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The thin ice of civilization.


It is widely accepted that as time passes, the more we progress as both a species and as individual human beings; the more we progress, the more civilized we become individually and collectively; the more civilized we become, the further we are removed from the vestiges of savagery and barbarism. But is this really the case? It is also generally accepted that civilization is a good thing, both in terms of a process and as a destination. The markers and trappings of civilization--social organization, urbanization, competent government, the rule of law, the arts, material well-being, and so on--are seen as desirable and much preferred to the absence thereof. But what is the cost of this progress? And is civilization sustainable? Some years ago it was also suggested that there is a direct relationship between civilization (both the process and the state of being) and the proliferation of increasingly lethal armed conflict. This article takes a closer look at these troubling issues in light of the current state of affairs of our world and wonders whether it might not be time to rethink and reframe what is meant by civilization.


civilization, progress, war, environment, security


As a tertiary educated, car-driving, Internet-surfing, frequent-flying, connected-yet-wireless, twenty-first-century human being who lives high above the tar-sealed earth in one of the world's great cities, I supposedly sit atop the peak of human evolution. (This city does happen to be in an economically developed Western country where I get to have an occasional say in how I am misgoverned--or perhaps more accurately, which party gets to misgovern me--through the casting of a vote, but I am not sure that it is particularly relevant to the situation; I could live in any number of countries, north or south, east or west.) Not only do I lord it over the animal world, the plant world, and any other world that comes to mind, I am also regarded as the most developed and advanced version of my species and its forebears. In short, not only am I civilized, but I am widely considered to be at the very forefront of civilization. To assume that I represent the "Last Man," however, as some have done, (1) requires a good deal of arrogance. Moreover, it arbitrarily seeks to bring down the curtain on the process of humankind's social and political evolution.

Naturally, I am not alone in this state of civilization--that would be impossible. One cannot be part of civilization and be alone; it is necessarily a collective quality or state of affairs. Joining me in my celebrated state of civilization are a good many of my fellow humans with whom I share this increasingly crowded and fragile planet; all told there are currently around six to seven billion of us and counting. I say many and not all of my fellow humans because it has always been the case that some of us---individuals, peoples, societies, states, civilizations--are thought of as more or less advanced, more or less civilized than others. I for one have not always been quite so close to the top of the pile; not so long ago I was merely a rural, earth-bound being with a not so good public school secondary education and solely reliant on dial-up Internet access. I know that my educated urban brethren looked down their noses at me. Similarly, the ancient Greeks thought themselves superior to their barbarous neighbors, likewise the Romans, the imperial Chinese insulated themselves from the vulgarities beyond, the English looked down upon the Celts, Europeans conquered indigenous savages wherever they found them, and so on and so forth through the ages.

Central to my present discussion about the nature of civilization is its symbiotic relationship with the idea of progress; and not just any sort of progress, but progress with a purpose, progress that is going somewhere in particular--progress toward perfection, or as close as we can get to it. In theory, as time passes and the further we get away from the Big Bang and the primordial soup, the more we progress as both a species and as individual human beings; the more we progress, the more civilized we become individually and collectively; the more civilized we become, the further we are removed from the vestiges of savagery and barbarism. Having long left behind the vagaries and insecurities of some rudimentary state of nature, we might reasonably expect to be ever more deeply entrenched in our relatively blissful state of civilization. Is this really the case? Have we really come that far?

In his recent lecture series, "Guilt about the Past," Bernard Schlink observes, "What is both historically unique and persistently disturbing about the Holocaust is that Germany, with its cultural heritage and place among civilized nations, was capable of those kinds of atrocities." As he poignantly notes, this "elicits troubling questions: if the ice of a culturally-advanced civilization upon which one fancied oneself safely standing was in fact so thin at that time, then how safe is the ice we live upon today? What protects us from falling through it? Individual morality? Societal and state institutions? Has the ice grown thicker with time or has the passage of time only allowed us to forget how thin it really is?"(2) Schlink is right to stress that these "questions concern the very foundation of our individual moral existence and our ability to live together in our society and its institutions. They are questions that are unsettling and challenging even after decades of relative safety within the political, economic, and cultural realms of civil society."(3)

Another reason that gives cause to pause and reconsider just how far we have progressed as human beings in civilized society is the suggestion that the gap between the supposed Last Man and the first, or at least one of the first, Neanderthal Man, might not be as significant as we might think or expect, perhaps even hope. Neanderthals, who walked the earth for a few hundred thousand years or so until dying out in Europe around thirty thousand years ago are varyingly classified as a subspecies of humans (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), or as a distinct species (Homo ne under thalensis). Despite their somewhat ape-like appearance, paleoanthropologist Trenton Holliday is "convinced that if one were to raise a Neanderthal in a modem human family he would function just like everybody else." Holliday contends that there is "no reason to doubt he could speak and do all the things that modern humans do."(4) Setting aside the many ethical questions surrounding the cloning of Neanderthals, should it one day become possible, if Holliday is correct, then this raises questions about what makes modern humans so special or deserving of self-praise for the evolutionary position that we find ourselves in. What, if anything, is so special about our venerated state of civilization? And is it anywhere near as secure as we might hope and believe?

While we might be more socially, politically, technologically, and culturally advanced than Neanderthals, are we really that much more civilized? In order to get an idea of just how thick or thin the ice of civilization that so many of us are skating on is, this article explores the nature of civilization and the less-than-straightforward relationship between civilization and some of the perceived threats to it. I begin by briefly outlining and defining the concept of civilization and its relationship to the idea of progress and human perfectibility. I then discuss the nature of the relationship between civilization and war, an assumed ever-persistent threat to civilization. Following this I consider the relationship between civilization and the environment, including the ironies of the threat posed to civilization by anthropomorphic climate change. The article concludes with some thoughts on the growing necessity to rethink how we conceive of civilization.

Civilization and Progress

I have discussed at considerable length elsewhere the sociopolitical characteristics of the ideal of civilization, particularly its normative qualities. (5) In a nutshell, the capacity for reasonably complex sociopolitical organization and self-government according to prevailing standards has long been regarded as a key requirement of civilization. One of the primary reasons why sociopolitics is central to considerations of civilization is evident in the following oft-quoted passage from Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan:
  Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a
  time of Warre, where every man is Enemy
  to every man; the same consequent to the
  time, wherein men live without other security,
  than what their own strength, and their own
  invention shall furnish them withal. In such
  condition, there is no place for Industry;
  because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and
  consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation,
  nor use of the commodities that may be imported by
  Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving,
  and removing such things as require much force;
  no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account
  of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and
  which is worst of all continual fear, and danger
  of violent death; And the life of man, solitary,
  poor, nasty, brutish, and short.(6)

