You are here

Chapter XIX: Culture, Civilization, and Sociology

The discussion of science and art proves the inadequacy of any account of human life that limits itself to moral organization, or to the great social institutions of conscience, polity, law, and economy. Human life is more than any one of these institutions; more than their sum, or even their systematic interrelations. The moral institutions are organizations of interests, but do not specify what these interests shall be. Even when the specific independent interests of science and art are provided for, there is still a large gap between the description and human life itself. The terms which refer to the full complexity of human life, and restore the whole after the itemization of its parts, are the terms ‘culture’ and ‘civilization.’ The discussion of this topic will prepare the way for the understanding of history, education, and religion, which embrace the cultural totality in its temporal progression, its transmission to successive human generations and individuals, and its destiny in the world at large.

The term ‘culture’ has already been introduced as the antithesis of ‘nature.’ Culture is that which man has made of his natural environment, and with his natural faculties. What he makes of nature and with nature he makes in obedience to his interests. But the products of man's interested action are incorporated into his subsequent life. Hence culture is not merely what man makes of his culture with his natural endowment, but what he makes of culture with his culture, that is, in obedience to his acquired interests and capacities. The effect is vastly to multiply the varieties of his specific modes of cultural life, all within the broad framework of what nature permits and enables him to do.

Culture denotes the variety, totality, and mobility of what man makes of himself and of his environment. There is an aspect of sameness and repetition. All human societies comprise certain common factors which are rooted in nature and common experience. Wherever human life is found, these are found. But each of these constant features of human life appears in a number of specific forms. There are peculiarities which never repeat themselves, because of historic and local differences, and because of the unpredictable spontaneities which operate in the field of human behavior like mutations in the field of genetics.

Culture signifies not only these particularities, but also their modes of togetherness. The human face is composed of features and there are infinite varieties of each. But the face also has its physiognomy which is the characteristic effect of the combination of features. Similarly, there is a cultural physiognomy consisting of the interrelationship of the parts, their relative prominence, shape, proportion, distance and arrangement; in short, their configuration. Hence the vogue among students of culture of such terms as ‘structure’ and ‘pattern.’ But over and above facial physiognomy there are fleeting expressions, and the play and interplay of the features. Similarly, a cultural physiognomy is a dynamic and not a static thing: not a static composite of elements, but a peculiar interaction and movement in which particular varieties of interests modify, and are modified by, one another.

Culture is doubly embodied: in the ideas, attitudes, and dispositions of men, and in the physical artifacts by which these are expressed and implemented. Strictly speaking, the latter constitute not culture itself, but its precipitate and record. The automobile as described by physics and chemistry is no part of culture. It becomes a part of culture only when it is linked with the skills of its maker and driver, with the taste of its designer, with its uses of transportation and recreation, and with its enhancement of the prestige of its owner.1

It is one of the ironies of human life that it should be outlasted by its own lifeless products. When, if it so happens, the last man expires on an uninhabitable earth, the ashes and broken ruins of his life will no doubt remain for thousands of years awaiting that future archaeologist who will never come. But his culture will be dead. Even though the city of man should through some catastrophic accident be preserved intact with all its streets and houses, its furnishings and appurtenances, culture would have disappeared from the earth; for culture consists not in the physical city but in the meanings and uses which it has for its inhabitants. The dead civilizations of the past are known by their relics, but they are nonetheless dead, as dead as the empty shell of some pre-glacial crustacean. So far as such relics belong to culture at all, they belong to the past culture of the society which created them or to the present culture of the society which discovers them.

If some powerful wind should blow the gadgets of industrialized America into the desert of Central Arabia, where they became meaningless objects of amazement to wandering nomads, there would be no diffusion of American culture: because the ideas, attitudes, and dispositions in which culture consists cannot be carried by the wind. Culture would have been transmitted only if and when the new society learned to use the automobile, the radio, or the electric refrigerator, and assimilated them into their characteristic way of living. When we speak of war as destroying culture we often refer confusedly to the ruined houses, bridges, ships, railways, libraries, churches, and museums which the bomber leaves in its trail. But this is a destruction of culture only insofar as men's lives are broken. The rubble of culture is not the pile of stones and mortar or twisted steel, but the rubble of men's minds.

Language, literature, and art play a unique role in the records of culture. The vocabulary, inflections, sentence structure, idioms, pronunciation, intonation, and style of language; the shapes, lines, colors, contrasts, and harmonies, the delicate strokes of the painter's brush and the sculptor's chisel permit of an infinite variety of nuances by which the full concreteness can be most nearly conveyed and felt. But they express nothing and they communicate nothing except to human persons attuned by sensibility, understanding, and sympathy.

In literature and common speech the terms ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ are used interchangeably. They are used either as synonyms; or, when two meanings are distinguished, the words are used in reverse senses by different speakers and writers. As a contemporary philosopher has pointed out: “European critics … impressed by America's advanced plumbing and (as they judge) backward arts, have divided about equally between telling us that we have civilization but no culture and telling us that we have culture but lack civilization.” 2 There is, however, a difference, which is of the utmost importance in the present context, between culture or civilization, whichever it is called, in the broader generic sense, and in a narrower and more selective sense. There is a level or stage of culture or civilization, which is marked off as in some sense superior, higher, or more advanced, and which implies standards of appraisal. It is important not to lose sight of the distinction. Hence the word ‘culture’ will hereinafter be used for the genus, and the word ‘civilization’ or some qualified expression, such as ‘humane culture,’ for the species.


The branch of knowledge which corresponds to culture and civilization is, or should be, sociology; but sociology tends, especially in America, to suffer from a timidity engendered by methodological scruples. To it belongs the role of surveying the totality of man's life and keeping it in view amidst the partial and one-sided glimpses which suffice for other branches of social inquiry. With certain notable exceptions sociologists shrink from this role because of the impossibility of applying to so comprehensive a whole the more precise methods which can be successfully applied to the parts. So, fearful of being criticized as “unscientific,” it sells its birthright for a mess of positivism, and may by so doing end in destroying itself. For taken narrowly it dissolves into travelogues, or into psychology, anthropology, and geography, or into the several cultural social sciences.

A science of totality need not be flamboyant in design, or loose and flimsy in construction, but it should be spacious — the work of an architect rather than of a cabinetmaker. It is under the same intellectual obligations as any other branch of knowledge. But the first of these obligations is to subordinate method to subject matter. If in the case of sociology the subject matter does not permit of exactness and conclusiveness, then it does not suffice to be exact and conclusive about some other subject matter.

Contemporary sociologists are to be applauded, therefore, when they insist on intellectual scrupulousness, and on being as exact as their task permits. They are also correct in adopting the method of description. They are disposed, however, to fall into the error of assuming that if sociology is to be descriptive it cannot be normative. It suffers from the fear of being thought edifying, and in the name of description neglects the fact that values and norms are intrinsic to its subject matter. Since culture and civilization are composed of interests, and since interests cannot exist without objects on which they confer value, and since the ideal objects of interest constitute norms which acts and achievements in some degree either realize or fail to realize, it is impossible to describe culture and civilization and at the same time exclude values and norms.

