[Transcriber's note: The typographical errors of the original are preserved in this etext.]
CIVILIZATION AND BEYOND
Learning From History
By Scott Nearing
This book is not copyrighted. It may be reproduced by anybody and distributed in any quantity as a whole. It should not be summarized, abbreviated, garbled or chopped into out-of-context fragments.
Social Science Institute, Harborside, Maine
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Preface INTRODUCTION: Thoughts about History and Civilization
PART I The Pageant of Experiments with Civilization 1. Experiments in Egypt and Eurasia 2. Rome's Outstanding Experiment 3. The Origins of Western Civilization 4. The Life Cycle of Western Civilization 5. Features Common to Civilizations
PART II A Social Analysis of Civilization 6. The Politics of Civilization 7. The Economics of Civilization 8. The Sociology of Civilization 9. Ideologies of Civilization
PART III Civilization Is Becoming Obsolete 10. World-wide Revolution Disrupts Civilization 11. Western Civilization Attempts Suicide 12. Talking Peace and Waging War
PART IV Steps Beyond Civilization 13. Ten Building Blocks for a New World 14. Moving Toward World Federation 15. Integrating a World Economy 16. Conserving our Natural Environment 17. Re-vamping the Social Life of the Planet 18. Man Could Change Human Nature 19. Man Could Break Out of the Age-Long Prison-House of Civilization and Enter a New World
LEARNING FROM HISTORY
Human history may be viewed from various angles. The easiest history to write concerns the doings of a few well known people and their involvement in some memorable events. History may also concern itself with inventions and discoveries: the use of fire, of the wheel or smelting metals. It may center around sources of food, means of shelter, or the making of records. It may be concerned with the construction and decoration of cities, kingdoms and empires.
Social history enters the picture with travel, transportation, communication, trade. Human beings group themselves in families, clans and tribes, in voluntary associations; they compete, plunder, conquer, enslave, exploit; they co-operate for construction and destruction. Political history is but one aspect of man's group contacts and group projects.
There have been histories of particular civilizations and of civilization as a field of historical research. With minor exceptions none of the authors that I have consulted has attempted an analytical treatment of civilization as a sociological phenemenon.
Scientists start from hunches, examine available data, advance tentative conclusions, test them in the light of wider observations, and round out their research by formulating general principles or "laws." This scientific approach has been used in many fields of observation and study. I am applying the formula to one aspect of social history: the appearance, development, maturity, decline and disappearance of the vast co-ordinations of collective, experimental human effort called civilizations.
"Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, where are they?" asked Byron. He might have added: "What were they? How did they come into being? What was the nature of their experience? Why did they rise from small beginnings, develop into wide-spread colossal complexes of wealth and power, and then, after longer or shorter periods of existence, break up and disappear from the stage of social history?"
Such questions are far removed from the lives of people who are busy with everyday affairs. In one sense they are remote; in the larger picture, however, they are of vital concern to anyone and everyone now living in civilized communities. If Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Carthaginians built extensive empires and massive civilizations that flourished for a time, then broke up and disappeared, are we to follow blindly and unthinkingly in their footsteps? Or do we study their experiences, benefit from their successes and learn from their mistakes? Can we not take lessons out of their voluminous notebooks, avoid their blunders and direct our own feet along paths that fulfil our lives at the same time that they meet the widespread demand for survival and well-being?
Civilization has been extensively experimental. Several thousand years, during which civilizations have appeared, disappeared and reappeared, have been too brief to establish and stabilize a hard and fast social pattern. As the complexity of civilizations has increased, variations and deviations have grown in number and intensity. With the advent of western civilization a culture pattern is being put together which differs widely from its predecessors.
All civilized peoples seem to have developed from simple beginnings and experimented with broader and more complicated life styles. In western civilization the number of experiments has increased and the span of their deviations seems to have broadened. Under the circumstances an analysis of civilization must take for granted not only social change but the development of, human society along lines which link up the outstanding structural and functional ideas, institutions and practices of successive civilizations.
I propose in this inquiry to state certain accepted facts from the history of civilizations and of contemporary experience. I also propose to analyze the facts and generalize them in such a way that the results of the study may provide an understanding of the human social past, together with some guide-lines that will prove useful in the formulation and implementation of the present-day policy and procedure of civilized peoples, nations, empires and of the western civilization.
This book is not a popular treatise, nor is it a textbook. Rather. it is an attempt to summarize an area of critical human concern. Academia may not use such material: nevertheless it should be available to students and administrators who must plan and direct the social future of humankind.
Civilization and Beyond rounds out a series of studies that I began in 1928 with Where Is Civilization Going? The series has extended through The Twilight of Empire (1930), War (1931) and The Tragedy of Empire (1946). Up to 1914 my field of study was confined largely to the economics of distribution. The war of 1914-18 pushed me rudely and decisively into the broader field. I have described the process in my political autobiography: Making of a Radical (1971).
I hope that this study will provide a useful link in the chain of material dealing with the structure and function of man's social environment, leading directly into an action program that will conclude the preservation and loving economical use of nature's rich gifts and the dedication of thousands of young aspiring men and women to the good life here, now and indefinitely, into a bright, productive and creative future.
As of this date seven publishers have examined the manuscript of this work and declined to publish it. All felt that it would not find any considerable reading public. Nevertheless, I feel that the work should be printed and distributed because it carries a message that may be of first rate importance to the future of my fellow humans.
Harborside, Maine May 5, 1975
THOUGHTS ABOUT HISTORY AND CIVILIZATION
We may think and talk about civilization as one pattern or level of culture, one stage through which human life flows and ebbs. In that sense we may regard it abstractly and historically, as we regard the most recent ice age or the long and painful record of large-scale chattel slavery.
From quite another viewpoint we may think of civilization as a technologically advanced way of life developed by various peoples through ages of unrecorded experiment and experience, and followed by millions during the period of written history. It is also the way of life that the West has been trying to impose upon the entire human family since European empires launched their crusade to westernize, modernize and civilize the planet Earth.
A third approach would regard civilization as an evolving life style, conceived before the earliest days of recorded human history and matured through the series of experiments marking the development of civilization as we have known it during the five centuries from 1450 to 1975.
Thinking in terms of this age-old experience, with six or more thousand years of social history as a background, it is possible to give a fairly exact meaning to the word "civilization" as it has been lived and is being lived by the present-day West. It is also possible to understand the history of previous civilizations in cycle after cycle of their rise, their development, decline and extinction. At the same time it will enable the reader to recognize the relationship (and difference) between the words "culture" and "civilization".
Human culture is the sum total of ideas, relationships, artifacts, institutions, purposes and ideals currently functioning in any community. Three elements are present in each human society: man, nature and the social structure. Human culture at any point in its history is the social structure: the aggregate of existing culture traits, the products of man's ingenuity, inventiveness and experimentation, set in their natural environment.
Civilization is a level of culture built upon foundations laid down through long periods of pre-civilized living. These foundations consist of artifacts, implements, customs, habit patterns and institutions produced and developed in numerous scattered localities by groups of food-gatherers, migrating herdsmen, cultivators, hand craftsmen and traders and eventually in urban communities built around centers of wealth and power: the cities which are the nuclei of every civilization.
Urban centers, housing trade, commerce, fabrication and finance, with their hinterlands of food-gatherers, herdsmen, cultivators, craftsmen and transporters, are the nuclei around which and upon which recurring civilizations are built. Within and around these urban centers there grows up a complex of associations, activities, institutions and ideas designed to promote, develop and defend the particular life pattern.
A civilization is a cluster of peoples, nations and empires so related in time and space that they share certain ideas, practices, institutions and means of procedure and survival. Among these features of a civilized community we may list:
(1) means of communication, record-keeping, transportation and trade. This would include a spoken language, a method of enumeration, writing in pictographs or symbols; an alphabet, a written language, inscribed on stone, bone, wood, parchment, paper; means of preserving the records of successive generations; paths, roads, bridges; a system for educating successive generations; meeting places and trading points; means for barter or exchange;
(2) an interdependent urban-oriented economy based on division of labor and specialization; on private property in the essential means of production and in consumer goods and services; on a competitive survival struggle for wealth, prestige and power between individuals and social groups; and on the exploitation of man, society and nature for the material benefit of the privileged few who occupy the summit of the social pyramid;
(3) a unified, centralized political apparatus or bureaucracy that attempts to plan, direct and administer the political, economic, ideological and sociological structure;
(4) a self-selected and self-perpetuating oligarchy that owns the wealth, holds the power and pulls the strings;
(5) an adequate labor force for farming, transport, industry, mining;
(6) large middle-class elements: professionals, technicians, craftsmen, tradesmen, lesser bureaucrats, and a semi-parasitic fringe of camp-followers;
(7) a highly professional, well-trained, amply-financed apparatus for defense and offense;
(8) a complex of institutions and social practices which will indoctrinate, persuade and when necessary limit deviation and maintain social conformity;
(9) agreed religious practices and other cultural features.
This description of civilization covers the essential features of western civilization and the sequence of predecessor civilizations for which adequate records exist.
Successive civilizations have introduced new culture traits and abandoned old ones as the pageant of history moved from one stage to the next, or advanced and retreated through cycles. Using this description as a working formula, it is possible to understand the development followed in the past by western civilization, to estimate its current status and to indicate its probable outcome.
