. Carroll Quigley, Ph.D. (Harvard ’38)
Professor of History
. Georgetown University,
Washington, D.C., 2007
Time . .
. General Crises in
Place . .
. Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C.
. Scope, Methods, and Current Issues in
the Comparative Study of Civilizations
. 4448 Greenwich Parkway, N.W.
Release Time: 9:00
paper deals with the causes and chief characteristics of a
general crisis in any
civilization, and with some of its consequences if
the crisis is allowed to run
GENERAL CRISES IN CIVILIZATIONS
is constantly experiencing crises, that is, acute problems which require
immediate remedial action, but a general crisis in a civilization is quite a
different matter. A general crisis
has unique characteristics because a civilization has unique characteristics, in
comparison with other kinds of social groupings.
We cannot understand the nature of a general crisis unless we understand
the distinctive nature of a civilization, because the unique character of a
civilization rests in its structure and the general crisis of any civilization
is an organizational crisis in that structure.
civilization is the highest level of social aggregate.
As such it has four inferior levels of such aggregates below it:
(1) collections of persons, whose only significant relationship is
that they are in the same place at the same time (like passengers in a bus);
(2) groups of persons, whose relationships are sufficiently
patterned for members of the group to be able to identify who is, and who is
not, a member of that group; (3)
societies, which are groups whose patterns serve to satisfy most of the
members basic needs, with the result that the members of a society have most of
their relationships with each other, and their mutual, reciprocal adjustments
while doing so make a society an integrative social aggregate;
and (4) producing societies, which are societies whose economic
patterns serve to increase the amount of food in the system, in contrast with
non-producing societies, whose activities reduce the amount of food in the
system and in its natural environment since they are simply parasites on nature.
A civilization (5) is a producing society whose patterns include
an organization of expansion.
definition means that a producing society becomes a civilization when it is
organized in such a way that its patterns of relationships and behavior provide
three things: (a) an incentive to
innovate new ways of doing things; (b) an inequitable distribution of the social
product so that there accumulates within the society a surplus of wealth (that
is, wealth which its possessors do not wish to consume immediately); and (c)
that the society be organized in such a way that the surplus being accumulated
is used to mobilize resources to exploit the innovations being made.
Such a triplex of organizational patterns is what I call “an organization
of expansion”. Any producing
society which develops such an organization of expansion is a civilization;
accordingly, it will expand as all civilizations do, but as non-civilized
societies do not.
“expansion” here I mean that the civilization grows in four ways:
(a) in population; (b) in geographic area; (c) in production of wealth
per capita; and (d) in knowledge.
When a civilization is expanding in these ways, we say that it is in its “Stage
of Expansion”, which is Stage III of the seven distinct stages in the life of
any civilization. This stage of
growth follows the logistical curve of growth found in the curve of any growth
process. This is the familiar
elongated S-curve, whose slope, as shown by the tangent to the curve, reflects
the rate of growth. As we move in
time from left to right along this curve, the rate of growth increases to a
certain point, after which the rate ceases to increase and soon begins to
decease. In the early stages of a
civilization, the rate of growth is close to zero, and the slope of the curve is
almost horizontal (that is, zero); as growth begins, this slope of the tangent
begins to turn in a counter-clockwise direction as the rate of growth increases.
The civilization enters Stage III of its civilization process as soon as
the tangent to the curve begins to turn, and it continues in this State III
until the rate of growth begins to decrease, as indicated by the fact that the
tangent ceases to turn in a counter-clockwise direction and begins to turn in a
clockwise direction. At this point,
although growth continues for a considerable period, the rate of growth
is decreasing, and the civilization has entered upon Stage IV in its life-span;
that is, it enters its Age of Conflict or General Crisis (Stage IV).
The Age of
Conflict of any civilization can be identified by the fact that it has four
characteristics different from the four characteristics of the Age of Expansion.
These four indicators are:
(a) decreasing rate of expansion;
(b) increasing class-conflicts; (c)
increasing imperialist wars among the political units which make up most
civilizations; and (d) growing irrationality. As we shall see in a moment, other
characteristics are also to be found in an Age of General Crisis, which help to
for the decreasing rate of expansion is that the organization of expansion
ceases acting as an instrument of expansion and becomes an institution.
The tendency for all organizations to begin as instruments and to end as
institutions is a general characteristic of all organizational patterns of any
kind. It can be recognized from the
fact that there appears to be a drastic decrease in the effectiveness with which
the purpose of the organization is achieved, a decrease which arises from the
fact that the organization and its members begin to assume other purposes
different from the goals of the organization as a whole.
