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Inventing Western Civilization

Inventing Western Civilization

Thomas C. Patterson
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 156
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  • Book Info
    Inventing Western Civilization
    Book Description:

    "In this wonderful book, Thomas Patterson effectively dethrones the concept of 'civilization' as an abstract good, transcending human society."--Martin Bernal Drawing on his extensive knowledge of early societies, Thomas C. Patterson shows how class, sexism, and racism have been integral to the appearance of "civilized" societies in Western Europe. He lays out clearly and simply how civilization, with its designs of "civilizing" and "being civilized," has been closely tied to the rise of capitalism in Western Europe and the development of social classes.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-409-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 3-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
    (pp. 7-8)
    (pp. 9-26)

    The wordcivilizationevokes powerful images and understandings. We in the United States have been taught, from elementary school onward, that a few ancient peoples—like the Egyptians or Greeks—were “civilized” and that civilization achieved its highest level of development here and in other Western countries. Civilization, we are told, is beneficial, desirable—and definitely preferable to being uncivilized. The idea of civilization thus always implicitly involves a comparison: the existence of civilized people implies that there are uncivilized folk who are inferior because they are not civilized. Uncivilized peoples, for their part, have either been told that they...

    (pp. 27-56)

    The idea ofcivilizationwas a major part of the ideology that accompanied and buttressed the rise of the modern European state.¹ The modern state emerged within the crisis of feudalism—a crisis that was characterized by declining incomes among the ruling class, even in periods of economic expansion.² The appearance of the modern state began during the Renaissance and gained momentum after enormous quantities of plunder began to arrive from the Americas in the 1500s. By that time, the European states already had diverse forms of government: absolutist monarchies in Spain, France, and England; states dominated by clerical corporations...

    (pp. 57-86)

    Civilization’s champions have claimed that the institutions and practices of the ruling classes and the state are desirable and necessary in that they maintain order and underwrite the conquest of nature. The values and practices cultivated by elite institutions and the state, it has been argued, promote reason and the rationality required to overcome the limitations imposed by nature and traditional beliefs. From this viewpoint, civilization marks the highest stage of social development—the end of history, as it were; and the civilizing process makes the world a better place in which to live. But not everyone has been as...

    (pp. 87-116)

    Civilization, as we have seen, always involves hierarchically organized social relations and cultures. A civilization is a class-stratified society that “civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.”¹ Its rise is intimately linked with the formation of social classes and a state apparatus. As part of the civilizing process, the politically dominant groups strive to distinguish themselves socially and culturally, both from classes that their members have subordinate at home and from communities beyond their frontiers. They portray their own members asrefined, polished,andcultured;members of the subordinated classes and external communities are depicted in oppositional terms,...

    (pp. 117-132)

    Civilization is a whole greater than the sum of its parts: a hierarchy of distinct classes, communities, and cultures linked together and organized by the institutions and practices of class and state structures. For the benefit of their ruling classes, civilizations have governments that maintain social order and laws that regulate relations between classes and ensure the availability and quality of commodities. Government and law shape the political and economic conditions of civilization, underwrite the growth of rational knowledge and economic development, and create conditions that nurture enlightenment and culture.

    Ruling classes see themselves as the civilized classes. They cultivate...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 133-150)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 151-156)