Foundations of civilizations
The history of the ancient East is the history of the most ancient class societies and civilizations on earth. It is the primary civilizations that belong to those most important cultural achievements of mankind, which made possible its further progress and largely predetermined the direction and nature of this progress. The main ones are:
- The invention of writing, thanks to which humanity received an immortal collective memory capable of storing an unlimited amount of information. Thus, endless accumulation of knowledge became possible and a new profession of discoverers, accumulators, and custodians of knowledge arose, no matter how they were called in this or that society. Systems for the selection and training of people for this profession also arose, and later it itself began to be subdivided into subgroups of specific specialists. A characteristic feature of any early civilization is a deep respect for knowledge, the emergence of a mythological figure of a “cultural hero”, as well as the transformation of real historical figures into legendary sages.
- The experience of organized joint work of significant human teams. Of course, we know of large structures belonging to the era of the primitive communal system: barrows, megalithic buildings. But only civilizations make organized labor the basis of their existence: it is he who creates large irrigation systems, temples, palaces, and city walls. This is also linked to the emergence of new professions – planners, organizers, managers. The same principle of the organization made a revolution in military affairs. A disorderly mass brawl or a series of duels was replaced by a clash of warriors built-in clear battle formations. It turned out that the military formation increases the strength of the detachment by at least an order of magnitude. And here new professions appeared – a warrior and a commander.
- Finally, it was in the ancient East that those forms of political life (civil community, various types of state, royal power) and social consciousness (religious and philosophical movements that prioritize ethics, the individual responsibility of a person for their actions) arose, which later spread to around the globe.
A class society (“civilization”, in one of the meanings of this word) arises only after it becomes possible to produce a surplus product, due to which the society maintains the administrative apparatus, the army and the “intelligentsia”, i.e. priests, scribes, scientists, artists, etc. Below this process will be considered in more detail, but for now we note that this possibility appears first of all in the valleys of the great rivers of the subtropical zone, as well as in the adjacent southern part of the temperate zone. It is here that the abundance of moisture for irrigation, light alluvial, and loess soils, and a sufficient (even excessive) amount of solar heat (without irrigation) made it possible to ensure a sharp rise in labor productivity with the help of relatively simple tools.
Consequently, the geographical factor plays an extremely important role at the dawn of civilization. It determines the nature of the economy, and in some cases even the form of government. For example, the specific geographical conditions of Egypt (a narrow strip of land suitable for habitation and for cultivation, stretched along a huge river – a natural path through the whole country) very early led to the creation of a single state here with powerful central authority, at the head of which was a deified king. The alternative to this would only be the mutual extermination of the warring nomes. At the same time, one should not exaggerate the role of the geographical factor. So, contrary to the point of view widespread in our science, the need for artificial irrigation was not an incentive to create large territorial states.
In these river valleys (as well as in the Indus and Yellow River valleys) there was not and could not have been in ancient times a single irrigation system controlled from one center, but there were numerous, independent from each other local systems. Studies of recent decades, carried out using aerial photography, show that, for example, in Sumer, the main irrigation systems based on main canals and natural branches of the Euphrates channel were created in the early Dynastic period (ie, in the era of “nomadic states”). In the future, they were only supported and expanded.
The rivers were extremely rich in water, so there was no competition between the local irrigation systems for water, although, of course, there was discord between the communities located on the same canal. In addition, if the unification of small states into large ones was really caused by economic reasons, it would be useful for society, it would be fast and durable. In reality, for example, in Mesopotamia, unification attempts for a considerable time met with fierce and stubborn resistance, so that for the III-II millennium BC. more typically, not unity, but political fragmentation, also characteristic of India and China for a considerable time. Egypt, for the reasons already indicated, was an exception.
In reality, however, the creation of large centralized states in place of the original system of “nominal states” is the result of conquests and the desire to increase the possibilities of exploiting the population. In other words, there is an extensive growth in the absolute volume of the surplus product, which is achieved first simply by robbing neighbors, and later – by increasing its territory and the number of exploited population.
Classification problems of ancient societies
Since recently there have been lively discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of the “stage” and “civilizational” approach to the study of history, it seems appropriate to very briefly consider the main or at least the most fashionable theories today, and at the same time try to clarify the terminology used in this case.