The members of the organization and its operational patterns become
vested interests more concerned with defending their own interests and their own
methods of operation as elements in the organization than they are with the
organization’s macro-goals. There
are many reasons for this situation which cannot be explained here, but we might
mention two: (a) each part of the
organization has a subsidiary function which is distinct from the function of
the organization itself and the egocentricity of all human actions tend to make
this micro-goal of the individual part take priority over the macro-goal of the
whole organization; and (b) even if
a part of it continues to achieve its micro-goal with continuing effectiveness,
the social context of the organization changes, requiring modifications of the
micro-goals and micro-functions of the parts, but such changes will be resisted,
or simply not observed, by those parts long enough to reduce the effectiveness
of the achievement of the macro-goals and macro-functions of the organization in
the new social context.
It is a
basic rule of social processes that instruments tend to become institutionalized
and that institutionalization leads to decreased effectiveness in achieving
macro-goals. When this occurs, not
only are macro-goals underachieved, but a dichotomy of interests (and potential
conflict) emerges between the desires of the society for the fulfillment of
macro-goals and the desires of the organization and its parts to fulfill their
macro-goals. This phenomenon can be
observed in any society in all its activities, from churches where religion is
replaced by clericalism, through schools where the struggle for credits,
curriculum, and examinations become obstacles to real education, to the military
aspect where weapons, inter-service animosities, SOP, and thirst for promotions
become threats to defense and even to national security.
process of the institutionalization of organizations is the chief cause of the
decreasing rate of expansion and of class and group conflicts as Stage III of
any civilization passes into Stage IV.
Somewhat more remotely it is also the chief cause in the onset of
imperialist wars. This third
characteristic of an Age of General Crisis is but one example, though a major
one, of the general tendency of this Stage to seek to increase its rate of
expansion by the use of force and of political action, as this rate ceases to be
maintained at an adequate level by organizational processes based on accepted
structural patterns. The most
obvious manifestations of this general tendency are to be found in three
phenomena: (a) a tendency, as the
disappointing rate of growth in the whole social product is recognized, for the
diverse parts of the system to seek to maintain or to increase their own shares
of the dwindling total at the expense of the shares going to other parts of the
system; (b) a growing tendency to
use conscious political action and power to force continued growth; and
(c) a tendency for the chief entities of group action in the civilization
(usually states, but sometimes other groups or communities) to attack other such
entities in imperialist warfare.
The nature of this process and the tendency to move toward imperialism as a
response to decreasing rates of growth can be seen most clearly in economics,
although it takes place in all aspects of civilized life.
The purpose of economic activity is to obtain economic goods which can be
consumed or otherwise enjoyed. All
such activity takes the form of application of tools and patterns of action to
resources. If we designate such
artifacts and patterns as “an organization”, we can indicate a productive
relationship thus: an organization
(O) applied to resources (R) yields Goods (G), thus O + R
relationship, G can be increased in either of two ways:
(a) by applying the same O to an increased R; or (b) by applying a more
effective O to the same or even a reduced R.
We call the former “extensive expansion” and the latter intensive
expansion”, a contrast which is most easily seen in agriculture, where intensive
expansion has been prevalent for decades, if not centuries, so that we now get
greatly increased output of G with decreased use of land and labor, by the use
of new methods, organizations, and techniques.
This is in sharp contrast to other aspects of economic, such as
transportation, where we are constantly told that private, individual, mobility
by the internal combustion engine is the ultimate achievement in transportation
organization, so that organization changes are thus excluded, and expansion of
transportation as an economic good G cannot be achieved by any changes in O, but
must be sought through more R, that is, increased vehicles, horsepower, and
highways. Similarly, experts in
education or in national defense almost unanimously and automatically exclude
new organizations or methods and insist that they must have more resources –
more money, personnel, buildings, hardware, etc.
tendency to seek more G by increasing R, rather than by reforming O, is simply a
part of the general tendency for instruments to become institutions.
In any social process, O tends to become a way of life, the patterns of
thought, feeling, and action which is “our way of doing things.”
Accordingly, vested interests accumulate around O, but not around R
(which are simply resources to be used and even used up).
There is always, in social activities, a tendency for intensive expansion
to be transformed into extensive expansion.
When that shift of emphasis takes in the organization of expansion of a
civilization, that civilization passes from its Stage of Expansion into its
Stage of Conflict or General Crisis.
This leads almost inevitably to conflicts of classes, groups,
generations, and states, and thus imperialist wars.
