Chapter One: In Search of a Pattern in World History
part of historical study is the task of finding a design in the mass
of human experience. World history is embodied in a set of stories.
The stories tell how humanity has progressed from one situation to another
- from a less to a more complex type of society.
The crux of the matter
is to determine the turning points of history. They are times which
mark a dividing line between two fundamentally different types of culture.
In contrast with histories centering in the experience of particular
nations or groups, this book follows changes in the values and structure
The introduction of
new cultural technologies creates a space for new types of public experience.
Their transition defines the successive epochs of world history.
Civilizations are not societies
which rise and fall in recurring cycles but cultural systems which build
upon the work of their predecessors. Curiously, civilizations appear
to be worldwide. That makes it possible to view world history with a
Chapter Two: Institutions Differentiating within
of world history follows the creation of an increasingly complex society
with ever more specialized institutions.
When civilizations first
appeared in the eastern Mediterranean area, civilized societies were
embodied in institutions which combined political and religious authority.
During the first historical epoch, the political function split off
from the religious. Royal governments went on to create territorially
extended empires by force of arms.
However, the experience of
military violence, cruelty, and injustice produced a yearning for a
more rational and peaceful world whose ideals philosophers expressed.
In time, philosophy found an outlet in the personal imperatives of religion.
There followed an age of idea-based religions which transcended nationality
- the so-called "world religions".
Subsequently, these religions
became contending empires which fought for worldly power. Then it was
time for a movement away from spiritual militancy and toward a more
secular, sensuous, and commercial set of pursuits.
This epoch of European exploration
and colonial expansion, beginning in the 15th century A.D., transmitted
values centered in wealth and in the cultural trappings of wealth. Western
expansion brought all the world's people in touch with each other for
the first time.
After two bloody wars, this
third civilization began to dissolve in the new culture of popular entertainment.
Making people have fun became a serious business. Gaining and keeping
their attention became the road to power and wealth.
Chapter Three: Personality and Belief
of government, world religion, commerce and education, and popular entertainment
have a spiritual side which is tied to their belief systems and perceptions
of attractive personality. Each has its own "religion" in a broad sense.
Religion expresses beliefs
concerning fundamental questions. It also promotes certain models of
The nature worship of tribal
peoples gave way to "the worship of one's own collective human power."
Civic religion in the service of governments marked the form of earlier
Then prophets and philosophers
challenged this type of authority. They created a new kind of religion
which could be formulated in creeds. Fidelity to those creeds offered
a way to gain admission to Heaven.
Religion in the epoch of
commerce and education focused more upon things of this world. Its adherents
believed in money acquired through successful careers and in the greatness
of artists and musicians.
The invention of electronic
technologies capturing the sensuous images of human performers has created
a culture of immediate spectacles which the community can share. The
world of big-time entertainment offers fame and fortune to the lucky
few who find a place in its shows; but, as the gossip columns reveal,
these glamorous individuals have their share of problems, too.
Chapter Four: A Short History of Civilization
of the first civilization would be a history of government, which includes
the experience of wars and of changing imperial dynasties. This is history
as it is commonly understood.
Monarchical government began
with the institution of city-states which grew to the size of empire
when the localities came in conflict with each other. Certain kings
prevailed in these wars. Certain peoples were defeated and enslaved.
Like a pair of book ends
to frame the period, the multi-millennial reign of autonomous governments
in Egypt and China presents a model of imperial rule at the beginning
and end of this epoch.
Western peoples look back
to Rome, first seen in the political consolidation of Italy and later
in an empire divided between its eastern and western halves. Before
that, bloody empires rose and fell with some frequency in the Middle
East: Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Hellenistic
The Persian empire was revived
under Parthian and Sasanian kings before succumbing to the armies of
India had two short-lived
indigenous empires before foreign Mogul and British rulers unified the
subcontinent. This epoch reached its peak in the 3rd century, A.D.
By the 7th century, only
the Greek Byzantine and Chinese imperial dynasties had survived in the
prevented a revival of empire in Europe. Only religion could bind diverse
peoples in a single community.
Chapter Five: A Short History of Civilization
of the second civilization began with that remarkable intellectual and
moral awakening that occurred in several Old World societies during
the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Several spiritually advanced persons
who lived then have left their teachings to posterity.
The culminating event of
this epoch was the establishment of three world religions - Buddhism,
Christianity, and Islam - and the transformation of religions such as
Judaism and Hinduism which belonged to an earlier tradition. In league
with political power, these religions staked out territories of influence.
This type of religion was
driven by ideas rather than ritual. Besides the founder's teachings,
the development of religious doctrine reflects the work of interpreters
who evaluate doctrinal positions, codify, and explain.
Religion has, however, a
worldly side in the hierarchies of clergy who govern its institution.
Here ideological zeal and ambition sometimes lead to a result at variance
with the beneficial and peaceful attitude at the core of the religion.
Toward the end of this epoch,
Christian crusaders went to war against Moslems who held the Holy Land.
Moslem and Hindu rulers fought for control of India. Buddhists, Taoists,
and others cultivated the martial arts.
Apart from worldly strife,
communities of mystics, monks, and others practiced the hard disciplines
of a spiritually centered life. Their quiet experiences, too, are part
of the history of this second civilization.
Chapter Six: A Short History of Civilization III
civilization began with another kind of awakening which has been called
the Renaissance. Its culture originated in northern Italy where commercial
prowess was combined with a taste for classical scholarship and exquisite
European influence spread
with the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of transoceanic discovery. West
Europeans colonized lands in the New World which Columbus had "discovered"
during a trip to the Orient. Rival nations bordering the north Atlantic
fought for control of the trade in oriental spices.
Later, a brisk trade in rum,
coffee, and tobacco developed between Europe and its colonies in North
America and the Caribbean islands. Slaves imported from Africa were
put to work producing commodities for export.
The savage warfare between
Protestants and Catholics caused European intellectuals to shun religious
controversies and instead pursue secular learning. Scientific discoveries
inspired technological innovations that transformed industry and transportation.
gained immense wealth while developing social rifts. The laboring class
asserted itself through strikes. Parliamentary governments challenged
the authority of kings. Wars and revolutions advanced ideals of progress
against the old order.
Having defeated Spain on
the seas and France in land battles fought in India and North America,
Great Britain became the world's leading colonial power. Challenged
by Prussian Germany, this sea-based nation threw the flower of its youth
into a continental war from which it never fully recovered. Its former
colony, the United States of America, filled the power vacuum.
Anticolonial movements in
the 19th and 20th centuries brought political independence to peoples
in South America, Asia, and Africa.
Chapter Seven: A Short History of Civilization
seem strange to suggest that entertainment is the basis of new civilization
replacing that of the past five hundred years. Yet, the signs of its
cultural dominance in the late 20th century are compelling.
This historical epoch began
with the minstrel shows, freak shows, and circuses of the previous century
and with popular sporting events such as horse races, boxing matches,
and baseball games. Spectacular exhibitions such as the Crystal Palace
in 1851 added to the excitement.
However, it was the invention
of electronic devices to record and transmit images of sight and sound
which created a new popular culture.
After political alliances,
commercial rivalries, and serious ideas had led to the carnage of two
world wars, people wanted something a bit lighter. Some Americans enjoyed
themselves at Broadway theaters or in clubs featuring jazz music. Others
followed the exploits of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio on the baseball
Acquiring sound, movies came
of age in the 1920s. Commercial radio stations began broadcasting music,
news, and light entertainment. The creative ferment at the juncture
of black and white people's entertainment brought forth an international
youth culture centering in rock 'n roll music. Television broadcasts,
begun after World War II, became an all-consuming presence in many households.
The lure of easy money dangled
before mass audiences fueled a gambling craze. Entertainment tastes
became more diversified: some went in for shows that were suitable for
"families" and others for ones appealing to "adults".
created new vistas of visual excitement and new opportunities to have
fun with illusion-producing machines.
Chapter Eight: The Impact of Cultural Technologies
upon Public Experience
that the introduction of new cultural technologies is linked to the
emergence of new civilizations is that, in extending an image or message
to broad segments of the population, these technologies create their
own type of experience, coloring it in certain ways. Certain institutions
would not have been possible without their communicative service.
employ the technology of writing. The invention of the alphabet put
written language into the hands of merchants and others leading active
lives. The exposure to visual symbols suggested to some that these symbols
had an independent existence; and that insight fueled many a philosophy.
Printing brought literacy
to the masses of people. It fostered a more precise way of thinking,
so important to modern scholarship and science. Well-known authors came
to acquire cult-like followings.
That changed when the technologies
of film production, music recording, and radio and television broadcasting
brought the personal images of performers into full view, making them
"stars". Famous people were packaged and sold as personal commodities.
With the advent of computers,
the culture is again set to change. Perhaps the individual experience
of connectedness and interactivity will bring about a new set of public
Chapter Nine: A Short History of Cultural Technologies
language was invented in ancient Mesopotamia as a means of recording
commercial transactions. The same set of symbols was used to express
numbers and words.
Ideographic writing began
when scribes chose different symbols for the quantities and types of
commodities. Phonetic elements crept into writing driven by a need to
express abstract concepts. In some scripts, the symbols expressed syllabic
The alphabet, whose letters
represent the pure sounds of speech, first appeared in the Middle East
during the 2nd millennium B.C. Two Semitic peoples, the Phoenicians
and Aramaeans, carried its technique to distant places in the course
of trading expeditions.
The Phoenician alphabet gave
rise to the Greek and Latin alphabets, parent of most European scripts.
Far Eastern societies have retained the earlier ideographic or syllabic
system of writing.
Printing came to the West
from China. Gutenberg's pioneering use of movable type sparked an explosion
of printed literature. Mass-circulation newspapers appeared in the 19th
Photography and telegraphy,
invented in the 1830s and 1840s, were among the first technologies to
use chemical processes or electrical signals to capture or express visual
images and words. The phonograph and motion-picture machine presented
a series of images in time.
Radio and television broadcasting
sent messages through the air waves to persons with receivers tuned
to particular frequencies. There came to be a culture of live images
connecting a small group of performers with mass audiences.
The computer, developed for
use in World War II, has grown in speed and processing capacity while
becoming physically miniaturized.
Chapter Ten: Using History to Predict the Future
history be used to predict the future? If the future resembles the past,
perhaps so. Otherwise, a way to anticipate coming events might be through
analogy with other civilizations in a similar phase of development.
Each of the four world civilizations
whose history is already known exhibits a pattern of events in its life
cycle. Generally, its period of exuberant, creative expansion is followed
by a maturing phase of empire. This leads, in turn, to use of violence
and coercion in an attempt to retain worldly power.
One also discerns a pattern
by which institutions developed in one period are fundamentally altered
two epochs later.
Historians are wanting to
distinguish history's true turning points from ephemeral changes in
the culture. Besides the appearance of major new cultural technologies,
this book identifies other conditions that tend to be present in places
and times of fundamental change:
First, the new civilizations
arise in an environment of political parochialism and vigorous commerce.
Second, this environment
produces important innovations in mathematics and commercial practice.
Third, it brings expanded
geographical horizons when people's creative imaginations are excited
by perceptions of a wider world.
Chapter Eleven: Intimations of a Fifth Civilization
age is upon us. Though in its infancy, this epoch will bring distinct
changes to the society that we know. To predict the future of this civilization,
one can anticipate impacts that arise from the nature of the technology.
Already there is much interest
in the commercial application of computers. One can envision a powerful
new mode of selling and distributing commercial products which gives
consumers much more information, choice, and control.
Education is another area
which foreseeably will be transformed. Computers give students increased
ability to interact individually with the teaching source. They also
have an unlimited capacity to duplicate lessons. Shortages of high-quality
education could be a thing of the past; and this has immense social
The most profound result
may be man's use of computers as a tool to remake himself. Computers
can handle the extensive information contained in the structure of DNA
molecules. They have the potential to replicate processes of the human
In this "Frankenstein civilization",
man and machine will forge a common future which is at once dangerous
and exciting in its far-reaching possibilities.