Long-established thought-habits cry aloud in protest against such a description of civilization. Until quite recently the word "civilization" has been used in academic circles to symbolize a social idea or ideal. Professor of History Anson D. Morse of Amherst College presents such a view in his Civilization and the World War (Boston: Ginn 1919). For him, civilization is "the sum of things in which the heritage of the child of the twentieth century is better than that of the child of the Stone Age. As a process it is the perfection of man and mankind. As an end, it is the realization of the highest ideal which men are capable of forming.... The goal of civilization ... is human society so organized in all of its constituent groups that each shall yield the best possible service to each one and thereby to mankind as a whole, (producing) the perfect organization of humanity." (page 3).
Such thoughts may be noble and inspired; they are not related to history. We know more or less about a score of civilizations that have occupied portions of the earth during several thousand years. We know a great deal about the western civilization which we observe and in which we participate. Professor Morse's florid words apply to none of the civilizations known to history. Certainly they are poles away from an accurate characterization of our own varient of this social pattern.
We are writing this introduction in an effort to make our word pictures of mankind and its doings correspond with the facts of social history. With the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, it is high time for us to exchange the clouds of fancy and the flowers of rhetoric for the solid ground of historical reality. The word "civilization" must generalize what has been and what is, as nearly as the past and present can be embodied in language.
Civilization is a level or phase of culture which has been attained and lost repeatedly in the course of social history. The epochs of civilization have not been distributed evenly, either in time or on the earth's surface. A combination of circumstances, political, economic, ideological, sociological, resulted in the Egyptian, the Chinese, the Roman civilizations. One of these was centered in North Africa, the second in Asia, the third in eastern Europe. All three spilled over into adjacent continents.
No two civilizations are exactly alike at any stage of their development. Each civilization is at least a partial experiment, a process or sequence of causal relationships, altered sequentially in the course of its life cycle.
These thoughts about culture and civilization should be supplemented by noting the relationship between civilizations and empires. An empire is a center of wealth and power associated with its economic and political dependencies. A civilization is a cluster or a succession of empires and/or former empires, co-ordinated and directed by one of their number which has established its leadership in the course of survival struggle.
The total body of historical evidence bearing on human experiments with civilization is extensive and impressive. It covers a large portion of the Earth's land surface, includes parts of Asia, Africa and Europe and extends sketchily to the Americas. In time it covers many thousands of years.
Experiments with civilization have been conducted in highly selective surroundings possessing the volume and range of natural resources and the isolation and remoteness necessary to build and maintain a high level of culture over substantial periods of time. In these special areas it was possible to provide for subsistence, produce an economic surplus large enough to permit experimentation and ensure protection against human and other predators. Egypt and the Fertile Crescent were surrounded by deserts and high mountains. Crete was an island, extensive but isolated. Productive river valleys like the Yang-tse, the Ganges and the Mekong have afforded natural bases for experiments with civilization. Similar opportunities have been provided by strategic locations near bodies of water, mineral deposits and the intersections of trade-routes. Others, less permanent, were located in the high Andes, on the Mexican Plateau, in the Central American jungles.
Histories of civilizations, some of them ancient or classical, have been written during the past two centuries. There have been general histories in many languages. There have been scholarly reports on particular civilizations. Prof. A.J. Toynbee's massive ten volume Study of History is a good example. Still more extensive is the thirty volume history of civilization under the general editorship of C.K. Ogden. These writings have brought together many facts bearing chiefly on the lives of spectacular individuals and episodes, with all too little data on the life of the silent human majority.
At the end of this volume the reader will find a list, selected from the many books that I have consulted in preparation for writing this study. Most of these authorities are concerned with the facts of civilization, with far less emphasis on their political, economic and sociological aspects.
In this study I have tried to unite theory with practice. On the one hand I have reviewed briefly and as accurately as possible some outstanding experiments with civilization, including our own western variant. (Part I. The Pageant of Experiments with Civilization.) In Part II I have undertaken a social analysis of civilization as a past and present life style. In Part III, Civilization Is Becoming Obsolete, I have tried to check our thinking about civilization with the sweep of present day historical trends. Part IV, Steps Beyond Civilization, is an attempt to list some of the alternatives and opportunities presently available to civilized man.
Any reader who has the interest and persistence to read through the entire volume and to browse through some of its references will have had the equivalent of a university extension course dealing with one of the most critical issues confronting the present generation of humanity.
The Pageant of Experiment With Civilization
EXPERIMENTS IN EGYPT AND EURASIA
Thousands of years before the city of Rome was ringed with its six miles of stone wall, other peoples in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa were building civilizations. New techniques of excavation, identification and preservation, subsidized by an increasingly affluent human society, and developed during the past two centuries of archeological research have provided the needed means and manpower. The result is an imposing number of long buried building sites with their accompanying artifacts. Still more important are the records written in long forgotten languages on stone, clay tablets, metal, wood and paper. These remnants and records, left by extinguished civilizations, do not tell us all we wish to know, but they do provide the materials which enable us to reconstruct, at least in part, the lives of our civilized predecessors.
Extensive in time and massive in the volume of their architecture are the remains of Egyptian civilization. The earliest of these fragments date back for more than six thousand years.
The seat of Egyptian civilization was the Nile Valley and its estuary built out into the Mediterranean Sea from the debris of disintegrating African mountains. Annual floods left their silt deposits to deepen the soil along the lower reaches of the river. River water, impounded for the purpose, provided the means of irrigating an all but rainless desert countryside. Skillful engineering drained the swamps, adding to the cultivable area of a narrow valley cut by the river through jagged barren hills. Deserts on both sides of the Nile protected the valley against aggressors and migrants. Within this sanctuary the Egyptians built a civilization that lasted, with a minor break, for some 3,000 years.
Egyptian temples and tombs carry records chiseled and painted on hard stone, which throw light on the life and times of upper-class Egyptians, including emperors, provincial governors, courtiers, generals, merchants, provincial organizers. In a humid, temperate climate these stone-cut and painted records would have been eroded, overgrown and obliterated long ago. In the dry desert air of North Africa they have preserved their identity through the centuries.
Since the Egyptians had a few draft animals, and little if any power-driven machinery, energy needed to build massive stone temples, tombs and other public structures must have been supplied by the forced labor of Egyptians, their serfs and slaves.
Egypt's history dawns on a well-organized society: The Old Kingdom, based on the productivity of the narrow, lush Nile Valley. The products of the Valley were sufficient to maintain a large population of cultivators: some slave, some forced labor, about which we have little knowledge; a bureaucracy, headed by a supreme ruler whose declared divinity was one of the chief stabilizing forces of the society. Between its agricultural base and its ruling monarch, the Old Kingdom had a substantial middle class which procured the wood, stone, metals and other materials needed in construction; a corps of engineers, technicians and skilled workers, and a substantial mass of humanity which provided the energy needed to erect the temples, monuments and other remains which testify to the political, economic, and cultural competence of the ruling elements and the technical skills present in the Old Kingdom.
Foremost among the factors responsible for the success of the Old Kingdom was the close partnership between the "lords temporal" and the "lords spiritual"—the state and the church. The state consisted of a highly centralized monarchy ruled by a Pharoah who personified temporal authority. This authority was strengthened because it represented a consensus of the many gods recognized and worshiped by the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom. The monarch was also looked upon as an embodiment of divinity. Some Egyptian pharoahs had been priests who became rulers. Others had been rulers who became priests. The two aspects of public life—political and religious—were closely interrelated.
In theory the land of Egypt was the property of the Pharoah. Foreign trade was a state monopoly. In practice the ownership and use of land were shared with the temples and with those members of the nobility closest to the ruling monarch. Hence there were state lands and state income and temple lands and temple income. The use of state lands was alloted to favorites. Each temple had land which it used for its own purposes.
Political power in the Old Kingdom was a tight monopoly held by the ruling dynasty of the period. During preceding epochs it seems likely that rival groups or factions had gone through a period of power-survival struggle which eliminated one rival after another until economic ownership and political authority were both vested in the same ruling oligarchs. This struggle for consolidation apparently reached its climax when Menes, a pharoah who began his rule about 3,400 B.C., in the south of Egypt, invaded and conquered the Delta and merged the two kingdoms, South and North, into one nation which preserved its identity and its sovereignty until the Persian Conquest of 525 B.C.
The unification of the northern kingdom with the South seems to have been a slow process, interrupted by insurrections and rebellions in the Delta and in Lybia. Inscriptions report the suppression of these insurrections and give the number of war-captives brought to the south as slaves. In one instance the captives numbered 120,000 in addition to 1,420 small cattle and 400,000 large cattle.
Using these war captives to supplement the home supply of forced and free labor, successive dynasties built temples, palaces and tombs; constructed new cities; drained and irrigated land; sent expeditions to the Sinai peninsula to mine copper. Such enterprises indicate a considerable economic surplus above that required to take care of a growing population: the high degree of organization required to plan and assemble such enterprises, and the considerable engineering and technological capacity necessary for their execution.