Such wars could be defined as conflicts arising from efforts to obtain by
force or power an increase in R, as a means for continuing growth in G without
conscious or deliberate reform of O.
These imperialist wars of Stage IV of a civilization are quite different
from the conflicts which may have appeared in Stage III; in the latter, such
conflicts arose from the growth of the civilization itself from its improvement
of its organizational patterns (that is, of O).
example of this whole process can be seen in the history of the defeated powers
of WWII. Before the war, Germany,
Japan, and Italy refused to consider any significant reforms of their political,
financial, and economic organizations, insisting that higher standards of living
for their citizens could be obtained only by increased resources, even if those
could be obtained only by force from their neighbors.
The efforts of these fascist states to obtain more resources by force led
to World War II. As a result of the
defeat of these aggressors in 1945, all three countries suffered a sharp
reduction in resources: land,
population (counter-balanced, to some extent, by repatriation of nationals), of
monetary resources (such as foreign exchange balances), and raw materials.
Yet in all three cases, as a result of the actions of the United States,
the fascist organizational structure which had made the war was replaced by a
different and more effective organizational structure, in economics, in
government, and in finance. In each
of the three countries, this new organization, after 1952, achieved a
spectacular increase in standards of living and did so on a smaller resource
base than had existed in 1938. As a
result of the defeat, which was essentially a defeat of the fascist organization
itself, a new O with a reduced R achieved an output of G which astonished the
world and which gave the inhabitants of all three countries a higher standard of
living than they had ever had in history.
In all three the rate of expansion is now slowing down, as the post-1950
O becomes institutionalized.
process of institutionalization of social instruments (or the shift from
intensive to extensive growth) in a constant in all human life and in all
processes of historical change. As
I have explained in detail in another place (my EVOLUTION OF CIVILIZATIONS,
Macmillan, 1961, pp. 49-65, 74-78), this tendency gives rise to three possible
responses which I called reform, circumvention, or reaction.
In the first case, the institutionalized organization is reformed and
growth resumes; in the second case, the institutional organization is left many
of its privileges and emoluments, but its social functions are given to a new
parallel organization, which serves as a new instrument so that growth resumes;
and, in the third case, the institutionalized O is able to become a fascist
structure which uses power and force to prevent either reform or circumvention,
thus condemning the people of the society to a reduced or declining level of
satisfaction of their needs and desires for an indefinite future.
In this third case, the Age of Conflict continues, and the civilizational
process continues into growing frustration and weakness, until a single
political unit, a Universal Empire, conquers the whole area of the civilization.
At that point, Stage IV ceases, and replaced by Stage V.
It is, of course, possible in theory for the civilization to fail to
achieve a Universal Empire and to continue in conflict and general crisis, as
the society declines slowly to disintegration, with mixed patterns of reform,
circumvention, and reaction. In
such a case, which is quite rare, Universal Empire will be omitted from the
civilizational process, and the society will move from Stage IV, Conflict, to
Stage VI, Decay, without experiencing Stage V.
Crisis affects all aspects of life from intellectual, religious, and artistic,
through social (concerned with human gregarious and emotional needs) and
economic, to constitutional, political, and military.
Efforts to deal with all these aspects by political action, or even by
force, means that all aspects tend to be become politicized, even such “private”
matters as relationships between the sexes, between the generations, within
families, etc. In the Age of
Conflict this culminates in a great effort to fuse into a single system three
quite distinct social organizations:
the community, the state, and the civilization itself.
The last two of these usually do reach a point where they obtain
coterminous boundaries (as a Universal Empire), but the effort to pretend that
this huge social aggregate is a community is always a failure.
There are two reasons for this failure.
A community is a social aggregate (group, society, or civilization) whose
members trust each other until they have explicit reasons to distrust a
particular person; such reasons for distrust can be found very easily in an age
of general conflict and general politicization, in which power intrudes into all
human relationships. More important
than this, however, is the second reason, the fact that human emotional needs
can be satisfied only by contacts with nature and with other humans on an
existential, unique, face-to-face basis in which individuals know each other
personally. An institutionalized
society is too cluttered up with artifacts, institutions, and power factors to
permit the achievement of any “global village,” a McLuhan myth which is typical
of McLuhan’s efforts to please the contemporary institutionalized establishment.
Any large social aggregate, especially a highly politicized one as a
Universal Empire must be, has to operate through artifacts, general rules,
abstractions, permanent status, and generalized, non-personal (that is, not
“face-to-face”) behavior. All these
things are obstacles to the unique, existential relationships among persons and
with nature required by human emotional needs.
