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

Abstract

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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Introduction

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).

A discussion about a civilization’s life cycle among contemporary researchers is still very interesting. Quigley (1961), in The Evolution of Civilizations, offered seven stages of a civilization’s change: mixture, gestation, expansion, age of conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion. Each stage is divided by Quigley into further sub-stages and characterization is provided for the levels of intellectual life, religious outlook, social grouping, economic control, economic organization, political, and military. Quigley perceived his famous book as a study not of history but of the analytical tools assisting the understanding of history. He argued that many historic books have been written about the same subject over and over without touching main issues, because the right historic tools were not applied.

Melko, in his book The Nature of Civilizations (1969), provides a model of a civilization life cycle’s stages including crystallization (C), transition (T), complete disintegration (D), and ossification (freezing at a crystallized stage) (O). He also introduced a concept of civilization phases, including primitive (P), feudal (F), state (S), and imperial (I) culture. Based on these categorizations, Melko develops different “trees” of a civilization’s paths, similar to formulas applied in organic chemistry. He emphasizes the strong role of a transition stage, which can lead to different stages, not necessarily always to the same one.

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