WHERE DOES THE DIFFERENCE OF CIVILISATIONS COME FROM?
What factors caused the spiritual differentiation into these highest groups of fundamentally different attitudes and social self-consciousness which we call civilisations?
Very different answers have been given to this question. Koneczny deals with it in his major works extensively and with precision.
Not only the materialistic doctrine of history, which became the central dogma of Marxist Socialism, but also other opinions, which merit to be treated more seriously, consider technics and economy as decisive; according to L. H. Morgan and the Marxist school the whole of culture is only a function of given conditions of production, and the different civilisations are only expressions of different degrees of ergological development. Koneczny’s answer is negative; the inductive examination of historical facts proves that technics determines only the cultural grade within one given civilisation, but not the kind of civilisation. Quantitative degrees are something quite different than qualitative, essential differences.
Koneczny rejects also the anthropological view of history as to the decisive importance of race.
He treats much more seriously the view of the dependence of civilisation on language: he agrees that languages differ very much in their usefulness as tools of the expression of the life of the human spirit. There are languages of good and of bad “method”, practical and unpractical languages; languages which are an obstacle or a stimulus to spiritual progress. It is possible to speak of a hierarchy of languages. But language does not compel. So in conclusion, the answer is also here a negative one.
CIVILISATIONS AND RELIGIONS.
ARE THE CIVILISATIONS PRODUCTS OF RELIGIONS?
The question concerning the relation between civilisation and religion is of central importance. Are the civilisations created by religions? Is a civilisation a thing, produced somehow by religious collective experiences and living thenceforward its own life and following its puzzling, inner laws of existence? Such was more or less Spengler’s view of the matter.
Koneczny, through his sharp definition of the element of civilisation as something quite distinct from the sphere of religion (in spite of multiple overlappings which make the recognition of the true content of the problems here particularly difficult), has extricated the history of ideas from a deviation which seemed almost inevitable. To this deviation Spengler easily succumbed, although none of his critics to our knowledge has noted this as an error. Koneczny had supplied a solution already, when Spengler’s books were not yet written.
The current linguistic usage speaks without differentiation about Christian, Islamic or Buddhist civilisation. That close relations between religion and civilisation exist is certain; they are manifold and often not without contradictions. The inductive method, with which Koneczny examined the entangled complex of facts and questions, conducted him first to the important distinction between sacral, semi-sacral and non-sacral civilisations. A religion creates a civilisation when, and only when, the spheres of all five existential categories are embraced by the sacral legislation, and when the religion as such gives normative rules which embrace also hygiene, economy, art and science. There are only two such sacral civilisations: the Jewish and the Braminical. In these two cases religion and civilisation overlap; the problem of relationship between religion and civilisation is solved; in all other cases this relationship has yet to be examined.
CHRISTIANITY AND CIVILISATION
For the Christian part of humanity the thesis of coincidence of religion and civilisation is hardly applicable. The current expression of “Christian civilisation” is in the highest degree misleading; there is neither a unique Christian civilisation whose subdivisions would correspond to the different Christian denominations, nor are there borderlines between civilisations within the Christian sphere, identical with the borderlines of denominations. The Byzantine world, which stands dogmatically very close to Catholicism, is in the sphere of civilisation fundamentally different from the West, and on the other hand Protestantism, which rejects a substantial part of Catholic dogma and does not recognise the Catholic notion of Church, has not transformed in any fundamental way the civilisation which the Protestant nations inherited from their Catholic past. It is so because civilisation and religion are, despite the manifold connection between them, two distinct orders; and a solution of the basic problem of the science of civilisations is not possible without keeping the notions of them strictly apart.
Christianity refused to create a sacral civilisation. It made sacral only one institution of human social life: matrimony. The Gospels deal only with one of the categories of the Quincunx of existential values: with the category of the morally good. But in spite of this, the influence of Christianity, or to speak more strictly, of Catholic Christianity, upon the entire civilisation of the Catholic, or formerly Catholic nations, is an undeniable fact.
At her entry into the cultural world of the antique Mediterranean the young Church found herself in face of a highly developed civilisation. The temptation arose to take a hostile attitude towards this civilisation, which was in the closest way connected with paganism. But the Church did not succumb to this temptation. On the contrary, she took towards the antique civilisation the attitude which has been taken by the Christian mission during the whole of her history towards every civilisation which she meets, the lowest as well as the highest. She approached and approaches every civilisation with four inflexible moral demands. These four moral postulates of Christendom are:
the abolition of private justice (blood-feud) and the transfer of its functions to public administration;
the independence of Church from State.
Koneczny calls these four postulates quite simply the “four wedges” which Christianity drives into every civilisation. The first and fourth postulates are unconditional; with the second and third Christianity allows a gradual state of transition. Everything, which does not oppose any of these four Christian demands, can remain.
By the introduction of the third postulate the Church also became a political educator of nations and sometimes, even the creator of the State.
