: A comprehensive and perceptive look at the factors behind the rise and fall of civilizations. Quigley defines a civilization as "a producing society with an instrument of expansion". A civilization's decline is not inevitable but occurs when its instrument of expansion is transformed into an institution-that is, when social arrangements that meet real social needs are transformed into social institutions serving their own purposes regardless of real social needs
. Amazon Reviewer
: Well, I can't claim to have hobnobbed with the President recently (nor would I care to do so), but I too found this book to be fascinating reading.
The great value of this work is that it goes beyond the mere "what happened" and "who did whats." Quigley asks the much more important and valuable question: "how." How do new civilizations come into being? How do they change? How do they die? (And the unspoken echo: What will happen to our own civilization?)
Because he was trained as a scientist, Quigley proceeds to develop a methodological basis for answering that question of "how." He then demonstrates the soundness of that method by examining the great civilizations of history, pointing out not just the forms they took but _how_ they came to take those particular forms.
That makes this book sound pretty dry. It's not. One of the charms of Quigley's writing is his obvious impatience with what he considered to be "wrong" ideas. At some points, he's downright grumpy. Yet he never gives the impression of disagreeing from personal reasons; instead, every one of his views that he asserts as likely true is shown to be supported by the available evidence. It's actually great fun trying to guess what respected belief he'll casually demolish next. (Though it's a bit unsettling when its one's own ox being gored, as Quigley didn't play favorites. Getting the most out of this book will call for real objectivity.)
To be more specific about this work, it's one that should appeal to anyone who is more concerned with understanding systems as a whole than with how to win some short-term game or just memorize names and dates
. Quigley treats history as a science: he gathers historical information, proposes a testable hypothesis about how civilizations evolve into their particular forms, and then tests this hypothesis by checking it against real civilizations. As fascinating as the details of this "seven stages of a civilization's life" model are (and his study of Western civilization is both stimulating and sobering), the real value is Quigley's insistence on treating the study of history as a science. That's the good habit Quigley tries to inculcate in the reader. It's why the subtitle of this work is "An Introduction to Historical Analysis."
Those looking to understand civilizations from a systems analysis perspective (what James Blish in his "Cities in Flight" stories called "cultural morphology") will find this book a gold mine of sound thinking, good information, startling insights, and inspirational ideas.
Footnote: Some of Quigley's other works deal with shadowy global conspiracies and the like. This work has nothing to do with the CFR, Trilateral Commission, black helicopters, or other such concerns. It's about the evolution of civilizations. Amazon Reviewer
: This is a striking book. When one is past the formative years, it rarely happens that a single book can substantially change one's view of the world. For me the "Evolution of Civilizations" influenced my understanding of history more than anything I've read in many years.The most important author's contribution to historical analysis is identification of the growth mechanism - "instrument of expansion", which can be quite different in different civilizations. It must include two necessary conditions - generation of surplus output, and its investment in productive economic activities. Later, this "instrument of expansion" becomes institutionalized, when surplus is spent on maintenance of status quo of ruling elites and various vested interests, and a society enters "Age of Conflict".
One of the distinctions, which Quigley attributes uniquely to the Western civilization, is that it passed through the "Age of Expansion" and reached the "Age of Conflict" three times in its history. First - during Middle Ages (he specifically puts dates 970-1270) with the feudalism as an instrument of expansion, which became institutionalized as chivalry and municipal mercantilism. The second period is the Renaissance era (1440-1630), with the commercial capitalism as instrument of expansion, which ended in the "Age of conflict" of the brutal Thirty Years War, absolutism, and state mercantilism of the emerging nation-states. The third "Age of Expansion" is associated with the Industrial Revolution, beginning in the second half of the 18-th century. It had the industrial capitalism as an instrument of expansion, which became institutionalized in the monopolistic capitalism and imperialism.
Quigley puts the end of the third "Age of Expansion" specifically in 1929, with the Wall Street crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. This is an americentric view; in fact the process of institutionalization and monopolistic excesses can be traced to late 19-th century, and by early 20-th century they were plainly evident. Western economies still expanded, but financial crashes, increasing in frequency and magnitude, underlined new fragility due to the exhaustion of the expansionary mechanism. In this sense the WWI was a typical "Age of Conflict" war, similar to the Hundred Years War and the Thirty Years War of the previous "Ages of Conflict" in Europe - not a clash of civilizations, or the conflict between the old and the new. Instead it was pointless, horrible slaughter underlying the conflict between vested interests of various elites and countries belonging to one civilization, and largely devoid of irreconcilable ideological differences.
Yet, contrary to the author, it is unlikely that the Western civilization is unique in this sense. The ascendance of every civilization includes several distinct stages. In fact it is more historically consistent to talk about the probability of the civilization's survival after a period of crisis, brought by institutionalization of the "instrument of expansion" and solidifying status quo. One can argue, for example, that the Islamic civilization experienced at least two distinct "ages of expansion" - the first centered at times of Abbasid Caliphate, the second - during the ascent of the Ottoman Empire, in 14-16th centuries.
In the case of Orthodox Christian (i.e. Russian) civilization Quigley puts the "Age of Expansion" in the interval 1500-1900, and then - a new one beginning with the Soviet era. In fact, just like Western civilization, the Orthodox one experienced three very distinct stages of expansion before 20th century. The first one was Kievan Rus, which flourished along the North-South trading routes between the Baltic and Black seas (hence the duality of the most important cities - Kiev in the south and Novgorod in the north), which entered the "Age of Conflict" near the end of 12-th century and was conquered by Mongol invasion. The next period of expansion probably began around 1350 (its first show of strength was the victory over Mongols in Kulikovo Pole in 1380) and was centered around Moscow. It lasted probably until institutionalization of the part of the boyar elites loyal to Ivan IV (Grozny), around 1560. Its instrument of expansion was oriental-style autocracy, based on the ideas of civil and military administration borrowed from China, Golden Horde and Islamic countries. The subsequent "Age of Conflict" included terrible repressions of later-stage Grozny period, "Time of Troubles" in early 17-th century, and early period of the Romanov dynasty. The next stage began with Peter the Great, and was associated with St. Petersburg period. Its instrument of expansion was European-style absolutism, with westernizing aristocratic elite and bonded peasantry. It reached its zenith around 1815 with the victory over Napoleon, and began to stagnate around 1830.
I would argue that Quiglean interpretation of the subsequent period included unsuccessful attempt at the new instrument of expansion (western-borrowed industrial capitalism) in late the 19-th and early 20-th century, which was aborted and instead a new civilization was born. This socialist (or atheistic) civilization rapidly expanded to about the third of the globe and exerted strong influence on the western world. Its "instrument of expansion" included Communist party as an organization responsible for investing economic surplus (which later became institutionalized in "nomenclatura") and social engineering, which allowed rapid industrialization and development of education and health care. It reached its zenith in victory over Hitler, launch of the Sputnik and Gagarin's flight. This civilization entered its first "Age of Conflict" around 1965, apparent in progressing economic stagnation, intra-civilizational tensions with China (including a small war in 1969), one of the first manifestations of its crisis was defeat in the Moon landing race. Soviet regime collapsed around 1990, but the civilization did not, which is evident in strong economic performance in China throughout 90-s (which can be viewed as Quiglean "geographic circumvention") and the fact that Russia, despite some religious revival, remained overwhelmingly secular and didn't revert to many previous monarchic and religious traditions. After a period of painful reforms it will have the potential for the new "Age of Expansion", probably based on some western and some of its own ideas.