Category:Civilizational Analysis

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To inquire into the relationship between heaven and human, to comprehend the vicissitudes of past and present, and to form a single narrative of it all.

- Sima Qian, 100 BCE [1]

For Part Two of our pages on Civilizational Analysis, go to: Thematic Approaches on Civilizational History

For Part Three of our pages on Civilizational Analysis, go to: Chronological Approaches and Periodization of Civilizational History

Project Description

1. Bard:

"This ... is a portal to a vast amount of information about the study of human history and the rise and fall of civilizations. It is broken up into different sections, each focusing on a specific theme or approach. The main benefit of exploring this article is that it exposes the reader to a multitude of perspectives on how to understand human history. This includes both traditional and non-traditional approaches, some of which incorporate spiritual or religious frameworks. The article also provides resources for further exploration, such as book recommendations and links to videos and websites. By delving into this article, the reader can gain a deeper understanding of the cyclical nature of human history, the role of institutions like the commons, and the potential for humanity to create a more positive future."


2. Michel Bauwens:

This section covers 'macro history' and the dynamics of civilizational change, and an introduction to who is who in this domain. Reading these books would take a lifetime, if not more. And yet, engaging with these authors is engaging with their own sometimes lifelong attempt to make sense of world history. Reading even one of these books, may in fact change your life. If reading seems irrealistic for the moment, note that I am listing introductory videos as well; they are excellent introductions for beginners on this journey.

My own personal motivation as a p2p/commons theorist is to ground the ebb and flow of commons practices and institutions (e.g. The Pulsation of the Commons) in a broader understanding of human and ecological history.

Inspired by the work of John David Ebert, this new section (August 2021) will be dedicated to large scale and integrative human history, including the history of civilization(s).

For companion sections also our collections on P2P Cycles and on P2P Patterns.

This project will initially follow three different 'reading' and listening/watching threads:

1) a thread on the analysis of civilizations as a such, starting with Oswald Spengler and the authors who reacted to his magnum opus, The Decline of the West. This includes authors such as William Irwin Thompson, Jean Gebser, Joseph Campbell, et al.

2) a thread based on the work of Sohail Inayatullah on earlier generations of macrohistorians, which examines different authors concerned with world history, and contain historical authors outside of the Western sphere of influence. This starts with the work of Ibn Khaldun, Vico, and others.

3) a thread on world systems approaches, pioneered by Immanuel Wallerstein and focusing more on geopolitics. This also includes authors like Peter Turchin and the work around Secular Cycles.

4) the 'cosmic' line, which includes authors that also have some spiritual framework, such as Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin.

We broadly adhere to a 'spiral' understanding of human history, which combines the cyclical trans-valuations of polarities in human development (a history of pulsation between more extractive and more generative periods), along with the accumulation of knowledge and the arrow of time.

Our specific take as being interested in the institutions of the commons throughout world history, is to see how the periodic revivals of mutualization and the commons fits in that larger picture. Here is a first synthesis, this is what we call the "Pulsation of the Commons': [2]

Philosophically, my reading is in the context of an abiding interest in a revival of the Cosmobiological Tradition. See P2P and the Cosmobiological Tradition and Loren Goldner on the Cosmobiological Tradition vs the Enlightenment. You may also want to look at the 'Cosmist' tradition of the 19th cy (Reclus) and the Mesology approach.

Introductory Articles

  • It is important to be self-reflexive about how we see human and cosmic history:
  1. An introduction to the Theory of Thought-Shapers: "Thought-shapers are essentially non-conceptual contents that operate in the construction of mental imagery and thought by arbitrarily picking out some topological and/or processual properties, and subsequently exaggerating or diminishing their presence." We can learn to distinguish Constrictive vs. Generative Thought-Shapers
  2. Religious Ground Motives Behind Human Thought, by Herman Dooyeweerd (i.e. Transcendental Pragmatism)
  3. The Root Metaphor Theory in the Fourfold World Hypotheses Model of Stephen Pepper which distinguishes Formism (similarity), Mechanism (machine), Contextualism (historical act) and Organicism (living system)

Recommended articles:

  • Evolutionary Cosmology: introduces 3 competing non-mechanistic evolutionary theories. (Robert M. Kleinman. The Four Faces of the Universe: An Integrated View of the Cosmos. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2006)

Please note that the present collection is congruent with my own background and tradition and is therefore heavy on western sources, and also reflects the relatively dominant roles of male thinkers in public life, a rather generic feature until recent times. We welcome non-western authors and female authors provided they are similarly focused on macro-history. Thanks for sending suggestions.