Chief among the binding forces holding together the extensive apparatus known as the Old Kingdom was religion, with its gods, its temples and their generous endowments. Each locality consolidated into the Old Kingdom had its gods and their places for worship. In addition to these local religious centers there was an hierarchy of national deities, their temples, temple lands and endowments. The ruling monarch, who was official servitor of the national gods, interpreting their will and adding to the endowments of the temples, was the embodiment of secular and of religious authority.
Egyptians of the period believed that death was not an end, but a transition. They also believed that those who passed through the death process would have many of the needs and wants associated with life on the Earth. Furthermore they believed that in the course of their future existence those who had died would again inhabit the bodies that they had during their previous existences on Earth. Following out these beliefs the Egyptians put into their tombs a full assortment of the food, clothing, implements and instruments which they had used during their Earth life. They also embalmed the bodies of their dead with the utmost care and buried them in carefully hidden tombs where they would be found by their former users and occupied for the Day of Judgment.
Holding such views, preparation for the phase of life subsequent to death was a chief object of the early Egyptian rulers and their subjects. One of the preoccupations of each new occupant of the throne was the selection of his burial place. Early in his reign he began the construction of suitable quarters for the reception of his embalmed body. The great pyramids were such tombs. Other monarchs constructed rock-hewn chambers for the reception of their bodies. In these chambers in addition to a room for a sarcophagus were associated rooms in which every imaginable need of the dead was stored: food, clothing, furniture, jewelry, weapons.
Adjacent to the royal tomb favored nobles received permission to build their own tombs, similarly equipped but on a smaller, less grandiose scale than that of the pharaoh. By this means the courtiers who had attended the pharaoh in his life-time would be at hand to perform similar services in the after death existence.
Construction and maintenance of temples and tombs absorbed a considerable part of Egypt's economic surplus. These drains on the economy grew more extensive as the country became more populous and more productive. Thanks to the lack of rain in and near the Nile Valley and despite the depleting activities of persistent vandalism these constructs have stood for thirty centuries as monuments to one of the most extensive and elaborate civilizations known to historians. Despite the absence of detailed records, Egyptian achievements under the Old Kingdom indicate an abundance of food, wood, metal and other resources far in excess of survival requirements; a population sufficiently extensive to produce the necessaries of existence and a surplus which made it possible for the lords temporal and spiritual to erect such astonishing and enduring monuments; high levels of technical skills among woodsmen, quarrymen and building crews; the transport facilities by land and water required to assemble the materials, equipment and man power; the foresight, planning, timing and over-all management involved in such constructs as the pyramids, temples and tombs which have withstood the wear and tear of thousands of years; the willingness and capacity of professionals, technicians, skilled workers, and the masses of free and slave labor to co-exist and co-operate over the long periods required for the completion of such extensive structural projects; the utilization of an extensive economic surplus not primarily for personal mass or middle-class consumption but to enhance the power and glory of a tiny minority, its handymen and other dependents; and a considerable middle class of merchants, managers and technicians.
Speaking sociologically, the structure of Egyptian society from sometime before 3,400 B.C., to 525 B.C., passed through four distinct phases or stages. During the first phase, the Nile Valley, which had been separated by tribal and/or geographical boundaries into a large number of more or less independent units, was consolidated, integrated and organized into a single kingdom. This working, functioning area (the land of Egypt) could provide for most of its basic needs from within its own borders. In a sense it was a self-sufficient, workable, liveable area. Egypt was populous, rich, well organized, with a surplus of wealth, productivity and man-power that could be used outside of its own frontiers. Some of the surplus was used outside—to the south, into Central Africa, to the west into North Africa, to the north into Eastern Europe and Western Asia, inaugurating the second phase of Egyptian development. During this second phase Egyptian wealth, population and technology, spilling over its frontiers onto foreign lands, established and maintained relations with foreign territory on a basis that yielded a yearly "tribute," paid by foreigners into the Egyptian treasury. The land of Egypt thus surrounded itself with a cluster of dependencies, converting what had been an independent state or independent states into a functioning empire.
The land of Egypt was the nucleus of the Egyptian Empire—center of wealth and power with its associates and its dependencies. The empire was held together by a legal authority using armed force where necessary to assert or preserve its identity and unity.
Expansion, the third phase of Egyptian development, involved the export of culture traits and artifacts beyond national frontiers, extending the cultural influence of Egypt into non-Egyptian lands inhabited by Egypt's neighbors. Merchants, tourists, travelers, explorers and military adventurers carried the name and fame of Egypt into other centers of civilization and into the hinterland of barbarism that surrounded the civilizations of that period.
Thus the land of Egypt expanded into the Egyptian Empire and the culture of Egypt (its language, its ideas, its artifacts, its institutions) expanded far beyond the boundaries of Egyptian political authority and established Egyptian civilization in parts of Africa, Asia and Europe.
The era of Egyptian civilization was divided into two periods by an invasion of the Hyksos, nomadic leaders who moved into Egypt, ruled it for a period and later were expelled and replaced by a new Egyptian dynasty.
The fourth period of Egypt's experiment with civilization was that of decline. From a position of political supremacy and cultural ascendancy Egyptian influence weakened politically, economically, ideologically and culturally until the year of the Persian Conquest, 525 B.C., when Egypt became a conquered, occupied, provincial and in some ways a colonial territory.
Egyptian civilization can be summed up in three sentences. It covered the greatest time span of any civilization known to history. Its monuments are the most massive. Its records, chiefly in stone, picture massed humans directed for at least thirty centuries toward providing a satisfying and rewarding after-life for a tiny favored minority of its population. To achieve this result, the natural resources of three adjacent continents were combined and concentrated into the Nile Valley through an effective imperial apparatus that enabled the Egyptians to exploit the resources and peoples of adjacent Africa, Asia and Europe for the enrichment and empowerment of the rulers of Egypt and its dependencies. The disintegration and collapse of Egyptian civilization occupied only a small fraction of the time devoted to its upbuilding and supremacy.
Before, during and after Egyptians played their long and distinguished parts in the recorded history of civilization, the continent of Asia was producing a series of civilization in four areas: first at the crossroads joining Africa and Europe to Asia; then in Western Asia (Asia Minor); in Central Asia, especially in India and Indonesia and finally in China and the Far East.
Experiments with civilization during the past six thousand years have centered in the Eurasian land mass, including the North African littoral of the Mediterranean Sea. Within this area of potential or actual civilization, until very recent times, the centers of civilization have been widely separated geographically and temporally. Occasionally they have been unified and integrated by some unusual up-thrust like that of the Egyptian, the Chinese or the Roman civilizations. In the intervals between these up-thrusts various centers of civilization have maintained a large degree of autonomy and isolation. Only in the past five centuries have communication, transportation, trade and tourism created the basis for an experiment in organizing and coordination of a planet-wide experiment in civilization.
Nature offered humankind two logical areas for the establishment of civilizations. One was the cross-roads of migration, trade and travel by land to and from Asia, Africa and Europe. The other was the Mediterranean with its possibility of relatively safe and easy water-migration, trade and travel between the three continents making up its littoral. Both possibilities were brought together in the Eastern Mediterranean with its multitude of islands, its broken coastline, and its many safe harbors.
The Phoenicians developed their far-flung trading activities around the Mediterranean as a waterway, and the tri-continental crossroads as a logical center for a civilization built around business enterprise.
Aegean civilization occupied the eastern Mediterranean for approximately two thousand years. Its nucleus was the island of Crete. Its influence extended far beyond its island base into southern Europe, western Asia and North Africa. Experiments with civilization on and near the Indian sub-continent centered around the Indonesian archipelago and the rich, semi-tropical and tropical valleys of the Ganges, the Indus, the Gadari, the Irra-waddy and the Mekong. Although they were contiguous geographically and extended over a time span of approximately two thousand years they were aggregates rather than monolithic civilizations, retaining their localisms and avoiding any strong central authority.
Beginnings of civilization have been made outside the Asian-European-African triangle centering around the Mediterranean Sea and the band of South Asia extending from Mesopotamia through India and Indonesia to China. They include the high Andes, Mexico and Central America and parts of black Africa. In no one of these cases did the beginnings reach the stability and universality that characterized the Eurasian-African civilizations.
ROME'S OUTSTANDING EXPERIMENT
Among the many attempts to make the institutions and practices of civilization promote human welfare, Roman civilization deserves a very high rating. First, it was located in the eastern Mediterranean area, the home-site of so many civilizations. Second, it was part and parcel of a prolonged period of attempts by Egyptians, Assyrians, Hittites, Babylonians, Mycaenians, Phoenicians and others in the area to set up successful empires and to play the lead role in building a civilization that would be more or less permanent. Third, the Romans seemed to have the hardiness, adaptability, persistence and capacity for self-discipline necessary to carry such a long term project to a successful conclusion. Among the widely varied human groups occupying the eastern Mediterranean area between 1000 B.C. and 1000 A.D., the Romans seem to have been well qualified to win the laurel crown.
Western civilization is an incomplete experiment. Its outcome remains uncertain. Its future still hangs in the insecure balance between construction and destruction, between life and extinction. It is "our" civilization in a very real sense. It was developed by our forebears. We live as part of its complex of ideas, practices, techniques, institutions. Since we are in it and of it, it is difficult for us humans to judge it objectively.
