François Pierre Guillaume Guizot
Translated by C.T. Evans
It seems to me that the main idea comprised
in the word "civilization" ... is the notion of progress or of development.
It makes one imagine the idea of a people advancing, of a people in the
course of improvement and melioration.
Now what is progress? What is development?
In answering this there is great difficulty. The etymology of the word
seems sufficiently obvious, the improvement of civil life. The first notion
that strikes us in stating this is the progress of society, the betterment
of the social state, the higher perfection of the relations between man
and man. It awakens within us at once the notion of an increase in national
prosperity, the greater activity and better organization of social relations.
On the one hand, there is a manifest increase in the power and well-being
of society at large. On the other hand, there is a more equitable distribution
of this power and well-being among the individuals which compose the society.
But the word civilization has a more extensive
significance than this which seems to confine it to the mere outward, physical
organization of society. Now, if this were all, the human race would be
little better than the inhabitants of an ant-hill or bee-hive; a society
in which nothing was sought for beyond order and well-being--in which the
highest, the sole aim, would be the production of the means of life and
their equitable distribution.
But our nature at once rejects this definition
as too narrow. Our nature tells us that man is formed for a higher destiny
than this and that this is not the full development of his character. Civilization
comprehends something more extensive, something more complex, something
superior to the perfection of social relations of social power and well-being.
That this is so, we have not merely the
evidence of our nature and the significance which the common sense of mankind
has attached to the word, but we have likewise the evidence of fact.
No one, for example, will deny that there
are communities in which the social state of man is better, in which the
means of life are better supplied, more rapidly produced and better distributed
than in others, and thus will be pronounced by the unanimous voice of mankind
to be superior in point of civilization.
Take Rome, for example, in the splendid
days of the republic, at the close of the Second Punic War. This was the
moment of her greatest virtue, when she was rapidly advancing to world
empire and when her social condition was evidently improving. Take Rome
again under Augustus, at the start of her decline, when, to say the least,
the progressive movement of society had halted and when bad principles
seemed ready to prevail. But is there any person who would not say that
Rome was more civilized under Augustus than in the days of Fabricius or
Let us look further. Let us look at France
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. From a merely social point
of view in regard to the quantity and distribution of well-being among
individuals, France was markedly inferior to several other European states,
in particular to Holland and England. Social activity in these countries
was greater, increased more rapidly and distributed its fruits more equitably
among individuals. Yet if one consults the general opinion of mankind,
it will tell you that France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
was the most civilized country in Europe. Europe has not hesitated to acknowledge
this fact, and evidence of its truth will be found in all the great works
of European literature.
It appears evident then, that all that
we understand by "civilization" is not comprised in the simple idea of
social well-being and happiness. If we look a little deeper, we discover
that, besides the progress and betterment of social life, another development
is comprised in the notion of civilization: namely, the development of
individual life, the development of the human mind and its faculties, the
development of man himself.
It is this development which so strikingly
manifested itself in France and Rome at these times. It is this expansion
of human intelligence which gave to them so great a degree of superiority
in civilization. In these countries, the godlike principle which distinguishes
man from the brute exhibited itself with peculiar grandeur and power and
compensated, in the eyes of the world, for defects of their social systems.
These communities still had many social conquests to make, but they had
already glorified themselves by the intellectual and moral victories they
had achieved. Many of the conveniences of life were still wanting, and
from a considerable portion of the community were still withheld their
natural rights and political privileges. But look at the number of illustrious
individuals who lived and earned the applause and approbation of their
fellow man. Here, too, literature, science and art attained extraordinary
perfection and shone in more splendor than perhaps they had ever done before.
Now, wherever this takes place, wherever man sees these glorious idols
of his worship displayed in their full luster, wherever he sees this fount
of rational and refined enjoyment called into existence, there he recognizes
and adores civilization.
Two elements, then, seem to be comprised
in the great fact that we call civilization--two circumstances are necessary
for its existence; it lives upon two conditions, it reveals itself in two
symptoms: the progress of society, the progress of individuals; or, the
amelioration of the social system, the expansion of the mind and faculties
of man. Wherever the exterior condition of man becomes enlarged, quickened
and improved, wherever the intellectual nature of man distinguishes itself
by its energy, brilliancy and grandeur, wherever these two signs concur,
and they do so often, despite the gravest imperfections in the social system,
there man proclaims and applauds civilization.
Such, if I mistake not, would be the idea
that mankind, in general, would form of civilization after a simple and
rational inquiry into the meaning of the term. This view is confirmed by
History. If we ask of her what has been the character of every great crisis
favorable to civilization, if we examine those great events which have
carried it forward, we shall always find one or another of the two elements
that I have just described. There have always been epochs of individual
or social improvement when events have either wrought a change in individual
man, his opinions and his manners or in his exterior condition and situation
as regards his relationship with his fellow men. For example, Christianity--I
allude not merely to the first moment of its appearance but to the first
centuries of its existence--Christianity was in no way addressed to the
social condition of man. It distinctly disclaimed all interference with
it. It commanded the slave to obey his master. It attacked none of the
great evils, none of the gross acts of injustice by which the social system
of that day was disfigured. Yet who cannot acknowledge that Christianity has
been one of the greatest promoters of civilization? And why? Because it
has changed the interior condition of man, his opinions, his sentiments
and because it has regenerated his moral and intellectual character.
We have seen a crisis of an opposite nature,
a crisis affecting not the intellectual but the outward condition of man,
which has changed and regenerated society. This is also, rest assured,
a decisive crisis of civilization. If we search through history, we shall
everywhere find the same result. We shall meet with no important event
that had a direct influence in the advancement of civilization that had
not exercised it in one of the two ways I have just mentioned.
I hope that I have given you a clear
idea of the two elements of which civilization is composed.