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Armando Martins Janeira

The study of the evolution of cultures and of their inter-relations dates from very recently and is still too hesitant and too vague to give us a clear view of the numerous and complex problems arising in such a vast field of knowledge. This study has been made chiefly within the study of history, specially in what is called today “rhythmic” history, and within sociology, and approached by many sides by several other disciplines of still rather uncertain frontiers and indefinite objects.

All we know about the law of evolution of a culture, of its growth, maturity and decay is all conjectural and mainly based on more or less documented hypothesis; we know still less about the process of inter-reaction between different cultures and about the ways through which alien values are infused by one or several cultures into another.

The area of a culture, even Marxists acknowledge, is normally proportionate to the area of a language rather than to the area of a class. (1)

This is one of the many difficulties for studying the sociology of culture, as it is impossible for a man to know all the languages necessary for a complete study. Language is one of the main elements that give individuality to a culture. And the process of culture change begins with the process of interchange of words, which enriches the language in contact. Such was the case, for instance, in the first contact between the West and Japan, by Portuguese sailors. Many words - 4,000 it has been calculated - from the Portuguese were absorbed into Japanese, specially the names of Western objects introduced in Japan; with the closing of Japan to the Western influence, most of these words fell out of use, only remaining until today those which designated things or concepts still in use. (2) Through the study of the adoption of Portuguese words into Japanese language we can perceive how wide an impression Christianity made in Japanese people, we can estimate how far Japanese copied some customs and even some dresses from the West, we can see the introduction of new techniques, new foods etc. A complete study of the sociological aspects of a language, as far as it reflects foreign influences, has never been made. It was only in the last quarter of the nineteenth century that first was presented, by Danilewsky, an articulate theory about the structure and dynamics of “historical-cultural types” or the great original civilizations. His vision was still narrow, as he was mainly preoccupied to find out the origin of the antagonism between Russia and Europe and its probable outcome. He was convinced that in Russia lies the salvation of a decaying Europe through creation of a new civilization; this idea was taken up again, in our days, by the German philosopher Walter Schubart.

This limited aim was broadened, in the first quarter of this century, by Oswald Spengler: he replaces the “Ptolemaic system of History”, whose center was the Western culture, by a universal system within which every high culture has equal importance. The Decline of the West is a total survey of the destiny of Western man. All the numerous historical theories of the twentieth century are strongly influenced by Spengler and constitute variations of the theories of historical evolution of nineteenth century philosophers.

Arnold Toynbee went further than Spengler in his Study of History, as he tried to find an answer to the question of the genesis of civilizations, for which Spengler gave no explanation.

Both Toynbee and most of the cultural historians have accepted the main ideas of Spengler’s architecture of History: the view of history as a comparative study of growth, maturity and decay, together with the notion that human development proceeds in cycles and not in a straight line. Another idea is also common-tinted with shades of pessimism like in Spengler, or of optimism like in Toynbee - that we live in an epoch of progressive cultural decline of the West. It can be added that the outlook for the final goal where the full development of civilizations will bring man is not generally optimistic either. The view of Spengler: “In what concerns the goal of mankind’s future, I am thorough and decidedly pessimist. For me, mankind is a zoological quantity. I see no progress, no goal, no path for humanity”. For Spengler, the essence of history remains a mystery.

Toynbee, not being so clear, does not find, after the long and meditated task of having compulsed all human experience, much comfort, nor hope to give; he does not go further than murmuring a few nebulous phrases of apocalyptic resonance: “the aim of Transfiguration is to give light to them that sit in darkness... it is pursued by seeking the Kingdom of God in order to bring its life into action... the goal of Transfiguration is thus the Kingdom of God”.

Karl Jaspers in less nebulous expression, concurs in a similar conclusion. Quoting the saying of Hegel: “All history goes toward and comes from Christ”, he writes: “the appearance of the son of God is the axis of world history”. Mankind has one single origin and one goal. Origin and goal are unknown to us, utterly unknown by any kind of knowledge. They can only be felt in the glimmer of ambiguous symbols”. (3)

Thus, History brings us to the realm of theodicy and objective truth is replaced by faith.

Several other modern Christian historians express similar conclusions. What mainly can be said against this, when we consider it in a universal conspect, is that it fails to be valid for millions of men who profess other religions.

