Fundamentals of Civilization


Hundreds of thousands of years have passed since man has lived along with the creatures of different shape, size and kind. It is generally acknowledged that every being has a soul. What is a Soul? Where does it live in a body? What is its form? I leave these entire questions to you. You may decide to answer them according to your belief. But I can specifically say that even though the soul is embodied in everyone, the word civilized, the derivative of which is civilization, is used for man only not for any other creature.

In his age preliminary age, which has also been acknowledged and described as natural or unrefined state, man like some other creatures lived on trees. He was bare bodied and had no permanent place to live. It is also a fact that he did not live on a particular tree and very often moved to another. In those days man was as fierce as any other wild animal, was carnivorous and ate flesh after having killed human beings. The raw meat, roots of fruit was usually his food. He moved about in a group as many animals did and they do so even now. In spite of it, man was different from other animals even then. The main reason of it was not only the formation of his body structure, but also the presence of the attributes of intellect and creativity in him. The intellect made him capable of analyzing things and the creativity made him dynamic. This is why man is very different from other animals. He learnt to make stone weapons at a very early stage and maintained them. Besides he started collecting foodstuff also.

By making stone weapons man was able to achieve objectives according to his need at that time. They were useful for his self-security, and hunting to satisfy his hunger. In deed, the stone weapons proved useful to him to serve his purpose. In this chain of events, if we proceed further, we find that man later learnt to produce fire by rubbing two stones. The fire thus produced served him in three ways: first to protect him from cold; secondly, to defend him to some extent from wild animals, though he was equipped with the stone weapons, but they were not sufficient enough to serve his purpose; and thirdly to enable him to cook his food particularly meat.

But having qualities of intellect and creativity and being different from other creatures, man was not civilized in his early years. There was nothing in him then to prove that he was superior in behaviour or actions to other creatures. To be called civilized, it was necessary, even as it is now, to have good conduct in which morality is foremost. Therefore, Confucius repeatedly emphasized that “a civilized person should refrain from those activities that are against the moral values”. It means that to be civilized one has not to forsake morality.

In the earlier period, during the course of his development, man could not make a significant departure from his way of life to be regarded as civilized and which could simultaneously lay the foundation of civilization. He was still making efforts ‘to say alive’ and ‘maintain his existence.’ He did succeed a little as has been mentioned above. I would like to reiterate here that it was the intellect and the creativity that helped man to learn by his experiences and he started making further progress. Thus his path to become civilized opened out. In other words, we can infer that intellect and creativity played an important and decisive role in making a man civilized and in the evolution of civilization. I hope and believe that the scholar expressing their views on the above subject and the exponent of the philosophy behind it would completely or partially agree with the inference drawn above; it is another matter that the language and the way of their expression might be different. As an example, I quote here S. Radhakrishnan ad verbatim, “Civilization is a matter of mind.”

Among all other beings man only has the quality of intellect and creativity. It implies that there is some power behind it, and that power is named God. There is no doubt that man represents the finest creation of God and He, besides granting him these qualities, endowed him with another excellent value also, the realization and application of which gradually brought improvement in his behaviour and development of moral values which eventually led him to become civilized. It also indicates the beginning of civilization. It is natural that you may ask what that value is or was. My only answer is that it was non-violence which is the fundamental basis of any civilization. So the non-violence was the first and natural basis, while the second basis in the context of civilized and civilization was the morality. It is also a fact that where there is non-violence morality is naturally present.

As I have mentioned already, in his successive development, man discovered fire, which further ensured his safety. He was also able to protect himself from cold and to cook raw meat. In spite of this, he was not certain that it assured his safety. Man was still worried about his existence. He still wavered mentally and came out of this condition when an idea flashed in his mind as well as of his fellow beings that “they should live collectively to re-enforce their safety” and “living together, probably, became a necessity”. They gave the idea a practical shape. They started living together in a group and stayed longer at one place. It assured their safety. In steed of killing each other, they were now able to defend themselves collectively against any attack, particularly of wild animals.

Staying together collectively symbolized co-operation. Co-operation enhances trust. Wherever there is co-operation and trust, non-violence is certainly at the root of it. In the atmosphere of violence, there is no possibility of co-operation. Since non-violence is permanently in the nature of man, they thought of living collectively, let it be for the sake of his safety came to his mind. Contrary to it, if the non-violence had not been a permanent feature of his nature, idea of living collectively would not have come to his mind. What would have been the consequences if, in spite of his attributes of intellect and creativity, he had applied his intellect negatively?

According to Gandhi, man himself would have been cause of his own ruin long ago. But it did not happen so. Man grew in number because non-violence is permanently present in his nature.

After having safeguarded his existence by living collectively, and having non-violence in his nature, man applied his intellect and creativity freely for his further development. On his way to become more civilized, he fortified himself with other excellences of character by setting up various systems, not forgetting to maintain morality. On his long journey to progress, man discovered an environment conducive to him and made efforts to achieve his goal. Whatever he has achieved so far is before us.

