How splendidly the last sentence of the previous section sounds. — but who has seen the reality? Where in Latin civilisation is the magic land where ethics are demanded in public life as part of a full acknowledgement of the supremacy of spiritual forces? In the territories of this civilisation it might be easier to point to the kind of country in which the principle of “enlightened” absolutism holds: Steuer zahlen und Maul halten, where spying and informing flourish, raised to the dignity of State institutions, where censorship creates its ravages but is never employed against pornography, where the independence of judges is suspended. Where then is this Latin civilisation hiding while in more than one place in her territories sprouts something which looks rather like a variation on Turanian, or even on Chinese civilisation?
Let us remind ourselves of what has already been said on the relationship of learned schemes to life, and let us try to bring into focus this apparent arbitrariness of reality. It will prove that alongside the plan, without which we could not argue at all, certain historic laws exist which in no small measure explain our confusion and doubts.
Let us bear in mind first of all that everything which is living is changing, and so civilisation is neither a brittle bone nor an immobile clod. While it lives it is subject to changes; sometimes for the better, because it perfects itself, and sometimes for the worse, for it declines; periods of development and decline may set in unexpectedly for hidden but deep reasons. Changes may be quantitative but also qualitative. These must be carefully distinguished; a change in the levels through which every civilisation passes is one thing, and a basic change in civilisation something quite different. The number of levels is unlimited, but has nothing to do with the actual kind of civilisation, which may remain the same from the most primitive to the highest stages of development. These are exclusively quantitative changes. Qualitative, basic changes in civilisation may have a varied range: some fit into the frame of the civilisation concerned, others do not and get expelled. The first are born naturally of the vital force of the civilisation, the second may derive from the influences of foreign civilisations. The result of the meeting of various currents of civilisation may be a novelty that is positive, but also one which is negative, and even a caricature; progress is possible but also degeneration. It seems to me that the science of civilisation offers means to enable us to recognise the one from the other; and occasionally a table of characteristic features may be a help. A table is only a lable, but it is sometimes a desirable key for distinguishing things and problems.
As was shown in the fourth section of Chapter IV, civilisations are divided into cultures which are variations on them. Here even considerable differences may arise. For example Latin civilisation based itself on feudalism, but Poland accepted that civilisation without feudalism, which was of no use to us. Thus a distinct culture of Latin civilisation developed in Poland. Rejection of feudalism did not infringe the unity of our civilisation, any more than the downfall of feudalism infringed it in the West. In our table, feudalism does not occur; it is a secondary, not a basic feature. And all the basic features of Latin civilisation can appear as well under feudalism as without it, since the same system of organising communal life may be preserved. Feudalism obtained in Mecklenburg until 1918, but there are few who know it; even among the German intelligenstia at the time this knowledge was rare.
Many changes may occur which do not involve changes of civilisation. Have the Turks, for example, changed their (Turanian) civilisation because they have abandoned the lunar year and adopted the solar? Once the lunar year was used everywhere — including Poland. Perhaps traces could still be found of lunar time-measurements? On this we have curious information from the village of Zalasowa, between Tarnów and Tuchów, for the year 1896:
“The oldest generation does not know our way of reckoning time; it is true that it knows the names of the twelve months, but it indicates their length not by number of days but from new moon to new moon; and since the lunar year is shorter than the solar, in order to make it equal to the ordinary year beginning with the New Year, every second year they count a thirteenth month, which they insert between February and March and call podmarczyk (“nearMarch”), and then the new moon of the new year will fall at New Year, that is on December 31 or January I.”661
A change of calendar means nothing, nor does even the variety of calendar possible within the same civilisation; only historical awareness belongs to our table. Not a few similar changes and variations could be quoted. Every civilisation, every culture even has features which are exclusively, characteristically its own, but do not affect the principle itself in any way.