Video Introductions

John David Ebert

This is a great 3-hour interview with John David Ebert introducing many of the themes around comparative civilizational inquiry, in conversation with Brandon Van Dyck of The Mill Series:

* John David Ebert on Cultural Immune Systems

We strongly recommend you watch the whole series:

I particularly recommend this episode for the comparative insights:

Speculating about what is coming:

Mark Stahlman

A highly original take on where we are now:

The specific P2P/Commons oriented view behind this project

This project aims to have a holistic vision of the evolution of humanity and human societies, but also to identity specifically the role of the commons in world history.

The basic idea is this: throughout the past 'pulsations of the commons', i.e. the past iterations of cycles of growth and decline, there has been the continued existence of a Central Civilization, i.e. the core of accumulated knowledge and institutional experience, that has restored civilizational life whenever it went through a down cycle. But this central core was either based on the dominance of a public managerial class (the state), or a private one, both geared towards growth and extraction, with the commons as counter-institution, only nearly wiped out in the capitalist phase of global development. So our proposal is to reform the enduring Magisteria (the managerial set of institutions), by making them Commons-centric. See: Robert Conan Ryan on the Enduring Role of Central Civilization Beyond Systemic Transitions.

Our own recommendations are the following:

1. The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange. by Kojin Karatani. Duke University Press, 2014 (for details, see: Evolution of the Structure of World History Through Modes of Exchange), for a generic summary of how societies have evolved from the point of view of modes of exchange (not production!)

2. Ecological Revolution: The Political Origins of Environmental Degradation and the Environmental Origins of Axial Religions; China, Japan, Europe. by Mark D. Whitaker. This book, one of my all time favourites, shows a pulsation between extractive civilizations and regenerative moments, and their use of the commons to re-establish the commons to rebalance their civilizational models.

3. A proposed synthesis between the overall evolution of society and the specific role of the commons can be found in this draft essay on The Pulsation of the Commons:

  • Placing the Commons in a Temporal Framework: The Commons as a Planetary Regeneration Mechanism. By Michel Bauwens and Jose Ramos. google doc version

4. To understand 'where we are coming from', we recommend the following booklists:

  1. Sources of P2P Theory
  2. What You Should Read To Understand the Commons
  3. The Bauwens Reading Notes Project: I have been taken written booknotes since I started reading more intensively around my own p2p and commons engagement, and intend to digitize these notes. Thus far you will find 150+ booknotes, from the period 2003-2007. The transcripts are ongoing.

An important personal note on the Cosmobiological Tradition

Check out our special section on the topic here:


I have undergone multiple influences and taken a few radical shifts in my intellectual life. My own preference goes towards 'integral' approaches, that integrate both 'physicalist' and 'culturalist' interpretations, the latter also including the human search for meaning and its evolution, i.e. the inclusion of spiritual concerns.

Cadell Last has a good plea for why this is necessary and how this integration could occur. I recommend reading his essay: Big Historical Foundations for Deep Future Speculations About Cosmic Evolution


Before the victory of the modernist mindset of separation and atomization, the Renaissance had attempted the construction of a participatory worldview, which Loren Goldner calls the cosmobiological tradition.

Here is how Loren Goldner explains his strategy to recover this tradition [5]:

"Our starting-point must be the direct opposition between the body of doctrine which came to be known as ‘Marxism’, codified in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals, and the ideas of Karl Marx. After separating these two, I want look at the relation between ‘Marxism’ and the body of ideas known as the Enlightenment, chiefly those of the French eighteenth century thinkers. Then I should turn to the earlier tradition sometimes called ‘Hermetic’, which includes magic, astrology and alchemy. I want to show how, when modern rational science defeated this outlook, it also lost something of value: its attitudes to humanity and nature. Following the work of Magee, I would then point out the deep immersion of Hegel in that old mystical tradition, and his direct opposition to the ideas and methods of Enlightenment thinking. Finally, I should return to Marx to see how his demystification of the mystics preserved the core of their profound insights." [6]

- Goldner on the 'forgetting' of the cosmobiological tradition:

“The Foucaultian and Frankfurt School critics of the Enlightenment live off the impoverishment of the left by its extended romance with a one-sided appropriation of the Enlightenment, by the left's century-long confusion of the completion of the bourgeois revolution by state civil servants with socialism, and by the worldwide crackup of that project. The pre-Enlightenment, Renaissance-Reformation cosmobiology which passed through German idealism into Marx's species-being means even less to them than it does to figures such as Habermas. Yet the usual critique of them is undermined by the tacit agreement across the board that "nature is boring", i.e. the realm of mechanism, as Hegel, articulating the ultimate state civil servant view, cut off from practice in nature, said. Both sides of this debate still inhabit the separation of culture and nature, Geist and Natur, which came into existence through the Enlightenment's deflation of cosmobiology. It is the rehabilitation, in suitably contemporary form, of the outlook of Paracelsus and Kepler, not of Voltaire and Newton, which the left requires today for a (necessarily simultaneous) regeneration of nature, culture and society, out of Blake's fallen world of Urizen and what he called "single vision and Newton's sleep". [7]