Toynbee explains the growth of civilizations, neither by race nor environment, but by the interplay between challenge and response. The new and unmastered physical environment challenges the society, and the society, through its creative minority, responds to the challenge, the process incessantly goes on with a new challenge and a new response, restlessly, until it reaches the stage of civilization. This is the process Toynbee sees repeated in the rising of the twenty-one civilizations he considers, of which seven are still alive.

The process of decay begins when the civilization begins to fail to respond to the series of constant new challenges. “The nature of breakdowns of civilizations can be summed up in three points: a failure of creative power in the minority, an unanswering withdrawal of mimesis on the part of the majority, and a consequent loss of social unity in the society as a whole”. After its breakdown, the civilization disintegrates and dissolves through a long process that can take centuries or even thousands of years. The reminding, in these summary lines, of the theory developed by Toynbee in his vast and substantially documented study, will help us now to see better the fundamental problem of cultural dynamics - the understanding of the process of interchange of values between different civilizations.

We have been speaking indifferently of culture or civilization, as the two concepts, when not talking in a specific sense, are synonyms. To speak about Eastern culture or Eastern civilization comes to the same. Even the meaning given by anthropologists to civilization, as a subclass of culture, comes most times in the end to the same. (4)

Numerous studies have been made, documented by a substantial amount of facts, on the cultural contacts between Western culture and the cultures of peoples or small communities in Africa and Oceania. But the difficulties of the complex process of interchange between Western and Eastern cultures have discouraged until now a satisfactory study. The work of interchange of ideas and modes of life, between East and West, has been going on for nearly five centuries. Complicated problems of compatibility and conflict arise from such a contact. There are commensurable factors and also many others which act invisibly and cannot be detected; there are different institutions which in every civilization fulfil the same social function; there are incompatible concepts of religion, aesthetics and behaviour; there are political ideals which diverge from, or even oppose each other, economic structures with little or nothing in common. And all these and other unaccountable elements are approached, or opposed, tested in their strength by the violence of the contact which stimulates and renews them by a wave of new energy, or are weakened or lulled, in any case altered, or even transformed. (4)

The encounter of two civilizations can provoke a greater change in one than in the other, and it generally does. When we compare the modern aspects of Japan and its rapid progress towards a scientific and technological form of society, we can see how much greater was the impact of West on Japan and vice versa. A similar thing occurred in communist China. These two countries, trailing different paths chosen in the Western ideologies, have deeply changed their social, spiritual and material civilization, which were transformed from one type into another. There was a rapid process of modification of the moral ideals, of the political constitution of the society, of its institutions, its belief and social philosophies, of its education; changes in its economic structure, in its material tools and their use, in its production and consumption of goods.

These fundamental changes did not occur without social perturbations, without much anguish and mental confusion in the individuals concerned.

The lesson we learn in the study of culture change is that a fundamental institution or a strong system of belief should not be replaced abruptly by an alien model, breaking all the continuity with the past. The cultural system of every country is rooted deeply into values created long ago and enriched through centuries, modified and adapted to the particular national character of that country. This explains why the Chinese, though they experienced a complete change by the communist revolution, are inspiring their literature and art today in the old masters, of their millenary history.

When a country chooses itself another cultural pattern by means of a political revolution, like China did, we are obviously out of the perspective considered here. The same happened with the French revolution. We are only concerned here with interchange of cultural values, and the disruption of all social structure is a completely different case. This interchange between different countries should not be forced by one on the other, but harmoniously infused through the superiority by which one cultural system attracts and influences the other. The imposition of the United States to Japan to open its doors to the contact with the West, on third quarter of last century, provoked serious perturbations in Japanese society, in its politicians and intellectuals.

We can conclude that the essential principle to observe in the contact between two different cultures is the harmonious infusion of the different values of one into another culture, without disrupting the latter’s fundamental values, but making the necessary adaptations so that there may be a lively transformation, rejuvenating and creative of new values.

