Will Durant: “The Economic Elements of Civilization” (1935)

‘It is impossible to be scientific here; for in calling other human beings “savage” or “barbarous” we may be expressing no objective fact, but only our fierce fondness for ourselves, and our timid shyness in the presence of alien ways. Doubtless we underestimate these simple peoples, who have so much to teach us in hospitality and morals; if we list the bases and constituents of civilization we shall find that the naked nations invented or arrived at all but one of them, and left nothing for us to add except embellishments and writing. Perhaps they, too, were once civilized, and desisted from it as a nuisance. We must make sparing use of such terms…in referring to our “contemporaneous ancestry.” Preferably we shall call “primitive” all tribes that make little or no provision for unproductive days, and little or no use of writing. In contrast, the civilized may be defined as literate providers.’

Our Oriental Heritage, introduction to Ch II. (p5)

From Hunting to Tillage

‘”Of what are you thinking?” Peary asked one of his Eskimo guides. “I do not have to think,” was the answer; “I have plenty of meat.” Not to think unless we have to–there is much to be said for this as the summation of wisdom.

‘Nevertheless, there were difficulties in this care-lessness, and those organisms that outgrew it came to possess a serious advantage in the struggle for survival. The dog that buried the bone which even a canne appetite could not manage, the squirrel that gathered nuts for a later feast, the bees that filled the comb with honey, the ants that laid up stores for a rainy day–these were among the first creators of civilization. It was they, or other subtle creatures like them, who taught our ancestors the art of providing for tomorrow out of the surplus of today’ (6).

‘For hunting was not merely a quest for food, it was a war for security and mastery, a war beside which all the wars of recorded history are but a little noise’ (p7).

‘Hunting and fishing were not stages in economic development, they were modes of activity destined to survive into the highest forms of civilized society. Once the center of life, they are still its hidden foundations; behind our literature and philosophy, our ritual and art, stand the stout killers of Packingtown. … In the last analysis civilization is based upon the food supply. The cathedral and the capital, the museum and the concert chamber, the library and the university are the façade; in the rear are the shambles’ (7).

‘Doubtless the custom [of cannibalism] had certain social advantages. It anticipated Dean Swift’s plan for the utilization of superfluous children, and it gave the old an opportunity to die usefully. There is a point of view from which funerals seem an unnecessary extravagance. To Montaigne it appeared more barbarous to torture a man to death under the cover of piety, as was the mode of his time, than to roast and eat him after he was dead. We must respect one another’s delusions’ (11).

The Foundations of Industry

‘…most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice’ (12).

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