One of the important lessons that is generally drawn from this passage is that life lived outside of society in a state of nature is constantly under threat; there is little to no chance of peace among humans without society. A related point is that some degree of sociopolitical cooperation and organization is a basic necessity for the foundation of civilization. As Hobbes went on to explain, the "procuring of the necessities of life ... was impossible, till the erecting of great Common-wealths," which are "the mother of Peace, and Leasure" which is, in turn, "the mother of Philosophy ... Where first were great and flourishing Cities, there was first the study of Philosophy"(7) Thus, it is in society, and as members of society, that human beings are afforded the necessities of life that allow them to engage in the creative arts and activities that are the outward expression of civilization. Without cooperation in political society, there is no knowledge of science and technology, no leisure time which means no philosophy and fine arts, just as there is no industry and no personal property, wealth, or well-being. At least in the first instance, it is the first of these hallmarks of civilization, the presence of increasingly complex sociopolitical organization, which is the prerequisite and facilitator of the latter qualities. Social and political progress is said to come prior to virtually every other form of progress; moreover, progress within the other subelements of civilization is thought to be contingent upon it. Friedrich von Schiller later posited the situation in these terms, "would Greece have borne a Thucydides, a Plato, and an Aristotle, or Rome a Horace, a Cicero, a Virgil, and a Livy, if these two states had not risen to those heights of political achievement which in fact they attained?"(8) Hobbes believed not, and many thinkers before and since Hobbes's time have agreed on the basic underlying principle.

While the sociopolitical dimension of civilization is important, there is also a moral and ethical element to civilization that we cannot afford to overlook. Albert Schweitzer captures this aspect quite nicely when he writes, "Civilization, put quite simply, consists in our giving ourselves, as human beings, to the effort to attain the perfecting of the human race and the actualization of progress of every sort in the circumstances of humanity and of the objective world." This giving of ourselves is as much an attitude or frame of mind as it is a political, material, or cultural expression of civilization, for it necessarily "involves a double disposition: firstly, we must be prepared to act affirmatively toward the world and life; secondly, we must become ethical."(9) For Schweitzer, the "essential nature of civilization does not lie in its material achievements, but in the fact that individuals keep in mind the ideals of the perfecting of man, and the improvement of the social and political conditions of peoples, and of mankind as a whole."(10) To put it slightly differently, "Civilization originates when men become inspired by a strong and clear determination to attain progress, and consecrate themselves, as a result of this determination, to the service of life and the world."(11) This call for service to life and the world is at the heart of Schweitzer's philosophy of civilization, which in effect is also his account of ethics; it is what he referred to as the idea of Reverence for Life (Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben). (12) Reverence for Life requires of us a "world-view" that is other-regarding and extends a right to life and an ethic of "responsibility without limits towards all that lives."(13)

It is evident that despite some differences in emphasis here and there, these two perspectives on civilization are not so far apart; central to both of them is the idea of progress--both individual and social--and human perfectibility. A similar point can be made about Sigmund Freud's account of civilization as a largely socialized, maturing process similar to that which individuals undergo as they develop over time and come to rely more on their powers of reason rather than base instincts and impulses.(14) The cozy nature of the relationship between the ideal of civilization and the idea of progress is captured by the French linguist Jean Starobinski in his observation that the "word civilization, which denotes a process, entered the history of ideas at the same time as the modern sense of the word progress. The two words were destined to maintain a most intimate relationship."(15) This most intimate of relationships between civilization and progress is evident in Robert Nisbet's questioning of "whether civilization in any form and substance comparable to what we have known ... in the West is possible without the supporting faith in progress that has existed along with this civilization."(16) He claims that "No single idea has been more important than ... the idea of progress in Western civilization for nearly three thousand years." While ideas such liberty, justice, equality, and community have their rightful place and should not be discounted, he insists that "throughout most of Western history, the substratum of even these ideas has been a philosophy of history that lends past, present, and future to their importance."(17) Further in this regard, Starobinski makes the pertinent point that "civilization is a powerful stimulus to theory," and despite its ambiguities, there exists an overwhelming and irresistible "temptation to clarify our thinking by elaborating a theory of civilization capable of grounding a wide-reaching philosophy of history."(18) Clearly, the twin ideals of civilization and progress are important factors in our attempts to make sense of life through the articulation of some kind of all-encompassing or at least wide-reaching philosophy of history.(19) Indeed, in recent centuries, it has proved irresistible to a diverse range of thinkers from across the political spectrum.

The deeply intertwined relationship between civilization and progress was central to Francois Guizot's early nineteenth-century analysis of Europe's history and its civilizing processes. In an account that captures both the sociopolitical and moral demands of civilization, Guizot insisted that "the first fact comprised in the word civilization ... is the fact of progress, of development; it presents at once the idea of a people marching onward, not to change its place, but to change its condition; of a people whose culture is conditioning itself, and ameliorating itself. The idea of progress, of development, appears to me the fundamental idea contained in the word, civilization. "(20) At first glance, the fundamentals of progress appear to concern merely the "perfecting of civil life, the development of society, properly so called, of the relations of men among themselves." Yet "instinct" tells us "that the word, civilization, comprehends something more extensive, more complex, something superior to the simple perfection of the social relations, of social power and happiness." (21) This something more is the realm of humankind's deeper and broader moral progress; "the development of the individual, internal life, the development of man himself, of his faculties, his sentiments, his ideas." Like Hobbes, and others, for Guizot, sociopolitical progress or the harnessing of society is only part of the picture that is civilization; on the back of which, "Letters, sciences, the arts, display all their splendour. Wherever mankind beholds these great signs, these signs glorified by human nature, wherever it sees created these treasures of sublime enjoyment, it there recognizes and names civilization." For Guizot, "Two facts" are integral to the "great fact" that is civilization: "the development of social activity, and that of individual activity; the progress of society and the progress of humanity." Wherever these "two symptoms" are present, "mankind with loud applause proclaims civilization."(22)

Another distinguished historian, J. B. Bury, one of the first to undertake a large-scale study of the history of the idea of progress, similarly asserts that the "idea [of progress] means that civilization has moved, is moving, and will move in a desirable direction." (23) In keeping with the irresistibility of promulgating a grand theory, Bury contends that the "idea of human Progress then is a theory which involves a synthesis of the past and a prophecy of the future." This theorizing is grounded in an interpretation of history that regards the human condition as advancing "in a definite and desirable direction." It further "implies that ... a condition of general happiness will be ultimately enjoyed, which will justify the whole process of civilization." (24) In short, the end of history is a close proximity to a state of humankinds' individual and social perfectibility in which the dangers and uncertainties of the Hobbesian war of all against all are left behind in favor of the relative safety and security of civil or civilized society.

One of the things that we have increasingly been confronted with and have fought to both survive and eradicate in centuries past is the scourge of war between communities. In some ways, this fact might seem a bit at odds with the ideas of civilization, progress, and human perfectibility discussed above, but just as there is a close relationship between civilization and progress, so too there is a close relationship between civilization and war, and war and progress.