If we try to verify these principles in the relations between West and East, in the first contacts between Portugal and Japan, we will see them confirmed by several facts, in the clash on religious field, for instance. In the cultural process, one country should not try simply to replace the other’s religion by her own; the religion is a fundamental whole of ideas and emotions harmoniously set in the body socially, inspiring and commanding the behaviour of individuals in diverse sectors of their activities - from their birth, to their death, religious rites and concepts direct and comfort humans’ soul. Therefore such an important institution can not be suppressed or replaced by another without shaking the society to its roots. In Africa, Malinowski advised not to eradicate primitive religions, and even practices of witchcraft abruptly and by force, but rather to replace them slowly and gradually, avoiding to provoke mental anguish and confusion by too drastic intervention. It is obvious that in Japan, Europeans were in face of a country highly civilized, superior to them in many cultural aspects. But, if the Portuguese  wanted to avoid a clash, they should have taken Japanese religions seriously, respect their beliefs, rites and practices. As their attitude was from the beginning of attacking Shintoism and Buddhism, considering them offensive to Christian God and inspired by the devil, the Portuguese have provoked a series of clashes, the consequence of which was to be thrown out of Japan. It took a long time until the Japanese realized that the religion preached by the Portuguese, which denied ancestor worship, was subversive as far as it wanted to suppress their Shinto Gods (kami) and practices which were the very base of social order. When Hideyoshi understood this, he issued without delay a proclamation against the Jesuits, in 1587, ordering their expulsion. Finally, after several clashes, where religion was always meddled with politics, the expulsion was effectively carried out in 1639. (  )

The Dutch who arrived years later, have learned from this Portuguese mistake and continued to take their trade with Japan leaving aside the idea of preaching Christianity. Thus, they could stay in Japan, confined in the small artificial island of Deshima, in the port of Nagasaki, being the only European country who maintained from the beginning an uninterrupted contact with Japan.

The lesson given to the Portuguese profited also the English in India: from the outset, until 1813, they prohibited the entrance of missionaries.

The Jesuits themselves did not commit the same mistake in China, and that is why they stayed there much longer; having been admitted as trusted advisers to the Imperial court. The greater pioneer Matteo Ricci was both a Jesuit father and a Chinese scholar. In China the Jesuit soon realized that it would be a dangerous mistake to make a frontal attack against the sacred established institutions, and Jesuits became themselves much sinicised.

These examples show how the process of culture change operates in the contacts between West and East. Let us hope that someone well prepared for the task will try to formulate a theory capable of explaining and clarifying the full range of problems arising from this encounter.

Certain important aspects of East and West culture change have been particularly studied by some modern sociologists. C. S. Northrop treats this problem in his book “The meeting of East and the West”. He tries to find out the diverse elements superposed in successive stracta in the culture of a country like Mexico, the United States, Great Britain, Germany or Soviet Russia. In Mexico City, for example, he points out the diversity we can find within one square mile: “Five distinct and unique cultures: ancient Aztec, Spanish colonial, positivist French nineteenth century, Anglo America economic, and contemporary Mexican. Harmonious, yet, competitively diverse”. Thus the total culture of a nation or even the total culture of East and West, is not a disconnected and unrelated amount of heterogeneous elements, but a system based on certain principles, articulated in a way that conforms the prevalent type of its personality.

After having considered the cultural systems of the great nations, Northrop takes the two most vast cultural systems or super-systems: one based upon “scientific” or “theoretic”, the other upon “aesthetic” or “institutional” components. The first is dominant in the West’s culture, the second in that of the East”. But here I think Northrop is wrong in repeating once more the usual classification which has no true meaning nor foundation, as we saw in our introduction, and that has only the effect of emphasizing doubtful differences between the two cultural systems. It is true that his purpose is, - after finding the contradictions between the systems of culture of the various nations and between those of East and West - to try to discover a scientific way of solving their contradictions, with the aim of replacing the conflict and struggle between cultural systems by peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Then a society can be enriched by the values harmoniously infused into it by another; the West can enrich itself by receiving aesthetic values, spirit of tolerance from the East; the East will gain by taking Western science and technology. They can meet, “because they are expressing different yet complementary things, both of which are required for an adequate and true conception of man’s self and his universe. (  ) The concept of the two cultures meeting harmoniously, by avoiding or suppressing conflicts and contradictions and by promoting mutual enrichment by the infusion of each other´s values, is being proclaimed since the time of Goethe or rather from the times of the first Portuguese explorers who wrote about their voyages, four hundred years ago.

The process of change in a high culture has been studied by the American sociologist Alfred Kroeber. He is mainly interested in the power of creativity of cultures, their growth and development and their decay. Most of these problems have been dealt with by Toynbee, but Kroeber brings his speculation to new fields and shows much originality.

Viewing the vast field of cultures, he sees that none is encyclopaedically creative. Every culture is more creative in one or some fields and deficient in others. The cultures of Rome, Japan and Renaissance Europe show an aesthetic predominance, but a lack in philosophical speculation. Arabs have no sculpture; Medieval Europe, China and Japan did not create science.

