Thursday, June 10, 2021

Civilization as something artificial


On page 29-30 of Civilization, Clive Bell writes,

"I think we must take it as settled that neither a sense of the rights of property, nor candour, nor cleanliness, nor belief in God, the future life and eternal justice, nor chivalry, nor chastity, nor patriotism even are among the distinguishing characteristics of civilization, which is nevertheless a means to good and a potent one.  Obviously the essence of civilization is something to which savages have not attained; wherefore it can not consist in primitive virtues.  The antithesis between the noble savage and the civilized man which has been current these two hundred years implies a general recognition of the fact that civilization is not a natural product.  We should expect it rather to have to do with those last acquisitions of humanity -- self-consciousness and the critical spirit.  We should expect it to be the result of education.  Civilization is something artificial."

After this Bell opposes the "survival of the fittest" view:  "'Leave it to Nature' is their motto: the brute and the vegetable kingdoms are the exemplars of civility.  Men have made a mess of it, they say, by not allowing the fittest to survive: we shall not be truly civilized till we leave the weak to die and recognize formally that might is right.  The fit shall inherit the earth. . . . [however] "Cunning quite as much as guts, if we may trust the text-books, has done the work of evolution. . . If, as seems not improbable, war is to become the normal condition of humanity, the future will be with those crafty weaklings who adapt themselves to their circumstances by devising means of evading military service, just as in the glacial period those species survived which learnt to protect themselves from the sharpness of the climate.  'You have tampered with Nature's Law,' say the science students; 'It is our nature to,' we reply."

Another biography was published the same month as Philip Roth by James Bailey: Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism: a Biography by Mark Hussey, published April 1, 2021 by Bloomsbury Publishing, 693 pages.

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