Civilization and War

The relationship between civilization and war is an important one; it is also a complicated one. As William Eckhardt has poignantly noted, "We can learn a lot about war through the study of civilization. We can learn a lot about civilization through the study of war." (25) Instinct would suggest that the more civilized we have become over time, or the further we have progressed from a brutish state of nature, surely the violent and bloody realities of war become ever more abhorrent and objectionable and are to be avoided at almost any cost. Indeed, this is one of the key lessons we take from Hobbes about the uncertainties and brevity of life in a state of nature where every man is an enemy to every man and each is either constantly at war with all others or preparing for it. (26) Jean Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, claimed that the state of nature was the playground of the noble savage who by and large lived in a state of harmony with his fellow beings and the natural world more generally. It was only with the coming of civilization that the Garden of Eden was disturbed by war and the other ills associated with modernity. As Rousseau eloquently put it, "The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to who it occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and honors," he adds, would humankind "have been spared by him who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his kind: Beware of listening to this impostor; You are lost if you forget that the fruits are everyone's and the Earth no one's." (27) In Azar Gat's extensive study, War in Human Civilization, in which he actually studies the origins and evolution of war among humans across two million years--effectively the entire span of human civilization, and then some, depending on your definition of human--Gat argues that of the two, "Hobbes was much closer to the truth." (28)

Admittedly, this conclusion sounds appealing and is probably rather comforting to most of us in the relative safety of our civilized surroundings. But is the association between civilization and war really a straightforward inverse linear relationship or is there more to it than that? The suggestion that civilization and war share a common heritage, that "the cradle of civilization is also war's cradle," would seem to indicate that there is something more complex going on. (29) As Ira Meistrich explains, "War requires the kind of mass resources and organization that only civilization can provide, and so the fertile ground from which men harvested civilization's first fruits also nurtured the dragon-tooth seeds of warfare." (30) Harry Holbert Turney-High makes a similar point in Primitive War, that the "war complex fits with the rest of the pattern of social organization." (31) The importance of organization and social cohesion to war-making is emphasized by J. S. Mill in his contention that in "savage communities each person shifts for himself; except in war (and even then very imperfectly) we seldom see any joint operations carried on by the union of many." According to Mill, savages and barbarians are "incapable of acting in concert," and nowhere is the capacity for cooperation more important than in times of war: "Look even at war, the most serious business of a barbarous people; see what a figure rude nations, or semi-civilized and enslaved nations, have made against civilized ones, from Marathon downwards. Why? Because discipline is more powerful than numbers, and discipline, that is, perfect co-operation, is an attribute of civilization." (32) Buried in this account is the possibility that the supposedly less civilized people of our world are inefficient and ineffective war-makers because they are less accustomed to it due to an inherent peacefulness and aversion to war and armed conflict, just as Rousseau suggested.

According to arguments such as Mill's, it is only civilized societies that have the organizational capacity and professional stratification to be efficient and effective war-makers. As Arnold Toynbee explains, "the possibility of waging war pre-supposes a minimum of technique and organization and surplus wealth beyond what is needed for bare subsistence." (33) At the same time, somewhat curiously, it is thought that war-making is the all-important grit around which the pearl of civilization grows and acquires its luster. The British ethnologist Robert R. Marrett, for instance, claimed in the early twentieth century that it "is a commonplace of anthropology that at a certain stage of evolution--the half-way stage, so to speak--war is a prime civilizing agency." (34) Quincy Wright draws some similar conclusions in his expansive A Study of War, arguing that "Primitive warfare was an important factor in developing civilization. It cultivated the virtues of courage, loyalty, and obedience; it created solid groups and a method for enlarging the area of these groups, all of which were indispensable to the creation of the civilizations which followed." (35) Based on his own studies, along with his analysis of Wright's data and further studies and analysis by Tom Broch and Johan Galtung, (36) Eckhardt argues that "anthropological evidence" points to the fact "that primitive warfare was a function of human development more than human instinct or human nature." He further argues, it "was only after we settled down to farming and herding that the land became of importance to us and, therefore, something worth fighting for." (37) In much the same way that Hobbes explains the process and outcomes of socially contracted civilized society, Eckhardt points out how the "agricultural revolution made available a surplus of food, which carried humans beyond the subsistence level of making a living to the point where the surplus could be used to pay some to govern others, and to engage in art, religion, and writing, and to engage in war in order to expand the benefits of civilization to others, or to get others to help pay for the process of civilization, or to defend oneself from those who might be tempted to take a short cut to civilization." (38)

This suggests an entirely different relationship between civilization and war to the argument that there is a direct correlation between civilized society and a propensity for peacefulness. Or as Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet put it in Vie de Voltaire, the "more civilization spreads throughout the earth the more we shall see war and conquest disappear together with slavery and want." (39) To the contrary, it is claimed that "the more civilized people become, the more warlike we might expect them to be." (40) To put it slightly differently, Wright contends that "Out of the warlike peoples rose civilization, while the peaceful collectors and hunters were driven to the ends of the earth." (41) He makes the further point that as "primitive society developed toward civilization, war began to take on a different character. Civilization was both an effect and a cause of warlikeness." (42) Defining war as "armed conflict between groups of people organized and trained and paid for killing and wounding and capturing each other, involving one or more governments, and causing some minimum number of deaths," which is not often agreed upon, Eckhardt makes a similar case "that warfare really came into its own only after the emergence of civilization some 5,000 years ago." (43) Following Wright, Eckhardt concludes that in essence, "war and civilization, whichever came first, promoted each other in a positive feedback loop, so that the more of one, the more of the other; and the less of one, the less of the other." (44) This simultaneously civilized yet vicious circle forms the basis of Eckhardt's "dialectical, evolutionary theory of warfare" in which "more developed societies engaged in more warfare." Moreover, as Eckhardt colorfully puts it, "civilized peoples took to war like ducks take to water, judging by their artistic and historical records," with "wars serving as both midwives and undertakers in the rise and fall of civilizations in the course of history." (45)

Evidence to support this general thesis comes in the form of statistical data concerning war-related deaths. On the basis of his monumental study, which included detailed analysis of 278 wars from 1480 to 1941 and a further 30 "hostilities" from 1945 to 1964, Wright contends that "at least 10 per cent of deaths in modern civilization can be attributed directly or indirectly to war." Furthermore, in respect to the general "loss of human life ... the trend of war has been toward greater cost, both absolutely and relative to population." (46) Based on his own extensive studies and the work of others, Eckhardt believes this is a particularly conservative estimate, arguing, if we accept "that war is some function of civilization, then civilization is responsible for one-third of 20th century deaths." (47) In his study of war-related deaths since 3,000 BCE, where war is defined as "any armed conflict, involving at least one government, and causing at least 1,000 civilian and military deaths per year," Eckhardt calculates that there have been at least 150 million war-related deaths during the period. (48) Of these 150 million war-related deaths across fifty centuries, around 96 percent of all deaths have occurred in the past five centuries, with the twentieth century alone accounting for more than 73 percent of the total death toll. The nineteenth century accounts for around 12.8 percent of all deaths while the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries combined are responsible for about 8.7 percent. The sixteenth century is the only other century to account for more than one percent of deaths, and then only just. (49) It is estimated that during the first eight decades of the bloody twentieth century, wars were responsible for the premature deaths of around 88 million people, or about 1.4-1.5 percent of the total population who lived during the period. (50) If we slightly expand the definitional parameters to include lives deliberately taken for politically motivated purposes, Zbigniew Brzezinski calculates that the twentieth century, or the "century of megadeath," has witnessed somewhere between 167 and 175 million killings. (51) By my calculations, the first decade of the twenty-first century has seen roughly three million war- or conflict-related deaths. (52) A key question here is: will the twentieth century be an aberration in terms of war-related deaths, or is it the beginning of a trend? Who in 1910 might have predicted such a violent and bloody outcome in the twentieth century? The next ninety years will go some way toward telling the tale.

