The period of ascendancy of any civilization has been historically brief. The struggle to the summit was long and exhausting; the descent from the summit more rapid than the ascent. Literally, like the bear that went over the mountain to see what he could find, and who found the other side of the mountain, the civilizations that have reached the summit of wealth and power have found on the other side of the summit a steep downward sloping time of troubles that ended in dissolution and liquidation.
Civilization, as a sociological life pattern, has proved to be seductive and alluring in prospect, but in retrospect unsatisfactory and frustrating. Civilization has proved to be not an opportunity for the ambitious, but a trap for the ignorant, inexperienced and unwary. For the many contestants who set out to conquer the world the experience has been disappointing and on the whole disastrous. For the few who have reached the summit the experience has been frustrating.
Civilization as a way of life is like any other contest. The struggle is good for those who are able to benefit from it by learning its lessons. Whether they win or lose is a matter of no great consequence. For the losers the experience often is heart breaking and death-dealing.
Students of social history have been tempted to draw a parallel between the biological life cycle of an individual and the sociological lifecycle of a civilization. There are elements of likeness between biological birth, growth, maturity, old age and death of human individuals and of human civilizations. All of the individuals and civilizations that we know have passed or are passing through such a lifecycle. The same thing may be true of the larger universe of which we are a minute fragment. However exact or inexact it may prove to be, the parallel certainly is unmistakable, alluring. It may also be seductive and mortal.
IDEOLOGIES OF CIVILIZATION
This study was laid out along inductive lines: an examination of the facts with such generalizations as the facts suggest or justify. We began our social analysis of civilization by presenting noteworthy facts concerning the politics, economics, and sociology of various civilizations. In the present chapter we deal with their ideologies.
We are accepting and following the fourth variant definition of “ideology” presented by Webster’s New World Dictionary: “The doctrines, opinions or way of thinking of an individual, class, etc.” In this case we are reporting on the doctrines, opinions, thought forms and action patterns of entire civilizations.
Our concern is not with the doctrines, opinions and ways of thinking and acting advanced by elite minorities. Such an approach would involve a study of comparative ideologies. Rather we are asking what civilized peoples were trying to do, as measured by their political, economic and sociological activities, programs and purposes.