Civilization Life Cycle: Introduction

Civilization Life Cycle: Introduction

Andrew Targowski (Haworth College of Business, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-004-2.ch002


The purpose of this study is to define the role of civilization’s critical powers in the civilization life cycle. The role of information-communication processes is particularly crucial in this quest. The terms “rise” and “fall” of civilization reflect this chronic issue in comparative civilization studies. Spengler, in his book The Decline of the West (1918), argued that all cultures are subject to the same cycle of growth and decay in accordance with predetermined “historical destiny.” Toynbee in his Study of History (1934), compared civilizations to organisms and perceived their existence in a life cycle of four stages: genesis, growth, breakdown, and disintegration. A mechanism of “challenge-response” facing civilizations influences their abilities at self-determination and self-direction. However, according to him, all civilizations that grow eventually reach a peak, from which they begin to decline. It seems that Toynbee’s civilization life cycle is too short, since his “breakdown of growth” phase is in fact a point in time and the “disintegration” phase is too pessimistic in its title, only perceiving the “universal state,” often under a form of “empire,” as an ancient regime which only wants to maintain the status quo and is doomed to fail. But history shows that some civilizations may last a long time in relatively good shape without being in imminent danger of disintegration. Sorokin argued in Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937) that three cultural mentalities, ideational (spiritual needs and goals), sensate (“wine, women, and song”), and idealistic (a balance of needs and ends) are the central organizing principles of a civilization’s life cycle, and that they succeed each other always in the same order according to super-rhythms of history. According to Sorokin, Western civilization has for the last 500 years been in the sensate stage, reaching now its limit, and will soon pass to the next idealistic stage (which, according to this author, could be the universal civilization).

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