The term “civilization” and scientific classification
The term “civilization” first appears, apparently in the 18th century. (in the works of the French economist V. Mirabeau and the Scottish philosopher A. Ferguson) to designate the “mature” state of human society. In modern scientific literature, the terms “civilization” and “culture” are often used as synonyms, but the second of them has a long history dating back to antiquity. Its content changed towards more and more abstraction, and at present, it is usually understood as a certain level achieved in the social state of humanity or, in a narrower sense, of a given society or even a given group of people. In other words, culture is an organic set of social conditions and methods of creating, disseminating, and preserving material and spiritual values, as well as these values themselves. The short story would be to say
Culture, therefore, can be said already for the earliest stages of development of human society (Paleolithic cultures, Neolithic cultures). To avoid confusion, the term “civilization” should designate only a certain level in the development of human society – a class or stratified society, in which tribal ties are pushed aside in the minds of people, and political and ideological ties come to the fore, behind which (during millennia – invisibly) there are economic ties. The term “culture” should be used here as a characteristic of the constituent parts of a given civilization – its constituent concrete states and social groups (estates, classes, countries, etc.).
The term “civilization” was originally used only in the singular and in the broadest sense, but then, under the influence of the accumulated information about various societies outside Europe, we are already talking about many different civilizations. The existence of local differences between civilizations (and cultures) in time and space is an empirical fact. In this regard, already in the XIX century. two problems arise:
- the problem of scientific classification and
- the problem of relationships between civilizations.
It should be said right away that the first problem remains unresolved to this day. The only thing that is more or less reliable here is the stage classification. In modern historiography, it corresponds to the division of civilizations into slaveholding (ancient), feudal (medieval), etc., taking into account, of course, all the problems associated with the very characteristics of the stages. But it is still impossible to give a clear and concise answer to the simple question of how, say, the stages of the same ancient Mesopotamian and ancient Chinese civilizations differ from each other: for this, it is necessary to consistently compare all any significant components of these civilizations. The existing definitions are either ethnographic (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian, etc.), or traditional (ancient), or, finally, are based on some characteristic (according to the researcher!) feature of the given civilization (“cuneiform”). All definitions of this kind are not meaningful and not operational, i.e. cannot be used as the basis for any classification or in themselves serve as the basis for any logical constructions. Nevertheless, such attempts continue.
They were apparently initiated by O. Spengler, who argued that in every culture (he used the word “civilization” in a special sense, see below) a certain “first phenomenon” can be found, from which all others are derived. That Spengler also failed to solve the problem is evident from the list of cultures he compiled:
- Maya (i.e. here the principle of the definition is ethnographic),
- Apollo (antique),
- magic (Byzantine-Arabic),
- Faustian (Western European).
The extreme subjectivity of these characteristics is obvious. Spengler believed that the difference between cultures lies in their “plasticity”, “instinct”, i.e. is in the field of artistic and psychological. According to Spengler, civilization is the last stage of a dying culture, when creativity is replaced by sterility, becoming is inertness, an act (as an act of self-expression) is work, creativity is replaced by sports and politics. Each culture, Spengler believes, is a living organism, biologically incompatible (as we would formulate now) with others, which does not allow any borrowings, and cultural progress does not exist.
So much space is given to O. Spengler’s theory, not only because it was very popular in its time, but also because it often reminds of itself in one form or another in our time (as a rule, without mentioning the original author). Although Spengler himself considered his theory a “Copernican revolution” in the study of history, in reality both it and the epigone constructions of our time are not so much science as literature – neo-romanticism of a very reactionary nature (it is no coincidence that this theory was very popular among German fascists).
Of the modern “theories” of this kind, it is worth mentioning only the so-called theory of “chimeric cultures”… According to this theory, the mixing of cultures and the emergence of new ones on this basis is possible, but sometimes harmful “chimeric” cultures arise. Since it is impossible to know in advance what will result from mixing cultures, the concept of “chimera” is a theoretical justification for xenophobia, cultural isolation. However, it does not have the slightest real basis. History does not know a single case of the emergence of “harmful” cultures, but it is well aware of many cases when cultural isolation plunges culture and society as a whole into a kind of lethargy, the awakening from which is difficult. Such a society finds itself in a state of cultural, political and economic backwardness, and often of dependence. Conversely, as an attentive researcher will easily see,
Of the theorists of our time, the name of A. Toynbee can be most often found in the literature. In his various works, he counts a different number of civilizations, considered by him as “branches of a single tree.” Development, he believes, is in the direction of the unity of mankind. Every civilization necessarily goes through such stages: emergence, growth, breakdown, decay. Borrowing, according to A. Toynbee, is possible, but only “positive knowledge” is borrowed, i.e. science and technology. The driving force behind the development of every civilization is the creative minority that “responds” to historical “challenges”. The nature of “challenges” and “responses” determines the nature of a given civilization.