Recent German schools of sociology are divided between those who insist that the sciences shall be wertfrei, that is, purged of all reference to value; those who insist that the data of sociology require Verstehen, that is, sympathetic appreciation of the internal motivation of life.3 The confusion arises, no doubt, from the supposition that to introduce values implies that the sociologist introduces his own personal standards of value; which ignores the fact that there are many other standards, such as the neighbor's standard, the foreigner's standard, and the standards of cultural activities themselves.

Having recognized that culture and civilization are systems of interest and therefore embrace values and norms, sociology will then employ the same methods as the several cultural sciences insofar as these methods are appropriate to its own subject matter. Thus explanatory sociology will deal with the structures and conditions of total cultures. Normative sociology will differ radically from the normative branches of the specific cultural sciences in that society is not an institution, and cannot, therefore, be said to have any peculiar instrumentality or purpose of its own. It will be especially concerned with total social value, and with those superior values which, within culture in the basic sense, distinguish that general level of eminence which warrants the name of civilization. Technological sociology will consist of whatever knowledge is useful to those whose aim is to create an integral culture or civilization.


Explanatory sociology will examine the natural environment which determines the character of a culture as, for example, the climate of the region in which a society exists, its geography, and its natural resources. It will take account of those elements of human nature which incline men to live together and to develop uniformity and community.

In explaining culture by the socializing propensities of human nature sociologists are in danger of falling between two stools — an unanalytical psychology and an unpsychological analysis. The psychological explanation in terms of “drives” has usually failed to analyze them. In particular it has neglected their cognitive aspect, and in so doing has failed to bring to light the ways in which life is socialized by the fact that two or more interests have common objects and take one another as objects. This neglect may be said to be on the whole characteristic of Anglo-American psychologists. The German schools of psychology, on the other hand, have suffered from a psycho-phobia traceable to their Kantian inheritance; and from an antiquated view of psychology as concerned wholly with “inner experience.” Sociology rightly concerns itself with types of relationships, but only when they are mental relationships, and as such fall within the province of psychology — the more so since this science has now through its emphasis on social behavior acquired a competence to deal with relations between, and not merely within, human subjects.

German and French sociology has exhibited another unfortunate tendency, namely, to conceive social totalities as irreducible to personal relationships.4 Cultures and civilizations are wholes, and it is the peculiar duty of sociology to see them whole. But the doctrine of emergence provides for the whole at the same time for the terms and relationships by which the whole can be explained. The recognition of a community of objects accounts for whatever there is of truth in the doctrine of “collective representations,” that is, ideas which are not the private possession of any single mind. The identity of a cultural system embodied in different individuals accounts for its independence of any single individual. Cultures exist in aggregates of persons, who are interchangeable and replaceable; a single individual is not indispensable to it, but will feel it as something independent of himself.

While culture embraces institutions, the sociologist is not concerned with the explanation of each in its own terms, but with the explanation of one by another. He will focus attention not on the ethical, political, legal, or economic, but on the ethico-political, politico-legal, legal-economic, etc., taking the whole society as an interaction of institutional parts.

In the explanation of culture an important place is rightly given to its own products. Pareto employs the terms ‘residues’ and ‘derivatives’5 to distinguish between the basic drives and their justifications or rationalizations. He has given vogue among sociologists to the idea, which he shares with Freudians, that rationalizations are essentially irrational. They are make-believes having no cognitive validity because they are not arrived at by the “logico-experimental” method; and only the naïve and superstitious will take them to be either true or false. But so to construe them is to ignore the immense role played in human culture by rationalizations which are supported by evidence — judgments of social utility which are rational even by Pareto's own standard of rationality.

Explanatory sociology is distinguished from the special moral sciences — ethics, political science, jurisprudence, and economics — by its recognition of major pursuits, such as science and art, which are essentially non-moral, and of those pursuits of education and religion which transcend morality. At the same time, in obedience to its aim of completeness, sociology must provide room for the thousand and one miscellaneous activities of human life — play, sport, war, marriage, etc. — which slip through the meshes of a coarser schematism. And to approximate the full concreteness of the social plenum it must recognize these values, such as personal love and happiness, which peculiarly concern the individual.


The question of the unity and plurality of cultures is complicated by the distinction, between individual or historical cultures, and cultural types. To speak of “a culture” may mean either of these two quite different things. Cultures in both senses, furthermore, may be overlapping. Do Italy and France, for example, constitute two cultures or one? Individually there are clearly two, since one is the culture of Italians and the other is the culture of Frenchmen. At the same time they are of one cultural type, which is called “Latin culture.” But we can also speak of “European culture,” and in two senses: the culture of the Europeans, and the set of cultural characteristics possessed by Frenchmen and Latins in common with Americans, as distinguished from the cultural characteristics possessed by Asiatics; and to this it follows that the question whether Italy and France constitute one culture or two is capable of several correct answers. There are classes and sub-classes of individual cultures, and there are types and sub-types of cultural characteristics.

There are innumerable ways in which cultural types can be distinguished, according to the factor chosen as the independent variable. Thus, cultures may be defined by the techniques employed to provide for material needs, human culture of the most primitive, or nomadic, variety being distinguished from anthropoid culture by the use of five simple tools of stone and wood. Although the tools were gradually improved, the general characteristics of group-life remained essentially the same. The people who composed such groups were “wandering hunters, who lived entirely on wild game and the wild edible plants and other products of nature … they could gather, and … their usual abode was some sunny ledge under an overhanging cliff, or the mouth of a cave. They seem to have lived in small groups,” since “it is absolutely impossible to support a larger community of people by hunting.”6

Then, between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago, there began the domestication of animals and the discovery of agriculture, which brought increased food supply, increase of population, the building of villages and towns, division of labor, accumulation of wealth, organized warfare and trade, writing and the keeping of records, increased power and complexity of government and other institutions. Then about 1500 A.D. another profound change took place due to the occurrence, simultaneously or in rapid succession, of numerous discoveries and inventions, such as the circumnavigation of the globe, Newtonian science, the steam engine, electricity, the conquest of the air. This mechano-industrial phase has not yet run its course, and the confusion and bewilderment of the present age is said to be due to the fact that human life as a whole has not yet assimilated these technological changes.

We are not here concerned with the thesis that the independent variable in cultural change is necessarily technological, rather than ethnic, religious, or political. But the illustration, assuming that it has at least some modicum of truth, illustrates the meaning of types of culture — “ways in which men live together” — in which each of the factors of human life acts and reacts upon the rest. But each such type is capable of being divisible into sub-types, and of being subsumed under some more general type. And each type, super-type, and sub-type is capable of embodiment in different individuals, without loss of its identical meaning. It can be transmitted vertically by inheritance or laterally by diffusion. It is clear that there is no reckoning of the number of cultures save to say that the number is indefinite since it depends on the unit with which one reckons.

An individual culture that is doubly defined as a group of interacting human individuals embodying a specific type of culture may arise in time, develop, and disappear. These ups and downs, this waxing and waning, suggests the analogy of the physical organism. From Herder to Toynbee by way of Spengler the analogy has been pressed with varying degrees of boldness and, for the most part, with an insufficiency of critical caution.