Roman civilization, on the contrary, is a completed experiment, one that came into being, developed over several centuries, attained a zenith of wealth and power, then sank gradually from sight, until it lived only as a part of history. A study of Roman civilization has two advantages. First, its life cycle has been completed. Second, it is close enough to us in history and its records are so numerous and so well preserved that we can form a fairly accurate picture of its structure and its functions. It was written up extensively by the Romans themselves, by their Greek and other contemporaries and by a host of scholars and students; since the break-up of Roman civilization as a political, economic and cultural force in world affairs.
Rome's experiment is sometimes called Graeco-Roman civilization because Greece and Italy were close geographical neighbors and also because Greek culture, which reached its zenith by 500 B.C. and was closely paralleled by the rise of Roman culture, had a profound effect in determining the total character of Roman civilization. In a very real sense Graeco-Roman civilization was the parent of western civilization. Among the many completed civilizations of which we have fairly adequate records, those concerning Rome are most complete and most available.
The story of Roman civilization begins in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin in an era when Greek and Phoenician cities, together with segments and fragments of the Egyptian-Assyrian-Babylonian civilizations were competing for raw materials, trade and alliances. Egyptians had been supreme in the area for centuries. The Sumerian, Aegean, Chinese, Hittite, Assyrian and Indian civilizations had enjoyed periods of dominance but had never reached the level of supremacy enjoyed by the Egyptians.
When Rome came on the scene as a first-rate power, circa 300 B.C., the crucial land bridge joining Africa, Europe and Asia was being passed from hand to hand, with no power strong enough to succeed Egypt as the dominant political-economic-cultural force in the region. Historically speaking it was an interregnum, a period of transition. Egypt had ceased to dominate the public life of the area. The trading cities of the Greeks and the Phoenicians were pushing their way of life into the front ranks among the recognized powers. The kingdoms of Asia-Minor were still warring for supremacy in a field which none of the local kingdoms was able to dominate and hold for any considerable period of time.
Public affairs at the African-European-Asian crossroads were being periodically disturbed and upset by the intrusion of Asian marauders and nomads who came in successive waves, defeated and drove the native inhabitants off from the choicest land and settled down in their places, only to be pushed out in their turn by fresh Asian migrants.
The African-European-Asian triangle was a meeting place and a battle ground. Phoenician and Greek cities brought to this scene new factors and new forces: the rudiments of science; trade and commerce, including a money economy, accounting and cost keeping; the elements of economic organization; the conduct of public affairs by governments based on law rather than on the whim and word of a deified potentate; and the construction of cities and city states built on these foundations.
Rome entered the picture when the forces of political absolutism based upon an agriculture operated by serfs and slaves had fought themselves to a standstill and exhausted their historical usefulness. The times called for new forces capable of adapting themselves to a new culture pattern extending over a greatly enlarged world. The Romans, with their Greek associates, were in a position to fill the gap.
Romans lived originally in Latium, a small land area in southern Italy on the Tiber River far enough inland to be protected against pirates. They built a city which finally covered seven adjacent hills and developed a community of working farmers, merchants, craftsmen and professionals. The farms were small, averaging perhaps eight to fifteen acres, an area large enough to provide a family with a stable though meagre livelihood. The farmers were hard working and frugal.
At this period of Roman history and mythology Latium was one of many communities occupying Italy. Each was self-governing. Each took the steps necessary for survival and expansion. Like their neighbors, the inhabitants of Latium were prepared to defend themselves against piracy, brigandage and ambitious, aggressive rivals. Defense took the form of an embankment and a water-filled moat which surrounded the early settlements and provided shelter for herdsman and farmers in case of emergencies.
At some point in pre-history, presumably when Etruscan princes were in control of Roman affairs, the protective earth embankment which surrounded the Roman settlements was strengthened by building a moat 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep. Behind the moat was a stone wall 10 feet thick and 30 feet or more in height. Parts of this defense were built and rebuilt at various times. When completed they were about six miles in length, enclosing an area sufficient to accommodate the chief buildings of the city and living space for a population of perhaps 200,000 people.
The defenses were designed to prevent interference or intrusion into the life of the Romans. Behind them the inhabitants constructed temples, a forum, palaces and other public buildings, bringing in clean mountain water by an aqueduct that eventually reached a length of 44 miles, constructing an extensive system of drains and sewers that disposed of city wastes, building a network of roads that eventually gave the Romans access first to all parts of Italy and later to the entire Mediterranean Basin. They also replaced the wooden bridges over the Tiber and other rivers by stone bridges carried on stone piers and arches.
Early in their building activities the Romans learned to make a cement so weather-resistant that many of their constructs are still usable two thousand years after the Romans built them. These and similar building operations made Rome one of the show places of the Graeco-Roman world. They also provided for the Romans a level of stability and security far beyond that of their neighbors in that part of the unstable Italian peninsula.
At the time Rome was founded, presumably about 700 B.C., the Italian peninsula was occupied by a large number of principalities, kingdoms and tribal nomads, newly arrived from eastern Europe and Asia. The struggle for pasturage and fertile soil, for dwelling sites and trading opportunities, went on ceaselessly. Romans, like their neighbors and competitors, were reaching out to provide themselves with food, building materials, trade opportunities, strategic advantages. They expanded peacefully if possible, using diplomacy up to a certain point and only engaging in war as a last resort. But since the entire Italian peninsula was occupied by more or less independent groups, each of which was seeking a larger and safer place in the sun, the outcome was ceaseless diplomatic maneuvering, using war as an instrument of policy in the struggle for pelf and power. Four centuries of power struggle, in which Romans played an increasingly prominent role, gave the Roman Republic and its allies substantial control of the entire Italian peninsula. Beginning as one among many small independent states in Italy, the inhabitants of Latium emerged from four centuries of competitive diplomatic and military struggle as the de facto masters of all Italy.
Power struggles are carried on by contestants who occupy a particular land area with its resources and other advantages. Latium was small in extent (some 2,000 square miles) and had very limited natural advantages. Operating from this restricted base, through four centuries of diplomacy, intrigue and war, the Romans enlarged their base of operations to include the whole of Italy. In this crucial era of its history Rome expanded its geographic-economic base to a point from which it could use the natural and human resources of all Italy as a nucleus upon which to build the Roman Empire in Europe, West Asia and North Africa.
At the beginning of this period the Mediterranean Basin housed a number of African, Asian and European empires. Each exercised authority over a part of the Mediterranean littoral. Each empire was built around its central city or cities. Each empire had its distinctive institutions and practices. During these centuries all of the empires were defeated, conquered, occupied and either dismembered or otherwise brought under Roman control.
Extension of Roman authority, first over the Italian peninsula and subsequently over parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, was the result of a policy of expansion that was aggressively, persistently and patiently followed by Roman leaders and policy makers. Neighboring territories were amalgamated into the nucleus of the Roman Empire. More remote territories were associated by treaty as allies of Rome, as dependent or client dependencies of Rome, and as colonies or provinces of the Roman Empire. In all cases they were integral parts of an expanding political, economic and military sphere of influence with Rome, and later Italy, as the center and nucleus. In the course of this development the expanding Roman Empire grew to be the wealthiest and most powerful political, sociological and cultural unit in the Euro-Asian-African area.
The Roman imperial cycle spanned some thirteen centuries. During this period Roman life was transformed from its small, local seat of authority in Central Italy into its new stature as the outstanding power in the Mediterranean area. Economically it extended from peasant proprietorship and a use economy to a market-money economy; from a society of working peasant farmers to an economy resting upon war captives reduced to slavery; from an economy based on production for trade and profit to an economy based on power-grabbing, special privilege, speculation and corruption; from an austerity economy based on primary production to an economy based on affluence, exploitation, and gluttony.
These revolutionary transformations in the Roman economy were accompanied, politically, by hardening of the division of Roman society along class lines with the resulting contradictions, antagonisms, and class struggles, including open class warfare.
Domestic contradictions, confrontations, civil strife and formal civil war were present throughout the entire history of Rome. They existed in embryo in the earliest days of the original settlements on the seven hills over which the city of Rome eventually spread. As Rome and its interests became more complex socially and more extensive geographically the number and variety of contradictions, confrontations, civil and military conflicts increased correspondingly.
In terms of individual human lives the changes which took place in Roman society during the six or seven centuries that elapsed between the early Roman settlements and the reign of their Emperor Augustus were profound and far-reaching. Many communities of diverse and often incompatible backgrounds and interests were herded together, helter-skelter, into the City of Rome, Latium, the Italian nucleus and the subsequent alliances, federations, conquests, consolidations into colonies, occupied areas, provinces and spheres of influence. The greater the number and diversity of these interests and relationships, the greater the probability of conflict. This empire building process was not gradual and directed with scrupulous care to preserve the amenities and niceties of polite social intercourse. The job was done by and under the direction of military leaders who are traditionally in a hurry to get results. The subordinates who carried out military decisions were volunteer-professional soldiers, mercenary adventurers and conscripts drawn form the four corners of the empire. As the empire grew in extent and as its troubles multiplied, the military was more frequently called upon to take over and iron out difficulties.
