HIS 101
François Pierre Guillaume Guizot remarks
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 Cincinnatus?
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.

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