The reader will find a more detailed analysis of a large number of theories in special works on cultural studies. Here are mentioned two of the most, in our opinion, typical. According to how the issue of the relationship of civilizations (cultures) is resolved, all existing theories can be basically divided into two groups:
- evolutionary theories;
- the theory of “local” (“equivalent”) cultures.
Evolutionism took shape in the 19th century, but its roots go back to the Enlightenment when the idea of historical progress was first put forward. The most prominent representatives of evolutionism – L.G. Morgan, E.B. Taylor, D.D. Fraser – proceeded from the idea of the unity of human history and its development in one direction common to all. They formulated the concepts of stages in the development of mankind –
A huge amount of empirical observations made it possible to identify many surprisingly similar phenomena in societies that are geographically and historically very distant from each other, to attribute these societies to the same stages of development. The evolutionists considered the highest stage of development to be their contemporary capitalist Europe, in which they saw the future of all other peoples. There is much that is fair to evolutionary views. So, they proceeded from the idea of the unity of mankind – biological and psychological (in basic manifestations). They saw the future of humanity in its cultural and political unity. But in their irrepressible striving to find the “common” in different civilizations, evolutionists often forgot about the “special,” because of their positivist approach, they made a stretch. The question of why there are still differences between civilizations,
“Theories of local civilizations”
Theories of “local” or “equivalent” civilizations are numerous. They proceed from the fact that historically there have been many civilizations independent of each other. Most of the followers of such theories deny the existence of any cultural progress, reject the axiological (value) approach to civilizations, and consider them all equal (“equivalent”).
Among the supporters of the “theory of local civilizations,” there are those who do not consider all civilizations to be equivalent, but do not proceed from the idea of historical progress: they either reject it or believe that not all civilizations and not all peoples are capable of progress. These are various kinds of racist theories that have gained considerable acceptance in recent decades. The first of these “theories” were “European” racism, which served as a theoretical justification for the colonial oppression of Asian and African peoples. Its apologists argued that only the white race is capable of progress and is historical, while other peoples have no history and will not have. The historical and biological groundlessness of such views has long and been irrefutably proven. Their ethical unacceptability is also quite obvious.
In recent decades, racist and nationalist theories have emerged among other nations. Realizing that all these phenomena are caused by certain historical reasons and, as a rule, are a response to “European” racism, it is necessary to reject them just as unequivocally, showing that this reaction is erroneous and can only harm the cause of national liberation. While supporting national liberation movements, we must at the same time resolutely and unconditionally reject any manifestation of nationalism. The difference between them lies in the fact that the basis of national liberation movements is the just demand for equality and mutual respect of all peoples and cultures, and the basis of nationalism is the immoral and anti-scientific dogma of exclusivity and superiority.
From the above, we can conclude that the absence of a single criterion by which one could classify cultures and civilizations, in all likelihood, is not accidental and, moreover, does not depend on the level of our knowledge or generalization abilities: such a criterion (we repeat: meaningful and operational) most likely does not exist at all. After all, for a long time already everyone agreed that such a criterion is fundamentally impossible for the classification of people; all human personalities are unique and “sovereign”, as a result of which only formal criteria for distinguishing by sex, age, occupation, name, surname, etc. are possible. All these criteria are just formal because they tell us nothing about the essence of a given person.
The civilization (culture) of each nation is a specific way of its existence, determined by its entire previous history. Therefore, for the classification of civilizations (cultures), apparently, only formal criteria are possible – stadial and ethnographic. The differences between civilizations belonging to one stage, in each specific case, must be explained separately, based on the history of their development. Western literature (especially not scientific, but fiction), and sometimes ours (also mainly unscientific) reduces everything to the peculiarities of the national character. But this explanation is trivial and tautological at best and racist at worst. After all, if we discard the obviously racist and scientifically untenable thesis that national character is genetically determined, then all honest scholars inevitably come to the conclusion that the national character is historically conditioned. This, of course, is the only correct point of view, but, unfortunately, this is usually the place to stop. In other words, having justly rejected the views on national character as a given (at best, capable of self-development), sometimes they go to the other extreme, considering it only as a result. And it should be borne in mind that the national character is not only shaped by history but itself, to a large extent, shapes the history of a given ethnic or political community. But it forms, of course, only those aspects of the historical process that do not belong to the stage-typological but constitute the specifics of a given society. Thus, history and national character actively influence each other, or,
To put an end to this question, let us note that one should not forget about the role of the factor of chance in history. Even Karl Marx said that history would be too mystical if one did not recognize the significance of chance.