Domestically, in the city of Rome and its immediate environs, there were several sharp lines of cleavage; between Roman citizens and non-citizens; between the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, the working proletariat and the idle proletariat; between the rich and the poor; between freeman (citizens) and the slaves who grew in numbers as the wars of conquest and consolidation multiplied war captives; between the civilian bureaucrats and the members of the military hierarchy.
In the brief period of maximum territorial expansion following the defeat and destruction of Carthage, the frontiers of the Roman Empire were pushed out ruthlessly, North, East, West and South. In the hurly-burly of rapid expansion individual rights were ignored, local communities and entire regions were overrun, depopulated and resettled with the tough disregard of individual and local interests that must characterize any quick, general movement—economic, sociological or military. If the expansion, expulsion and rehabilitation had produced greater degrees of stability and security for individuals and social groups they might have been tolerated and assimilated by the diverse populations caught up in the maelstrom of drastic expansion. But rapid, coercive social transformation produces neither stability nor security. Its normal consequence is chaos, conflict and further change. In the course of these internal conflicts the Roman Republic was gradually phased out. In theory it persisted until the establishment of the military dictatorship of Julius Caesar. Practically, while many of its forms remained, the conduct of public affairs passed more and more into the hands of political leaders who were able to command the backing of the legions.
When the first war against Carthage was launched in 265 B.C., Carthage was at the height of her power. Situated on the North African Coast almost directly across the Mediterranean from Italy, the Carthaginians were in effective control of the western Mediterranean. Carthage was firmly entrenched in Spain. It was trading extensively with the British Isles. Fleets of Carthaginian war ships patrolled the Mediterranean guarding against piracy and economic or political interference by rivals.
Roman political and business leaders, inexperienced in international political dealings and the promotion of international trade, found their further expansion to the west blocked by Carthaginian political, economic and military installations. The result of the confrontation was a series of three wars that began in 265 B.C., and ended in 146. During these 119 years an established power, Carthage, struggled to preserve its position against aggressive Roman efforts to take control of the West Mediterranean basin. The Carthaginians, under the able generalship of Hannibal, mobilized a military force (including elephants), marched from Spain over the Alpine passes into Italy reaching the gates of Rome. Romans countered with the slogan: "Carthage must be destroyed!" When the third Punic war ended in 146 B.C., with the defeat of the Carthaginian military forces, the city of Carthage was leveled.
The defeat of Carthage gave the Romans control of the western Mediterranean. During the same period Roman interests were pushing into East Europe and Western Asia. In 214 B.C., Philip of Macedon had made an alliance with Hannibal, directed against Rome. Consequently, three wars between Rome and Macedonia followed, the third ending in 168 B.C., with the defeat of the Macedonians and their subordination to Roman authority in the form of a Roman governor.
When opposition to Roman influence developed in Greece in 148 B.C., a commission of ten was appointed by the Roman Senate to settle affairs in the Greek peninsula. The city of Corinth was burned to the ground and its lands were confiscated. Thebes and Chalcis were also destroyed. The walls of all towns which had shared in the revolt against Rome were pulled down. All confederations between Greek cities were dissolved. Disarmament, isolation and Roman taxation were imposed on the Greek cities and the oversight of affairs was assigned to the Roman governor of neighboring Macedonia.
Successful wars against Syria and Egypt extended Roman control over additional territory in West Asia and North Africa. A map of Italy at the time of the Roman Federation in 268 B.C. shows Rome as the most powerful among two score minor associates in the federation. A map of the Roman Empire at the death of Augustus in 14 A.D. shows a Roman Empire extending from the Atlantic seaboard on the west to Central Europe on the north, the Black Sea on the east and a generous strip of Africa on the south.
Within three centuries Rome had expanded from its position as a minor state in Italy to the effective control of those portions of three continents which bordered the Mediterranean. Conquests during the following century further extended the Roman frontiers.
Under the Caesars Rome was a society in the throes of political transition. Roman Emperors, backed and frequently selected by the military, were exercising despotic power. They still paid lip service to the Constitution, an instrument that had relevance during the life of the defunct Republic. In the era of the Caesars the law slumbered and might ruled. The turbulent masses were fed and housed by the Roman Oligarchy to which the Emperors were ultimately responsible. The far flung territories conquered by military power and held by military occupation were subject to the authority of the same Roman Oligarchy.
Behind the shams, frauds and tyrannies of a political dictatorship paying lip service to the corpse of a defunct Republic lay the stark realities of a bankrupt economy. Throughout the era of the Caesars the Roman Empire continued to expand geographically. It also came into contact and conflict with peoples so remote from Italy that for them Rome was only a name for tyranny, extortion and exploitation. Julius Caesar and his immediate successors penetrated these remote territories, subjugating them, levying tribute, appointing governors and other officials, policing them, pretending to rule over them. To do this soldiers were marching on foot into regions that lay thousands of miles from the mother city. To be sure, they marched over Roman roads and bridges so well constructed that some of them are still being used at the present day.
But the excellence of Roman engineering could not match up to the implacable limitations of time and distance. Nor could they overlook the need for building the physical structure of Roman economy as they advanced into enemy territory. Equally decisive were the political consequences of the property confiscation and forced labor required to establish and maintain Roman power and enrich greedy Roman officials and their lackeys and overseers.
Rising overhead costs, with no corresponding growth of income, an empty treasury in Rome, and a persistent policy of fleecing the provinces to pay for the normal costs of bureaucracy, plus its extravagances and excesses, could lead to only one possible outcome. Higher taxes and more ruinous levies in the newly conquered provinces could not fill the insatiable maw of deficit spending.
Inflation was the immediate result, accompanied and followed by the debasement of currency and new expropriations of private property. Government expenses consistently exceeded income. The situation was aggravated by the growth of parasitic elements which persistently produced little or nothing and as persistently multiplied their luxuries and extravagances. The parasites grew richer. The impoverished masses suffered the normal deprivations of poverty plus the weight of steadily rising over-head costs. As Roman authority extended farther from its center, the chasm between its income and its out-go widened.
Slave labor aggravated the situation. There was a time when Roman farmers and craftsmen did their own work. That time ended with the enslavement of war captives who swamped the labor market. Like any parasitic growth, slavery and forced labor destroyed the fabric of a largely self-contained economy based on peasant proprietorship.
Roman economy was honey-combed with problems created by deficit spending, currency devaluation and exploitation. At its base was a foot-loose urban proletariat made up largely of refugees from a countryside given over increasingly to the employment of military captives as slave labor. The city masses at the outset were extensively unemployed. Increasingly they became unemployable, parasitic, restless, demanding.
At the outset the slave revolts were local and occasional. As the slaves grew more numerous unrest spread and hardened into organized resistance. Spartacus, a slave, led a revolt which mobilized armies, defeated the Roman legions in a series of battles and ended only with the death of Spartacus and the dispersal of his forces.
Local and provincial affairs under the Roman Empire were administered by a self-seeking corrupt bureaucracy.
Expansion by means of military conquest increased the influence of the military at the expense of the civilian administrators. The consequent burdens of militarism reached from the bottom to the top of Roman society. Eventually, under the Caesars, the military selected emperors from among the rivals for the purple of imperial authority, and used the legions under their command to protect and promote their own political fortunes, thus maintaining a form of latent and frequently open civil war.
Colonial unrest and provincial self-seeking were promoted by conspiracies among Rome's less dependable allies.
Wars of rivalry between Roman candidates for top preferment shifted the power-balance out of civilian hands into the grip of the military. Step by step and stage by stage the Roman Empire became a warfare state maintained at home and abroad by the intervention of the military. Wars of rivalry at home in Rome were paralleled by wars of rivalry abroad.
During the Era of the Caesars Rome became the Eurasian-African honey pot. Wealth centered there. Authority was enthroned there. Power was generated there. Throughout the sphere of Roman political influence, of trade and travel, the central position of Rome was recognized and acknowledged. Not only knowledge and authority, but folklore mushroomed, with Rome as its central theme. Asian nomads, searching for grass, Asian potentates seeking new worlds to conquer and plunder, heard of Rome and finally went there. All roads led to Rome. Thousands of miles of stone roads were built as binding forces to hold the Empire together and defend it against all possible enemies. It was along these roads that the legions marched as they pushed back potential invaders and extended the frontiers. It was these same roads and bridges that made easy and sure the advance of the Asian hordes that would one day occupy and loot the home city. Roads and bridges enabled Roman authority to maintain and extend itself. The same roads and bridges provided a freeway that led into the citadel of Roman power.
Under the Caesars the Roman Empire achieved its greatest geographical extent and exercised its widest cultural influence. The city of Rome was the capital of the western world. There was one state, one law, one economy, one official language, one military authority.
Despite its apparent massiveness, Roman civilization was not a monolith. Rather it was a conglomerate, consisting of many parts held together by connecting social tissues which Rome and Italy alone supplied. In the first instance there was a division into provinces, colonies and newly acquired territories. The provinces, under their Roman appointed governors, enjoyed a large measure of economic and cultural self-determination within the Roman Empire. Beyond the Roman Empire lay territories and peoples associated with Rome by treaties, bound to Rome by trade and travel, in some cases paying tribute to Rome, but enjoying sufficient autonomy as peoples, nations and empires maneuvering for position and advantage, frequently allying themselves with non-Roman areas and occasionally conspiring to by-pass Roman authority and even to challenge Roman supremacy.