We should not forget that at the elementary stage man learnt to live with other human beings collectively and to stay at one place longer than before, he co-operated to his safety or his efforts to achieve his goal. Co-operation does not mean depending on others, but working together freely. Hence, the third fundamental basis of the rise of a civilization after non-violence and morality has been ‘equal freedom to all.’ John Locke, the philosopher of 17th century had different views about freedom. According to him, Freedom means that I should be able to act according to my own free will in all spheres of life so long the law does not prohibit it, and that I should not remain subjected to anyone’s fickle uncertain, unknown despotic wishes.’ His statement appears to be incomplete unless the above-mentioned wish of a person foresees the same for others. Since time immemorial, the meaning of freedom, in fact, has been that a man himself should be free and make sure that others also are free like him.

Therefore, Non-violence, Morality and Freedom are the three fundamental basis of civilization. By depriving others of their freedom by violent means subduing them by immoral ways, no civilization can be created nor can it be nurtured. We have before us the history of thousands of years that tells us that whatever efforts have been made to subject others becoming indifferent to non-violence, which is the basis of peace, the civilizations had their downfall. As opposed to it, whenever man has faith in the fundamental basis/principles. As a case study, let us discuss in brief the rise and fall of Egyptian and some centers of Mesopotamian Civilizations.

Rise and Fall of Egyptian Civilization

Rich in minerals and advanced in agriculture, the Egyptian civilization, like Indian and Mesopotamian ones, was the most developed civilization of the world. About four thousand years B.C., several communities called ‘Noams’ came to be known for the progress they had made through co-operation with one another. From these communities there emerged two states in the north and the south for leadership, which the southern state overcame the northern one and Menus set up a powerful kingdom in Egypt. As I mentioned before, Egypt was an agricultural country. After Menus had set up the kingdom, many plans for systematic cultivation of land were made. From the point of proper administration, farmers were divided into several groups. The administration of each group was in the hands of a high council. The council acted as a go-between especially in connection with the collection of taxes from frames and payments to the government.

In other fields also administration was carried out in a systematic and planned way. The advisory board was constituted inclusive of other Chief Advisor, Chief Treasury Officer, the Chief Justice and other higher Officer to advice the King. It was due to the good administration and implementation of necessary conditions for an overall development and progress of civilization that Egypt made an astounding progress. Its civilization became sky high. It was the time when the wonder of then world, the pyramids were built. Even today seventy pyramids are remained among which Khufu pyramid is the biggest. It is 146.5 meters high and 2300000 stones were used to build it. It took twenty years to complete it.

The Egyptian civilization was sky high during this period and it was not possible for it to rise further or maintain its current position. The people of Egypt became indifferent to the basics of civilization. Noam communities started fighting with each other and tried to undermine each other’s position. The result was that the government at the centre became unstable and became weaker and weaker. The unity of the country was shattered and the civilization met with its downfall.

About two thousand years B.C., Egypt was again united, but this time unit was not the same as was achieved by Menus. Naturally, in spite of the extensive system of irrigation, craft and expansion of commerce, the process of development could not be maintained for long. There was resentment among masses because of the partiality shown to certain communities by the administration. People by large were dissatisfied and were unable to develop their civilization as before. Like the unique progress made in the fields or writing, architecture, arithmetic, science, astronomy, and medicine after the unification of country by Menus could not be regained and because of dissatisfaction of masses and their resentment, the mutual co-operation continued waning and the distance among them growing. Taking advantage of the conditions, an Asian tribe invaded Egypt and subjugated it.

Having remained subjugated for a little less than two centuries, Egypt gained independence under the leadership of Ahamose-First. After it, during the reigns of Ahamose-First and Tuthmomis-Third it had also become a military might. The then rulers mussed it in conquering the adjoining areas and some parts of Asia, plundering them and exploiting them by making people slaves. The great achievement of the then Egyptian Military might was the organization of Navy and the induction of a variety of ships in it.

The Egyptian rulers who were indulged in attacking and plundering could not stabilize the internal administration. They could not share freedom with the people at large. Under these conditions, Egypt could not make any progress further and lagged much behind the earlier successes. The inner conflicts weakened the nation and about one thousand two hundred years B.C., it was exposed to foreign invasions and subjugation and the Egyptian civilization met with its downfall.

The world famous Mesopotamian Civilization prospered in the Valleys of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates [Dazala and Farat]. In the south of it, the Sumerian Tribes developed a unique irrigation system, perhaps for the first time, by constructing reservoirs, dams and canals and gave new dimensions to farming.

