A guide to the literature of the comparative history of civilizations.
A primitive culture "changes so slowly that it is usually studied in
static terms, a civilization changes rapidly enough to be considered
chronologically: it has a history." (8)
"If a primitive culture is operating effectively, it is likely to maintain
itself as it is for long periods. But when a civilization is operating
effectively, it is likely to grow." (113)
The generally accepted civilizations are:
Egypt from 4000 B.C to 300 B.C
India from 2500 B.C. to the present
The Middle East from 4000 B.C to the present
The Mediterranean (Classical Civilization) from 3000 B.C. to 1500 A.D.
The Far East from 2000 B.C. to the present
Central America from 1 A.D. to 1600 A.D.
Western South America from 1 A.D. to 1600 A.D.
Western Europe from 700 A.D. to the present
"We find forms of sculpture in all civilizations except the
Islamic; writing in all except the Mexican and Peruvian, empires in all
except the Mesopotamian, international systems in all except the Egyptian." (39)
These civilizations have some things in common in their development:
Melko has some good lines:
People changed from a nomadic existence based on hunting to a sedentary
agricultural life in the great river valleys.
Ritualized religion appears in the early stage of each civilization.
They each had theocratic leadership in the early stages. Sometimes the
religious leadership is associated with the government (Iran, Egypt, China)
sometimes it is distinct (Classical and Western Europe).
They go through a feudal phase.
"There must be a partial transition from subsistence farming to cash crop
farming or there could be no towns." (66)
Secularization (the gradual freeing of patterns from the dominance of the
original ritualized religion) in the civilizations that continued to
develop. Without secularization a civilization will disintegrate or
ossify, it will become sterile, its art forms will be repeated, its
creativity will dry up.
"Religious tolerance grows until the insistence upon the prevalence of one
religious view over another comes to be regarded as fanaticism." (120)
They develop a state system.
Empires arise through conquest. The empire enforces a single system of order
and stability which creates a large free-trading area, which encourages
commerce and industry.
"The complexity of states and empires require, the maintenance of contractual
As opposed to unconscious, personal relationships among people in small groups.
"Entrepreneurs choose locations in towns where guild restrictions will not
hamper them.) (119)
People become consciously and unashamedly concerned about improving their
standard of living.
"Art and literature grow more conscious, less anonymous, technically more
proficient and realistic... results in an increase in art and literary
classification and criticism" (121)
"The cosmopolitan urbanites, separated from the rural environment, develop
a restless, anti-domestic ethos. ... The family disintegrates, children find
their own way and often live far from parents and relatives, divorce becomes
more common since there is no particular reason for holding a family
"The sons of nobles tend to merge with the middle class." (119)
The market expands to include trade with distant towns. Some people move
to establish trading posts and settlements. These settlements are likely
to be middle class societies because "it is difficult to carry feudal
relationships in a boat." (121)
"Even today the electronics engineer who is the son of an old Newburyport
family cannot easily take his class with him when he is transferred to
"Neither the peasantry nor the proletariat ever becomes the governing
"As government tends toward bureaucracy it is liable to intervene more and
more, with a consequent loss of understanding of local problems and with
an increasingly overintegrated and therefore fragile system." (67)
As government becomes more bureaucratic and less efficient strong
leaders (great simplifiers) can become popular and rise to power.
"Those who do suspend judgment have a way of never coming to any conclusions
at all." (42)
Melko include a good critique of how political science is
"The acquisition of wealth, of course, makes a civilization a more desirable
target for external attack and the softening effects of luxury make the
citizens less capable of defending themselves." (67)
"Originally realism referred to the belief that ideas were "real" and things
only reflected ideas. The man who believed that things were real and ideas
only names was called a nominalist." (77)
Year Read: 1999
Libertarian Essays by Roy Halliday
Back to Nonfiction Book Notes
Back to Fiction Book Notes
Back to Book Notes by Author
This page was last updated on September 26, 2011.
This site is maintained by Roy Halliday. If you have any comments
or suggestions, please send them to