The study of civilisation is a superior level of history. In 1921 I allowed myself to assert that “it will only be possible to draw up universal history against a background of conflicts of civilisations and unlucky attempts at syntheses of civilisations”, and that in place of a turgid, wishy-washy so-called history of culture “there will appear a clear science of civilisations, fruit of every sort of variety of historical investigation, the highest rung in historical science”.665 I had, however, begun work connected with the present book four years previously, in 1917, in that year of severest trials and restrictions when, despite everything, belief in the restoration of Poland did not lose actuality even for a moment. The starting point was reflection on our relation to Europe, our value for civilisation in. general.666 The area of investigation then widened from year to year, the theme expanded and deepened at once. I owe much to my ten-year stay in Vilno, whose narrow streets may be said to be full of broad problems of universal history. There too, in Vilno, the original version of this work formed the subject of lectures at the university during the academic year 1927-28.
In fact a methodical science of civilisation is yet to be. I myself am helping towards it considerably less than I would wish and (as I believe) might have done. (Let the smallness of the harvest be explained by the circumstance that throughout life I have been isolated in Polish science. I worked without any help).
Scientific research advances in two ways: now through specialisation, now by generalisation; but if the latter were to be impossible, the other would in my view be superfluous. The relation of these two procedures in science is for me the relation of means and end. It is necessary first to be well provided with means, and anyone who has not worked long and hard on the analysis of a specialised topic has no access to the structure of synthesis.
I would ardently wish that the views of one of the masters of European science, Fustel de Coulanges, might become known in Poland. He said three things. First, the basic pattern of all scientific work: pour un jour de synthèse il faut des années d’analyse. However at the same time he had no faith in the depth of knowledge of specialists who restrict their studies over-much in time and place; he claimed that an historian must base his investigations on a period of time of some length. In his view a man who limits himself to only one sector of history exposes himself to errors even in the only section open to him, even though he has devoted his whole life to his minor ultra-speciality, because the age in which a thing blossoms is hardly ever the age in which it takes its rise. And in yet another place he warns historians that l’histoire n’étudie pas seulement les faits matériels et les institutions; son véritable objet d’étude est l’âme humaine.667
I do not disparage any point of view, for all observation undertaken from a new vantage-point may provide results most worthy of note; in consequence I also defend myself against exclusive claims for any field of observation. If it were possible to embrace all of them, may be that from a critical review a synthesis might somehow automatically be born. The sum of all points of observation would undoubtedly give exact sight of the whole, but only on condition that one looked from all simultaneously, to avoid the effects of change caused by time. This is unfortunately impossible, but we do approach adequate coverage of the whole by employing differing points of observation. The results of such observation must be reduced to a common denominator by the historical method well fitted for the task, since created amid diversity for the purpose of investigating it.
Success in elucidating the problem of the difference of civilisations would result in a new view of universal history, which must define the mutual relations of civilisations. Universal history should be treated as the history of the struggles of civilisations and of attempted syntheses of civilisations, the history of their expansion and disappearance, the history of the emergence of cultures and of their interaction within the same civilisation or submission to a foreign civilisation, and so the history of the reciprocal positive and negative influences of civilisations. Universal history will become the history of systems for the organisation of communal living — and in that event will certainly include all manifestations of historical life, the whole fullness of that life.
Then a basis will also have been acquired for the comparison of historical phenomena and the critical examination of causes and effects, means and ends, possibilities and impossibilities. We shall learn at last what is at stake in the milleniums of mankind’s good and evil fortunes. We shall know the use of those laborious searches after trifling details on the lower rungs of History — which at present are presumably an end to themselves, for nobody is yet able to connect them into a whole otherwise than mechanically, and then always restricted within the limits of a single department of being. The history of every category of being now vegetates in isolation; linked by a general idea emerging from the science of civilisation, they will give a synthesis.
Generalisation becomes an irresistible impulse for the investigator who discerns that in science everything has a connection with everything else. Of this the true scholar must be aware. It is of course and old thesis, known to Buckle,668 and high time that it at last became generally known. For me there is no doubt that knowledge is the sum of the connections arising between sciences, and that the highest level of the structure is a general view on everything, an outlook on the world. It is possible to climb to this height wherever one begins; there is no science which cannot be selected as a starting-point. Let me add that to climb towards the heights is a duty; and if a man is too weak himself, let him at least not hinder others who are stronger.
For long the formulation of outlooks on the world has been as it were the monopoly of naturalists. Historical life has been subjected to biological laws. Clio herself is not a little to blame for her degradation to a fifth wheel in Nature’s chariot. The decline of the humanist sciences has also given and gives ever-increasing scope to every kind of charlatanism in public life. Yet these sciences are now provided with highly perfected methods; why, therefore, not make good what has been neglected and venture an outlook on the world based on humanist investigations?
Thus I proclaim a renaissance of the humanist sciences. I believe they will no longer yield in anything to the “exact knowledge” of the natural sciences. History is capable of discovering and demonstrating her “axioms” and “laws” by her own method. I part company with those who would make of history something in the likeness of the natural sciences. The adoption of this attitude I should regard as an aberration threatening continued degeneration. But the efforts made by some historians to perfect History by modelling her in this way on the natural sciences are due to a misunderstanding which will surely be short-lived. Naturalist and humanist, each to his own, each must work in his way, by his own methods. Only then shall we find ourselves on a fair way to those uplands where everything fits together, where the connections binding all things together are known.
I believe I have succeeded in indicating the direction of a new road for those on the pilgrimage to Truth. The issue is one of finding the method of the science of civilisation. I wish that the book may prove worthy of being corrected, and provide a thread for further discussions. I know that here I am offering only a sketch. I console myself with the hope that the questions raised will become familiar in Polish learning. With such a result I should be more than content, regardless how much of my work survives, or is invalidated by the more exact investigations of my successors. And there is the word to express my dreams — I would wish to have successors.
But when the time comes for synthesis leading to effective investigation of historical laws, then the individual departments of history will also acquire the features of exact knowledge, and the question whether history is a science will no longer be heard.
And History in its further development will serve the creative discussion of the great problems of man and humanity, climbing by the rungs of abstract ideas to the ante-room of the supernatural, debating by its own method the relation of Thought and Being.
Ending, I permit myself to turn once more to the shade of Kołłątaj, and finish in his words:
“Let us begin without looking round to see who will correct us afterwards”.