They had a well-developed system of cattle rearing and had methodically separated the cattle required for agriculture. They had a system of taxation and a very civilized way of living. About four thousand B.C. there was twenty or twenty-five small kingdoms, which were ruled by priests. They were called Patessi. It was during their reign that their civilization was reckoned as one of the ancient civilization of the world. Later on, the two powerful kingdoms, the Lagash and Umma, had a conflict just for the reason that both wanted to bring the whole of the Southern Mesopotamian under their rule.

This sort of thinking was against the fundamental basis or the principle of civilization. The above kingdoms fought with each other for a long time. In such an environment full of strife, the further advancement was not possible. Along with that, in an atmosphere of violence, there was always a possibility of damage to whatever progress they had already made. And it happened there. Also it affected the areas of the Southern Mesopotamia. One of the ancient and renewed civilizations lagged behind. It was about 2500 B.C. Sargaon-First, Who was the ruler of Akkadi tribes, inhabiting the Central and North-Western Mesopotamia, vanquished the Sumerians and ruled over them.

During the reign of Hamurabi, which was between 1792 and 1750 B.C., Mesopotamia was integrated once again. He was a great and an autocratic ruler who conquered the smaller kingdom of Mesopotamia and brought them under one banner. Though he united them by violent means, he ruled over them according to law. His Code of Conduct containing 282 laws gives an insight to the social, political and economic organization of the then Babylon. The city of Babylon became famous all over the world as the center of casual, political, economic and cultural set-up. During his time, religion, literature, culture and science all progressed excellently. Not only this, there was development in other fields also and the civilization that had earlier lost its brilliance flourished once again. He achieved this goal by paying attention to the development of other areas also like architecture, crafts, trade and commerce besides agriculture. Many literary works of that period are still found. The most famous among them is ‘Gilgamesh’ which depicts the story of deluge [Mahaparalaya]. Besides these achievements, mathematics, astronomy and others too were at their peak. The ruins of Babylon tell the story of its once prosperous civilization. During the reign of Hamurabi, the Babylon society achieved the highest goal of its development and it is regarded as the golden period of its history. It is an anomaly that it did not last long. Babylon had to face many invasions, which caused the downfall of this great civilization.

In 18th century B.C. the Assyrian kingdom emerged around Ashar, a city in Northern Mesopotamia. During the reign of Tiglath Pilessar-Third [745-729 B.C.], who had conquered Babylon, this kingdom started making progress and it continued further during the reigns of the later kings chiefly, of Sargon-Second [722-705 B.C] and Asaruhddin [680-669 B.C.]. Roads were systematically constructed, canals were dug, many cities developed and there was international expansion of trade.

Consequently, it once again attained its glory and became a powerful and prosperous centre of the world. But it is unfortunate that later on because of mismanagement and mal-administration there was exploitation of the general public and this kingdom also disintegrated and the great civilization perished.

The development of a civilization is not due to the efforts of an individual, but is the result of the collective efforts of more or less every member of society. As everyone in one-way or the other contributes to its development, the credit of it should naturally be given to all. Everybody wants his personal freedom and his peace should not be disturbed as one of the permanent partners of civilization. But when someone chooses the course of his progress for his own peace, development and prosperity by exploiting others, in that case the civilization however great and prosperous it might be faces problems and subsequently such civilization declines.

I have quoted above a few examples from the Mesopotamian Civilization. The purpose of it is that we should have a clear understanding of those factors, which are essential for nurturing a civilization. In fact, they are the ones, which I have discussed above in the beginning, and they are the fundamental principles. Non-violence is the foremost among them; the others are morality and freedom, which are related with it. All great civilizations of the world whether of Greece, Egypt, China or India, they prospered on the basis of these principles and any action antithetical of these principles causes their down-fall from time to time. People deviated from the path of non-violence, became immoral and deprived others of any civilization however prosperous it might be if it is indifferent to non-violence, morality and freedom to all. If we want to be recognized as civilized or are proud of our civilization, it is necessary that we must be mentally inclined to non-violence as our ancestors were. Even today, to have moral values and to ascertain freedom for others is as essential as it was for the human beings earlier.

There are many chapters in history that describe the end of many civilizations caused by indiscriminate foreign invasion. I would not like to mention any particular state or nation; but would like to emphasize that by these barbaric invasions where violence played havoc, the immorality crossed the limits and the freedom of human beings was totally ignored, no invader has been able to annihilate any civilization. India at least is the living example of it. India has faced a number of barbaric invasions, but none of them could destroy the civilization of this country, which is unique in its unity in diversity. Of course, these invasions proved detrimental to its civilization, from time to time, but the people passed the test successfully and made it up in a short time. The fact is that a civilization has its downfall when its own fosterers do not follow the fundamental principles of civilization. It is the ultimate truth.

Dr. Ravindra Kumar is an eminent writer, Indologist, political scientist and a former vice chancellor of Meerut University, India, who authored and edited over 100 works on great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and on various social-cultural issues.