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Civilization and Its Contents by Bruce Mazlish

By Bruce Mazlish

“Civilization” is a continuously invoked time period. it really is utilized by either politicians and students. How worthwhile, actually, is that this time period? Civilization and Its Contents strains the origins of the concept that within the eighteenth century. It indicates its use as a colonial ideology, after which as a help for racism. The time period used to be prolonged to a lifeless society, Egyptian civilization, and used to be appropriated through Japan, China, and Islamic nations. This latter improvement lays the basis for the modern demand a “dialogue of civilizations.” the writer proposes in its place that this present day using the time period “civilization” has an international that means, with neighborhood versions well-known as cultures. it can be extra acceptable, even though, to desert the identify “civilization” and to target a brand new figuring out of the civilizing strategy.

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When the natives demonstrate stratification practices, Cook praises them for this mark of civilization. On the other hand, in an un- 36 Civilization as Colonial Ideology usual slip, he refers to the New Zealanders as “Indians,” placing them with the inferior beings of the New World. Reversion to revulsion is always just below the surface. A primer for the latter attitude is cannibalism. As Cook says, “we were struck with horror,” when viewing the bones of a human body picked clean. Evidence was everywhere and repeated, as was Cook’s repulsion.

One of Europe’s earliest attempts to define itself involves the putting forth of an exclusive creed (matched by one on the other side of the frontier). The frontier itself, over time, kept shifting; one thinks of the jihads and Reconquistas. Christianity as a unifying force in the West (no matter how divided in fact internally) required fixity, however, and total separation from its Islamic opponent across the frontier. ” Given such a conviction, it is then only by conquering the other and incorporating him in one’s own creed and culture, rather than by accommodation, that one can break out beyond one’s own frontier and “civilize” the 24 Civilization as Colonial Ideology barbarians on the other side.

Whatever the arguments, the contest on the ground was 26 Civilization as Colonial Ideology won largely by the holders of the latter view. Nevertheless, this element in the emergence of the notion of civilization was tinged with bad conscience. Christianity and its “civilizing mission” became the ideological salve to justify early European imperialism. ”7 The argument as to whether Christianity was a vital part of the concept of civilization persisted for a long time, as did the growing conviction for some that it was, in practice, as barbarous a religion as the ones that it sought to displace.

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