This political diversity along the defense perimeter of the Roman Empire existed in a chaos ranging from questioned authority to open defiance and military challenges to Rome and the threat of Romanization. Along this defense perimeter were stationed the legions that guarded the frontiers. Across it moved trade, travel, incursions, invasions and periodic reprisals as a result of which the more turbulent neighbors were brought within the sphere of Rome's influence or, in cases of extreme dissidence and resistance, were depopulated, colonized and added to the Roman conglomerate.
It goes without saying that the influence of Roman culture extended far beyond the Roman defense perimeter, reaching peoples, nations and empires to which Rome was little more than a name. The no-man's land between what-was and what-was-not Rome not only existed in a state of perpetual uncertainty, but provided a battle field for the smuggling, brigandage, the periodic border clashes, the migrations, incursions, invasions and punitive expeditions that are the characteristic features of every ill-defined political boundary.
Roman civilization under the Caesars was a centralized absolutism with a large measure of peripheral deviation and autonomy. It was directed by a central oligarchy and patrolled, defended and extended by a military force unified in theory but in practice grouped around the outstanding personalities and subjected to the vagaries and upsets always associated with power politics in the hands of military backed political despots.
Roman civilization, like all social organisms, came into being, moved toward maturity, reached a plateau of fulfillment from which it declined, broke up and eventually disappeared into the interregnum known as the Dark Ages. The entire episode occupied a dozen centuries. Its beginnings were unimpressively local. At the height of its wealth, power and cultural influence it bestrode the Eurasian-African triangle. Its decline and disappearance were no less spectacular than its meteoric rise to fame and fortune.
I would like to summarize the Roman experiment and some of its lessons by listing and commenting briefly on the forces that built up Roman civilization and those forces which resulted in its decline and dissolution.
Primary up-building forces in the Roman experiment:
1. Establishing the city of Rome as a stable, defensible center of merchandising and commerce, transport, finance, population, wealth and power with a hinterland of associates and dependencies. As it turns out, the city of Rome has outlived both the Roman Empire and Roman Civilization.
2. Steadfast dedication to Roman interests first, by all necessary means and despite costs which at the time seemed to be excessive.
3. A recognition of that which is possible, especially in political relationships. The acceptance with good grace of a half-loaf where no more was available.
4. Consistent, persistent aggression and expansion where such policies were beneficial to Rome, with little or no regard for their effects on Roman associates, allies, friends or enemies. Studied ruthlessness.
5. Rewarding Rome's friends, allies and associates with economic, political and cultural advantages. Implacably punishing and where necessary exterminating Rome's persistent enemies.
6. Wide tolerance of local cultural variation in matters that did not conflict with the major principles and practices of Rome's central authority.
7. Taking defeats in their stride, paying the price, and recovering lost momentum. Again advancing along avenues which led to Roman success and aggrandizement.
8. Indomitable persistence in the pursuit of major objectives.
9. After the reigns of Julius Caesar and Augustus, concentrating power in a single person and his chosen brain trust, using that power to further aggrandize the Roman Empire and Roman Civilization.
This category is not complete. It aims to answer the basic question: In a situation where a thousand contestants entered the knock-down and drag-out struggle, first for survival and then for supremacy, what qualities or qualifications enabled Romans to win the laurel crown of victory?
Paralleling the up-building forces that established Roman supremacy were counter-forces which undermined and eventually destroyed the Roman Empire and Roman civilization:
1. The growth of city life at the expense of rural existence. At the outset of its life cycle, Rome was essentially rural. At the end of the cycle Roman culture was turning its back upon ruralism and moving into a culture that was to be chiefly urban during an entire millennium. In that millennium Rome, her associates and dependencies, experimented with a culture that was essentially urban, but encircled, dependent and eventually replaced by a culture that was essentially rural.
2. During the millennium between 600 B.C. and 500 A.D. the Romans and their associates succeeded in bringing large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa under their control, but the control was so rigid and temporary that tribalism and local nationalisms broke loose from the fetters of central authority and coercive integration, shattering the structure of Roman civilization and its structural core—the Roman Empire. Instead of resulting in closer cooperation, the strategy and tactics of the Roman builders and organizers led to contradictions, bitter feuds, civil strife, independence movements which combined with expansionist diplomacy and periodic wars to discourage, frustrate and eventually to eliminate peace, order and planned progress.
2. The spread of chattel slavery had a profound effect upon the texture of Roman life. At the outset Roman family farms housed the bulk of the population. During the cycle of Roman civilization unnumbered millions of captives were seized in the course of military operations and reduced to slavery. By the end of the Roman cycle the work-load of agriculture, commerce, industry, mining, transport, and the domestic life of the well-to-do was carried by slaves. Basically, therefore, the Roman world was divided first into Romans and non-Romans and second into masters and slaves, with a third category which consisted of an immense bureaucracy (including the military), a professional and technological group and a heavy burden of persistent parasitism.
4. Growth of the abyss that separated wealth and the wealthy from mass poverty in the cities and the countryside. The abyss was widened and deepened by the presence of slavery. More extensive and more frequent foreign conquests added to the volume of slave labor in a market already glutted and reduced the price of slaves. Against this super-abundant cheap slave labor, free labor could compete only by reducing its standard of living and thus deepening the abyss of poverty. At the other end of the social arc, the rich were able to surround themselves with multitudes of slaves who provided the energy needed to carry on the complex life of Roman civilization. As the Roman world expanded, the abyss widened, deepened and became all but impassable. It was from such lower depths that Spartacus and other leaders of rebellious slaves drew sufficient manpower to challenge and for a time even defeat the full military power of Rome.
5. Built into the structure of Roman civilization was the potential of civil war. The contradictions of mass slavery and poverty side by side with boundless leisure and abundance was only one side of the picture. Each of the more distant provinces became a possible base from which ambitious governors or generals could wage wars of independent conquest at the expense of Roman authority. Each newly subjugated people, smarting under defeat and the heavy hand which Rome laid on its dissidents and opponents, became a potential center for disaffection, conspiracy and rebellion against Roman authority.
6. Conflicts over power succession, in the provinces, and more significantly in the mother city, added another aspect to the many sided pressures. As there was no legal means of determining the succession, the end of each imperial reign offered the probability of military intervention.
7. Deification of emperors, during the era of the Caesars, led to the denigration and degradation of the common man. The fact that the common men of Rome were more and more likely to be poor slaves furthered the process and deepened the abyss between the haves and have-nots.
8. Among the forces of disintegration operating in Rome none was more potent and more decisive than the numerical growth of the military and the increasing probability that any one of the growing contradictions and conflicts would lead to intervention by the military. Roman emperors were dictators and their retention of authority was increasingly decided by the legions which were willing and able to fight for the perpetuation and extension of their authority.
9. The extensive, complicated, elaborate structure of Roman civilization involved a persistent and implacable rise of overhead costs of food and raw materials, of production, of transportation, of the bureaucracy, including the military. The area of Roman civilization increased arithmetically. Overhead costs rose geometrically. They were expressed in an empty treasury, rising taxes, inflation, expropriation, the degradation of the currency.
10. Side by side with the rise in overhead costs went the increase of parasitism among the rich and among the poor. Something-for-nothing was the order of the day. Speculation was rampant. Gambling was universal. Instead of living by production of goods and services, Romans let the slaves do their work and lived by their wits.
11. From top to bottom of Roman society negative forces replaced positive forces. Self directed labor gave place to slavery; participation in productive activity yielded to parasitism; productivity was subordinated to destructivity; the spirit of independence was replaced by the acceptance of increasing arbitrary individual authority.
12. Roman society constantly faced and consistently failed to solve the contradiction between centralism and local interests and local rights. This contradiction increased with increasing size, diversity and complexity.
13. Psychological forces played a part in the breakdown and break-up of Roman civilization. People lost faith and hope. They became disillusioned and cynical. They forgot the common good and devoted themselves to the gratification of body hungers. They turned from proud service of fatherland to the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure's sake. Romans lost freshness and vigor. Creativeness had never been as highly regarded among the Romans as it was among the Greeks. Life was lived closer to the surface. It was confined more and more to the present. Growth in the volume of Roman life sapped its vitality so that there was less surplus for experiment and innovation as more and more of the social income was devoted to meeting overhead costs.
Moralists have insisted that the decline and dissolution of Roman civilization resulted from the abandonment of moral standards. Undoubtedly this was true. The upstanding womanhood and manhood of early Rome was replaced by a wealth-seeking, pleasure-loving, parasitically inclined population. But these features of Roman life under the empire and during the period of Roman decline were the outcome of political, economic and social forces that have characterized one civilization after another. Instead of insisting that Rome declined and fell because it was immoral, it would be far more accurate to insist that Rome declined and fell because the objectives which it sought, the means it employed and the civilized institutions which it developed contained within themselves oppositions and contradictions which led to decline and dissolution. Rome declined and fell because the ideas, institutions and practices upon which it depended—the ideas, institutions and practices of civilization—could lead to no other outcome.
THE ORIGINS OF WESTERN CIVILIZATIONS
An experiment with civilization presently spans the planet Earth. It is called "modern," "contemporary" or "western civilization." Its artifacts, institutions and practices predominate in Europe, North America and Australasia. They play a prominent role in the lives of Asians, South Americans and Africans.
