The Birth of Civilization in the Near East

The Birth of Civilization in the Near East

The Birth of Civilization in the Near East

The Birth of Civilization in the Near East

Excerpt

A full description of the birth of civilization in the Near East would require a work many times the size of the present book. We have concentrated on the social and political innovations in which the great change became manifest. These bear most directly on the questions to which the appearance of the first civilized societies gives rise; yet they have received less attention than the concomitant changes in the fields of technology and the arts, the manifestations of religion, or the invention of writing. In so far as technological and artistic developments reveal social and political conditions, we have taken them into account; but we have not attempted to describe them in detail, and have kept our subject within manageable limits by a somewhat strict interpretation of the word civilization. While it is true that the terms "civilization" and "culture" count as synonyms in general usage, and that every distinction therefore remains arbitrary, there are etymological reasons for preferences in their use. The word "culture," with its overtones of something irrational, something grown rather than made, is preferred by those who study primitive peoples. The word "civilization," on the other hand, appeals to those who consider man in the first place as homo politicus, and it is in this sense that we would have our title understood.

A question which we have left unanswered is that of origins. The reader will find that in trimming the ramifications of historical beginnings we have exposed the trunks rather than the roots of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization. To what extent can their roots be known; what were the forces that brought them into being? I think that the historian must deem this question unanswerable. It can but lead him astray in the direction of quasi-philosophical speculations, or tempt him to give pseudo-scientific answers. It is the latter alternative which has done most harm, for time and again such changes as an increase in food-production or technological advances (both, truly enough, coincidental with the rise of civilization) have been supposed to explain how civilization became possible. This misconception bars the road to a deeper understanding. For Whitehead's words are valid for past and present alike:

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