Of all the characteristics of a physical organism there are none more obscure than growth and senescence; and to transpose these characters to culture provides no understanding, but merely introduces a term having respectable scientific associations, and gives to inquiry a specious sense of scientific achievement. It is doubtful whether anything whatsoever except poetry is gained by speaking of cultures as “young,” “mature,” and “old.” Waiving the inaccuracy of terms, cultures are always both old and young; something is ending, and something is beginning. It is doubtful if any culture has ever died of old age, that is, merely as a consequence of living too long. The oldest cultures in the world, namely, the “primitive” cultures, are at the same time the youngest — are, in fact, embryonic. Why speak of cultures as “decadent,” “sick,” “dying,” or “over-ripe,” if what is meant is that they have declined in respect of certain criteria selected for comparative judgment? Furthermore, it often happens that at the same time that they have declined in certain respects they have improved in others. Indeed it may be that their peculiar character consists in the very co-presence of the better and the worse. It is a well-known fact that great philosophy flourished in Athens contemporaneously with small politics; and it has been said that Southern California was once distinguished by its blend of medieval ideas with the latest technological gadgets.

It is no doubt true that in the field of art and letters styles tend to deteriorate when they are prolonged, whether through the exhaustion of their inventive possibilities or because the geniuses who originated them are succeeded by lesser disciples and imitators. It is no doubt true that organization tends to become increasingly complicated, and thus to break down through excessive specialization and the accumulation of obstructive by-products. But little light is thrown on these facts by merely employing the vague metaphors of decay and arterio-sclerosis.


The critique of cultures is challenged by a form of the doctrine of relativism. It is an indisputable fact that cultural characteristics, being integral characteristics of a given society, in some sense or to some degree qualify all of its members and all of their activities. It follows that they will qualify the judgments which the members pronounce on other cultures, whether judgments arrived at by scientists and philosophers, or the uncritical and unmethodical judgments of common opinion and sentiment. This indisputable fact creates what may be called the “culture-centric predicament.” This predicament is sometimes taken to imply that no culture can be appraised in its own terms, but only in terms of the culture of him who makes the appraisal. Followed through to its extreme limit this would result in a cultural solipsism, analogous to that which is supposed to be fatal to every claim of objective truth. The predicament is indisputable, but the implication is both gratuitous and contrary to fact.

Cultural relativism or solipsism in the vicious sense cannot be stated without self-contradiction. As has so often been pointed out, the reflective act by which a relativity is discovered surmounts the relativity which is asserted. In a criticism of Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia, the late Carl Becker called attention to the failure of a relativistic sociology to provide for itself — for its own virtual claim to have escaped the very cultural relativity which it holds to be inescspable:

I feel that, having relentlessly pressed all our heads down below the surface of the flowing social process, he first assures us that we can never get out, and then tells us that we can after all escape drowning by frankly recognizing that we are under water. I must confess that I do not share his confidence, but if we are all under water for good no doubt something is gained by recognizing the fact.7

While the critic put his finger on Mannheim's difficulty, he appears in the end to have succumbed to it himself. He failed to recognize the positive implications of his own argument.

The development of cultural critique follows the same course as the development of all knowledge. It is a perpetual endeavor, never perhaps wholly successful, but more and more successful, to eliminate the distortions and limitations of experience by bringing them to light and putting them where they belong. It rectifies the distortions and supplements the limitations. It achieves this by conceptual thought and by imagination.

Thus ancient culture is ancient to those who live in the year 1953. Conceptual thought substitutes for this particular retrospect from 1953, a chronological scheme of years measured before and after the birth of Christ, and which includes the year 1953. One may then say that the same culture which is ancient to us was recent to the cultures of the Early Middle Ages, prospective to the Minoan Culture, and contemporary to other cultures of the years 600 B.C. to 300 A.D. And one can imagine what this civilization was like in its own time, and in the times just preceding and just following, and to the barbaric outsiders as well as to Greek and Roman insiders. In so doing one will judge Graeco-Roman culture not only from the angle of its own time and place, and from other angles, but roundly and centrally.

It is quite true that there is no critique of a culture which is not a critique by a culture. But it does not follow that the judging culture invariably or in any fixed degree modifies or misrepresents the culture judged. It may or it may not; it may in certain respects and not in other respects; it may in some degree. It may be characteristic of a culture that it emancipates itself, more or less, from its own prejudices. Granting that all culture, to be seen at all, must be seen through a cultural medium, it does not follow that the medium may not be transparent.

Insofar as the interests which compose any culture are known at all — and they are as objective facts as any other facts — they are known for what they were or are. Such being the case their successes and failures can be known for what they were or are, and the way is open all along the line to an internal critique of cultural achievements, in terms of its own standards. Or they can be judged externally in terms of the standards of the culture to which the judge belongs; and this is a legitimate and objective judgment provided the standards are made explicit.


Most discussions of culture, even when they profess to be “merely descriptive,” introduce a ranking of cultures. This is both legitimate and inevitable, since culture consists of values, and since values are in one or more ways higher and lower. This makes it desirable to have a term which explicitly recognizes such appraisal — a term which refers, not to culture in general or to any culture, but to culture which in certain specifiable respects holds a comparatively high rank. The term ‘civilization’ is here set apart for this use. It is then meaningful to say that some cultures are civilized, whereas other cultures are uncivilized, barbarous, or savage; or to say that war may destroy civilization, and still leave culture.

The appraisal of types of culture, or of single cultures, is frequently concealed, especially among anthropologists, by the use of terms whose prima facie meaning is temporal or genetic, and which at the same time assume that what comes later, or develops out of what has gone before, is therefore better.

The most familiar instance of this assumption is afforded by the distinction between “primitive” and “advanced” cultures. Of such statements, however, it is pertinent to inquire, “Advanced in what?” “Advanced in what direction, along what route?” The answer most frequently given by anthropologists is, “Advanced in the control of the physical environment.” Thus, in the order of cultural types outlined above, the first step is the discovery of fire and the invention of tools; the second is the discovery of the arts of agriculture and animal husbandry; and the third is the improved technology based on the discoveries of modern physics and chemistry.

If this history of culture is an advance from good to better, and not merely a temporal continuity, it must be because of a similarity of interests. Thus the needs of physical preservation persist throughout, and are served better in later than in earlier phases of human history. In modern as in primitive societies men need food. Given the choice they will prefer the modern way because it enables them to procure more abundant and more appetizing food, and to acquire a store of provisions by which to enjoy security against drought, flood, scarcity of game, or other seasonal or catastrophic contingencies. Similarly, throughout their history men need clothing, shelter, and weapons to protect them, and given the same needs they will choose more adequate clothing, shelter, and weapons wherever these are available.

There is a second technological criterion of civilization with which this first is commonly confused. Science yields not only specific technologies, that is, techniques linked to existing interests and created in response to their demands, but also a general technology which provides instruments for their possible interests. Its creation does not await, but anticipates demands; and tends to create them. For men not only prefer more effective ways of doing what they already desire to do, but desire to do what they know or believe that they can do. Viewed in this light a civilized culture is thus a comparatively resourceful culture. This is part, at least, of what is meant when civilization is identified with a progressive or “dynamic” culture.