Two thousand years ago a long established Egyptian civilization was passing into the shadows. Civilizations in China and India were developing. Roman civilization was approaching the zenith of its ascendancy.
A thousand years ago Roman civilization, like that of Egypt, was a memory; Chinese and Indian civilizations were holding their own, while the followers of Islam were reaching out into Central Asia, North Africa and Eastern Europe.
In east central Europe and around the Mediterranean the beginnings of western civilization had made their appearance and were expanding their control along the Eurasian trade routes and beginning to penetrate western and northern Europe. The Crusades had introduced Asian culture traits into the European backwoods. Hardy European and Asian mariners were penetrating the Americas. Dark ages of ignorance and superstition which had held sway in Europe for centuries were coming to an end. Western civilization was beginning to draw the breath of a new life.
The vast structure of Roman civilization had split West from East. The Eastern Empire retained its form and continued its culture for centuries after its break with the West. Meanwhile the West fragmented into smaller and smaller units, increasingly self-contained and increasingly isolated. Cities raised and manned their own walls. The countryside broke up into smaller and smaller divisions over which the Holy Roman Empire exercised little more than a shadowy authority. Each landed estate had its stronghold or castle. Each locality looked after its own interests. The massive Roman Universal State, stretching for centuries across parts of three continents, had broken up into a multitude of tiny semi-sovereign, semi-independent fragments. Some of the fragments as leagues, alliances and coalitions were reaching nationhood.
New dawn was illuminating the Dark Ages. Western man was sorting and re-assembling some of the scattered fragments of the defunct and dismembered Roman civilization. The task was colossal. Rome's "one authority, one law, one language" hegemony had been replaced by an all pervading diversity. The closely knit Greco-Roman Empire had been superseded in Europe by a sparsely inhabited, roadless wilderness, largely bereft of trade, using waterways as the easiest means of communication and transport. The economy was built around wood cutting, charcoal burning, backward animal husbandry, hand-tool agriculture, hand-craft industry, the rudiments of commerce and finance centered in trading cities. The great houses of the aristocracy and the gentry, scattered villages, towns and walled cities were preoccupied and disrupted by endless feuding and between-seasons warfare.
Adding to the chaos of this dismembered society were the controversies over dynastic succession. Intermittent incursions of migrating hordes from central Asia pushed their way into central and southern Europe. Covert and open conflicts between ecclesiastical and secular authority added to the general lethargy, confusion and chaos.
Europe struggled for centuries to free itself from Asian invasion and occupation. At the same time Europe was improving its agriculture, restoring its trade and expanding its hand-craft industries and its commerce. Towns grew in population and productivity. Life-standards rose in the cities. Cities based on trade and commerce extended their authority and became city-states. Commercial cities joined their forces to form trading leagues.
Lords spiritual and temporal, who had ruled Europe for centuries, were joined by lords commercial, enriched by the growth of trade, transport and developing industry.
Generations passed into centuries—the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth. From small local beginnings the nations of western Europe emerged: Spain, Portugal, the Low Countries, France, Britain, Italy, Austria and eventually Russia. Each was a consolidation of local principalities, earldoms, dukedoms, kingdoms. Each was passing through the rural-urban transformation. Each was outgrowing feudalism and producing a larger and larger group of businessmen, professionals, tradesmen, craftsmen and maturing a middle class and a proletariat. After the fifteenth century each state was spilling over its own frontiers, annexing or losing neighboring territory, spreading beyond the boundaries of Europe into the teeming markets of Asia and the newly discovered treasure-house of the Americas.
A score of European peoples were engaged in the give-and-take of this struggle for wealth and power—for land and its resources in Europe, North Africa and the Near East; for booty, trade and overseas colonies. As the struggle grew more intense smaller and weaker nations dropped out of the contest or were partitioned and gobbled up piecemeal.
Such was the condition of Europe's free-for-all in the closing years of the seventeenth century and the opening decades of the eighteenth century, while three developing forces pushed into the forefront of European life: the enlightenment and science, representative government, and the industrial revolution.
Enlightenment broadened the social basis of knowledge and learning. During the Dark Ages, knowledge and learning were a monopoly of a tiny privileged minority composed of priests, scholars and a segment of the aristocracy. Monasteries, great houses and trading cities sheltered this monopoly. The countryside was a sea of ignorance, superstition, oppression and exploitation. With the printing press came books. Books promoted literacy and curiosity. Literacy and curiosity led to speculation, experiment, discovery and the formulation and spread of ideas. The product of these forces was science, which had had a long period of gestation in North Africa and Asia.
Dark Ages of localism, with landlords, priests and soldiers directing public affairs led to the concentration of wealth and power in the landed aristocracy and the church. But traders in the countryside and merchants in the centers of commerce held a talisman that opened before them ever increasing sources of wealth. Country dwellers harvested one crop a year. When crops were poor they starved. At best the margin of profit was thin. Traders and merchants made a profit every time they found a customer. The countryside lived on a use economy supplemented by barter. As money increased in quantity it was loaned at rates of interest by merchants and bankers who owned it and used it for their purposes. Accumulating wealth and money enabled the traders, merchants, bankers and manufacturers to out-buy and out-point landlords and churchmen. Politically, these changes reduced the authority of absolute monarchies. In their places representative governments made their appearance.
The third force that surfaced in Europe after the end of the Dark Ages was the industrial revolution, which led to fundamental changes in the means of production at the same time that advances in natural and social science produced their practical counterpart—an explosive expansion of technology.
Science, representative government and the industrial revolution led to a rapid and extensive transformation of western society sometimes referred to as the bourgeois revolution. As the bourgeois revolution worked its way into the structure and function of European society, the developing class of businessmen and professionals who had begun to challenge the power-monopoly of the "lords spiritual and temporal" ended by establishing a higher power monopoly under the control of business, military, public relations oligarchy. This revolutionary transformation of modern society took place during the thousand years that elapsed between the crusades and the closing years of the nineteenth century. The resulting social transformation had its geographical homeland in Europe from which it spread around the planet. Politically, these forces found expression through the commerce-dominated, profit-seeking, colonizing empires, with the nation-state as nucleus. Colonizing empires became the dominant force in Europe and in the non-European segments of the planet which were gradually brought under European imperial control.
In the course of voyaging, "discovery" and the establishment of trade, Europeans set up military outposts and maintained increasingly large naval forces. The avowed object of these military and naval build-ups was to defend and promote Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French and British imperial interests. Actually military and naval installations were marking out and maintaining the defense perimeters of their respective colonial empires. One of the widely accepted axioms of the period equated colonies with national prosperity. The more successful colonizing empires of the seventeenth and eighteen centuries became the strongholds of nineteenth century monopoly capitalism.
Industrial revolution, flowering in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, gave the European commercial empires a lead over potential rivals based on Asian wealth-power centres. As a result of this lead European empire builders were able to establish and maintain their authority in India and Indonesia, dismember the Turkish and Chinese empires and partition Africa among themselves. Their only potential rivals were the lumbering, isolationist United States of North America and the newly awakened Island Kingdom of Japan. Both of these non-European nations began playing serious wealth-power roles in the same period from 1895 to 1910. Up to that point Europe continued to be the homeland of monopoly capitalism. The chief centers of heavy industry, commerce and finance were in Europe. European merchant fleets and European navies sailed the seas. European banks and business houses dominated planetary financing, insuring and investing.
Viewed from outside, the ascendancy of Europe seemed to be complete. Europe held the strategic strong points: productivity, wealth, the means of transportation, mobile fire-power. By the end of the nineteenth century Europe was the monopoly-capitalist motherland. The rest of the planet was made up of actual or potential dependents under European authority. From these outsiders living at subsistence levels, Europeans could get their supplies of food and raw materials at low prices and to them Europeans could sell their surplus manufactures, their commercial services, and their investment capital at high prices. The resulting European prosperity was expected to continue indefinitely into the future.
This planetary structure, with Europe as the center of wealth, power, art, science, free business enterprise and wage slavery, progress and poverty, left the majority of mankind living as dependents and colonials. The situation embodied several confrontations:
1. The masters of Europe might quarrel among themselves.
2. Non-Europeans might set up rival wealth power centers and challenge Europe's world hegemony.
3. Colonials and other dependants might demand independence, and equal status in the family of nations.
4. Rootless middle classes and the wretched of the earth might join forces and pull down western civilization's house of cards.
Western civilization, like its predecessors, was accepting and following one central principle: expand, grab and keep. The application of this principle took the form of an axiom of public and private life: might makes right; let him take who has the power; let him keep who can.
Grab and keep, in a period of rapid economic expansion, led each of the burgeoning European empires to the zealous defense of its frontiers as the first principle of imperial policy. The second principle: geographical expansion, followed as a matter of course. Expansion inside Europe, with its tight frontier defenses, meant war with aggressive rivals. Expansion abroad, especially in Asia and Africa, was less costly and might prove more profitable. As a consequence, from 1870 onward, British, French, Dutch, Russia and German colonial territory increased; European armaments multiplied. Each expanding empire prepared for the day which would give it additional square miles of European and foreign real estate.
