Civilization and Its Contents

Civilization and Its Contents

Civilization and Its Contents

Civilization and Its Contents

Synopsis

Civilization is a constantly invoked term. It is used by both politicians and scholars. How useful, in fact, is this term? Civilization and Its Contents traces the origins of the concept in the eighteenth century.

Excerpt

Civilization is an intriguing subject, and for a long time I had been collecting material on it in a desultory way. Then, a few years ago, I received an invitation to participate in a conference to be held the following May in Tehran, Iran. My eye fixed on the word “Tehran, ” for I had long wanted to visit that city and its country. Without reading further, I mentally accepted. As my eye followed along the invitation, I saw that the conference was on comparative civilizations, sponsored by an Institute for Discourse on Civilization, founded under the auspices of the president of Iran, Hojjatoleslam Seyed Muhammad Khatami. My acceptance grew even warmer.

In preparing my paper, I did extensive research on the origin of the word “civilization.” I discovered that it was of Western and fairly recent birth. I shall detail that story later. Then a funny thing happened on the way to Tehran. The conference became embroiled in the political struggles of Iran. A few months previously, the Institute for Discourse on Civilization had participated in a meeting in Berlin that had been marred by a few dissidents rushing the stage, making disparaging remarks, and by a young woman allegedly disrobing in public. This tainted the effort by . . .

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