Early Civilization: An Introduction to Anthropology

By Alexander A. Goldenweiser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
REFLECTIONS ON PART I

Five examples of early civilizations have been passed in review. Are there any general conclusions to be derived from this survey, over and above the intimacy of understanding that comes with the absorption of concrete data?

First, then, one truth may well be emphasized, trite perhaps, yet not devoid of significance. In these five primitive communities we encounter all of the aspects that characterize human civilization, including our own. Religion, art, social and political organization, industries, economic pursuits and ideas, all of these elements are represented. Thus, from the very start it must be recognized that common humanity, not only in matters psychological but also in civilization, is revealed in all of the cases here analyzed.

It has been claimed by some that the most backward among primitive peoples possessed no religion, or again, no political organization. But attitudes such as these can only be maintained by a highly artificial definition of these aspects of civilization. If religion is belief in one supreme deity and political organization the centralized state, then indeed, both are missing from most primitive tribes. This procedure is, however, patently unjustifiable. As soon as the definitions are made broad enough to embrace, as they should, a great variety of disparate yet similar phenomena, the homogeneity of all civilizations with reference to their principal constituent elements becomes apparent.

Another important conclusion is this: is it not clear that the civilization of the Eskimo or those of the Haida, Iroquois, Baganda, or Arunta, are no more to be regarded as direct reflections of the psychology of the peoples that carry these civilizations than could modern civilization with reference to its own psychology? All of these civilizations are

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