Grab-and-keep, with its resultant chaotic free-for-all, was the rule of thumb accepted and followed by the West during the decline of Roman power and through the middle ages to modern times.
The "might makes right" formula was in violent conflict with the "love and serve your neighbor" professions of Christian ethics. Nevertheless, it was the accepted overall principle of private enterprise economy and the ruling ethic of Western statecraft. The principle was formulated in five propositions or axioms:
1. Make money, honestly if possible, but make money.
2. Every businessman for himself and the devil take the laggards.
3. We defend and promote our national interests.
4. Our national interests come first.
5. Our country, right or wrong.
These five propositions were the outcome of a millennium of experience with the Crusades and extending to the present century. They are the outcome of preoccupation with material incentives that can be stated in two words, profit and power.
Such propositions, applied to everyday affairs, produced an economy and a statecraft which favored the interests of a part before those of the entire community. Where the whole is favored before any part there is a possibility of co-existence and even of cooperation. Placing a part before the whole involves competition all the way from the marketplace to the chancelleries where the fate of nations is discussed and decided.
The above five propositions or axioms result from preoccupation with material incentives: profit and power for managers, disciplined co-ordination for subordinates, affluence, comfort and recognition for the favored few. They provide the ideological background for twentieth century western civilization.
THE LIFE CYCLE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION
Like its predecessors, western civilization from its inception was essentially competitive. As it developed, the commercially, technically and politically supreme Spanish, Dutch, French and British Empires battled individually, or in rival alliances, for plunder, colonies, markets and raw materials.
From the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, to the Victorian Jubilee in 1897, Great Britain became and remained top dog economically, politically and to a large extent culturally. Britain was the workshop. British shipping was omnipresent. The pound sterling was the chief medium of foreign exchange. The British Navy patrolled the seas. English was replacing French as the language of commerce and diplomacy.
During this British Century, from 1815 to 1897, Great Britain was dominant among the European great powers, but it was never supreme. Always there were countervailing forces. For centuries France had been a major factor in the control and direction of European affairs. Defeat at Waterloo reduced but did not destroy French influence. After 1870 Bismark's Germany began playing a major role. Russia, Austria, Holland, Italy and Spain were also European powers. Overseas, the United States of America and Japan were spreading their imperial wings.
With the explosive advances made by science, technology, productivity, income and wealth accumulation, other countries were moving to the fore. Even though Britain maintained her actual levels of economic output and potential diplomatic presence she was one among several relatively equal European states and world empires. At the same time her natural resources were being depleted and with the growing importance of cotton, rubber and petroleum, all of which Britain must import, her economic ascendancy was progressively undermined. During the wars of 1914-18 and 1936-45 Britain entered an era of decreasing relative importance. Her empire was largely intact, but her economic and political strength was stretched to the breaking point.
Throughout its history, until the wars of 1914-45, western civilization had its headquarters in central and west Europe, with branch offices elsewhere on the planet. At no time after 1870 did any one European power occupy a position of easy superiority over its rivals. If Great Britain was top dog, France, the long established continental power was snapping at her heels. Germany was an expanding power of major consequence. To the North and East lay Russia, with its vast territories and its persistent pressures into East Europe and Far Asia. By any standard of political measurement Europe was in no sense a universal state. Literally it was a potential battle field. War fortunes and misfortunes revolutionized the Europe of 1870-1910. They also realigned the planetary power structure. Heavy war losses down-graded all of the erstwhile European powers. Central and West Europe ceased to be the planetary hub. At the same time America and Asia shouldered their way toward the center of the world stage. From London, Paris, Berlin and other European vantage points the 1870-1945 era could be described as a period of world revolution.
For half a century United States money and arms were used to stabilize capitalism. For many years Washington through its control of all Latin American states (except Cuba after 1960) had been able to dominate United Nations policy, exclude socialist nations, notably China, and hem in socialism. Through this period Washington subsidized and armed counter revolution. Its anti-socialist-communist doctrine had been accepted and largely followed by the West.
Washington's drive to cripple and stamp out socialism-communism was accepted and followed particularly by the states with fascist leanings. Since many western states had large and influential socialist minorities and since several of them had been governed by coalitions in which socialists-communists played a substantial role, acceptance of Washington's anti-socialist program never won wholehearted support in Europe. Atlantic alliance countries voted against the admission of People's China to the United Nations during the Dulles Era. The stalemated outcome of the Korean War (1950-3) called Washington anti-socialist policies into serious question. The stupidities, mendacities and wanton cruelties of the United States' undeclared Vietnam War, even before the advent of Johnson and Nixon, had so weakened Washington leadership that no major power would associate itself with the adventure. The "Allies" in Vietnam were the U.S.A. and two or three vassal Asian states.
Half a century of cold war and co-existence punctuated by military invasions and hot wars, fought between groups from both sides in the class struggle, faced mankind with several undeniable facts:
1. Planet-wide economic, political and social changes had been made during the previous half-century.
2. Capitalism was no longer supreme as it had been before 1900. On the contrary, since 1950 the planet has been divided along class lines—capitalism versus socialism.
3. Socialism-communism is one of the most obvious facts of present-day planetary life.
4. Capitalism is losing ground, especially in Europe.
5. Socialism is gaining ground, especially in Eurasia.
Co-existence presupposes recognition of these five propositions and a willingness to abide by the outcome of the evolutionary-revolutionary process, through which the western world is passing.
During several centuries, ending in 1900, western civilization passed through an era of consolidation and integration that brought its sovereign segments into increasing stable relationships. The most advanced of these relationships took political shape in the half-dozen European empires which controlled the planet in 1900. Side by side with the consolidation of the planet into nations and empires there was another process, world-wide in scope, which made the facts and products of science and technology and their duplication the common property of mankind, creating a cultural synthesis far more universal than the political synthesis in nations, empires, the League of Nations or the United Nations.
Any social synthesis includes positive and negative aspects which function side by side. One builds up. The other wears down. For centuries the building forces in western civilization were in the ascendant. Since the turn of the century a shift of forces has been under way. The wearing down forces presently are in the ascendant. Had it been less competitive and more cooperative and co-ordinated, western civilization might have taken another step in advance by extending cultural unification into the political arena. The League of Nations and the United Nations were efforts in this direction. Neither succeeded in breaking down sovereignty far enough to permit planet-wide political federation.
Having failed to co-ordinate and establish a planet-wide authority during the critical years following 1870, western civilization accepted the antithesis of co-ordination and entered a period of fragmentation:
1. During the century and a half from 1815 to the present day, as facilities for co-ordination were multiplied by discovery and invention, Europe remained stubbornly fragmented into more than a score of sovereign states. Minor changes were made in boundary lines and in internal relationships of property and privilege, but the European maps of the period present a record of persistent fragmentation of the continent into strongly frontiered sovereign segments.
2. Break-up of the European empires after two general wars led to the fragmentation of each empire into self-determining sovereign units.
3. The "third world," consisting chiefly of European empire fragments, has not consolidated, but after the Bandung Conference of 1955 has consisted of a fragmented Africa and Asia torn by domestic and inter-state conflicts and harried by the persistent intervention of the western powers.
4. Rivalry in the Pacific and in Asia has been heightened by the meteoric rise of Japan as a world power, the dismemberment of the Japanese Empire after 1945 and the fierce subsequent economic competition between Japan and her planetary competitors, chiefly the United States.
5. United States efforts to coordinate Latin America as a source of raw materials and a market for manufactures and investment capital have not produced a United Latin American front against a common Yankee menace, but a sturdy refusal even of the tiniest Latin American Republic to surrender or limit its sovereignty has pushed a thorn into the vulnerable side of Washington's Monroe Doctrine control of the western hemisphere.
6. The high point in divisiveness was the decision of the United States spokesmen to inaugurate the American Century by establishing control over the Pacific Ocean, making itself the chief power in Asia and installing U.S.A. authority in the power vacuum left by the expulsion of Britain, France, Holland and Japan from the territories composing their former empires. Local wars begun in Korea (1950) and extending across Southeast Asia have strengthened the determination of the local peoples to defend themselves at all costs against imperialist invaders from Europe and North America.
7. The United States has been rich enough since 1945 to build and maintain a navy that can patrol the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea and maintain large military forces in various European and Asian waters. This policy has been justified by the Truman-Johnson-Nixon Doctrine of determined opposition to the extension of socialism-communism and the consequent perpetuation of the cold war.
8. In theory the socialist world is unitary. In practice it is so fragmented by national boundary lines and ideological differences that its members have not been able (during recent years) to get together and discuss their major common problems.
United States wealth and military equipment have been sufficiently over-whelming to support the program of an American Century during which one nation might establish a universal state exercising planet-wide authority along the lines of the Universal State established by the Romans at the zenith of their power. In practice the program has not worked out. On the contrary, opposition to the United States as the world power or even as the power in Asia has grown steadily and quickly into a widespread "Anti-Americanism" or "anti-Yankeeism."
Conceivably a universal anti-American movement might develop a hot war similar to the anti-Hitler coalition of the 1930's. If that precedent is followed, however, the defeat of the United States would be followed by a period of fragmentation similar to or even more intense than the fragmentation of the 1950's and 1960's.