A civilization (or civilisation) is a complex society or culture group characterized by dependence upon agriculture, long-distance trade, state form of government, occupational specialization, urbanism, and class stratification. Aside from these core elements, civilization is often marked by any combination of a number of secondary elements, including a developed transportation system, writing, standards of measurement (currency, etc.), formal legal system, great art style, monumental architecture, mathematics, sophisticated metallurgy, and astronomy.
- Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author
A - F
- The triumph of the industrial arts will advance the cause of civilization more rapidly than its warmest advocates could have hoped, and contribute to the permanent prosperity and strength of the country far more than the most splendid victories of successful war.
- You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.
- John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night", The Power-House (1916)
- Yet somehow our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.
- Pearl S. Buck, My Several Worlds, p. 337 (1954)
- But the greatest menace to our civilization today is the conflict between giant organized systems of self-righteousness—each system only too delighted to find that the other is wicked—each only too glad that the sins give it the pretext for still deeper hatred and animosity.
- Herbert Butterfield, Christianity, Diplomacy and War (1953), p. 43.
- Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?
- G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)
- People sometimes tell me that they prefer barbarism to civilisation. I doubt if they have given it a long enough trial. Like the people of Alexandria, they are bored by civilisation; but all the evidence suggests that the boredom of barbarism is infinitely greater.
- Kenneth Clark, Ch. 1: The Skin of Our Teeth, Civilisation (1969)
- The convention by which the great events in biblical or secular history could be enacted only by magnificent physical specimens, handsome and well-groomed, went on for a long time — till the middle of the nineteenth century. Only a very few artists — perhaps only Rembrandt and Caravaggio in the first rank — were independent enough to stand against it. And I think that this convention, which was an element in the so-called grand manner, became a deadening influence on the European mind. It deadened our sense of truth, even our sense of moral responsibility.
- Kenneth Clark, Ch. 5: The Hero as Artist, Civilisation (1969)
- We are so much accustomed to the humanitarian outlook that we forget how little it counted in earlier ages of civilisation. Ask any decent person in England or America what he thinks matters most in human conduct: five to one his answer will be "kindness." It's not a word that would have crossed the lips of any of the earlier heroes of this series. If you had asked St. Francis what mattered in life, he would, we know, have answered "chastity, obedience and poverty"; if you had asked Dante or Michelangelo, they might have answered "disdain of baseness and injustice"; if you had asked Goethe, he would have said "to live in the whole and the beautiful." But kindness, never. Our ancestors didn't use the word, and they did not greatly value the quality — except perhaps insofar as they valued compassion.
- Kenneth Clark, Ch. 13: Heroic Materialism, Civilisation (1969)
- It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.
- Kenneth Clark, Ch. 13: Heroic Materialism, Civilisation (1969)
- We civilised men do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick .... There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands... Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man itself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
- Charles Darwin, p. 501, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, London: MacMillan (1871)
- The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead (1862)
- A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.
- Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, Epilogue, p. 665 (1944)
G - L
- One of the effects of civilisation is to diminish the rigour of the application of the law of natural selection. It preserves weakly lives that would have perished in barbarous lands.
- Francis Galton, Hereditary talent and character, MacMillan's Magazine, 12, 157-166; 318-327 (1865)
- There is a steady check in an old civilisation upon the fertility of the abler classes: the improvident and unambitious are those who chiefly keep up the breed. So the race gradually deteriorates, becoming in each successive generation less fit for a high civilisation.
- Francis Galton, (p.414), Hereditary Genius, London: MacMillan (1869)
- Break the skin of civilization and you find the ape, roaring and red-handed.
- Robert E. Howard in a letter to Harold Preece (c. January or February 1928)
- I believe, like you, that civilization is a natural and inevitable consequence, whether good or evil I am not prepared to state.
- Robert E. Howard in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft (c. August 1930)
- Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
- Robert E. Howard, "The Tower of the Elephant" (1933)
- Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.
