Civilization Defined (Cont’d.)
As Russ has pointed out, Wal-Mart functions analogously to a city in our civilization, exercising an influence comparable in magnitude to a city such as New York, which contains several times more people (presently about 19 million). And, we are agreed that Wal-Mart is not a civilization for the same reason: Wal-Mart’s scope of activity is limited mainly to the economic sphere. Generally, corporations exist for one reason only: to provide economic profits for their shareholders. Economics may encompass a significant portion of what comprises civilization, but the concerns of civilization are broader.
Russ has emphasized the disparate interests that characterize many civilizations, but I’m arguing here that disparate interests are accidental properties, not essential to what civilization is. His definition has emphasized the differences and left out the commonality that unites people together in the first place. This is the social nature of man and the ultimate end of Society in general. In short, Russ’ definition—inadvertently perhaps—excludes the fact that civilization is essentially a developed form of Society.
Society and Civilization
What is Society then? As a Christian, I offer the following theological definition: Society is the fellowship of men with God. Society in its truest and broadest sense is the union and communion of men with God—and the two Great Commandments (love of God and love of neighbor) are its supreme laws. The eschatological goal of Society as created and superintended by God is the complete interpenetration of Earth by Heaven.
It is the case that many human beings have attempted to build their own societies apart from relationship with God. Yet, because God is inescapable, these attempts can never be wholly successful. The degree of success man has in forming a society excluding God is the degree of success he has in creating hell on earth.
Original Society, as God’s creation, has an intrinsic created purpose. Its completion is a glorified world—Heaven. Its dissolution--Hell. These are two very real "social" realities. At the end of this world’s historical process, all of humanity will be separated into two groups. The children of God will inhabit the one true Society. The children of the Devil will inhabit the Anti-Society, the chaotic darkness of absolute alienation from God as well as from men.
Which brings us back to the common bond necessary for binding individuals into collective unity. Civilization is Society advanced beyond primitive organization. It represents a step toward the perfection of Society despite historically accidental evils and imperfections that may exist. A civilization is a true society not because of, but despite, these flaws. It may be that civilization’s evils and imperfections may come to dominate its historical development. When this is the case, it can truly be said that civilization is tending away from its intrinsic (i.e., essential to created nature) purpose.
To conclude, the health or sickness of Society is relative to its proper end. This must be true of Civilization as well, since civilization is nothing else than a maturation of original Society. Civilization proper aspires to universal and eternal ends, seeking to perpetually (at least, as long as possible!) provide the greatest social good (happiness and security) for the greatest number of people. Therefore, Civilization on this view is not merely a descriptive category but a moral ideal.
The conceptualization of Civilization I’m advancing here obviously originates in the realist metaphysic I generally espouse. The following examples illustrate how this realistic metaphysic works. Communication is more than symbolic expression; symbols must actually signify truth in order to qualify as communication. Similarly, Art is more than a technique of communication; it must actually embody some principle of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Genuine government embodies dominion, authority, and power. Genuine Society (i.e., that is true to its nature) tends toward the observance and advance of God's reign on earth.
Civilization is not a nominal descriptive category that describes particular features of society, but represents a developed stage toward perfection along the continuum that exists between Heaven and Hell. Civilization, when used properly as an ideal term, is not an arbitrary notion based on some imperfect society that existed once upon a time in history. Civilization, properly conceived, is oriented to the eternal state—the concrete ideal at the end of time that the nations seek and that Christians call New Jerusalem.