That technological efficiency is not the only criterion of civilization is implied by the judgment that economic advance has been accompanied by cultural decline. This view has been vividly presented by Lewis Mumford:

The goal of the eotechnic [early-technological] civilization … was not more power alone but a greater intensification of life: color, perfume, images, music, sexual ecstasy, as well as daring exploits in arms and thought and exploration. Fine images were everywhere: a field of tulips in bloom, the scent of new mown hay, the ripple of flesh under silk or the rondure of budding breasts: the rousing sting of the wind as the rain clouds scud over the seas, or the blue serenity of the sky and cloud, reflected with crystal clarity on the velvety surface of canal and pond and watercourse… [The] new economic men sacrificed their digestion, the interests of parenthood, their sexual life, their health, most of the normal pleasures and delights of civilized existence to the untrammeled pursuit of power and money…. In only the most limited sense were the great industrialists better off than the workers they degraded: jailer and prisoner were both, so to say, inmates of the same House of Terror.8

The standards of civilization implicit in this indictment of ruthless efficiency are the moral and humane. It is implied that civilization is marked by the existence of a comparatively enlightened and sensitive conscience; and by the degree to which a society has solved its problem of conflict by liberal political, legal and economic institutions. It is further implied that morality provides the ground plan, but not the skyline, of civilization. The non-moral or trans-moral values are the flowering of which morality is the garden plot.

Hence civilization is marked by the development of interests which express certain human faculties having a peculiar universality and dignity, namely, the cognitive and aesthetic interests. So conceived, a civilization will be a culture which excels in the emergence of creative genius in the fields of science, art, and letters. Because the faculties engaged are distinctively human such culture is referred to as “humane” or “humanistic” culture. It is this value which is said to distinguish the civilization of Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries, B.C., and the civilization of Italy and other European societies at the time of the Renaissance.

Or, civilization may be distinguished by its eminence in education and religion. The educational criterion itself may be formulated in various terms. A civilized society may be taken to be a “cultivated” society, judged by the personal development of its members; when it not only has abolished illiteracy but has brought a considerable portion of its members to the higher levels of secondary, liberal, or professional education. Or it may be deemed civilized when, through its instruments of communication and publicity, it has created a comparatively responsible and enlightened public opinion. Judged by the religious standard a culture is deemed worthy of the name of ‘civilization’ when its piety has risen above the level of so-called “superstition,” having been reconciled with science and with personal freedom; or when it has advanced from the worship of local and tribal gods to the recognition of a universal god of all mankind.

When one has added together the goods of organized social life, of conformity to conscience, of the security and freedom conferred by polity and law, of justly distributed wealth furnished by economy, of the individual improvement contributed by education, and of the ultimate faith given by religion, and when to these one has added the pursuit of truth and the enjoyment of beauty, the sum still falls short of the fullness of life. That which remains is both small and great. It is small because it is so familiar and banal; it does not need to be invoked by authorities, wise men, or seers. It is great because it is so pervasive. It fills the interstices, and gives value to what is otherwise known by belittling names such as “innocent pleasures,” “routine,” and “daily life.” It appears on all levels of life, but because it is so familiar it is known by its more humble rather than by its exalted associations.

This remainder and concrete filling of life has no name. It embraces all the miscellaneous and unclassifiable goods — health,9 work and play, recreation, conversation, rest, laughter, craftsmanship, the pleasures of food and drink, the feel of the breath of life, reputation, fame, the minor successes that are not recorded in history or even in biography. It is the margin of these goods over their opposite evils that makes life solvent. As life on earth is impossible, so life in any other world is unimaginable, without them. More of these things than is ordinarily supposed belong to those treasures of heaven which neither moth nor rust corrupts, and which no man could afford to leave behind in his last journey, no matter how much he is advised to lighten his baggage.

The list of the values which sweeten daily life is as inexhaustible as it is miscellaneous. It is the poet's and not the philosopher's task to single them out and do them honor, but there are two, namely, love and happiness, which will serve to represent them all for the purpose of rounding out our survey of civilized life. Both terms are here employed in their ordinary rather than in their euphemistic or “euphemystical” senses.


By ‘love’ is here meant not the esoteric and metaphysical love of God, or the abstract love of mankind, but personal love between man and man, or between man and woman. The first, which is sexless, is an intensification of the bond between fellow-creatures, and is commonly known as friendship. It is benevolence focused upon an individual; or positive interest in another's interests because they are his; it is independent benevolence mediated by recognition and familiarity.

Plato and Aristotle have exercised a forceful, but largely misleading, influence on European views of love. Whether rightly or wrongly these philosophers have been taken to mean that the object of love in the highest and purest sense is the universal idea. When, according to this view, the immediate object of love is a particular this serves as a symbol of the universal, or a medium through which the universal is to be reached. When love is convergent, the lover and the loved are united through their common ideal object; their love is directed not towards one another, but towards a third object. It is a companionship of admiring contemplation. So to conceive love is to miss its meaning altogether. That which distinguishes love is not the movement from the particular to the universal, but the reverse movement, from the universal to the particular. This does not imply that love is not enriched by ideas, but that its ultimate object is their individual embodiment. Love is not the same thing as judgment or contemplation, however much this may be enjoyed. The loved person is not a set of attributes. It is characteristic of the lover to bestow qualities upon the object of his love. The degree of his love is reflected in the extravagance with which he heaps superlative on superlative — we do not expect him to be judicious and objective. The fact that love and poetry are so frequently combined is not an accident. But this does not mean, in either case, that attributes are substituted for the individual object, but testifies, rather, to the impossibility of such an equivalence. The very extravagance of the praise signifies the vain attempt to achieve the concrete by the multiplication of abstractions.

The lover and the loved one are, it is true, united by their interests. The lover accepts as his own the interests of the loved; if the loved had no interests he or she could not be loved. Love is essentially indulgent, and sympathetically attuned. But in love it is the individual that is the independent variable. When two persons enjoy activities together lovingly, each enjoys these activities because of the togetherness. The perfect lover will prefer any activity in participation with the loved one to any activity in which the loved one is absent, be it talking or silence, reading or domestic chores, going abroad or remaining at home, business or idleness — anything with rather than anything without.

Love is thus peculiarly fruitful. It pays as it goes. Interest reinforces interest: it can give value to activities which would otherwise be barren, and positive quality to interests which would otherwise be negative; when the end is remote it can fill the interval between undertaking and achievement. It yields benefit not only to the receiver but to the giver. Love is good to live with — it elevates the lover in his own esteem without conceit or arrogance. Love begets love in return. It is an ascending spiral or a benign, and not, like hate, a vicious circle.