- Robert E. Howard, "Beyond the Black River" (1935)
- Russian Ambassador: Civilization is an illusion; a game of pretend. What is real is the fact that we are still animals driven by primal instincts. Civilization crumbles whenever we need it most. In the right situation, we are all capable of the most terrible crimes. Imagine a world where this was no so; imagine a world where every crisis did not result in new atrocities, where every newspaper is not full of war and violence. This is to imagine a world where human beings cease to be human.
- Dave Kajganich (screenplay), The Invasion (2007)
- In more primitive and creative ages, Zorba would have been the chief of a tribe. He would have gone before, opening up the path with a hatchet. Or else he would have been a renowned troubadour visiting castles, and everybody would have hung on his words — lords and ladies and servants' ... In our ungrateful age, Zorba wanders hungrily round the enclosures like a wolf, or else sinks into becoming some pen-pusher's buffoon.
- Real freedom lies in wildness, not in civilization.
- Charles Lindbergh, as quoted A. Scott Berg, p. 510, Lindbergh (1998)
M - R
- Let me make one more remark suggested by this trial and by others. There is no accepted test of civilization. It is not wealth, or the degree of comfort, or the average duration of life, or the increase of knowledge. All such tests would be disputed. In default of any other measure, may it not be suggested that as good a measure as any is the degree to which justice is carried out, the degree to which men are sensitive as to wrong-doing and desirous to right it?
- Sir John MacDonell, Historical Trials, chapter 7, p. 148 (1927)
- The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
- If civilisation has got the better of barbarism when barbarism had the world to itself, it is too much to profess to be afraid lest barbarism, after having been fairly got under, should revive and conquer civilisation. A civilisation that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy, must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilisation receives notice to quit the better. It can only go on from bad to worse, until destroyed and regenerated (like the Western Empire) by energetic barbarians.
- Christianity destroyed for us the whole harvest of ancient civilization, and later it also destroyed for us the whole harvest of Mohammedan civilization. The wonderful culture of the Moors in Spain, which was fundamentally nearer to us and appealed more to our senses and tastes than that of Rome and Greece, was trampled down (—I do not say by what sort of feet—) Why? Because it had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin—because it said yes to life, even to the rare and refined luxuriousness of Moorish life! ... The crusaders later made war on something before which it would have been more fitting for them to have grovelled in the dust -- a civilization beside which even that of our nineteenth century seems very poor and very "senile".
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist (1888), Nuvision Publications, p.55, 2007
S - Z
- I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.
- Carl Sagan, p. 282, Cosmos (1980)
- In the vastness of the Cosmos there must be other civilizations far older and more advanced than ours.
- Carl Sagan, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1990 Update), Episode 12: Encyclopedia Galactica, 0 min 45 sec
- Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.
- Carl Sagan, p. 371, Pale Blue Dot (1994)
- We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster.
- Carl Sagan, interview with Anne Kalosh (1995)
- The realization of justice is, in the actual state of things, a matter of life or death for society and for civilisation itself.
- African Spir, p. 55, Words of a Sage (1937)
- In one of my last conversations with Darwin he expressed himself very gloomily on the future of humanity , on the ground that in our modern civilisation natural selection had no play and the fittest did not survive... It is notorious that our population is more largely renewed in each generation from the lower than from the middle and upper classes.
- Alfred Russel Wallace, Human selection, Popular Science Monthly 38: 90-102 (1890)
- In its broad sense, civilization means not only comfort in daily necessities but also the refining of knowledge and the cultivation of virtue so as to elevate human life to a higher plane... It refers to the attainment of both material well-being and the elevation of the human spirit, [but] since what produces man’s well-being and refinement is knowledge and virtue, civilization ultimately means the progress of man’s knowledge and virtue.
- Fukuzawa Yukichi, Bunmeiron no Gairyaku [An Outline of a Theory of Civilization] (1875)
- Moreover, the argument for national polity, for Christianity, and for Confucianism... are also insufficient to bolster people’s hearts. What, then, will? I say there is one thing: namely, to establish our goal and advance toward civilization... The way in which to preserve this independence cannot be sought anywhere except in civilization.
- Fukuzawa Yukichi, Bunmeiron no Gairyaku [An Outline of a Theory of civilization] (1875)