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Civilization

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NYC_wideangle_south_from_Top_of_the_Rock(Cities are the significant achievements where are reached the civilizations of mankind (here a view of Manhattan in New York).)

The term civilization – indirectly derived from the Latin word civis, “citizen”, through “civil” and “civilize” – has been used in different ways throughout history.

Civilization is, first, all traits that characterize the state of development of a given society, both technical, intellectual, political and moral, without making value judgments. As such, we can speak of civilizations in the plural and even about primitive civilizations.

Such as culture, religion or society, the word civilization has become a key concept or a “key word” to think about the world and history during the Enlightenment. The first to use the word civilization in a sense that is the meaning that he still has today was Victor Riqueti de Mirabeau, the father of the revolutionary Mirabeau. In 1758, in L’Ami des Hommes, he wrote: “Religion is arguably the first and most useful brake humanity: this is the first instance of civilization.” Similarly, in 1795, in Outline of a picture of the progress of the human mind, of Condorcet, the idea of civilization refers to the progress of humanity in a given nation when it was possible to go from barbarism to that of citizens, civil or civilized.

In the nineteenth century, civilization, then seen as an ideal to achieve and as a social transformation process towards this ideal, was the main legitimisation for imperialist colonization. It was to “civilize” the peoples of the world in a hierarchical view, evolutionary degrees of civilization to which they had acceded.

Today, the civilization views are more egalitarian so that the term refers more to a state of historical and social fact with constant value than a process of transformation of societies. The idea has stopped working in opposition to those of barbarism and savagery, while was affirmed the principle of “the right of peoples to self-determination.” As a result, it is in equality or equivalence of these supposed entities where can be played the confrontation, dialogue or agreement of civilizations.

The idea of civilization remains problematic as, in order to be able to designate civilizations, which do not have in fact nor precise structure or institutional representation, it must to select among the observable facts the ones judged able of defining the proposed civilizations. Thus, it will be based on linguistic, ethical, geographical, cultural, religious or political facts, but, in doing so, it is not easier to know what id a civilization, in contrast with religion or culture, ideas itself also vague and among those most used to describe what is a civilization. For Bertrand Binoche, “After predicting the triumph of civilization, we may well announce the clash of civilizations, but it does not help to see things more clearly.”

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

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