4. Robert Hanna and Otto Paans also give a good historical overview of what they call the 'Organicist' tradition, see for example:

  1. Organicism
  2. Organicist Movement in Philosophy and Culture
  3. Manifesto on the Organicist Conception of the World

How the material is structured (aka Contents)

1. The Spengler thread of civilizational analysis, as suggested by John David Ebert. This thread looks at civilizations and how they evolve (or not, as some authors claim).

  1. It starts with the Decline of the West, by Oswald Spengler
  2. Traces the reactions and updates to his work by Arnold Toynbee for the UK, and Carroll Quigley for the U.S.
  3. Follows the work on comparative mythology and the evolution of mythology by Joseph Campbell
  4. The work of Jean Gebser on the five mutations of consciousness, as explained in the Ever-Present Origin
  5. The work of William Irwin Thompson which draws on Gebser and Campbell

2. The thread inspired by the book edited by Sohail Inayatullah and John Galtung, on Macrohistory and Macrohistorians, which introduce authors that look at world history from an integrated perspective. It looks at historical authors, also from outside of the western sphere, such as Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, Ibn Khaldun, but also Vico.

3. The thread inspired by the more 'cosmic', with authors that specifically integrate spiritual understandings of human evolution, and may be affiliated with a religious tradition.

4. The thread inspired by World Systems Analysis as pioneered by Immanuel Wallerstein and others, which focuses on structural evolutions, class realities and geopolitical dominations and competition. This list may also include the specific physicalist interpretations of cosmic history, focusing on quantum, physical-chemical, biological aspects, which precede human evolution proper.

5. This section complements section 3, and focuses on 'integrative'approaches', i.e. subjective-objective approaches and which aim to be holistic. These authors look systematically at both materialist and immaterial foundations of human history.

We can broadly distinguish:

  1. A progressive line, with people like Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, Raimon Panikkar, Thomas Berry, perhaps Arthur Young, who are placed in our cosmic thread.
  2. A 'conservative', anti-modernist line, with authors like Rene Guenon, Julius Evola, Alexander Dugin. We are placing these in a special section on 'understanding the dark side', since these authors reject modernit altogether.
  3. More mixed approaches such as the integral theory as proposed by Ken Wilber, which has progressive as well as more conservative interpretations.

This section focuses on authors that make a claim to be integrative.

For a good overview, see:

  • The rise of Neo-Integrative Worldviews. Towards a rational spirituality for the coming planetary civilization? By Roland Benedikter and Markus Molz. [8]

6. This thread focuses on the peculiar interests of this wiki, i.e. the role of the commons in human history.

7. The 'Dark Side' thread focuses on authors like Rene Girard, and Georges Bataille, and includes the traditionalist authors, as they have a radically negative interpretation of modernity.

8. This section is a rest category, i.e. 'Other Important Authors'.

Key Quotes


"The history of socially influential ideas – metatheories and metanarratives – has tended to be a primary and disproportionate driver in the trajectory of cultural history as a whole. Thus, if we are seeking deliberate transformation of our worldview and social formation to address our complex problems, the level of metatheory appears to be a powerful leverage point."

- Nicholas Hedlund et al. [9]


“Human fulfillment entails the willing embrace and development of our relationship to the eternal and imperishable ground of existence.” Anything less than this willingness to participate in the transcendent mystery of the cosmos will be ultimately unsatisfying for human beings" .

- Michael Colebrook [10]


"“To center, to decenter, to supercenter.”

  • "To focus" on oneself, in order to exist in the world as an individual, and not to disperse in it like a vapor of water.
  • “To decenter”, to become oneself thanks to the love of the other, given and received.
  • “To focus” on something greater than oneself, to accomplish Humanity in us. ... “man surpasses man”.

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


"The rise of large-scale complex societies can only be understood as a result of selection operating on cultural groups and whole societies. Throughout most of human history the major form this between-societies competition took was warfare."

- Peter Turchin [11]


"I argue that the age of coherent civilizations has passed and that their component subsystems have established autonomy from the birthing institutions. This development has been generated by purposive human action with roots in two knowledge-acquisition forms — organic and rational."

- Robert Bedelsky [12]

What a specific p2p/commons approach can bring to the table

"Civilizations break and fail because they require a fuller release of creative interchange between all participants than any civilization has yet provided. To achieve this fuller release, religion, education, social constitution and government must all be shaped to serve this kind of interchange and equip people to live in its power and keeping.