On the basis of his study, Eckhardt writes that "we may conclude that war-related deaths have been increasing over the past 50 centuries." He adds that "population growth alone could not explain the increase in war deaths over these 50 centuries," because "war-related deaths were increasing significantly faster than population growth." Furthermore, the "increase in war deaths over these centuries could not be explained solely by the increasing frequency of wars, since war deaths were increasing faster than war frequencies." In essence, as "a general rule, deaths per population and deaths per war both increased" rather dramatically in the four centuries leading up to alarming peaks in the twentieth century. (53) If we were to follow the argument that the more civilized societies become the more averse they are to war, then we might expect the war-related death toll to be higher in the supposedly less civilized regions of the world. However, in line with the counterarguments set out above, while only about one-half of all wars and major battles have taken place on European soil since 3,000 BCE, when it comes to the modern era, Europe accounts for around 65 percent of all war-related deaths. Particularly since the age of Enlightenment, it is modern Europe, the beacon of civilization, that is the most violent and bloody of times and places in human history. (54)

In his essay "On War" of 1777, James Boswell wrote, "How long war will continue to be practised, we have no means of conjecturing." To which he added, "Civilization, which it might have been expected would have abolished it, has only refined its savage rudeness. The irrationality remains, though we have learnt insanire certa ratione modoque, to have a method in our madness." (55) Indeed, rather than civilization representing the antidote to or the antithesis of the Hobbesian war of all against all, it would seem that civilization and war go hand in hand. Or as Eckhardt has put it, "war and civilization go and grow together." A more pressing point raised by Eckhardt is, "So far as civilization gives birth to war or, at least, promotes its use, and so far as war eventually destroys its creator or promoter, then civilization is self-destructive, a process that obstructs its own progress." (56)

A similar point is made by Toynbee, who, in his extensive studies of civilizations across history, has concluded that while "War may actually have been a child of Civilization," in the long run, the child has not been particularly kind to its creator, for "War has proved to have been the proximate cause of the breakdown of every civilization which is known for certain to have broken down." (57) This in effect brings us full circle in the relationship between civilization and war: war-making gives rise to civilization, which in turn promotes more bloody and efficient war-making, which in turn brings about the demise of civilization. In the course of traversing this vicious circle, civilization has proven to be hell bent on expunging that which is not civilized or that which is deemed a threat to civilization; hence the war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, the war on terror more generally, war on drugs, war on poverty. Surely there is a lesson or two in here somewhere.

If wars of the conventional kind do indeed pose a threat to human civilization, then determining just how serious or immediate the threat might be to present-day civilization is near impossible to predict with any degree of confidence. Toynbee's twelve-volume A Study of History does tell us a lot about the decline and fall of civilizations and includes some helpful lessons from history, but it is not a magic crystal ball. (58) Reflecting on the events of the twentieth century and the general state of world affairs in his twilight years, Toynbee later observed, "We had tried to explain away the Nazis' cold-blooded atrocities as an aberration. The Nazis had been put down by the Allies; they had been repudiated by the German people and we had persuaded ourselves that the temporarily arrested march of civilization was being resumed." He concluded rather somberly that "our civilization is proving to have been only skin-deep." (59) Skin deep civilization, perhaps, but as set out above, and as I have sought to explain elsewhere, (60) war, savagery, and the savagery of war are virtually impossible to disentangle from the march of civilization. Or as Walter Benjamin has poignantly put it, "There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism." (61) Nowhere is this more the case than in the crucible of war. (62)

Civilization under Threat

It might well be that war poses no immediate threat to human civilization, after all, the form of human social existence that we describe as civilization has existed for around five or six thousand years. While particular civilizations might rise and fall; civilization has generally proven to be rather more resilient. As Toynbee explains, "civilizations have come and gone, but Civilization (with a big 'C') has succeeded," or has thus far endured. So, despite the persistence of war, famine, and pesti-lence, civilization keeps "shambling on." (63) That does not necessarily mean, however, that there is absolutely no clear and present danger of any kind threatening the future of civilization. For instance, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, extremist terrorism alone was characterized by world leaders and commentators from across the political spectrum as posing a threat to civilization--that is, a threat to the collective achievements and future of humankind--perhaps even more of a threat than fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism. (64) As to whether international terrorism poses a serious threat to civilization, or even Western civilization, is debatable, it probably does not; at least not without a major escalation in scale. Nevertheless, there are a range of global concerns, some old some new, which not only pose a challenge to the ongoing well-being and livelihood of humankind, but by some accounts, these threats have combined to leave us teetering on the precipice of disaster. (65) In the worst case scenario, they threaten the ongoing sustainability of the ecosystems of which we are a part, and the planet on which we rely for our livelihoods. At the very least, the sustainability and future viability of the ways of life to which we have become accustomed, particularly since the end of the Second World War, can no longer be taken for granted. (66)

A long-standing existential threat to our planet is the danger posed by near-Earth objects of the kind that are closely monitored by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); the fate of the dinosaurs is thought by many to be a constant reminder of such a risk. Such a scenario is largely beyond human control and has often been played out by Hollywood to dramatic effect. Closer to home, the greatest threats to civilization have traditionally been seen as most likely to come from catastrophic human-generated threats such as nuclear holocaust. (67) Ironically but tragically, nuclear weapons are one of the prime boasting points of civilization's preparations for war; if a nation is smart enough to develop a nuclear bomb--or shrewd enough to acquire the technology by whatever means necessary--then surely it is an advanced nation up there near the pinnacle with the best of them. This was very much the situation during the Cold War when, again somewhat ironically, in the name of ensuring their security, the United States and the Soviet Union embarked on an arms race trying to prove which socioeconomic system was more advanced, more civilized, more perfect. During this race to the top, or perhaps the bottom, depending on one's perspective, the United States' nuclear arsenal reached as high as about 30,000 warheads in the mid-1960s, while the Soviet Union's arsenal peaked at around 40,000 warheads during the 1980s. As many have observed, this represents more than enough firepower to guarantee nuclear annihilation.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists determines and sets the risk of such a scenario through its Doomsday Clock, which in 2007 was advanced from seven minutes to midnight to five minutes to midnight. In short, midnight effectively equates to the end of the world or civilization as we know it. This is the closest we have come to midnight since 1984, when two-way communications between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, practically came to a halt, resulting in the clock being set at three minutes to midnight. The riskiest moment prior to that was in 1953 in the early years of the Cold War when the clock was set at two minutes to midnight. (68) While the threat of nuclear holocaust might have diminished somewhat with the end of the Cold War--the clock was moved back one minute to six minutes to midnight in January 2010 following Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty talks between Washington and Moscow and in the wake of commitments (albeit non-binding) made at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference--the general concern persists into the twenty-first century. Today, there are concerns about renewed regional arms races and the dangers posed by rogue regimes and non-state actors seeking to get their hands on nuclear weapons or nuclear materials for a so-called dirty bomb.