Thus also was the mutual interpenetration of Christianity and of antique civilisation created. Christianity became impregnated with antique civilisation; this was permissible and possible to Christianity without in the least degree influencing its own religious essence; it was quite enough to dismiss from earthly civilisation everything which contradicted the morality of the Gospel. And in this way Christian Rome became the preserver and continuator of the old classical civilisation, from which, through long centuries of educative work by the Catholic Church, Western civilisation emerged. The seeming paradox that just this religion which makes nothing sacral excepting matrimony, which does not identify itself with any single civilisation, not even with the one which was formed by it, has exerted the greatest cultural influence and transformed to the greatest extent the whole existence of the peoples which embraced it. Christianity is according to Koneczny the opposite pole to Buddhism; this religion (as also Islam, in part), allows itself to be transformed by civilisation and submits to it, whereas Christianity forms civilisation and conquers it. For Buddhism the world is radically wicked, because every earthly being is to it essentially unholy; in opposition to it. Christianity, in spite of its rejection of sacralisation, teaches that every step in life can and even should be sanctified; the Gospel contains no private law and no public law, but it has transformed the face of the earth.
But not all forms of Christianity have influenced civilisation in an equal way. There is a fundamental difference which separates Western Christendom from Eastern. The difference consists in this: that only Catholicism has treated the fourth basic postulate with complete and uncompromising preemptoriness. The different forms of Eastern Christendom have done otherwise. Koneczny (to whom his precise knowledge of East-European and Asiatic history in those centuries which correspond to the Western middle ages supplied an enormous store of facts), consecrated very detailed studies also to Byzantine Christianity. He gave similar attention to Nestorianism, which had in Central Asia during long centuries an importance not remotely suspected by the general body of European historians, in spite of a number of special monographs. Koneczny’s works contain collections of an enormous wealth of highly interesting facts, which should lay claim to the highest attention since they throw an unexpectedly clear light not only upon the history of Asia, but also upon the whole history of mankind.
Very few among us know how deeply the Nestorian missionary activity progressed in Central Asia; in fact, a very substantial part of the Ural-Altaic peoples of Central Asia, to which the Turkic group and the Mongols belong, were in early and high middle ages converted to the Nestorian form of Christendom. There was in Mongol history a real Christian period. Koneczny even believes he can rightly speak of “Mongol crusades”.1 Undertaken with well disciplined super-armies, they had far greater penetrating force than had the European crusades and were much more dangerous to the Islamic states than those; the European expeditions were not in the military sense at all “modern” as was the then highly progressive military force of the Mongols.
All this once vast Nestorian Christendom of Central Asia has ceased to exist; Mongol Christianity has disappeared from history without trace. Kipchak became Moslem, and in Mongolia proper Buddhism became overwhelmingly dominant. It is only with difficulty that we find here and there a few effaced traces of the lost Christian communities in the ruins of old Mongol cities.
The answer to the disquieting question as to how all this could have happened, lies, according to Koneczny, in this: that this Central Asiatic Christianity was only a “defective” form a Christianity which did not dare to change radically a society whose whole structure ignored the most fundamental demands of the Christian religion. The civilisation which Christianity here encountered was the Turanian, with which a conflict of quite other dimensions was necessary than had been the case with the classical-antique. Nestorian Christendom neglected to undertake this conflict; it simplified its task by minimising it and by taking an opportunist attitude. It embarked upon impracticable compromises, it weakened its own fundamental moral demands in adaptation to the non-Christian environment, the Christianisation of which was anything but an easy task. It renounced the radical adoption of its own fundamental postulates and submitted completely to a civilisation which contained quite irreconcilable elements. The result was a self-disintegration of this defective Christianity; in its inconsistent compromise it was right from the beginning doomed to defeat and absorption by the rigorous compactness of the Turanian civilisation.
It seems to be Koneczny’s principal aim to show the Turanian civilisation as the opposite pole of the Western civilisation, moulded by Rome. We consider the introduction of the notion of Turanian civilisation as one of his greatest merits. Spengler did not notice this civilisation at all. Perhaps he did not know it. Perhaps he did not want to see it and neglected it because it did not do him the favour of fitting into his aprioristic scheme of biological cultural developments.
According to Koneczny a low estimate of the element of religion and in general of the spiritual element is typical for the Turanian civilisation; the central value in the sphere of Turanian civilisation is the political element; everything has to be subordinated to it. The religious ingenium is missing in the Turanian civilisation; in essence, the Turanian man is a-religious, what does not necessarily mean that he is hostile towards religion. On the contrary, the Mongol political power was quite tolerant in religious matters. The Mongols established the first real totalitarian state in history; but this state differed from the modern ones in its tolerance in religious matters. This “liberalism” in matters of ideology and almost absolute religious tolerance were very much to its advantage. However, this did not flow from respect for the sphere of conscience, nor for human liberty of thought, but can rather be simply explained by the lack of importance which the religious element had for Turanian man. In fact, all the religions which penetrated into the sphere of Turanian civilisation became degenerated and in part corrupted; and even Christianity did not prove an exception from this.
A quite typical representative of the Turanian civilisation is Temudzhin, the last of the Genghis Khans.2
Byzantine Christianity, again, is according to Koneczny slightly defective; it did not treat seriously the fourth of the fundamental Christian postulates. The consequence was a Church subjected to the State, the using of religion for worldly and political purposes, a stagnation, a stiffening, a decline.
The Western Church, on the contrary, facilitated and supported the development of a “society” whose possibilities of development everywhere in the East were suppressed.
The final result of the investigation of the problem of relation between religion and civilisation is in consequence rather negative: there is no general parallelism between civilisations and religions. The problem of the origin of civilisations is solved only for the sacral civilisations. It still remains open for the non-sacral ones. Only one provisional conclusion has been arrived at, namely that the final solution of the problem can only lie in the spiritual sphere, because the spiritual factors are incomparably more decisive than the material.