“Civilizations might be viewed as surges of history that rise toward this level of abundant living, but always fall back because social institutions are not appropriately modified at that time of crisis when accumulated resources – material, social and spiritual, open the way to it. Yet it is just at the same time when the surge of history breaks and fails that most wisdom is attained concerning the conduct of life. Failure is always the supreme teacher, if accompanied by faith and courage. In China, India, Egypt, Israel and the Roman Empire, a more noble and penetrating religious faith arose when the surge of history began to break. Also, the arts and principles of government were then matured, and moral principles were more clearly discerned, more profoundly interpreted. Thus, as civilizations rise and fall like waves, so to speak – each failing to reach the greater good that might be – they leave a deposit of wisdom that increases. In time this growing wisdom and truer religious faith might enable a surge of history to pass over and beyond the obstacle we have noted. Our own time offers just such an opportunity. But the opportunity will pass us by if we do not have a better interpretation of justice and freedom than is now prevalent.”

- Henry Nelson Wieman, The Directive in History*, pp. 107-108, 1949

We are engaged in the Great Work of transitioning from the Cenozoic to the Ecozoic Era

“The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.” (Thomas Berry, “The Great Work,” in The Great Work, 3).

“We now live not so much in a cosmos as in a cosmogenesis; that is, a universe ever coming into being through an irreversible sequence of transformations moving, in the larger arc of its development, from a lesser to a great order of complexity and from a lesser to great consciousness.” (Thomas Berry, “The Earth Story,” in The Great Work, 26).

“The human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the universe.” (Thomas Berry, “The Earth Story,” in The Great Work, 32).

“If the central pathology that has led to the termination of the Cenozoic is the radical discontinuity established between the human and the nonhuman, then the renewal of life on the planet must be based on the continuity between the human and the other than human as a single integral community. Once this continuity is recognized and accepted, then we will have fulfilled the basic condition that will enable the human to become more present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.” (Thomas Berry, “The University,” in The Great Work, 80).

- Thomas Berry [13]

Civilizational Transitions are Trans-Valuations

"We are leaving a magnificent coherence, and we are in the process of approaching the shores of a whole new coherence, also magnificent, but whose ordering of values ​​is incompatible with the civilization which has nourished us for 4 to 5 centuries. We are on our way from the known lands of the techno-scientific civilization born in the West, founded on the power of the rational, to approach new lands, which affirm the inter-relationships between all the living, that is to say the power of relationships. And this everywhere on the planet since the West spread there and thought it was master. A civilization dies from the excess of the values ​​that gave birth to it.

"To transgress ethically" therefore consists of starting from a place carrying coherent values, crossing borders, venturing into a new country, in unmarked territory, and inventing a path to another place carrying other strong and living values, but values ​​different from the first country left and whose consistency carries a whole new coherence. This concept of ethical transgression illuminates, it seems to me, what we are going through today, individually, communally, societally, nationally, globally. Namely that we are really moving from one civilization to another. Let us remember, ladies and gentlemen, that all civilization is based on an immense, broad and beautiful coherence of values, that is to say of life forces (“valor” in Latin means “life force”, “life energy”). Each civilization is distinguished from one another by a system of values ​​ordered differently. These values, they have always been the same since humans have inhabited the Earth. They are therefore all present in each civilization, but the key values, those which are privileged are not the same.

Let us also remember that a civilization, tell us the historians of the great periods, lasts about 500 years. And that the transition from one to the other is generally chaotic or even dramatic."

- Olivier Frerot [14]

Paul Kingsnorth on the Task Ahead

Specially addressed to inhabitants of the 'WEIRD' countries:

"What, then, is the real significance of the orgy of cultural self-immolation sweeping through the nations of the West? Is it the clearing of the ground for a new way of seeing, a new ideology, a new culture? Maybe. But there is another possibility: that the culture war marks not the birth of a new value system but a last desperate gasp of the old one. It could be that the incoherent semi-ideology of ‘social justice’ will turn out not to be a successor culture at all, but the instrument of our final dismemberment: the flickering of the last thin flames of the Faustian fire. This new ‘religion’, after all, is almost exclusively confined to Western elites: to the upper middle classes, the intellectuals, the wealthy and the comfortable. To the very people, in other words, who have benefited generationally from the Faustian impulse to conquer, remake and extract wealth from the wider world. Perhaps the drastic loss of cultural self-belief that the ‘woke’ moment represents is an ironic and fitting end for a culture whose pride drove it to conquer the world. ‘Sick with self-disgust’, as Jeffers put it, the West is turning on itself. After all, as Faust learned, if you make a deal with the devil, he’s going to turn up and collect on it in the end.