Major Factors Determining Civilization
Thus, the nature of any civilization is determined by three factors:
- economic development, which determines its formational affiliation;
- random factors, among which geographic location and cultural contacts play a particularly important role;
- national character, which can change significantly in a short historical period.
So, civilizations are special types of the culture of significant human masses in the era of class societies. It must be remembered that civilizations, as a rule, do not coincide with ethnic boundaries, most often they are interethnic. For antiquity, we can speak, for example, of the Middle Eastern, Indian, and Far Eastern civilizations, which united numerous and diverse ethnically communities. In Europe, such a civilization was antiquity, and later the European-Asian civilization of Hellenism arose. Egypt (before the era of Hellenism) is the only exception in this sense.
Such interethnic civilizations arise due to the powerful cultural influence of certain centers – Mesopotamia, North India, China, Greece – on the surrounding countries and peoples. The spread of certain types of writing plays an especially important role in this. The oldest writing systems were very complex and for this reason, they were borrowed along with a whole cultural complex in the form of a canon of texts on which school education was based. And these texts constituted the quintessence of this civilization (the cultures of early antiquity are the cultures of the texts). But, of course, it should be remembered that the commonality of civilization not only does not exclude but implies a significant diversity of local cultures.
New social structure – the state
A characteristic feature of the period of civilizations is the emergence of a new form of social structure – the state, which replaced the primitive tribal structures. The main function of the state is no different from the main function of the primitive community and is to preserve the homeostasis of a given society. To achieve this goal, social control is necessary, aimed at maintaining everything that contributes to strengthening homeostasis, and at cutting off everything that hinders it (of course, within the limits of possible understanding and, therefore, with inevitable errors). Due to the sharp complication of production processes and intrasocial relations (primarily production), the organizational functions of the state come to the fore, and the protective functions of social control,
At the same time, it should be noted that the Rousseauist ideas about a “free man” of pre-state times, widespread even in our time, are a myth. The life of primitive man was extremely rigidly and in detail regulated by customs and countless taboos. The era of civilizations constantly increases the number of “degrees of freedom” of an individual and society as a whole (despite the deviations in the form of totalitarian regimes that arise from time to time). But at the same time, the “cost of a mistake” is constantly increasing – up to the possibility of the death of all mankind due to the mistake of one person – in connection with which the measure of individual responsibility also increases.
Pre-capitalist formations of society
Modern scientists propose to call the first formation of class society “ancient society” or even “ancient communal-civil society.” Such a name seems to more accurately express the essence of the matter than the “slaveholding” accepted today. There are still discussions about the legitimacy of this name, in particular in connection with the question of how many slaves were in the societies of the ancient East and what role they played in social production. Opinions differ sharply here, and a final solution to this issue is not yet possible. However, it is not about the number of slaves. The name of this or that formation is given according to the class that is dominant in it, which determines the economy and ideology of a given society.
It would not be entirely accurate to say that in ancient times the dominant class was the slave owners. After all, slave owners could be full members of a given society (citizens), and incomplete (dependent) members, and foreigners living here, and even the slaves themselves. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that it is the full-fledged citizens who are the dominant class of ancient society (the class here coincides with the estate; the discrepancy between the estate and class affiliation occurs only during the period when this formation is already in decline). The end of this formation is expressed not in the disappearance of slavery (it persists in subsequent formations, right up to our time), but in the disappearance of ancient citizenship. This disappearance can sometimes occur in a very peculiar way – through the granting of “civic full rights” to all subjects of the state, as a result, citizenship is deprived of all meaning. In the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, for example, this happened as a result of the famous Decree of Caracalla (212). Of course, the real process was quite lengthy.
Thus, there are two pre-capitalist formations – an ancient (civil) society and a feudal society. The second of these formations is characterized by the disappearance of the differences between the citizen and the subject, the transformation of all into subjects of the state, where the class division remains, but on a completely different basis. The dominant class here is the military-bureaucratic elite, directly or indirectly receiving land and monetary awards from the ruler in various forms. The structure of such a society is either a pyramid of vassal relations, where everyone, except for the highest and lowest, is both a lord and a vassal, or a bureaucratic structure linked by a table of ranks. It is clear that in reality there are no pure types; we can only talk about which structures prevail.
