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. Quite apart from the discomforts and privations, there was no escape from it.
Civilisation, A Personal View, ch. 1 “The Skin of Our Teeth” (1969)
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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.
Civilisation, A Personal View, ch. 13 “Heroic Materialism” (1969)
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It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilization. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.
Civilization: A Personal View, ch. 13 “Heroic Materialism” (1969)
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