8/25/15

"Not only is our civilisation not the best possible, it is not even the most civilised"

"IT does something towards destroying that absurd notion that the march of civilisation, must represent an improvement in the condition of every conceivable race of men. That European civilisation is a good thing for every people is a proposition about as sane as the proposition that a fur-lined overcoat and a pair of snow-shoes are good things for every climate. I do not consider European civilisation a disease. I consider it the remedy for many diseases; but while I do not wish to give everyone my malady, neither do I wish to give everyone my medicine. Not only is our civilisation not the best possible, it is not even the most civilised. In a great many points of essential polish and culture it is inferior to much that we call barbarism. For example, in the matter of politeness. If a Bond-street dandy went into the tent of Abraham or Isaac of Jacob, the chief impression he would produce would be simply that he did not know how to behave. Abraham would be sweeping the ground with half a dozen symbolic reverences while the European aristocrat would be playing about with a cigarette, and laughing and looking like a fool.

"Mr. Carpenter's general contention, therefore, that civilisation is relative and not absolute is of great value in making us realise that what we ourselves call civilisation does not suit all complaints. It is not a disease; it may be a medicine, but it is certainly not a panacea. The fact may restrain us from imagining that the Chinaman will immediately fall in love with the beauties of democracy, or that the population of Fiji can be to an unlimited extent increased and improved by doses of gin and gunpowder. But while this truth gives us an excellent reason for believing that our civilisation is not suitable to everybody, it gives us no reason whatever for supposing that it is not suitable to ourselves. Civilisation is like a wife; it represents the softening and ordering element in existence, and just as we are attached to our wife we are attached to our civilisation. We may not agree with the endless colonising and missionising of other civilisations....But, nevertheless, we need not agree with Mr. Edward Carpenter and kill her."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Daily News, Feb. 21, 1902.
(h/t: Mike Miles)

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