Whether or not that is true, the useful work now seems to me to be that outlined by Campbell: to conquer death by birth. As Simone Weil explained in the book I wrote about last time, the correct response to a rootless, lost or broken society is ‘the growing of roots’ - the name she gave to the final section of her work. Pull up the exhausted old plants if you need to - carefully, now - but if you don’t have some new seed to grow in the bare soil, if you don’t tend it and weed it with love, if you don’t fertilise it and water it and help it grow: well, then your ground will not produce anything good for you. It will choke up with a chaos of thistles and weeds. This, in practical terms is, the slow, necessary, sometimes boring work to which I suspect people in our place and time are being called: to build new things, out on the margins. Not to exhaust our souls engaging in a daily war for or against a civilisation that is already gone, but to prepare the seedbed for what might, one day long after us, become the basis of a new culture. To go looking for truth. To light particular little fires - fires fuelled by the eternal things, the great and unchanging truths - and tend their sparks as best we can. To prepare the ground with love for a resurrection of the small, the real and the true. But first, we are going to have to be crucified."

- Paul Kingsnorth [15]

On the Failure to Understand Cultural Evolution as part of Cosmic Evolution

"The failure to understand culture, and in particular the relationship between biology and culture as part of cosmic evolution, may be one of the primary failings of science in the modern world. This is a factor in holding back progress in our understanding of both the nature of humanity and the future of humanity. Therefore, in my approach to the deep future I focus on the emergence of the big historical cultural era."

- Cadell Last [16]

Mircea Eliade: Archaic/traditional vs Modern/Contemporary World Visions

"The chief difference between the man of the archaic and the traditional societies and the man of the modern societies with their strong imprint of Judaeo-Christianity lies in the fact that the former feels himself indissolubly connected with the Cosmos and the cosmic rhythms, whereas the latter insists that he is connected only to History. Of course, for the man of the archaic societies, the Cosmos too has a "history," if only because it is the creation of the gods and is held to have been organized by supernatural beings or mythical heroes. But this "history" of the Cosmos and of human society is a "sacred history," preserved and transmitted through myths. More than that, it is a "history" that can be repeated indefinitely, in the sense that the myths serve as models for ceremonies that periodically reactualize the tremendous events that occured at the beginning of time. The myths preserve and transmit the paradigms, the exemplary models, for all the responsible activities in which men engage. In the course of the book I have used the terms 'exemplary models,' 'paradigms,' and 'archtypes' in order to emphasize a particular fact- namely, that for the man of the traditional and archaic societies, the models for his institutions and the norms of his various categories of behavior are believed to have been 'revealed' at the beginning of time, that, consequently, they are regarded as having a superhuman and 'transcendental' origin."

- Mircea Eliade [17]

'Transitions are Catastrophes': William Irwin Thompson on the Chaotic Role of Science on Nature

" "Nature" is neither a place nor a state of being; it is a human abstraction that we set up through cultural activities. We then use this abstraction to justify these very cultural activities as "natural." This process of abstraction is an empty tautology. "Nature," in Buddhist terms, is groundless; therefore, we cannot appeal to "Nature" to condemn activities as unnatural. As Nature changes with Culture, both are individually empty and linked together in "codependent origination," or pratityasamutpadha. Genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, or nuclear power cannot be condemned on the grounds that they are "unnatural"; they can only be rejected on cultural grounds that they are not spiritually wise or aesthetically desirable. The conscious purpose of science is control of Nature; its unconscious effect is disruption and chaos. The emergence of a scientific culture stimulates the destruction of nature, of the biosphere of relationships among plants, animals, and humans that we have called "Nature." The creation of a scientific culture requires the creation of a scientific nature, but since much of science's activities are unconscious, unrecognizedly irrational, and superstitious, the nature that science summons into being is one of abstract system and concrete chaos, e.g. the world of nuclear power and weapons. The more chaos there is, the more science holds on to abstract systems of control, and the more chaos is engendered. There is no way out of this closed loop through simple rationality, or through the governing systems that derive from this rationalization of society."