Periods of antiquity
The period of antiquity, in turn, must be divided into two sub-periods: early and late antiquity .
The characteristic features of early antiquity are:
- Neighboring community, preserving to one degree or another self-government and ownership of land, expressed in various forms – from the periodic redistribution of land to control over its alienation.
- Community social psychology of mutual assistance and collective responsibility.
- Community polytheistic ritualistic religions in which ethics does not play a significant role. These religions can also be called “natural”: they are a direct continuation of the beliefs and ideas of the primitive era.
- A “nominal” or territorial state.
Typical for late antiquity:
- The disintegration of communal land ownership and the spread or complete domination of private ownership of land.
- The loss of self-government by communities (except for temple cities) and their transformation into purely fiscal units.
- Corresponding changes in social psychology, the growth of individualism, new ideas about the human personality, which are expressed, in particular, in law (the concept of individual responsibility).
- The emergence and spread of dogmatic ethical religions that cross communal and ethnic boundaries (“world” religions). These new religions can also be called “religions of salvation” and “religions of revelation.” The first definition is related to the fact that they put at the forefront the essentially philosophical problem of a person’s personal relationship with the world and deity, salvation from world evil. The second indicates that the new religious-philosophical movements have certain individual founders, whose statements (more or less authentic) are transformed into a religious canon.
- The emergence of a new type of state – world powers, empires.
The main social contradiction of ancient society at its first stage is the contradiction between large and small land tenure, i.e. between communal and private land ownership. The extreme expression of such a contradiction is the landlessness of ordinary communes, which entails, unlike ancient Rome, the loss of civil rights and the transition to the category of “royal people”, the lower strata of which in practice did not differ much from the slaves, and the middle and upper strata subsequently formed the ruling class -the system of the second stage of ancient society. This struggle determines the entire social psychology, ideas about the state and power, morality, and sometimes even the political structure of society.
Chronologically, these stages do not always coincide in different ancient societies. Only very approximately can we say that the first stage of antiquity falls on the III-II millennium BC, and the second – on the I millennium BC, although it is possible that, for example, in China, antiquity ended earlier, what is commonly believed.
Difference between East and West
While recognizing the unity of the world-historical process, one cannot ignore the important features of its course in the East. In general, the existence of such features is recognized by everyone, but there are large differences in the assessment of their role and determination of their causes. In extreme cases, the existence in the East of some special pre-capitalist formation or the existence of such a formation all over the world is postulated, and antiquity is viewed as a kind of “deviation” from the main path, a lateral and, moreover, a dead-end branch. All these concepts, no matter how they are called, are reduced to the concept of the “Asian mode of production” and, as is clear from the above, can not be considered sufficiently substantiated. At the opposite extreme is the concept that there are no major differences between East and West at all.
Most researchers reduce these differences to differences in the nature and role of the community in the East and West. This seems to be true, but specific assessments and definitions seem to be controversial. Thus, it is practically generally accepted that the main difference between the East and the West is the long – term preservation of the community in the East.
In reality, apparently, the opposite is true: it is the ancient polis that is the community in a “chemically pure” form, a kind of “rebirth” of the primitive communal structure at a new level of development of productive forces, a level that, unlike the primitive communal, allowed and required exploitation of man by man. The polis is a state of a very special kind, for there is no power and army separate from the people: the people themselves are both power and an army. This is a community of equal citizens, and only outsiders can be exploited here – as slaves or helots. Hence the clear opposition of freedom and non-freedom, which has found its diverse expression in various cultural phenomena and even in the vocabulary.
In the East, on the contrary, there was an “imposition” on the community of political superstructures in the form of a centralized state, which significantly distorted the communal structures. The degree of this deformation was different. In Egypt, for example, traces of the community can hardly be found, in China, it is much more noticeable, in India it is quite noticeable, and in Mesopotamia it is often a counterbalance to the royal power. One way or another, the presence of a supra-communal political structure led to the emergence and persistent preservation of a complex hierarchical structure of society with the possibility of exploiting single-community members and with many transitional stages from freedom to non-freedom, which, in turn, also found diverse expression in culture. Such a structure is much more inertial, and its extremely long existence creates a highly authoritative tradition that,