"An Important Work on Civilization"
A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, June 29, 1969,
of a book.
THE CIVILIZATIONAL PROCESS,
by Darcy Ribeiro
Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1969.
"An Important Work on Civilization"
Washington Sunday Star
June 29, 1969
An Important Work on Civilization
THE CIVILIZATIONAL PROCESS
By Darcy Ribeiro
Translated, with a foreword by Betty J. Meggers.
Smithsonian Institution Press. 201 pages. $6.50.
This is an unusual book by a very
unusual man. The author, a Brazilian anthropologist who has lived among
South America's most primitive jungle tribes, organized the Museum of
the Indians in Rio de Janeiro, became professor of anthropology at the
University of Brazil in 1956, at the age of 34, and was one of the chief
planners of the new University of Brazilia, of which he became the first
rector in 1961. He was chief of the division of social Research in the
Brazilian Ministry of Education in 1958-1961 and minister of education
and culture in the Goulart government in 1962-1964. When Goulart was
overthrown by a military coup in 1964, many of his government, including
Ribeiro, were exiled. Late in 1968, Ribeiro returned to Brazil, was
arrested, and is now in prison.
Ribeiro is far more than a social scientist and politician. From
the evidence of this book, he is also a widely read and obviously
cultured man, with a remarkable knowledge of history, and a clear and
orderly mind. In this volume he presents a remarkable history of mankind
over the past 12,000 years in the brief compass of only 150 pages. Such
concision requires profound knowledge of a subject. Ribeiro has such
knowledge, far beyond that of the majority of academic historians in our
country today. He has a deep understanding of the problems and processes
of history, a remarkable knowledge of historical and sociological
literature (in at least five languages), and an unusual capacity for
organization and exposition of his subject. The result is a world
history which has something significant to say on almost every page,
even to professional historians. The volume concludes with a
bibliography of 45 pages.
Sequence of Civilizations
In a book I published in 1961, I considered the subject in terms of
a sequence of different civilizations as discrete entities, as, indeed,
they are. Ribeiro attacks the subject as a single "civilizational
process" to which each of the various civilizations has contributed its
own distinctive elements.
He divides this whole process into a sequence of technological
revolutions, eight in all, thus showing the influence of Marx in his
outlook. The Ribeiro approach is valid and illuminating, although the
only serious adverse criticism I would make of this book would be aimed
at the almost inevitable narrowing of outlook which accompanies too much
Marxist influence in any social scientist's point of view.
My own decision to deal with man's civilized history as a sequence
of separate civilizations was based, in part, on a conviction that
organizational and intellectual factors were at least as important as
technological and economic forces in determining the history of any
civilization, and that the ability of such a civilization to utilize the
technical knowledge available to it, either from its own invention or
from diffusion from other cultures, depends, to a great extent, on
non-materialist factors, especially those associated with accepted
outlook and organizational patterns.
The eight stages which Ribeiro discerns in the "civilizational
process" are: (1) the Neolithic Revolution (which he calls "The
Agricultural Revolution"); (2) the "Urban Revolution"; (3) the
"Irrigation Revolution"; (4) the "Metallurgical Revolution"; (5) the
"Pastoral Revolution"; (6) the "Mercantile" Revolution"; (7) the
"Industrial Revolution"; and (8) the "Thermonuclear Revolution." These
stages may seem obvious enough to most persons with some knowledge of
history, but Ribeiro's particular point of view, derived, in part, from
his anthropological background, and also his position as a citizen of an
underdeveloped nation, has given him special insights.
Widening the Stage
For example, Ribeiro quite correctly, emphasizes the different
experiences of the civilizational process in what I called "core" areas
from that undergone in "peripheral" areas of each civilization. He sees
this distinction at work not only in the commercial intercourse of the
earliest irrigation civilizations but also in the difference between
"advanced" and "backward" areas during the centuries of the mercantile,
industrial and thermonuclear revolutions.
This widening of the stage of history, to include, for example, the
impact of Iberian, Russian, English and French expansion from the
sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries on American Indians or African
Negroes, as well as on the peoples of the Oceanic islands and of Asia,
is now being examined by historians, but to Ribeiro it has been fully
incorporated as a significant aspect of the historic process. In fact,
he makes a valuable distinction between "backward" and "underdeveloped"
peoples on the valid ground that the latter have already made
adaptations to the impact of advanced peoples while the former have not.
Another significant example of Ribiero's broad point of view is his
recognition that Russian expansion across Asia to North America ran
parallel to the Iberian expansion across the seas in the centuries
following 1480 and that the parallel applied to the organizational
nature of the two systems, so that both may be classified as "Salvationistic
There are numerous places in this brief work where the reader might
raise a quizzical eyebrow or even want to contradict the author's
statements, but there is no need to point out such cases here, for the
overall value of this book is too great to be the subject of petty
criticism in a first appraisal. It might be added that the smooth and
clear translation by Betty Meggers of the Smithsonian does much to make
the volume accessible to readers of the English language.