- William Irwin Thompson [18]

William Irwin Thompson: Transitions are Catastrophes

"The transition from one World to another is a catastrophe, in the sense of the catastrophe theory of René Thom. Indeed, a catastrophe is the making conscious of an Unconscious Polity; it is the feeling in Being of a domain that is unknown to thinking. Catastrophes are often stimulated by the failure to feel the emergence of a domain, and so what cannot be felt in the imagination is experienced as embodied sensation in the catastrophe. When rational knowing and political governance no longer serve to feel the actual life of a World, then consciousness becomes embodied in experience outside the world-picture but still within the invisible meta-domain. The conscious process is reflected in the imagination; the unconscious process is expressed as karma, the generation of actions divorced from thinking and alienated from feeling. Catastrophes are discontinuous transitions in Culture- Nature through which knowing has an opening to Being. This moment of passing-together through a catastrophe, this occasion of com-passionate participation, presents an opportunity for a shift from karmic activity to Enlightenment. Thus the transition from one World-Structure to another is characterized by catastrophes in which the Unconscious Polities become visible. At such times there can be a rapid flip-over or reversal in which the unthinkable becomes possible. No governing elite will allow us to think this transition from one World-Structure to another, but imagination and compassion will allow us to feel what we cannot understand. As "Nature" comes to its end in our scientific culture, the relationship between conscious and unconscious will change and the awareness of immanent mind in bacteria and of autopoesis in devices of Artificial Intelligence will give us a new appreciation of the animism of ancient world-picture. The "Man" of the historical set of Culture-Nature will come to his end in a new irrational world of angels and devils, elementals and cyborgs. In this science fiction landscape, this invisible meta-domain in which we already live, the end of Nature as unconscious karma makes of Enlightenment and Compassion a new political possibility."


Jacob Burckhardt's View Of History And Historiography

"The task of the individual was not therefore to try to second-guess a putative divine plan of history and then work to promote it. It was, first, by internalizing the literature, art, and experience of past humanity, to cultivate his own humanity and thus preserve in himself what had already been achieved; and second, to protect the cultural achievement of humanity as vigorously as possible, whatever the historical circumstances and the apparent "movement of history"—against these, in fact, if necessary—so that what had been achieved would not be squandered or destroyed but would continue to be available to succeeding generations. Each individual had to write his own historical role, in other words, in accordance with his or her moral and cultural values, not to fit a supposedly prescribed role. Similarly, both past and present actions and societies were to be judged in accordance with those same values, not measured and justified according to their contribution to some alleged "progress" of history."

- Jacob Burckhardt (as paraphrased by [19]

Raimon Panikkar on the Relation between Mythos and Logos

“Mythos and logos go together, but their relationship is neither dialectic nor mythic; it is rather a mutually constitutive relationship. If it were logical, the spirit would be drowned in the logos. Were it mythical, the logos would be reduced to the spirit. Put another way, there is no logos without mythos – of which the logos is language – and there is no mythos without logos – of which the myth is the foundation … Only the pratîtyasamutpâda, the radical relativity of all that is, can maintain the harmony without domination between the mythos and the logos” (Intellectual autobiography”).

The reunion between mythos and logos is one that must also take place between subjectivity and objectivity, between the heart and mind, between rational thought and the spirit that flies free. This reunion is necessary so as to avoid falling either into the ancient submission to myth or into the submission of myth to logos, namely, falling into the present day logo-monism: “Reality is not given to us as logos, but rather offers itself to us as mythos, as that horizon against which we place our own idea of the world… Our world is given to us in mythos, and that world, equally ours, is discovered by the logos” (Pensamiento científico y pensamiento cristiano, Madrid 1994). Panikkar describes this double faceted reality as follows:

“Myth is not the object of discourse, but the expression of a kind of sui generis awareness. Myth and knowledge go together... A living myth does not leave room for interpretation, inasmuch as there is no need for an intermediary. The hermeneutic of a myth is in no way myth, but rather its logos … The myth is transparent like light, and the mythic story is only the form, the covering with which the myth finds itself expressed, concealed, illuminated. This does not at all mean we have to disregard, much less belittle, the value of thinking and ignore the realm and inviolable rights of the logos. I simply mean that man cannot be reduced to the logos, nor can awareness be reduced to reflexive consciousness” (Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics).

The theme of myth and its place in relation to religion and human thinking in general has greatly occupied Panikkar and has given rise to the publication of numerous works of his. He himself came to say, “It is necessary to rediscover the place and function of myth in human life and to situate rationality in the total human context.” (Blessed Simplicity).

An open dialogue between myth and logos is the foundation of his dialogical dialogue as the force for opening oneself to the other and respectfully entering into his reality."

- Raimon Panikkar [20]

Civilizations No Longer Exist: Transcending East and West

"What we are experiencing in the world at large today is not Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” because in the proper sense of the word a “civilization” no longer exists. In planetization, civilizations no longer have an integral territorial boundary or membrane. All human times—tribal, national, and global—have been compressed into a single space by electronic media. This compression can be seen as an intense miniaturization in which, in McLuhan’s terms, “the sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new, larger, and invisible environment.“ Just as the railroads and the Dime Novel created the Wild West, so now global travel and electronic social media are creating a compressed and miniaturized Islamist movement that is not an expression of Islamic Civilization, but rather its collapse. ... Global space negates linear time. A single stream with coherence and direction becomes a strange attractor in which the new technologies of the world wide web, Facebook and Twitter, and the old technology of television erase all boundaries and neither the West, the Middle East, or the FarEast have territorial integrity."