As suggested above, the Doomsday Clock now also includes considerations beyond nuclear holocaust, including climate change and biosecurity, the latter of which will be discussed briefly further below. Anthropomorphic climate change, its associated consequences, and the delicate state of the natural world more generally are at the forefront of the new and emerging threats to civilization referred to above. (69) In fact, the nature of humankind's largely exploitative relationship with the wider natural world in general is being called into question and is forcing some of us to seriously rethink the relationship. While Rousseau might have characterized the relationship between human beings and the natural world as one marked by harmony and beneficence, for most, the story of civilization has in large part been all about humankind's capacity to conquer nature: conquer the wild frontier, tame the animal world, and civilize the barbaric and savage peoples of our own species. As V. Gordon Childe explained in Man Makes Himself, "progress" and "scientific discoveries promised a boundless advance in man's control over Nature." (70) This attitude toward nature and natural resources has long predominated in European and Western thinking in particular. John Locke, for instance, in his discussion of the Americas, Amerindians, and property rights, wrote that "Land that is left wholly to Nature, that hath no improvement of Pasturage, Tillage, or Planting, is called, as indeed it is, wast [waste]." (71) The land was there to be improved and exploited in order to accommodate a greater number of people than the Amerindians were inclined to, and if they were not going to make appropriate use of it, then the British were entitled to--in fact, it was their duty to do so.

As outlined above in relation to progress, a significant aspect of civilization revolves around evolving or developing, whether it is from a state of nature, savagery, or barbarism toward urbanized, scientific, technological civilization. A large part of this evolutionary process concerns society's capacity to control nature and exploit its resources. This is illustrated in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, in which he outlines four distinct stages of human social development: the first is "nations of hunters, the lowest and rudest state of society," his prime example being the "native tribes of North America." The second stage is "nations of shepherds, a more advanced state of society," such as that of the Tartars and the Arabs. But such people still have "no fixed habitation" for any significant length of time as they move about on the whim of their livestock and with the seasons in the endless search for feed. The third stage is that of agriculture, which "even in its rudest and lowest state, supposes a settlement [and] some sort of fixed habitation." The fourth and most advanced stage is that of civilized, urbanized, commercial society; an efficient and effective exploiter of nature and all the fruits she has to offer. (72)

Similarly, Walter Bagehot argues in Physics and Politics that the "miscellaneous races of the world be justly described as being upon various edges of industrial civilization, approaching it by various sides, and falling short of it in various particulars." The problem with those falling short, the uncivilized that are supposedly ruled by nature as opposed to rulers of it, is that they "neither knew nature, which is the clock-work of material civilization, nor possessed a polity, which is a kind of clock-work to moral civilization." (73) More recently, while he was World Bank Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, Joseph Stiglitz argued, "Development represents a transformation of society, a movement from traditional relations, traditional ways of thinking ... a characteristic of traditional societies is the acceptance of the world as it is; the modern perspective recognizes change. ... Key to these changes is the movement to 'scientific' ways of thinking." (74) Part of this scientific way of thinking includes manipulating and exploiting the natural world to the will, wants, and needs of its human masters.

In some ways, the relationship between civilization and nature is not so different to the dialectical relationship between civilization and war: the higher the level of civilization, the greater the exploitation of nature, the greater the exploitation of nature, the more civilization progresses. But as with civilization and war, this relationship cannot go on like this forever, natural resource extraction and exploitation is not a bottomless pit, it is finite and can only support so many people for so long. And, of course, as our planet is telling us, there are severe consequences associated with the processes of civilization, modernization, urbanization and all the goes with it. The cycle of extract more stuff from the ground, process more stuff, build more stuff, produce more stuff, own more stuff, throw away more stuff, buy more new stuff to replace it, is proving unsustainable on such a large scale. The consequences of such excess in the form of environmental degradation and climate change are many and varied; they include melting polarice caps and rising sea levels, variations in air and sea temperatures, extended periods of drought in some parts of the world while others experience increased rainfall and flooding, and increasing frequency of extreme weather phenomena, to name just a few.

These environmental changes in turn impact on our capacity to continue to inhabit certain parts of Earth and our capacity to continue to utilize and exploit resources as we have done for centuries. A knock-on effect is that these diverse changes and threats are often interrelated; one realm of security or insecurity can have a direct and dramatic impact on another, generating a kind of vicious cycle of insecurity. For instance, scarcity of and competition for essential resources such as land, food, water, and energy, are potential catalysts for violent conflict. (75) And these are not just imaginary scenarios; the period 2007-2008 witnessed violent food riots in as many as thirty countries around the globe, some of them in developed Western nations, including the United States. If the dire predictions are correct, then this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

In this regard, law enforcement and security agencies increasingly acknowledge that climate change potentially poses a range of serious challenges, which they have been preparing to meet for some considerable time. (76) In recognition of these emerging complex threats, defense forces have begun to model various climate change scenarios and the consequences that follow in order to evaluate the demands on defense services and to prepare coordinated strategic responses. (77) As no country or region of the world is immune to the impacts of climate change, it is seen as serious threat to the way of life of virtually every inhabitant of Earth. And thus, it is deemed as a potentially serious threat to the economic, physical, and general security and sustainability of civilization, as is evidenced by Maurice F. Strong's statement to the United States' Senate Committee on the Environment in July 2002: "We must give... priority to civilizational security and sustainability. This will take a major shift in the current political mind-set."

Similar to the effects of climate change, in an age of mass high-speed air travel that even in times of financial and economic crises sees around one billion international tourist arrivals per year, it is near impossible for any nation or part of the world to shut itself off from biosecurity threats. Some of these hazards, particularly deadly pandemics associated with highly virulent human and trans-species viruses are seen by some as posing a real menace to the well-being of humankind, perhaps even a threat to civilization. These are essentially the kind of issues and concerns that we might increasingly expect to confront in an age of globalization in which the peoples and places of the world are more closely connected and interdependent than ever before.

Yet such dangers are not altogether new, throughout history the health and general well-being of significant populations in various parts of the world have been threatened by influenza pandemics and major outbreaks of disease. The Black Death or the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, which is estimated to have killed as many as seventy-five million people worldwide (or more according to some estimates) is a particularly prominent example. (78) The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 is estimated to have infected half of the world's population and was responsible for as many as fifty million deaths. (79) More recently, the emergence of highly pathogenic viral strains, some of which can potentially cross species--as seen in outbreaks of Bird flu or Avian influenza (H5N1), and most recently a Swine flu pandemic (H1N1)--have given us a hint of how rapidly biosecurity threats can spread around the world. (80) The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of November 2002-July 2003, for instance, rapidly spread within a matter of weeks from the Guangdong province of China to infect people in at least thirty-seven countries around the world. According to the World Health Organization, it resulted in 8,096 known infections and 774 deaths (a case-fatality rate of 9.6 percent). (81) These are just a few of the known pathogens that have the potential to spread far and wide to virtually every corner of the globe. Similar to the effects of climate change, it is near impossible for any nation or part of the world to shut itself off from such threats--migratory birds do not abide by geopolitical boundaries; and while pigs might not fly, their virus does.

We need only look at the impact of HIV/AIDS to get an indication of the devastating impact that pandemics can have on the social and economic infrastructure and general well-being of certain states and regions of the world. AIDS is thought to have claimed around thirty million lives since it was first recognized, while about another thirty-three million people are estimated to live with the virus. (82) In the wake of the recent viral outbreaks, economic modeling suggests that a mild pandemic centered in Asia would cost approximately 1.4 million lives and around 0.8 percent of global GDP in lost economic output (approximately US$330 billion). Naturally, the worse the pandemic, the greater the costs; at the other end of the scale, a severe pandemic is predicted to claim the lives of more than 142 million people and cause a global loss in gross domestic product (GDP) of US$4.4 million. (83)

As to whether these emerging threat scenarios pose any significant dangers to the future of civilization as we know it is open to debate; it might be a case of two steps forward, one step backward in the general onward march of civilization, similar to the apparent contradictions between civilization and war. If the worst was to befall the planet, however, to put it in perspective, 142 millions lives lost as the result of a single pandemic would come very close to matching the total of 150 million war-related deaths that have been spread across the past fifty centuries. Even in the first decade of the twenty-first century, as many as one million lives have been lost as a result of natural disasters, ranging from heat waves from Australia to Europe, earthquakes from Iran to China to Haiti, and with droughts, floods, cyclones, hurricanes, and tsunamis at various locations in between. Moreover, there is a pretty good chance that some of these disasters and extreme weather events are at least in part a result of humankind's impact on planet Earth during the course of the march of civilization.

Conclusion: Rethinking Civilization

Just over a couple of hundred years ago, Edward Gibbon declared in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that humankind may "acquiesce in the pleasing conclusion that every age of the world has increased and still increases the real wealth, the happiness, the knowledge, and perhaps the virtue, of the human race." (84) In many ways, the record of human history bears out as much: for example, life expectancy for a Roman during the days of the Empire was around twenty-five years. Today, the world average life expectancy is somewhere in the mid- to late-sixties, and considerably higher in many parts of the developed world. Thanks in part to advances in science and technology, in the twentieth century alone, the "average national gain in life expectancy at birth has been 66% for males and 71% for females, and in some cases, life expectancy has more than doubled" during the course of the century. (85) The twentieth century has also witnessed unprecedented urbanization, a key marker of progress and development, increasing from 220 million urban dwellers or around 13 percent of the world's population at the beginning of the century to 29 percent or 732 million by mid-century and reaching 49 percent or around 3.2 billion people in 2005. With urbanization expected to continue at pace, it is estimated that by 2030 almost 5 billion people will live in cities, equivalent to roughly 60 percent of the global population. (86) In respect to the global economy, it has been calculated that in the past millennium, during which time the global population rose by around twenty-two fold, global per capita income increased by approximately thirteen times, while global GDP expanded by a factor of almost 300. The vast majority of this growth can be attributed to advances made as a consequence of the industrial revolution; since 1820 the global population has grown by a factor of five, while per capita income has increased by approximately eight fold. This kind of development far outstrips the preceding millennium when the Earth's population is estimated to have grown by as little as one sixth, and during which time per capita income was largely stagnant. (87)

It might seem then that civilization is chugging along quite nicely, just as so many have imagined it; we live longer than our predecessors, we are better educated than ever before, and we have access to far more stuff than most us will ever need. Clearly, the lifestyles of most modern humans are far more comfortable and secure than that of Neanderthals. But at what cost has this civilization and progress come to us and our planet? Just this morning I read in the newspaper that the distinguished scientist Frank Fenner, the man who announced to the world in 1980 that smallpox had been eradicated, is convinced that "Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years." Like others, he argues that the Earth has entered the Anthropocene, and while "climate change is just at the very beginning... we're seeing remarkable changes in the weather already." It is on this basis that he argues that humankind will collectively "undergo the same fate as the people of Easter Island." The only things that will be left of us are our monuments to the excesses of a fallen civilization. Before then, as Earth's "population keeps growing to seven, eight, or nine billion, there will be a lot more wars over food." And not only is the fate of humans doomed, so is that of a "lot of other animals ... too. It's an irreversible situation." (88)

It is hard to believe that the human condition is really that perilous, that the thin ice of civilization is melting away so quickly and so dramatically that the future of civilization is at risk. Are we really lurching toward some sort of post-apocalyptic world like that depicted in Mad Max or The Road? While climate change skeptics might beg to differ, at the very least, all is not well in the world of civilization. I would like to suggest that a good part of the problem may well be the very way in which we conceive of civilization and progress, which for so long now has been predominantly all about the social, political, and material dimensions of civilization at the expense of its ethical and other-regarding dimensions.

With respect to the general progress of humankind and our civilization, Ruth Macklin is slightly at odds with Gibbon in her claim that it "is wholly uncontroversial to hold that technological progress has taken place; largely uncontroversial to claim that intellectual and theoretical progress has occurred; somewhat controversial to say aesthetic or artistic progress has taken place; and highly controversial to assert that moral progress has occurred." (89)

The issue of moral progress appears to lie at the heart of the major challenges to civilization outlined above. With respect to both the relationship between civilization and war, and civilization and the environment, we can see two potentially self-destructive processes in which civilization brings about its own demise as it cannibalizes itself in a kind of suicidal lifecycle. The relationship between civilization and war is seemingly one in which war-making gives rise to civilization, the organizational and technological advances of which in turn promote yet more bloody and efficient war-making, which in turn eventually brings about the demise of civilization either through overstretch or internal collapse. Similarly, up to this point in human history, the march of civilization has largely been at the expense of the environment and the natural world more generally. And now, in turn, the environment is threatening the future of civilization through the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change and viral pandemics. In both cases this represents a sort of vicious circle in which civilization is ultimately its own worst enemy.

With respect to civilization and war, Toynbee, Sorokin, Wright, and Eckhardt more or less all identify the problem in terms of civilization's inability "to respond to the ethical challenge of altruism vs. egoism." (90) As Eckhardt summarizes, Toynbee, Sorokin, and Wright came to the similar conclusion that "war and civilization were motivated by a sense of superiority and self-righteousness, which rationalized and justified the destructiveness of their behaviour." Moreover, the "self-destructiveness of these behaviours was completely concealed by the self-deception of self-centeredness and self-righteousness so characteristic of civilized peoples, who tend to believe in their innate superiority to others and especially primitive peoples." (91) Eckhardt poses the question: "Can we have civilization without war?" His answer is an "unequivocal 'Yes,'" so long as we can overcome the "authoritarian, egoistic, and compulsive nature of civilization as its war-making essence." In this he is in agreement with Toynbee, Sorokin, and Wright in calling for "an ethical solution to the problem of self-destruction." All agreed that "we can prevent war by restructuring civilization so that our human relations are more egalitarian, altruistic, and compassionate." (92)

This call to alms as opposed to arms has much in common with General Douglas MacArthur's urging in his Farewell Address to Congress on April 19, 1951, in which he quoted his own remarks following Japan's surrender on the Battleship Missouri: "If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2,000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh."

In many ways, a similar sort of point could be made in regard to civilization's uneasy and exploitative relationship with the natural world. If civilization was more about acting "affirmatively toward the world and life" and "becoming] ethical," (93) including a "responsibility without limits towards all that lives," (94) as Schweitzer suggests, and less about progress, modernization, urbanization, and growth at almost any expense, then we might find ourselves and our world in a considerably healthier state than at present.

On the whole, I think it is fair to argue that despite the passage of time and the many advances that humankind might have made from some rudimentary state of nature, or barbarism, or savagery, or some other uncivilized condition, the ice of civilization on which humankind skates is inherently thin and constantly at risk from our own destructive actions. Moreover, as supposedly the most advanced and most civilized of my species, in light of the relationships between civilization and war and civilization and the environment outlined above, it might well be that me and my kind have done more than any others in terms of keeping the ice of civilization on which all of us rely to keep our heads above water--some of us literally--so precariously and perilously thin.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


(1.) Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Penguin, 1992).

(2.) Bernard Schlink, Guilt about the Past (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2009), 29.

(3.) Schlink, Guilt about the Past, 29-30.

(4.) Zack Zorich, "Should We Clone Neanderthals?" Archaeology 63, no. 2 (March/April, 2010)

(5.) See Brett Bowden, "The Ideal of Civilisation: Its Origins and Socio-Political Character," Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 7, no. 1 (2004): 25-50; Brett Bowden, The Empire of Civilization: The Evolution of an Imperial Idea (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Brett Bowden, ed., Civilization: Critical Concepts in Political Science, 4 vols. (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), vol. 1.

(6.) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, [1651] 1985), 186.

(7.) Hobbes, Leviathan, 683.

(8.) Friedrich von Schiller, "The Nature and Value of Universal History: An Inaugural Lecture [1789]," History and Theory 11, no. 3 (1972): 329.

(9.) Albert Schweitzer, The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization: The Philosophy of Civilization. Part I, trans. C. T. Campion, 2nd ed. (London: A. & C. Black Ltd, [1923] 1947), viii.

(10.) Albert Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, trans. C. T. Campion (London: Unwin Books, [1923] 1967), 20.

(11.) Schweitzer, The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization, ix.

(12.) Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, chaps. 21 and 22, "The Ethic of Reverence for Life," 212-31 and "The Civilizing Power of the Ethic of Reverence for Life," 232-244. See also Predrag Cicovacki, "Reverence for Life: A Moral Value or the Moral Value?," LYCEUM 9, no. 1 (Fall 2007): 1-10.

(13.) Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, 215.

(14.) Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, trans. Joan Riviere (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute for Psycho-Analysis, [1930] 1975), 26-33.

(15.) Jean Starobinski, "The Word Civilization," in Blessings in Disguise; or The Morality of Evil, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 4. Emphasis in original.

(16.) Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (London: Heinemann, 1980), 9.

(17.) Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress, 4.

(18.) Starobinski, "The Word Civilization," 33-34. Emphasis in original.

(19.) See Brett Bowden, "In the Name of Progress and Peace: The 'Standard of Civilization' and the Universalizing Project," Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 29, no. 1 (2004): 43-68; Bowden, Empire of Civilization.

(20.) Frangois Guizot, The History of Civilization in Europe [1828], trans. William Hazlitt (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1997), 16. Emphasis in original.

(21.) Guizot, History of Civilization in Europe, 16-7.

(22.) Guizot, History of Civilization in Europe, 18.

(23.) J. B. Bury, The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry into its Origin and Growth (New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1960), 2.

(24.) Bury, The Idea of Progress, 5.

(25.) William Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," Journal of Peace Research 27, no. 1 (1990): 9.

(26.) Hobbes, Leviathan, 186-8. See also Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression (New York, NY: MJF Books, 1966); Lawrence Keeley, War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997).

(27.) Jean Jacques Rousseau, "Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality Among Men," in The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, ed. and trans. Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1755] 1997), 161.

(28.) Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006), 663.

(29.) Ira Meistrich, "War's Cradle: The Birthplace of Civilization is Also the Home of Culture's Nemesis," MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 17, no. 3 (2005): 85.

(30.) Meistrich, "War's Cradle," 85.

(31.) Harry Holbert Turney-High, Primitive War; Its Practice and Concepts, 2nd ed. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), 23.

(32.) John Stuart Mill, "Civilization," in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. XVIII: Essays on Politics and Society, ed. J. M. Robson (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 122.

(33.) Arnold J. Toynbee, War and Civilization, selected by Albert V. Fowler from A Study of History (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), viii.

(34.) R. R. Marrett, Psychology and Folklore (London: Methuen & Co., 1920), 36.

(35.) Quincy Wright, A Study of War, 2nd ed. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 98-99.

(36.) Wright, A Study of War; Tom Broch and Johan Galtung, "Belligerence among the Primitives: A Re-analysis of Quincy Wright's Data," Journal of Peace Research 3, no. 1 (1966): 33-45; William Eckhardt, "Primitive Militarism," Journal of Peace Research 12, no. 1 (1975): 55-62.

(37.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 9.

(38.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 10-11.

(39.) Quoted in Lucien Febvre, "Civilization: Evolution of a Word and a Group of Ideas," in A New Kind of History: From the Writings of Febvre, ed. P. Burke, trans. K Folca (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), 257, note 118.

(40.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 15.

(41.) Wright, A Study of War, 100.

(42.) Wright, A Study of War, 99.

(43.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 10, 9.

(44.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 14.

(45.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 9-11.

(46.) Wright, A Study of War, 246-7.

(47.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 15.

(48.) William Eckhardt, "War-Related Deaths Since 3000 BC," Bulletin of Peace Proposals 22, no. 4 (1991): 437.

(49.) Eckhardt, "War-Related Deaths Since 3000 BC," 438-9. The detailed data and further analysis can be found in the sixty tables in Appendix B of William Eckhardt, Civilizations, Empires and Wars: A Quantitative History of War (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, 1992), 220-77.

(50.) Arthur H. Westing, "War as a Human Endeavor: The High-Fatality Wars of the Twentieth Century," Journal of Peace Research 19, no. 3 (1982): 263.

(51.) Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century (New York. NY: Touchstone, 1995). See also R. J. Rummel, Death By Government (New Bruswick, NJ: Transaction Publishing, 1994).

(52.) Primarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Darfiir region of Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

(53.) Eckhardt, "War-related Deaths Since 3000 BC," 439-40.

(54.) Eckhardt, "War-related Deaths Since 3000 BC," 441.

(55.) James Boswell, BoswelTs Column: Being His Seventy Contributions to The London Magazine under the pseudonym The Hypochondriack from 1777 to I783 here First Printed in Book Form in England, introduction and notes Margery Bailey (London: William Kimber, 1951), 35.

(56.) Eckhardt, "Civilization, Empires, and Wars," 15.

(57.) Toynbee, War and Civilization, viii, vii.

(58.) Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1934-1961). See especially Vol. IV: The Breakdowns of Civilizations; Vol. V: The Disintegrations of Civilizations: and Vol. VI: The Disintegrations of Civilizations, all published in 1939.

(59.) Arnold Toynbee, "Human Savagery Cracks Thin Veneer," Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1970. First published in the London Observer.

(60.) See Brett Bowden, "Civilization and Savagery in the Crucible of War," Global Change, Peace & Security 19, no. 1 (2007): 3-16; Bowden, Empire of Civilization.

(61.) Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1969), 256.

(62.) This account of the nature of the relationship between civilization and war not only confronts our assumptions about the secure and comfortable space many of us thought we occupied as rusted-on life members of civilized society, but it also has significant implications and poses some serious questions to notions of a liberal or democratic peace, and peace and conflict studies more generally.

(63.) Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1948), 24.

(64.) George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001; Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "Civilization Need Not Die," Harvard Magazine, (July-August, 2002): 67-69.

(65.) Stephen, Flynn, The Edge of Disaster (New York, NY: Random House for Council on Foreign Relations, 2007); Marq de Villiers, The End: Natural Disasters, Manmade Catastrophes, and the Future of Human Survival (New York. NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008).

(66.) See for instance, Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Forging a New Common Purpose (London: Earthscan, 1992); Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (London: Pluto Press, 2010).

(67.) See The Effects of Nuclear War (Washington, DC: Office of Technology Assessment United States Congress, 1979).

(68.) See Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at

(69.) Brian Fagan, The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization (London: Granta, 2004); Brian Fagan, The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2008).

(70.) V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself (London: Watts & Co., 1948), 1.

(71.) John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (New York, NY: New American Library, [1690] 1965), 339, Book II, Sect. 42. Emphasis in original.

(72.) Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (London: T. Nelson and Sons, [1776] 1869), 289-296, and Book V in general.

(73.) Walter Bagehot, Physics and Politics (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., [1875] not dated), 17, 19.

(74.) Joseph E. Stiglitz, "Towards a New Paradigm for Development: Strategies, Policies, and Processes," given as the 1998 Prebisch Lecture at UNCTAD, Geneva, October 19, 1998. Emphasis in original.

(75.) See for instance, Jeffrey Mazo, Climate Conflict: How Global Warming Threatens Security and What to do about it (London and New York, NY: Routledge, 2010); Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Robin McKie, "Climate Wars Threaten billions," The Observer, November 4, 2007; Carolyn Pumphrey, ed., Global Climate Change: National Security Implications (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2008); National Security and the Threat of (68.) Climate Change (Alexandria, VA: The CAN Corporation, 2007).

(76.) See for instance, A. J. Fairclough, "Global Environmental and Natural Resource Problems--Their Economic, Political and Security Implications," The Washington Quarterly 14, no. 1 (1991): 81-98; Gregory D. Foster, "Environmental Security: The Search for Strategic (68.) (68.) (68.) Legitimacy," Armed Forces and Society 27, no. 3 (2001): 373-95; Simon Dalby, Environmental Security (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); Alan Dupont and Graeme Pearman, Heating up the Planet: Climate Change and Security (Sydney: Lowy Institute, (68.) (68.) Paper 12, June 2006, Longueville Media); Juergen Scheffran, "Climate Change and Security," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 64, no. 2 (2008): 19-25, 59-60.

(77.) Gwynne Dyer, Climate Wars (Toronto, ON: Random House, 2008).

(78.) Ole J. Benedictow, The Black Death 1346-1353: The Complete History (Woodbridge, VA: The Boydell Press, 2004).

(79.) C W. Potter, "A History of Influenza," Journal of Applied Microbiology 91, no. 4 (2001): 572-9.

(80.) See Nathan D. Wolfe, Claire Panosian Dunavan, and Jared Diamond, "Origins of Major Human Infectious Diseases," Nature, 447 (May 17, 2007): 279-83; Marc Siegel, Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2006).

(81.) Richard D. Smith, "Responding to Global Infectious Disease Outbreaks: Lessons from SARS on the Role of Risk Perception, Communication and Management," Social Science and Medicine 63, no. 12 (2006): 3113-23. See also Karl Taro Greenfeld, China Syndrome: The True (68.) Story of the 21st Century's First Great Pandemic (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006); Thomas Abraham, Twenty-First Century Plague: The Story of SARS (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

(82.) UNAIDS, 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update (Geneva: UNAIDS and World Health Organization, 2009); Susan S. Hunter, Black Death: AIDS in Africa (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Clive Bell, Shantayanan Devarajan, and Hans Gersbach, The Long-run Economic (68.) (68.) Costs of AIDS: Theory and an Application to South Africa (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2003).

(83.) Warwick MicKibbin and Alexandra A. Sidorenko, Global Macroeconomic Consequences of Pandemic Influenza (Sydney: Lowy Institute for International Policy, February 2006).

(84.) Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, abridged by D. M. Low (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books with Chatto and Windus, 1963), 530.

(85.) Kevin G. Kinsell, "Changes in Life Expectancy 1900-1990," The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 55 (1992): 1196S-1202S. See also Oded Galor and Omer Moav, "Natural Selection and the Evolution of Life Expectancy" (October 12, 2005). Minerva Center for (68.) Economic Growth Paper No. 02-05. Available at SSRN:

(86.) World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision (New York, NY: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2005).

(87.) Angus Maddison, The World Economy: Vol. I A Millennial Perspective, Vol. 2 Historical Statistics (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2006).

(88.) Frank Fenner, quoted in Cheryl Jones, "Fenner sees no hope for humans," The Australian [Higher Education section], June 16, 2010, 25. See also, Michael Boulter, Extinction: Evolution and the End of Man (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2002).

(89.) Ruth Macklin, "Moral Progress," Ethics 87, no. 4 (1977): 370. Emphasis in original.

(90.) Eckhardt, "Civilizations, Empires, and Wars," 12. See Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, Choose Life: A Dialogue (New York, NY: I. B. Tauris, [1976] 2007); and Pitrim A. Sorokin, The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation (86.) (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, [1954] 2002).

(91.) Eckhardt, "Civilizations, Empires, and Wars," 22.

(92.) Eckhardt, "Civilizations, Empires, and Wars," 22-3.

(93.) Schweitzer, The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization, viii.

(94.) Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, 215.


Brett Bowden is an associate professor of History and Political Thought. He holds appointments at the University of Western Sydney, The Australian National University, and the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy. His recent publications include The Empire of Civilization: The Evolution of an Imperial Idea (University of Chicago Press, 2009), and the four-volume edited major work Civilization: Critical Concepts (Routledge, 2009). He is an Associate Editor of the second edition of the six-volume Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History (2010), edited by William H. McNeill.

Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 36(2) 118-135

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DOI: 10.1177/0304375411409017

(1) School of Humanities and Languages, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, Australia

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