Although its two great commandments are commandments of love, the effect of Christianity upon the Western conception of love has been evil as well as good. Christianity has been the great corrective of Platonism. For a supreme idea of Good it has substituted a personal God, and this has made it possible to transfer to the relations between God and man the personal love experienced between man and man — the love of a father for his children, and of a child for his parents. An Idea cannot love, nor can an Idea be loved except in the specious sense of admiring contemplation. The gospel of Jesus, furthermore, was a humanitarian gospel, not a cult of the intellect but a quickening of pity and tenderness, felt for conscious beings in their concrete particularity. All of this has been inherited in the Christian tradition, and has persisted despite the dogmatism, mysticism, ecclesiasticism, and hardenings of the heart with which, in Christian history, it has been attended.

Over against this personalization of love with which Christianity is to be credited, stands, on the debit side, its degradation of sex. This has been due to two motives: the first of which is the ascetic condemnation of the flesh. Sex, as being the most powerful and unruly of the carnal appetites, has been represented as the temptation of the Devil, opposed to the life of the spirit. The higher life of man has been identified with chastity and celibacy. The result has been to divide human nature against itself, and so to create and aggravate the tensions, neuroses, and hypocrisies which form so tragic a part of the personal life of the modern world.

The attempt of spirit to subjugate and alienate the body is a losing battle. Nature is already in possession of the field and the art of love is to win it as a friend. The only effect of attempting to disembody the spirit is to despiritualize the body. The design of the Christian God which was to implant spirit in flesh is a better design than that of Christian men who have attempted to tear spirit from its natural roots. This treatment of sexual passion as an enemy to be crushed and if possible destroyed, not only has invested it with morbid propensities but has robbed love between the sexes of its vital core and sensuous content. Following the parallel between sex and the other parts of the natural man, love should be more and not less than instinct. Its role is to contain physical passion and raise it to a human level, by compounding it with sensitiveness, generosity, loyalty, respect, and understanding.

The second and more shocking perversion of love by Christianity is the Pauline divorce between physical love and the institution or sacrament of matrimony. Official Christianity has little to say against loveless intercourse between the sexes provided it occurs within the marriage bond, and is designed for the propagation of offspring. It saves its denunciations and anathemas for sexual love which has not received the sanction of the law or the church. In the history of Christian Europe, romantic love has been extracurricular. The legendary lovers, who provide themes for literature, are, in the Christian teaching known as sinners. Tristan and Iseult, Launcelot and Guinevere, are grouped with Semiramis, Helen, and Cleopatra, among the spirits of the incontinent. Even Paolo and Francesca, though their story moves Dante to tears, are condemned to the tortures of Hell.10 The history of Abélard and Héloïse is the story of a fatal conflict between a love which rises to the greatest heights of passionate fidelity, and the vocation of the Christian cleric.

But this is not the worst. Compelled to make terms with custom and the demands of the flesh, Pauline Christianity has conceived marriage as a hiding place where the sexual appetite can be decently veiled, and where the carnal pleasures are condoned provided they are not mentioned. It has required nothing short of a social revolution, not yet fully achieved, to bring the realities of the domestic situation, so intimately connected with personal well-being, to open light and air. There is no profounder paradox than the fact that Christianity, which has put woman on a pedestal, has done much to degrade her role in the most intimate of human relations.11

The character of love is revealed not only in its fruitfulness of good but in its limitations, its evil implications, and its paradoxes. Like all natural impulses it can be intemperate. Its most ugly by-product is jealousy. In the case of sexless love this arises from the excessive demand of the loved upon the interest of the lover: the greater the intensity of loving the greater the expected return. Jealousy in this sense is a form of greed, and its cure is to be sought by an infusion of disinterestedness. In love between the sexes, jealousy has stronger and deeper roots. Here the intimacy and completeness of surrender forbids its being shared. Its exclusiveness implies possession, and turns against the trespasser and even against the loved one suspected of connivance. Infidelity is resented as breach of a reciprocal commitment. There is a logic of passion by which love is convertible into hate; and there is no assured immunity to the evil without abandonment of the good.

Love, then, is a costly and dangerous thing. It makes the lover vulnerable; it gives hostages to fortune. Those who would escape responsibility and anxiety and achieve independence, will do well to avoid it. It requires that appetite shall be tempered by reason, and ecstasy by moderation. It must convert madness into sanity. It requires a reconciliation of an intense preoccupation with the immediate, and a broad concern for its wider human and social implications. Obsessive attention to one must not render the lover blind to the rights of the many. This is a counsel of perfection, rarely and only intermittently attained, but it represents, even in the application to sex, the essence of human destiny. All of the great and good things of human life are attended by risk, and by the certainity of partial failure; but to abandon them for that reason is the real fall from grace.

While so-called sex education concerns itself with “the facts of life,” with physical and mental hygiene, with the biology, physiology, psychology, and sociology of men and women, it says little or nothing of the ideal of romantic love. It neglects the astonishing miracle of love, the most dramatic of all the triumphs of human nature, whereby it achieves the closest union between the most profound differences. It leaves to the lyric poets the vision of love as a summit of human aspiration, and, in its rare moments, one of the superlative human attainments.


When the moral good is defined in terms of harmonious happiness, the emphasis is on the “harmony” rather than on the “happiness.” It is the particular business of morality to remove conflict, lest mankind make one another unhappy; to define and protect spheres of life within which men are free to pursue happiness; and to provide such forms of happiness as are mutually enhancing. Morality has little to say of what constitutes happiness, or of the art whereby it can be achieved. Indeed, morality has been so much occupied with the restraints that are necessary to prevent an immediate, momentary, or selfish happiness from destroying an ulterior, durable, or general happiness, that it has seemed to speak against happiness rather than for it. But the ulterior, the durable, and general happiness is still happiness, augmented rather than diminished.

Whatever, more specifically, it can be said to be, and on whatever level it lies, all happiness is personal happiness. A happy life or a happy society can only mean a happy personal life or a society of happy persons. And where the seat of happiness is, there also is its pursuit. Each man must attain happiness in his own way, depending on his temperament, his specific interests, his vocation and his circumstances. This personal locus of happiness, however, does not imply that it has no general meaning.

No word is more commonly used to describe the good life — from the most ancient to the most recent of modern times. Its very familiarity gives it a specious meaningfulness; or excuses its meaninglessness. Lin Yutang, a friendly Oriental critic, has observed that “the most studiously avoided subject in Western philosophy is that of happiness.”12 He cannot mean that happiness is not praised. It is held to be “our being's end and aim”; the “thirst after [it] is never extinguished in the heart of man.”13 Even with Kant, for all his uncompromising moralism, happiness is the summum bonum. With the ancients happiness was the very definition of the good. Christianity's supernaturalism conceives the future and eternal life in terms of happiness, or some more refined equivalent. It would seem reasonable to expect that so great a thing — this beacon of hope, this good of goods — should have a meaning.

Something can be learned about this meaning by a review of the critique of happiness in Western thought. At the same time that it has been so greatly praised, its pursuit and its enjoyment have from ancient times been attended with a flavor of disparagement or sense of guilt. This has been due in the main to its too common and too hasty identification with pleasure, and to confused ideas of what pleasure is. Pleasure, as has been seen, has two different meanings: a specific somatic sensation, and the feeling which attends positive interest. The interest in one's somatic sensation of pleasure tends to be selfish, that is, to preclude social or ideal interests. But the glow of favorable feeling may attend any interest high or low in any scale, from the interest in food and drink, or a crossword puzzle, to the love of mankind, the raptures of the mystic, or the bliss of Heaven. The moral danger in pleasure in this sense lies not in its tendency to selfishness, but in its promiscuity.