- William Irwin Thompson [21]

Transcending East and West

“The view that East and West are opposites is wrong. It is not permissible to apply opposite-creating rational thought in this context, which can, if we continue to persist in this faulty opposition, even lead to the suicide of our culture or civilization. West and East are complementarities. In comparison with the dual, divisive character of opposition, complementary is polar and unifying.”

- Jean Gebser (in: Asia Smiles Differently) [22]

The Role of Images of the Future and the dynamics of Historical Idealism

"It is above all the spiritual nature of the ideals embodied in the image of the future that infuses the image with power. As between two opposing schools of thought, historical materialism and historical idealism, we favor the latter. The primary forces in history are not propelled by a system of production, nor by industrial or military might, but rather by the underlying ideas, ideals, values, and norms that manage to achieve mass appeal."

- Fred Pollak [23]

Towards a truly open philosophy of history

"He who carries out deconstruction without deconstructing himself and his actions, can be likened to a person who knows the script well and, over the course of the spectacle, obsessively narrates to his neighbor what is happening and how it will end. Sometimes the skeptical and all-knowing expressions of the audience are enough to simply break the spell of theatrical magic. Such annoying companions are capable of nullifying all the drama of the production. Thus, the principle of the “open theater”, in which the content of the drama at its peak breaks away from the rigid frameworks of the script, can be applied to the open history of philosophy based on the anthropological method. If we knowingly rule out that a philosopher whom we are studying might mean something other than what we know of him in identifying his place in the paradigm of the historial, we render ourselves unfit for a real meeting with him. Yet for some reason we dare to describe this weakness of our own spirit as indicating superiority, greater universality of our position, or in accordance with the rules of ethnocentrism and cultural racism. In behaving so, we forbid ourselves from being surprised, and this means we make ourselves completely unfit for philosophy. Conversely, in applying the anthropological principle to philosophy, we immediately find ourselves in a complex, saturated, and unpredictable world where surprise can seize us at every turn. This is the open philosophy of history, which a priori recognizes the anthropological dignity of all thinkers, none of whom are considered below us, our contemporal moment, or our observatory point regardless of whether it is modern and Western or non-modern and non-Western. The most consistent representatives of postmodern philosophy are moving in this direction."

- Alexander Dugin [24]

Ending Civilizations as a Crime: Mark Douglas Whitaker

"The ends of civilizations are crime scenes instead of natural, and like a crime scene you should investigate why it happened to understand and to prepare for the future against similar issues you can learn about. Are there perpetrators that keep killing civilizations, and keep getting away with it? Do they have patterns by which we can recognize their modus operandi? Are there other heroes that keep attempting to save civilizations, and sometimes are successful in rescuing them? Do they have patterns which we can recognize and learn from as well, perhaps even to improve upon their attempt to avoid the suffering outcomes? What can we learn from both?"

- Mark Douglas Whitaker [25]

The Evolution of Consciousness According to Owen Barfield

"Having established that the world consists in collective representations, Barfield goes on to demonstrate the manner in which the mode of collective representation has undergone a metamorphosis through history.

He establishes three general epochs in the evolution of consciousness:

(i) the “Original Participation” of Ancient and Primordial peoples

(ii) the “Onlooker Consciousness” of Modern post-scientific cultures, and

(iii) the “Final Participation” of the age to come."

- Max Leyf Treinen [26]

Primordial Intentions of the Universe toward Differentiation, Subjectivity, and Communion


"The primordial intentions of the universe toward differentiation, subjectivity, and communion. Differentiation refers to the extraordinary variety and distinctiveness of everything in the universe.

Subjectivity is the interior numinous component present in all reality. Communion is the ability to relate to other people and all life forms due to the presence of both subjectivity and difference. Together these create the grounds for the inner attraction of things for one another. For Berry these are principles that can become the basis of a more comprehensive ecological and social ethics that recognizes the human community as dependent upon and interactive with the Earth community. This new ecological orientation suggests that humans are a subset of the Earth, not dominant controllers. In light of this perspective, nature is here not solely for our use but as grounds for communion with the great mystery of life."

