Sunday, November 8, 2020

Review of The Evolution of Civilizations an Introduction to Historical Analysis by Carroll Quigley

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Philosophy, Epistemology

Elaborate Description

History is background in this book. History provides examples as proof to the social science theories. Quigley helps to understand history, not just have knowledge of history. The focus of the book is the epistemology of science as applied to history. Civilizations are the data which seem to create a pattern. Knowing how the pattern applies to each civilization creates an understanding which can be applied to contemporary civilizations.

There are myriad historical events and each event has a myriad of parts and interactions. Knowledge of history and the writings about history will only be an infinitesimal fraction of all history. Historians will form patterns from selected facts which makes some events more significant while neglecting others. Many explanations of patterns are idealized and oversimplification much like in science. Under observations, scientific laws are approximation to what may be true. Quigley described laws of historic change which also appear close approximations.

No knowledge is complete as new information can contradict priorly established knowledge. Even if a new hypothesis becomes the new established knowledge, it will always remain as a tentative hypothesis even after the most rigorous tests. Each new hypothesis needs to reconcile the new observations with the old with the understanding that each observation cannot be taken in isolation, that the observations influence each other. Knowledge is increased by a series of successive approximations to the truth, but there is no finality in any answer. Science is a method, for as the subjects under observations are constantly changing, the method remains the same. Contrarians to science can be found in Greek philosophers. As Quigley references, the rationalist led to the death of science by vilifying observations, testing hypotheses, and experimentation. Reason and logic were enough for the rationalists as they thought senses serve to confuse.

Historical analysis needs to take account of historical development, historical morphology, and historical evolution. Historical development are the changes in a cultural level. Historical morphology is how one level of culture influences the other levels. Historical evolution looks how historical development and historical morphology react simultaneously to each other.

The best start to understand civilization is what makes up a civilization, the people. Individuals make a collection. Collections make a group. Groups make a society. Society can become a civilization. Groups may not be predictable but they are less liable to change than varied individual behavior. An individual’s personality is largely determined by cultural environment, which is influenced by the individual. Culture needs to be adaptive and persistent in order to survive. Culture has many parts which adapt to each other. When organizations become institutionalized, they lose their ability to adept. Their main concern tailors to survival of vested-interested rather than to achieve social expectations. The struggle between the vested-interested group and the reformers is called the tension of development.

Civilization seem to have a life cycle which are represented by mixture, gestation, expansion, conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion. Civilizations appear when cultures mix, usually at the peripheries of societies. This mixture produces cultural exchange bringing new ideas and techniques which leads to an expansion in political and economic life. Expansion brings concentration of wealth leading to internal conflicts of social inequality and external conflicts with different nations. A universal empire is created at the end of the period of conflict. Universal empires have many institutionalized organizations causing them be less effective. Less effective organizations such as the army starts to lose to many non-institutionalized invaders.

There were only 24 civilization in ten thousand years. The civilizations under observation are Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Minoan, Classical, and Western. A generalization that can be made about the rise of civilization by the following the steps in order: law and order, commercial increase, cities grow and appear, a middle class appears, and literacy increases. The death of civilization appears in the same steps but in reverse.

The book is well written but it seems that certain passages are out of place. Generalizations about civilizations can be can be found within specific civilization description. As the book is meant to cover civilizations, there is a lack of detail on any particular nation or empire. Transitioning between the variety of aspects in any civilization made it difficult to understand the civilization. The part Quigley makes more significant are the changes that occurred or situations which prevented change.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9784871873499
Pages to read:   417
Publication:     2014
1st Edition:      1961
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5