It has after been noticed that important cultural phenomena are simultaneous, though they arise in completely separated parts of the globe. The great philosophies emerged simultaneously about 600 B.C. in three or five cultures - the Chinese, the Indian and the Greek. Another current of philosophical creativity occurred at the same time, from 1050 to 1200, in three cultures - the Chinese, Neo-Confucian, Christian Scholastic and Arabic.

Contrary to Spengler and Toynbee, Kroeber states that certain civilizations have more than one florescence. The Egyptian rose and fell at least four times before it exhausted itself. “China had two big creative pulses; Japan had four; India two; the Greco-Roman-Byzantine culture had several; the Arabic one; France three; England three and Germany four. (7)

The florescence of a culture does not coincide always with the peak of political strength or economic prosperity. In the history of Egypt and Japan, the politico-economic and cultural creativity rise and fall more or less together; in the history of China, India and most of the Western countries, they move together partially; in the history of Germany and Italy the relationship is rather negative. The scientific florescence seems to go closely with politico-economic florescence, which is in wide part derived from science. Peace, population and wealth alone do not produce great achievements.

When a certain culture disappears, its perennial values survive incorporated into a new culture rising into florescence. Thus Greek culture nurtured the Roman and both were incorporated into the culture of the Middle Ages and revived in the Renaissance. Some historians consider that the whole of Latin literature is essentially a version of Greek originals. The foundation’s of Western culture and many of the values which inspire our lives today are due to the Greeks. “In the West”, says Karl Jaspers, “each great uplift of self-hood has been brought about by a fresh contact with the classical world”. (8)

There will be a point, though, where there will be no more still fresh and unused human societies in reserve, where every Western countries will have exhausted all its creative power and nothing will be able to lift up again the Western spirit to its level of universal irradiation. Have we reached already that point? Western Europe has begun its decay since the Middle of last century. Albert Schweitzer considers it now in a state of deep decay. Will the United States or Russia be able to relay her in her luminous advance?

The expectations in the mind of the best European writers - how much their estimate is influenced by prejudice is impossible to know - are generally pessimistic about the power of the American spirit to lift man to his universal salvation. Quoted by an American historian, Amaury de Riencourt writes on this: “American hardly ever make basic discoveries, but can endlessly adapt, improve and mass produce European discoveries. They research endlessly but rarely contemplate. Europe has produced, at very little financial expense, the great thoughts which have rolled back the frontiers of man’s scientific knowledge. At an expense of almost four billion dollars a year, American research exploits European basic discoveries but cannot really progress beyond them in a fundamental way. (9)

If Americans are not capable of uplifting civilization into a new creative phase, will Russians be able to do it? We leave the answer for such a great question to a qualified historian, Arnold Toynbee. Russian communism, he writes, “may come to seem a small affair when the probably far more potent civilization of India and China respond in their turn to our Western challenge. In the long run, India and China seem likely to produce much deeper effects to our Western life than Russian can ever hope to produce with their communism”. (10)

But if the decay whose tragic gloom we apprehend in our souls is not confined to the Western civilization, if it is the decay of mankind, may we still entertain the hope for a rebirth?

The history of civilization is relatively short, it is only since five or six thousand years that civilizations were born and man began to write. The higher religions date from three or four thousand years only; science as a dominant factor in determining the belief of educated men goes back to three centuries, and only to one century and half as a source of economic technique. This compared with the existence of man, since about one million years, not to say to the existence of life, calculated in 500 million or perhaps 800 million years on an earth possibly 2,000 million years old, looks of an infinitesimal brevity. (11)

The shortness of this perspective of human civilization should inspire optimism for the future. We cannot rationally admit man were put on Earth to live life consciously during such a short span. The lesson of history gives no objective proof for any conclusion about the future; but when we scan man’s adventure through the ages, a feeling of hope and confidence can we, at least, draw out of it. And a very positive conclusion can we also take: that only men full of hope and confidence were able to do the great things to which progress and lifting of man’s conditions are due.

The only way open to us will doubtlessly be the full meeting, for the first time in men’s history, of East and West. History and civilization today are planetary; the ocean is no more the great way to bring together men and civilizations, it is the air with its freedom still vaster, its fast adventures towards a still more unforeseeable future. We are before man’s ultimate hope to renew himself and to start for new heights of thought and action. For this planetary civilization, for this universal humanism, it will be needed bringing together the total wisdom and experience of human race, through the vital forces of its history and the liveliest forms of our day.

6 - The goal of History and the world civilization: List
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