Happiness is not pleasure, in the sense of bodily sensation, but consists in the sense of positivity of interest. But there is a further restriction of meaning. Happiness is not an attribute of a single interest; one does not speak of a man's enjoyment of food, or sex, or a landscape, as happiness — but only as conducing to happiness. For happiness is an attribute of the total person. It exists, when it does exist, “on the whole,” and not in the part. We are thus brought to the conclusion that happiness means the general auspiciousness of a person's life; or the degree to which the outlook to all parts of the horizon which bound the person's interests, is favorable. Happiness is a pervasive hopefulness, and its opposite an integral despair.

The definition of happiness in terms of interests rather than in terms of states of pleasure gives a meaning to pessimism. The judgment that happiness is impossible — so common in later antiquity and in all periods of disillusionment does not mean that there are more pain sensations than pleasure sensations, but that human interests are felt as doomed to defeat. Life is believed to be “hopeless” — which is clearly a one-sided view of life, since an equally good case could be made for the opposite thesis. Many interests are fulfilled, and this experience warrants the expectation of future fulfillments. Or it may be contended that while happiness is possible, it is a stroke of fortune — a “gift of the gods”; which is again a false generalization, disproved by the fact that many people achieve happiness by their own effort and skill.

The pessimism of Schopenhauer and Oriental religions is based on the fact that interests are no sooner realized than they are succeeded by new interests, as yet unfulfilled. This point, also, can be argued both ways; for since old interests often are fulfilled, there is good reason to hope that the new interests may likewise be fulfilled. The newest philosophical pessimism is “existentialism.” It is contended that the essence of life is anxiety — the fear of the worst, the sense of impending disaster; and that when, despite this inauspicious prospect, men make their own decisions and commitments, they then “exist” in their own right. But here, again, the fact is open to the opposite interpretation — given other temperaments and other social situations. Life, to be sure, is uncertain, and choices must be made without assurance of the outcome; but this argues equally well for the positive sense of opportunity. Risks can be accepted with hopefulness as well as with despair; indeed if there were only despair, it is difficult to understand how decisions would be made at all.

In Latin and Latin American societies, and among adherents of the pessimistic strain in Christianity, the gospel of happiness is condemned as being contrary to human nature. This argument takes two forms. It may be held that the pursuit of worldly happiness is essentially illusory; man is by nature sinful, and can be saved only by supernatural regeneration. This judgment, again, is a one-sided judgment, since life provides examples of saintliness as well as of sinfulness; indeed, if this were not so men would not ever have imagined saintliness and pursued it as an ideal. Furthermore, all such supernaturalisms preach happiness in another world, and even, for the elect, in this. Happiness is promised to those who renounce it.

The second form of this disparagement of happiness consists in regarding it as an arriviste idea — vulgar, naïve, and shallow. Man, it is argued, is not meant to be happy; and he acquires dignity only when he recognizes that he is essentially a tragic being. This view that only tragedy is noble, and that all else is light or trivial, may be explained as reflecting the comparatively gloomy attitude of its authors; but the idea of tragic nobility has a deeper meaning. The gospel of happiness may be shallow. It may rest on ignorance or unwillingness to face facts. “Where ignorance is bliss ‘tis folly to be wise”; but ‘tis deeper folly to put one's trust in a bliss founded on ignorance. It is not only precarious, since the truth will sooner or later make itself known; but it is not a human bliss since it fails to embrace one of man's chief capacities and commanding interests, namely, knowledge. The dignity of tragedy does not lie in the evil itself, but in the courage to acknowledge it when it occurs. If evil were not inflicted by circumstances beyond the will's control, but were invented for its tragic effect, its acceptance would be more theatrical than noble.

It is also argued that man learns from unhappiness more than he learns from happiness. But what does he learn, if not that men are unhappy? And to what end does he learn of unhappiness, if not in order to remove or endure it, or for the joy of the knowing: if not, in short, to the end of happiness? Furthermore, how is one to learn of happiness, which is also a fact of life, if not from happiness?

Finally, it is said of happiness — both for it and against it — that it can only be attained by a denial of life. The parable of Diogenes and his tub teaches that happiness so attained is a shrunken happiness, since it reduces life to bare existence, and, at best, barely escapes unhappiness. Every eradication of a desire is the killing of some goose which has a golden egg to lay. Tolstoi, describing Levin's experience on visiting his infant son, says: “There was nothing cheerful or joyous in the feeling; on the contrary it was a new torture of apprehension. It was the consciousness of a new sphere of liability of pain.”14 It is true that every happiness has its corresponding apprehension and sphere of liability; whether it be parenthood, or the contemplation of the universe. But it also has its safeties and its securities. Escapism, playing safe, is not only in itself an abridgment of happiness, but affords no guarantee of happiness in what is left of life.

The critique of happiness, while it does not discredit happiness, reveals its conditions and requirements. It requires health and sanity; that is, a “sound mind in a sound body.” It must be reconciled with perseverance and aspiration — a perpetual discontent with imperfect achievement. It must permit of perpetual change and renewal of effort. It is conditioned by knowledge of things as they are; that is, adaptation to what lies beyond the control of the will. There is no formula for happiness. There are, however, suggestions gathered from human experience which may serve as first steps in the art of happiness. Perhaps the first of these is to recognize that there is no single formula but, rather, numerous lines of attack.

There is, for example, the well-known paradox that happiness is to be won not by a direct, but by an indirect, attack. Like fame, happiness is coy. For it is constituted of many interests, and not of an interest in happiness; and its interests must be given their head. Happiness is “given” to those who are too preoccupied with their several interests to give it much thought.

Since it is essential to human life that there should be far-flung interests whose realization is long postponed, it is essential to happiness that there should be interests that bear fruit immediately. To avoid boredom or discouragement there must be birds in the hand as well as in the bush; impending fulfillments, and not merely hopes of the distant future. There are many interests whose objects lie thus ready at hand. Thus there is a zest of effort, a delight in activity or craftsmanship, which is enjoyed on the way to a distant goal. And when effort is united effort there is the interest in participation, the liking to do things together in an atmosphere of friendliness or love. There are the recreations and pastimes which can scarcely fail, because the achievement is easy, or because they are not “taken seriously,” or because the joy is in the game rather than in the victory. There are the objects and surroundings that are endeared by familiarity — that “sweet monotony where everything is known, and loved because it is known.”15 Aesthetic and intellectual enjoyment need never fail for lack of an occasion. There is no aspect of nature, or of the human environment, that may not be relished as food for contemplation or thought.

The art of happiness must provide for failure. A wise man will not undertake the impossible and beat his wings against invincible barriers. He will not adopt an end for which there is no means. But he will cheerfully embark on the improbable, and entertain hopes that are forlorn. Indeed, it may be said that in all the more fundamental adventures of life the goal itself exceeds full attainment. It must then suffice if one can feel that the line of effort is true to the mark and that the steps of advance, however small, move in the right direction.

