises the intellect and develops creative spiritual power. It is the road along which to become master of one’s life. The fixing of a date must lead to efforts to save time. Thus the more intelligently fixed dates there are in a man’s scheme of life, the easier it is to achieve multiple use of time through constant saving of it. Such a person comes to capitalise time (I believe the expression will be accepted).
The number of degrees in the control of time is uncounted, but in failure to control it relatively not so large. If we could discover some measuring instrument on the model of the thermometer, below zero there would be few degrees, but above zero many. Let us look for examples below zero in various parts of the world. Passing over “savages” like the Malagasys among whom time cannot be lost because for them it has the value of last year’s snow for us,647 let us look higher, to the Arabs, the Hindus and to Kamchatka. Colonel Lawrence, the famous English agent of the First World War, says interestingly of the Arabs, whom he knew well. “They seemed to have no unit of time smaller than the half-day, or of distance between the span and the stage; and a stage might be from six to sixteen hours according to the man’s will and camel.”648
It is no better in India, where Le Bon satisfied himself of the complete insensitivity of the Hindu to time. After the building of the railways they would arrive at the station two or three hours after the train had left, and now they arrive the same amount too early. Even those educated at European universities are never punctual; nobody ever presents himself exactly on time, whereas there is not an unpunctual Englishman in India.649 And it has been said of Petropavlovsk, capital of Kamchatka, that it is “surrounded as it were by a curtain of disorder, sloth and muddle. Time has no value. What a man does today he could do equally will tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a year’s time. And herein lies the greatest danger for a European. Slowly, inexorably, in course of time he grows muddled — and in my opinion somebody who has spent ten years here is lost to civilisation and is incapable of any real work”.650 The Chinese scholar Ku-Hung-Ming, speaking of the turgidity of Chinese historical tales, uses these words: “Only Chinese mentality, which enitirely ignores time, can compose and remember such stories”.651 And for an example of the opposite case, let us take a country with a very highly developed control of time, Sweden, where “throughout the land the cult of the watch reigns”.652
Between these countries do there not arise diametrical differences in absolutely everything, with Sweden on one side and China, Russia, India, Arabia on the other? For these are differences in civilisation, and very great ones, differences confirmed by consideration of time.
The degree to which opinions may differ on the relation of man to time may be learned from the Argentine Creole who declared in the presence of a Polish traveller: “People from Europe are very strange, it is never possible to understand them. Even the simple Polish and German colonists who come here are very strange; they work a dozen or more hours a day in order, as they often repeat, that their children may have property. We do not understand that. Our children manage for themselves”.653
This example leads us to the fundamental difference in the consequences between control of space and of time. Despite many analogies, the basic difference lies in the fact that ethics develops only with control of time, which provides it with new departments — evidence that morality is by no means without the capacity for development and progress. Entire ethical spheres are incomprehensible to people not knowing how to control time. In the interests of time-saving there emerge diligence, resource, thrift, circumspection, thought for the future and finally, consciousness of duly towards the succeeding generation. People looking further than their own deaths, and carrying out the duties of life quicker than others, make progress possible, for they permit their descendants to begin at the point they have themselves managed to reach in their lives. The result is a willing readiness for sacrifice in the interest of persons dear to the heart, growth of feeling, ennoblement of thought and deed.
After the historical sense, altruism is the other crown of the work of conquering time, bringing forth new flowers in this ground. There is a wide field of application for controlled time in sociology, in economics, in pedagogy, in almost all branches of existence — which is, however, outside our immediate theme. On the relation of human affairs to time and their dependence on the degree to which it is controlled a large book could be written.
A man content to measure time is quite different from one who does not know how to control it and both are different from one who does. These are not degrees but different kinds of civilisation. The abstract concept of time is higher than that of space, has a deeper influence on systems of communal life and the power of differentiating civilisations.
But how is this accomplished? What do we know about the question of time in relation to human existence? In recent years at least a considerable philosophical movement has developed round the idea of time, but it has not yet entered the awareness of scholars of other professions, and no other branch of knowledge draws conclusions from it. I consider that in this problem lies one of the deepest secrets of being — perhaps even the deepest, but at present it cannot be used to learn about civilisation, which would require a considerably higher development of our knowledge of time. For the moment it is only possible to indicate the connection between the subjects, admitting that in fact the present section is really a continuation of the preceding, and making all the necessary reservations.
If one were to summon up one’s courage and allow oneself to be, led into a draft systematication of civilisations according to the time issue, it would prove that Latin civilisation alone posseses the historical sense.
Let us add the curious observation of the philologists that in languages of the higher levels of civilisation more space is devoted in the dictionaries than at lower levels to the concept of time. Thus since the Japanese language does not possess temporal conjunctions,654 it carries within it the germ of stagnation. Have European experts on the language anything to say?