Nevertheless among civilisations there is one which has pasasd through changes which in any other would certainly be regarded as basic, and which despite this has nevertheless remained itself. This is the more singular in that Jewish civilisation is sacral, and so not prone to change. In the field of marriage law, no existing religious law forbids polygamy and there are polygamous Jews. In Europe Jews nevertheless adopted monogamy — in the West from the middle of the eleventh century under the influence of Rabbi Gerson of Metz, in the Balkans in the middle of the seventeenth century on the orders of “Messias” Sabatay Zwi (the “Frankists” belonged to this school). For polygamy became impossible in the European diaspora, and moreover caused scandal among Christians, but under Napoleon I there was a Government inquiry into the question whether Jews were polygamists. But do we know of any society — apart from the Roman — which was never polygamist? As a rule such a change brings about considerable changes in civilisation, and it must have caused them among the Jews also, but nevertheless they have kept their civilisation, although passing subsequently through still other changes. They have kept it precisely because it was and is sacral, and changes have taken place without touching the supreme principle that they are a privileged nation, called to rule over the whole earth (Jewish Messianism). If this feature were to collapse, Jewish civilisation would collapse: but while they believe this everything may change. In the same way, no change in Brahmin civilisation means anything as long as the caste system and the doctrine of avatars survive.
The Jews passed through changes in civilisation as a result of their dispersal among other civilisations. Civilisations obviously exercise a reciprocal influence on one another, and the Jewish has left its imprint on societies of Latin civilisation.
Every civilisation, while it remains vital, aims at expansion: so that wherever two vital civilisations meet they must fight each other. Every vital civilisation which is not dying is aggressive. The struggle lasts until one of the fighting civilisations is destroyed; actual acquisition of the position of ruling civilisation does not end it. If civilisations existing side by side sit side by side in peaceful indifference, evidently both are without vital force. A case of this kind often ends in some compromise mechanical mixture, stagnation ensues on both hands, and in time a real swamp of a-civilisation develops.
It was thus that the civilisation of mighty Persia fell, unable to remove the Hellenic wedge driven into her. Soon Syria, having collected brief laurels in the category of semi-corporeal Beauty, but otherwise achieving absolutely nothing under Hellenistic civilisation, began to revert to the wild. On the other hand, Pergamon and Alexandria were long combined, for there Greek civilisation overlaid and suppressed all others.
In antiquity we also have instances of many kinds of civilisation subsisting in the same place. The first instance should be Antioch. But every single piece of information about her is unfavourable, expressive of indignation and disgust at local ideas and customs. In our own times there are places in the East where various civilisations live together without conflict, in “complete agreement”. About one of them, Port Said, a traveller has written:
“The external aspect of the town is international; it recalls a whore who has been given each item of her wardrobe by a different guest and has only a chemise of her own, and that dirty”.662
Where then is the field for syntheses of civilisations? If the thing were possible it would necessarily occur everywhere differing civilisations meet. A synthesis of syntheses has had time to emerge in India out of the six local civilisations, and in Poland a tolerable one should likewise have arisen. But instead four civilisations — Jewish, Byzantine, Turanian and Latin — fight one another with all their strength; the three first-named commonly join together in wartime alliance to attack the Latin with joint forces, but apart from that they too struggle and wrestle with one another.
Synthesis is possible only between cultures of the same civilisation,663 not between civilisations. While Rome honoured various Italic gods, it grew strong; it began to decline when Syrian gods were admitted into the City. In Italy one civilisation held sway, dividing into local variants, small Italic cultures whose synthesis was in Roman civilisation; but when the attempt was made to repeat the process with different civilisations, it proved death-dealing. Between civilisations, only a mechanical mixture is possible. This happens rarely, but always leads to the lowering of the civilisation, sometimes to its downfall, to a state directly a-civilisational.
Whenever a “synthesis between West and East” has been sought in Poland, the East has always emerged the victor. In the upshot we turned from the West and under the Saxon kings devoted ourselves to spreading Turanian civilisation westwards. Sunk in oriental ignorance we could not keep public law separate from private. By hard effort we have returned to Latin civilisation, having lost our independence in the struggle.