The effort to make a Universal Empire into a community, or to pretend
that it is, is bound to fail from the cumulative frustration of unexpressed
emotional energies. Contemporary
student hatred of the IBM card as a symbol of what is wrong, in their minds,
with today’s world is a notable example of this reaction.
in the course of the Age of Conflict, individuals begin to reject the effort to
make the state and the civilization into a community and begin to seek emotional
satisfaction by what I call “misplacement of satisfactions” or by opting out of
the system. The first of these
responses is too complex a problem to be dealt with in any adequate fashion
here. It includes a general
tendency to seek satisfaction of human needs on the wrong levels:
to seek security in the acquisition of property, or in sex, or in
unquestioning allegiance to an ideology as a secular religion; or to seek
emotional satisfaction in power, in violence, in status, or in artifacts; and so
forth. The second of these
responses, opting out of the system, includes the use of narcotics, alcohol, or
other irrationalities, as well as the effort to lose oneself in a niche of the
system, but it is most notable as a renunciation of any ambition to create a
community from the whole society or the state, in favor of an effort to find
emotional and social satisfactions in some voluntary “little community” or
commune. Such efforts appear in the
Stage of Conflict and have a fluctuating history until they finally become so
pervasive (usually late in the Universal Empire) that the whole system
disintegrates. This “opting out of
the system” involves a shifting of allegiance and emotional attachments from the
state to small communities. It is
clearly seen, for example, in the Greek-speaking Classical world after it
reached it reached its Age of Conflict about 450 B.C.
The first famous case is Epicurus, who renounced allegiance to the state,
to war, and to military service, and invited men to find their true
satisfactions by sitting with their friends, eating and conversing “in a quiet
garden.” Later, the Cynics, the
“hippies” of the ancient world, sought similar “anti-social” but inter-personal
satisfactions. This trend
continued, vigorously resisted by the state, (especially by Rome after the Latin
world entered its Age of Conflict about 250 B.C.) but with decreasing success
after the time of Augustus Caesar.
By that time, Lucullus had abandoned all politics to devote himself to feasting,
while men like Apollonius of Tyana and Christ pointed the way to the
satisfaction of human social and emotional needs in religious communes.
However, only in the Second Century A.D., when the Universal Empire of
Classical Civilization was almost two centuries old, did this trend become a
torrent. At that time, tens of
thousands joined the church, finding in its catacombs the emotional, religious,
and intellectual satisfactions which had been left frustrated by the Classical
over-emphasis on military, political, and economic concerns.
After A.D. 311 Constantine and his successors tried to regain the
political and military allegiance of the Christians by adopting Christianity as
the religion of a new Imperial system centered on the Persian doctrine of
Providential Empire. This effort
created a new civilization, Byzantine, in the east, but in the west, civilized
life collapsed into invasions and the Dark Age of a new Western Civilization.
Classical Civilization died everywhere.
Crisis, Stage IV, of a civilization can be viewed from other aspects.
It is the central stage of a process by which society shifts from an
organization of kinship groups and local communities (clans, extended families,
villages, parishes) to an organization of atomized and alienated individuals,
many of whom are vainly seeking community in a universal brotherhood of man
within a universal state. In Stage
II most human behavior controls and many human rewards of behavior are
internalized, in neurological and hormonal patterns resulting from social
and religious training in face-to-face local groupings.
In the latter parts of Stage IV (Conflict) and in Stage V (Universal
Empire), most controls and rewards are externalized, the controls from
organized forces of “law and order” (that is, organized power and force, as
police, government, and military units), and the rewards equally externalized as
possessions of wealth and power status.
The civilization, as it passes from Stage II to Stage V, finds that
individual relationships are based, successively, on processes of socialization
(Stage II), commercialization (III), politization (IV), and ultimately,
This process marks a shift in emphasis downward from the higher levels of human
experience (religious, intellectual, artistic, and emotional) to the lower
(economic, political, military, and physical).
As a result, the civilization faces acute problems in its higher
manifestations, so that fundamental cognitive assumptions and value priorities
which prevailed in the earlier stages are challenged and replaced by cognitive
and symbolic patterns of a more atomized and less social character.
From these changes emerge powerful emotional frustrations which give rise
to growing misplacement of satisfactions and an increasing tendency for
individuals to opt out of the system.
At some point these frustrations and shifts of loyalties create a
situation in which the civilization as a functioning entity can no longer
continue, and especially can no longer defend itself, from lack of support from
its members. This leads to
wholesale collapse of its military, political, and economic structures.