There are maxims of happiness which apply to this perpetual and inevitable defeat: profit from failure, by learning how to avoid or diminish it in the future; turn promptly from defeat to a fresh undertaking; when occasions prove recalcitrant, change the mode of dealing with them. The Stoic teaching that even incurable sickness can be nobly borne can be generalized to mean that there are few situations in life that cannot be the object of a positive interest: even if it only be to live in agreement with one's personal code of honor or duty; or to rejoice in necessity as evidence of intelligible order; or to discover some hitherto hidden secret of nature; or, in the last extremity, to draw upon reserves of faith in a goodness of things despite appearances. And so long as one still breathes it is possible to extract some relish from a bare sense of being alive, of which even the capacity to suffer is evidence.

The supreme test of man's capacity to be happy is the prospect of death. The greater the enjoyment of life the greater the loss if life is annihilated. How then, is one to expect that loss, and still be happy? There are two common solutions of the problem of death, which the standard of happiness excludes. It is folly so to dwell upon approaching death as to nullify present enjoyments, and there is a powerful disposition to ignore it. Nevertheless happiness requires that death shall be faced without terror and with the minimum of aversion. The standard of happiness also excludes a second solution of the problem, which is so to exploit and accentuate the unhappiness of life as to make death the least of evils.

There remain two acceptable solutions. The first of these is to be so interested in the future of mankind that its good outweighs one's own absence from the scene. The second is to believe in a life after death. This belief may be taken as proved to be true; or it may be adopted as an act of faith — permissible in default of decisive evidence to the contrary, and justified by its present effects upon the will.

Positivity of interest tends to spread from one interest to another, by a sort of osmosis or chain reaction. Hence a cure for unhappiness is to be found in turning to some prosperous interest in order that its secretion of joy may be discharged into the wider stream. Triumph in one quarter will make obstacles elsewhere seem less insuperable.

The pursuit of happiness, like all pursuits, is subject to the moral injunction that the good of one shall be subordinated to the good of all. Personal happiness may be private, and even solitary, but it must be innocent. Moral happiness cannot be enjoyed at the expense of the happiness of others. More positively, it will be enhanced by an awareness of others’ happiness.


Is it possible to compare one civilization with another, and judge it to be higher or lower? Does not the wholeness and uniqueness of civilizations forbid their being submitted to a common standard? The key to the answer has already been disclosed in the examination of cultures in general, of which civilization is only a higher form. Unique wholes may have similar parts; unique civilizations contain similar interests; where there are interests there are standards; therefore, the same standards are applicable to two or more civilizations — so runs the argument. All civilizations embrace the moral interest in ethical, political, legal, and economic organization, the non-moral and super-moral interests in science, art, education, and religion. Because they have these common interests, civilizations borrow from one another not merely through involuntary diffusion but through choice. Such imitation is the sincerest flattery. The civilization which consciously borrows prefers what it borrows, the culture which lends prefers what it has, and they appeal to the same standard. Through this similarity of interests and orders of preference, civilizations become commensurable and one may be considered as higher or lower than another in terms which can be employed by a neutral historian or critic.

But while these considerations are sufficient to refute the alleged impossibility of judging two or more civilizations by common standards, we are still left with a plurality of standards. It is legitimate to say that “other things being equal,” a civilization which ranks higher in the order of aesthetic preference is a superior civilization; and there is a tendency in making such comparisons to assume that other things are equal. But suppose that other things, such as science and technology, are not equal? It is meaningful to say that Greek civilization is higher than modern American civilization, in a certain respect, such as poetry, while American civilization is higher than Greek civilization in certain other respects, such as sanitation and social justice. But this provides no answer to the question as to which of two civilizations is higher on the whole.

It is customary to make loose and provisional comparisons of this type by the method of “scoring,” after the analogy of competitive sports. One team “defeats” another through having a greater number of “points,” and this is supposed to constitute a measure of “all-around” athletic prowess. It is this method of comparison which is usually employed when it is said loosely of a certain civilization that it ranks above others. Thus Germanic civilization may be credited with a first in music, a second in science, and a third in literature, which gives it a high total even though it may fail to qualify in painting or in politics. Similarly, the Athenian civilization of the fifth century B.C., or the civilization of the Renaissance, may be said to rank high owing to its number of “firsts,” that is, its cluster of high excellence and its galaxies of genius, in the humane arts, in science, and in philosophy.

Such comparison rests on dubious assumptions. It is assumed that although the several rankings represent different forms of specific endeavor, they at the same time represent some common form of general endeavor. Thus the different tests of a track meet, however incomparable one with another, are taken to represent a common athletic test of “athletic ability,” which includes both strength and speed, together with endurance, skill, and competitive spirit. It is assumed that the events selected in a standardized meet suffice to test this general ability. And it is also assumed that the tests selected test it equally, so that firsts in one may properly be counted for as much as firsts in another.

The doubts and ambiguities which beset this interpretation of athletic competition are aggravated in a rivalry between civilizations. It is assumed that there is a general cultural ability, which is tested, and tested equally, by attainment in the humane arts, technology, politics, and all the other respects in which civilizations can be compared. Since there appears to be no such general cultural ability it can be claimed only that civilizations are comparable in the several respects selected for comparison. There is no standard in terms of which the “respects” are comparable among themselves, so that high rank in one can be only arbitrarily equated with high rank in another.

There is a possible escape from this difficulty — in principle — even though its application must be attended with a high degree of inaccuracy. The several forms of cultural eminence may be so causally related among themselves that one or some among them may be considered as evidence of, or as affording promise of, the rest.

Some interests underlie or condition other interests. There are two such conditioning interests which underlie all interests, the self-preservative interest and the moral interest. Self-preservative and moral values may be said to be more “important,” “indispensable,” or “fundamental” than other values. Other values are founded on them, so that if they were removed the superstructure would collapse. Any civilization, whatever the heights to which it may rise, can be destroyed by extinguishing the lives of its members, as is attested by the graveyards of history. Nor can interests of any sort flourish and enjoy the spheres of freedom within which their special interests, such as the cognitive and aesthetic interests, can ascend to their several heights, unless they are rendered harmonious by morality.

It is this fact that justifies the statement that war is fatally and totally destructive: because it kills men by wounds, starvation, and exposure; and because it demoralizes both men and societies, that is, dissolves the organization within which their several interests can live and flourish together. In proportion, on the other hand, as a society commands the necessities of life and enjoys the benefit of moral institutions, it possesses at least the potentiality of all other values, and two societies compared in this respect are compared as wholes.

The interdependence of interests within a society suggests a further standard of total comparison, namely, the extent to which the component interests reinforce and fructify one another. It has often been held on this ground that the civilization of Europe in the Middle Ages, despite its glaring defects in this or that respect — in science or in social justice — excelled other civilizations, earlier or later, in the interfructification of its parts. So judged, the better civilization will rest on a secure biological and moral foundation, and on this foundation its special interests will not only coexist, but reflect one another's light, and each will reflect the intensified light of their concentrated rays.