A typical experimental field for so-called syntheses of civilisations was Russia, Rus as a whole. Since the dawn of Kievan history Latin and Byzantine civilisation have been in combat there, with the victory going to — Turanian. The upper hand was taken by those who served Polovtsians, then Mongols and Tartars, until in the end towards the close of the reign of Ivan III the struggle ceased for a long period, for Turanian civilisation had won complete victory. In the seventeenth century there was a new wave of Latin, Polish influences — and at the same time total ruin of Lithuania. There even emerged a “Latin learning” in Russia, while the introduction of compulsory Latin for candidates for leading position in the State (1682) was an event more far-reaching than all the subsequent reforms of Peter the Great. The latter introduced a strong current of Byzantinism from Germany, and soon the Partitions of Poland strengthened Latin influences to such extent that something of national consciousness strayed in. European science also penetrated to Russia. Who will deny the presence there of truly European types, but was not a genuinely Turanian type common besides? Byzantinism entered into all this from two directions: Oriental in the case of Turkish-Byzantine culture and Western in that of German-Byzantine. In the last two generations the heads of educated Russians were furnished, to paraphrase Bishop Krasicki, with pieces in all styles. A synthesis? It was a highroad to nihilism of every kind.
There are no syntheses, but only poisonous mixtures. All Europe is now ill of the mixing of civilisations; here lies the cause of all “crises”. For how is it possible to look in two ways, in three ways (and in Poland even in four ways) on good and evil, on beauty and ugliness, on loss and gain, on the relation of society and State, of State and Church; how is it possible to have at the same time a four-fold ethic, four-fold pedagogy? Down this road the only possibility is decline into an a-civilisational state, which holds within itself incapacity for a culture of action. The sequel is the going round in circles, preying upon one another which is a picture of Europe today.
And if in a given society the victor among fighting civilisations is not the one which has hitherto held sway, and a change of civilisation follows, as a rule the society collapses into an a-civilisational state. The Magyars passed through this, the Finns passed through it (from Turanian to Latin) and emerged victorious. And we? Stumbling in the opposite direction, we were a-civilisational under the Saxon Augustus III, and are in a very similar position at the present day. Do not let us suppose that Latin civilisation will fall; we shall fall. Do not let us suppose that a new civilisation will arise; barbarism will follow.
I do not know a greater absurdity than the doctrine of the fall of civilisations as a result of old age: the Jewish and Chinese go on. The introduction into history of a biological point of view is a very gross philosophical error. Yet we have seen even level heads reckoning how long a given civilisation can go on flourishing, after what period it must yield the field to a “new” one. No civilisation need either decline or die of old age, but it may poison itself with a mixture of civilisations at any time. All the theories about historical cycles also depend on the error of historical biology, and all are false.664
Nor is it at all necessary for the decline of a civilisation to be preceded by a period of high development (“masculine age”) since a fall is possible from every level. Sometimes unripe fruit rots on the tree. And the argument that civilisations fall “having completed their task” is a literary cliche which sounds well but is scientifically void.
Civilisations fall for the same reason as all associations: when their structure is spoiled. This structure consists in a uniform system of association ruled by certain co-ordinated norms in such a way that one does not exclude the other. In a word, civilisation declines when it comes to lack the condition of commensurability. Civilisation is an association and so is subject to this law of associations.
Civilisation would be the only possible supra-national association. It will not be created artificially, nor the outcome of any a priori theory. But also precisely because it is an association of a higher order than the nation, it is impossible to suppose that_every nation has its civilisation. Are there to be as many civilisations as nations? The “national” civilisation of a given nation is the one in which the nation was formed and grew — Poland’s national civilisation, for example, is Latin. Within it Poles have created a separate Latin-Polish culture, but they might have lacked this originality and would still have belonged to Latin civilisation. The emergence of a culture is not to be explained by distinctions of nationality. There are nations which have created no separate culture but this does not derogate in the least from their separateness as nations; national characteristics are one thing, those of civilisations another.
I can barely touch here upon the various problems which arise, and on which adequate light could only be cast in the course of a description of a particular civilisation. But it seems to me that I have nevertheless indicated several historical truths — and I should like to underline the highest of them.
If it is true, as I have argued throughout this book, that the success of an association depends on the suitability and uniformity of its system, that no lasting and strong association can be organised on conflicting systems, then what I regard in history as the law of laws — for me the achievement and outcome of the labours of an entire life — must also be true: