Case Studies in Civilization

12 October 2015


civilization 1

Recently a reader noted my lack of examples in a mostly theoretical post on Suboptimal Civilizations (and the same could be said with as much justification for its sequel, Addendum on Suboptimal Civilizations). The same reader had earlier expressed enthusiasm for my post The Seriation of Western Civilization. With these two comments together I think I now understand the reader’s point. While I fully intend to continue to write purely theoretical posts about civilization (so long as the reaper stays his unforgiving hand), I will also try to supplement the more theoretical posts with other posts that seek to apply the theoretical ideas to particular civilizations and circumstances — case studies of civilization, as it were.

If one were to follow Toynbee’s list of twenty-one civilizations, a series of case studies on civilization would be limited to twenty-one posts. If one were to follow Samuel Huntington’s list of nine contemporary civilizations, one would be limited to nine posts, and some posts on the predecessors of these civilizations. I will recognize no such limit. One of the most interesting questions in the study of civilization, as I see it, is that of the size of a civilization. How large can be civilization become? How small can a civilization be? Also, how long can a civilization endure? How short lived can a civilization be? On the one hand, these questions could be needlessly tedious and involve arid definitional questions. However, I believe that these questions can be profitably addressed, especially through the consideration of particular examples. It is one thing to dismiss the possibility of a small or short-lived civilization in the abstract; it is quite another thing to deny that some particular civilization under study, however small or short-lived, is indeed a civilization. This is the spirit in which I shall proceed.

As I recently remarked in my series on Planetary Constraints on my Tumblr blog (cf. Planetary Constraints 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15), I find it difficult to continue a series as my attention gets distracted by new projects and I move on to other ideas. This series on planetary constraints forced me to develop some ideas in a more systematic framework than I usually employ, and it turned out to be a profitable undertaking, as the investigation of each idea suggested many more related ideas. I learned my lesson: a thematically-focused series can pay unanticipated dividends.

Writing a case study of a civilization requires a lot of research and so is time-consuming. It is, however, greatly rewarding, and I find that I learn much from the exercise. To give myself a head start I am going to declare, ex post facto, that the first of my Case Studies in Civilization was my post The Seriation of Western Civilization. I have written out a very ambitious set of notes outlining the civilizations that I hope to cover in this series, and how exactly I will employ each to illuminate a particular aspect of the theory of civilization. Time will tell whether and how much of this ambitious plan will be fulfilled.

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civilization 2

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Case Studies in Civilization

1. The Seriation of Western Civilization

2. Riparian Civilizations

3. Civilizations of the Tropical Rainforest Biome

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Grand Strategy Annex

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project astrolabe logo smaller

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