Special interests yield auxiliary, as well as independent, values. As men's special interests develop they may lose connection with one another and give less to the balance of life despite the fact that they have more and more to give. Knowledge, for example, not only satisfies the love of truth, but serves as a guide of action; in “high” civilization knowledge is lived by, as well as enjoyed for its own sake. Similarly, art may not only provide beauty to be enjoyed for itself when contemplated in galleries and monuments, but embellish utilities and provide symbols and images which reinforce the appeal of all other ideals. Similarly, education and religion, instead of being confined to the school and the church, may profit by the development of the cognitive and aesthetic interests, and give back to these in return.

These considerations in their sum yield the norm of a well-ordered total civilization, with which the several historic civilizations can be compared, and through which they can be compared with one another. It would be a society healthy, well-nourished and well-equipped; non-conflicting and coöperative; brilliant in its manifestations of eminence in science, art, education, and religion; and enhanced on the whole by the cross-fertilization of its parts.


Culture and civilization, like all of their branches, reach out to embrace all of mankind. There is a total aggregate of cultures, and by the principle of inclusion this is something better than any of its parts. But it is better only provided it embraces all that each narrower culture yields, and supplements it with more. It would not be better in the sense of inclusiveness if its effect were to diminish the several cultural values which it embraced. When, however, one speaks of a “world civilization” one does not mean this mere sum of cultural achievements. One means an over-all single culture, analogous to national or other local cultures in the interpenetration of its parts and its unique physiognomy.

The general principle of inclusiveness itself does not imply any answer to the crucial question of the effect of such a single world culture upon the narrower units of culture. Since a single culture implies a high degree of internal intimacy and interaction, there is always the possibility that its expansion to global proportions would result in its impoverishment rather than enrichment. There is no general answer to this question.16

It is clear that moral institutions gain by being extended to world-wide proportions, since their task is to eliminate conflict and promote coöperation. A world-wide conscience, polity, law, or economy is dedicated to the preservation, protection, and increase of freedoms; and since it does not prescribe how men shall use their freedoms, it invites individual and local diversities. Science, since its purpose is to know the common objective world and since its methods are obedient to this purpose, knows no human bounds. Truth is not American or Russian, Western or Eastern, or, for that matter, even global. If left to itself science spreads out automatically to all inquiring minds — dealing with the same subject matter and being pledged to the acceptance of the same evidence. World science, and the world-wide collaboration of scientists, need no promotion or propaganda, but only facilities and the absence of obstacles.

With art the answer is different. It is of the essence of art that it should reflect the concreteness of human experience, and embrace within itself a particular medium, idiom, tradition, point of view, and emotional attitude. To reduce it to some artistic equivalent of mathematical symbolism would contradict its intrinsic purpose and deprive civilization of what it, and it alone, has to contribute.

With education and religion the answer is both “yes” and “no.” These pursuits can profit by world-wide influences, but must guard against that thinness and dilution which is associated with “cosmopolitanism” and “the man without a country.” Science could only gain by a world-wide extension; a world art would scarcely be art at all; a world education and a world religion would never be the whole of education or religion.

All of the evils of a national totalitarianism would be multiplied by a global totalitarianism. It would subject each branch of culture to alien controls; it would achieve oneness of culture by destroying all cultures save one. It matters not which element is chosen, whether it is drawn from conscience or some other moral institution, or from a cult of science or art, or from a school or a church, if it absorbs and assimilates the whole of culture the loss is greater than the gain.

There is a further sense of world civilization which can have no unfavorable meaning. When conceived as a wide stream uncanalized into any narrow bed, or as a stream made up of many streams, it constitutes a reservoir of which all mankind are tributaries, and a source from which all mankind draw refreshment. Or, to change the figure, world civilization is a common treasure upon which all men draw and to which they all contribute. In proportion as men become aware of a common past and a common future this possibility becomes a reality. All men share what all men give.

The idea of the totality of civilization paves the way to the understanding of history, education, and religion. In its temporal sequences and continuities this total civilization makes history, which is the subject matter of the science called by the same name. The imparting and acquiring of it, whether organized or unorganized, constitutes education, to which there is a corresponding branch of inquiry. Concern for its cosmic destiny is religion, which when organized is the church, and which when examined and reflected upon constitutes the science and philosophy of religion.

  • 1.

    F. H. Allport and D. A. Hartman, “The Prediction of Cultural Change” in Methods in Social Science, S. A. Rice (ed.), 1931, pp. 325–6.

  • 2.

    W. R. Dennes, Civilization, University of California Publications in Philosophy, 1942, p. 163.

  • 3.

    T. Abel's Systematic Sociology in Germany, 1929, gives a summary of the doctrines here referred to. For the insistence of L. von Weise and Max Weber on “wertfrei Betrachtung,” cf. pp. 113–4; and for Weber's “verstehende Soziologie,” cf. ch. lv. Cf. also Alfredo Pareto, Traité de Sociologie Générale, 1919, Vol. I, ch. i. Max Weber is both the least pretentious and the least confused.

  • 4.

    For the emphasis on “Ganzheiten” by A. Vierkandt and other German sociologists, cf. Abel, op. cit., p. 75. For a discussion of the more important French school of E. Durkheim, cf. the Author's General Theory of Value, 1926, 1950, §§ 191, 192, 197.

  • 5.

    Op. cit., Vol. I, ch. vi.

  • 6.

    E. R. Wulsin, “Man and the Technics of Civilization,” in A Revaluation of Our Civilization, Argus Press, 1944, pp. 9–17.

  • 7.

    C. Becker, “Social Relativity,” in The New Republic, Jan. 27, 1937, p. 388. For Mannheim's attempt to escape the circularity by the notion of “the unattached intellectual,” cf. his Ideology and Utopia, 1940, p. 140, and ch. iii passim. Cf. the admirable summary and criticism of this work by A. J. Melden, “Judgments in the Social Sciences,” Civilization, University of California Publications in Philosophy, 23, 1942.

  • 8.

    L. Mumford, Technics and Civilization, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934, pp. 148–9, 168, 177.

  • 9.

    For an examination of this important topic, cf. D. H. Parker, Human Values, 1931, ch. vii.

  • 10.

    Divine Comedy, Hell, Canto V.

  • 11.

    The utterances of Paul have been interpreted as above: “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (I Cor., chs. 7, 9, and passim). The history of the Christian conception of marriage is complicated and confused: but there is no doubt that on the whole Christianity has sanctioned the idea that sexual desire testifies to man's “fall”; that it is excused, rather than idealized, in marriage; and that through the unilateral injunction of obedience it has created an obligation on the part of the wife to submit herself to the more insistent demands of the husband.

  • 12.

    On the Wisdom of America, 1950, p. 209.

  • 13.

    Pope's Essay on Man, Epistle IV; Rousseau's Confessions, Bk. IX.

  • 14.

    Anna Karenina, trans. by C. Garnett, Modern Library Edition, p. 838.

  • 15.

    G. Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Bk. I, ch. i.

  • 16.

    For a discussion of the question, cf. the Author's One World in the Making, 1945, ch. vi. The application to the specific branches of culture is considered in the chapters of the present book dealing with moral institutions and with science, art, education, and religion.

From the book: