On the Evolution of Civilizations

Christopher M. Quigley
B.Sc., M.M.I.I., M.A

The essence of the myth of the Western tradition is the ideal of an independent life lived in liberty and dignity through family and community. This liberty and independence promotes enterprise and action. Such a myth engendered the human initiative which gave birth to such epoch-changing developments as paper money, financial credit, steam power, the combustion engine, steel hull shipping, electricity, wireless communication, television, air flight, nuclear power, the micro chip and the Internet.

The Western tradition is hopeful, future oriented, ordered and based on action, reflection and compromise. In the event of "either or" the West will opt for both, if possible. Its successful evolution is based on an ever evolving dialectic, never totally true, but always moving toward a more comprehensive understanding of truth. In this manner the natural outlook of the West is not just material or spiritual. It is a synthesis of both: - the body and the soul matter equally.

Professor Carroll Quigley in his book "The Evolution Of Civilizations" noted that there have been at least 16 different civilizations on the Earth that we know about. In his analysis he discovered that there are seven distinct phases in the evolution of a great society. These are:

1. Mixture
2. Gestation
3. Expansion
4. Age of Conflict
5. Universal Empire
6. Decay
7. Invasion

One of the great mysteries of Western civilization, currently centred in Washington, and which now dominates the World, is the fact that the West has re-invented itself three times. This rebirth came about through the process of circumvention and reform of old inefficient institutions and mind-sets. This process of rebirth resulted in new dynamic engines of growth being designed, developed and applied. In Quigley's estimation this feat of rebirth had never occurred before in history. He dates the three phases of Western expansion as follows:

1. 970 - 1270
2. 1420 - 1650
3 1730 - 1929

In each case the instruments of expansion were respectively:

1. Feudalism
2. Commercial Capitalism
3. The Industrial Revolution

In summary, Quigley's thesis was, that for a civilization to develop and expand it must have an instrument of growth. This instrument creates real wealth and is the engine that powers the transformation of the daily lives of all citizens. Over time, this instrument becomes politically dominated and institutionalized, therefore losing its effectiveness. (It becomes a means rather than an end). This stalling of wealth creation, in a system geared for sustained growth, causes more and more crises to affect the society. Eventually decay sets in and the civilization breaks down through attrition and civil war among its atomised power groups. Dissolution and final termination comes with outright invasion by a more powerful civilization, then on the ascendant. For example; Spain's destruction of the Incas and Rome's defeat of Greece.

He further noted that each of these periods of expansion ended in a period of conflict:

"The third age of conflict of our society began to display the ordinary marks of such a stage about 1890. At that time, in the principal industrial countries, it became clear that the rate of expansion had reversed itself...
All the characteristics of an age of irrationality began to appear on all sides. Increased gambling, increased smoking, the growing use of alcohol and narcotics, a growing obsession with sex and with the perversions of sex, an increased mania for speed, for nervous tension, and for noise; above all, perhaps, a growing tendency to regard violence as a solution for all problems, be they domestic, social, economic, ideological or international. In fact, violence as a symbol of our growing irrationality has had an increasing role in activity for its own sake, when no possible justification could be made that the activity was seeking to solve a problem.

All the characteristics of any age of conflict are too obvious to require further comment. They arose, as is usual in an age of conflict, because the organizational patterns of our culture ceased to function as instruments but had become institutionalized. This process was evident on all levels of culture. Religious organizations no longer linked men to God but adopted diverse mundane purposes. Our intellectual theories no longer explained anything or made us at home in the Universe. Our social patterns no longer satisfied our gregarious needs, even when we fled from the lonely anonymity of the city to the rat-race uniformity of sub-urbanism. Our political organizations increased the burden of their demands on our time, energy, and wealth but provided with growing ineffectiveness the justice, public order, education, protection, or incidental amenities we had come to expect from them. And on the military level costs rose at an astronomical rate without being able to catch up with our increasing danger.

The core of our problems could be placed on any one of the levels we have mentioned. Indeed, there might be good grounds for arguing that the root of our problem was our success in MAKING LIFE AN END RATHER THAN A MEANS TO SOMETHING HIGHER."

Quigley describes in greater detail the actual process of decay as follows:

"The process by which civilization, as an abstract entity distinct from the societies in which it is embodied, dies or is reborn is a very significant one. There are at least five steps in the process. Civilizations die as (1) decreasing political security and the ending of law and order make property precarious and make personal violence an increasingly significant element in life: accordingly (2) long-distance trade decreases; as a result (3) town life becomes precarious and there is a general exodus from the towns as people try to find a place in which they can be attached in some stable social and economic relationship to the food-producing Earth; obviously (4) there is a decline and even a disappearance of the middle classes (the property-owning, commercial, literate, city-dwelling groups); and (5) illiteracy rises rapidly."

Given Quigley's analysis, where does this leave the West, in general, and America, in particular? Remember, his treatise was written in 1961. At that period in time the author clearly regarded our civilization as already at the conflict phase. Since then, judging by the continuous wars, international conflicts, financial disorder and social disintegration nothing refutes this conclusion. If anything, the crisis has become more critical and more structural.

Using Carroll Quigley's hypothesis, if the West is to transcend this age of conflict and enter a new age of expansion the only way forward is through human initiative, enterprise and action. This creativity will only blossom in an environment of true liberty and dignified freedom. Repression, on the other hand, would stifle any such initiative and would spell the end of Western society. Hopes could be dashed. Civil conflict could ensue. The current post-socialist model called "pluralism", does not appear to have at its disposal a new instrument of expansion. Its guiding philosophy seems to be one of atrophy. The modus operandi of contemporary political power evidences a group holding on to money rather than motivating and organizing the creation of new wealth.

Reformation and change can come about through outright reform or circumvention and this latter method I believe is beginning to operate and should be fostered by enlightened leadership. This is a solution in which everybody can play a part. Examples of this trend are:

A. Open-source, cooperation-based creativity, circumventing competitive capitalism.

B. Renewable energy theory replacing open-ended fossil fuel destruction.

C. Barter groups, community credit organizations and WIR (work in return) networks circumventing central bank monetary theory.

D. Niche media players, operating through broadband, gaining market share over radio, television and newspaper dynasties. As a result, old media is dying.

E. Home-schoolers (re-invigorating American self-initiative and independence) circumventing federal education monopolies.

F. Family based community watch groups replacing diminished city policing.

G. Venture and private capital groups opting for self-funding and embracing innovative long-term projects frowned on by Wall Street "short-termism".

H. Private airlines, on mini-budgets, developing more efficient means of space travel and demonstrating the obsolete practices of Government space centres.

I. Private schools and colleges shunning grants in order to prevent Department of Education interference. Independence allows them to give their students a true education rather than simply a technical conditioning.

J. Architects, engineers and developers transcending old constraints and rejecting over-specialization in favour of synergetic solutions.

The list could go on, but you get the message. In essence, co-operative action is circumventing frustration. Eventually this movement, if fostered, will give the current atrophied structure much needed time and options. And options are crucial. As Quigley noted in the past, circumvention will work, but it must be understood by power groups that it is essential and thus should not be destroyed. Such insight is what is imperative from our political masters today. This circumvention must redevelop energy systems, monetary theory, financial practice, political structure, media distribution, integrity and excellence in education, etc. At the end of the day, however, the goal has to be the conceptualization, development and application of a new instrument of wealth creation; a new instrument of expansion. What this is we do not know yet, but human initiative will create it. As it did Feudalism, Commercial Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution.

The open source movement has shown how difficult, complex problems can be solved in community, outside the control of official economic doctrine. The rules are being rewritten and can be interpreted by those who understand what is happening. The explosion of the Internet is but one example of this developing paradigm in successful operation. Through liberty positive change could come about and this may lead the West toward a fourth period of expansion resulting in a new phase of development.

If my understanding of Quigley's historical analysis is correct, this might very well result in an integrated, One-World civilization around 2100- 2200. This could be a Utopia but if the current mental malaise, regression, atrophy and war are allowed continue the outcome could indeed be more like Armageddon. However, I firmly believe that, as in the past, the beacon of freedom, independence and liberty will guide the spirit of the West towards a renaissance in consciousness, political awareness, social action and, above all, personal initiative.

 

Reference:
"The Evolution of Civilizations"

Prof. Carroll Quigley
Liberty Press 1961


WWW.Wealthbuilder.ie 2007
Christopher M. Quigley B.Sc., M.M.I.I., M.A.