2. Psychic-Physical Character of the Unfolding Universe

"Berry also derived from Teilhard an understanding of the psychic-physical character of the unfolding universe. For Teilhard this implies that if there is consciousness in the human and if humans have evolved from the Earth, then from the beginning some form of consciousness or interiority is present in the process of evolution. Matter, for both Teilhard and Berry, is not simply dead or inert, but is a numinous reality consisting of both a physical and spiritual dimension. Consciousness, then, is an intrinsic part of reality and is the thread that links all life forms. There are various forms of consciousness and, in the human, self-consciousness or reflective thought arises. This implies for Berry that we are one species among others and as self-reflective beings we need to understand our particular responsibility for the continuation of the evolutionary process. We have reached a juncture where we will determine which life forms survive and which will become extinct."

- Mary Tucker [27]

The response to anthropogenic climate change will need to be equally anthropogenic.

" In its current commercial form, the primary purpose of planetary-scale computation is to measure and model individual people in order to predict their next impulse. But a more aspirational goal would be to contribute to the comprehension, composition and enforcement of a shared future that is more rich, diverse and viable.

Instead of reviving ideas of nature, we must reclaim the artificial — not fake, but designed. For this, human-machine intelligence and urban-scale automation become part of an expanded landscape of life, information and labor. They are part of a living ecology, not a substitute for one. Put more specifically: The response to anthropogenic climate change will need to be equally anthropogenic."

- Benjamin Bratton [28]

Maurice Godelier on the Mental and the Material

"Maurice Godelier introduces his book The mental and the material with a fact and a hypothesis (1986: 1). The fact is that, alone among animals, human beings ‘produce society in order to live’. By this he means that the designs and purposes of human action upon the environment – action that yields a return in the form of the wherewithal for subsistence – have their source in the domain of social relations, a domain of mental realities that stands over and above the sheer materiality of nature. Through their creative action upon the natural environment, Godelier claims, human beings bring about changes not only in their relations with that environment but also in those relations among themselves that are constitutive of society. And this leads to the hypothesis, namely that it is precisely because they transform nature that human beings have a History. Of course it is possible to argue that other animal and plant species also have histories of a kind, but these are not histories that they have produced for themselves, but are rather the outcomes of an evolutionary process of variation under natural selection. Human beings, by contrast, are not only made by history, they also play their part in helping to make it. Theirs, if you will, is History with a capital ‘H’ (Godelier 1989: 63). "

- Tim Ingold [29]

Elin Whitney-Smith on the Historical Role of the Press in the Development of Markets and Capitalism

"Capitalism developed where and when it did because there was high information access. There was high information access because of a major advance in information technology - the press. Where the technology was not controlled by the ’’powers that be” there was economic growth and a shift in the entire social structure. Where it was controlled there was no structural change and there was economic ruin. The development of capitalism is a major step change in economic growth. It is also a major change in the way people organize themselves into groups. Major step changes in the growth and in the organization of cultures are found to be related to the introduction and use of information technology. The limit to growth is the limit of effective use of information or the variety limit. Economies are able to grow once the variety limit is raised. Information technology allows people to increase their individual variety in relation to the amount of information processed. This increase in individual variety allows the entire society to grow. Where there is high access to information through technology there is much growth and where there is less information access through control of technology there is less economic growth. When a high access economy is in competition for resources with a low access economy the high access economy will be more economically successful."

- Elin Whitney-Smith [30]

In Defense of Multi-Evolutionism or Non-Linear Evolution Theory

"The notion of evolution is not popular in contemporary Anthropology. Many researchers do not use it preferring to write about transformation, transit, or change. Evolution for them is synonymous to dogmatic understanding of human history (Yoffee 2005; Pauketat 2008). However, even critics of evolutionism do not appear to reject the very fact of continuous social change. In prehistory people were hunters and gatherers and were integrated in small bands. Later some of them experienced sedentarization and transition to food production, began to found towns and invent complex tools. It would be ridiculous to reject such changes. Another point is that contemporary vision of cultural transformations differs greatly from the naïve ideas of the 19th century evolutionists (see, e.g., Earle 2002; Claessen 2000; Carneiro 2003, Marcus 2008; Hanks, Lin-duff 2009; Earle, Kristiansen 2010 etc.). Contemporary approaches are more flexible and are based on a much more considerable set of evidence. That is why it would be wrong to criticize the scholars of the past for their knowledge of something worse than ours. They ought to be estimated in comparison with their contemporaries. So, we believe that the notion of evolution has a right to exist, and for already several decades we have been elaborating the ideas that can be called “new wave evolutionism”, or Multi-Evolutionism or Non-Linear Evolution Theory)."

- A_Korotayev_and_D_Bondarenko et al. [31]

A Biomarxism for an age of human extinction ?

"However, it may be that in an age of extinctions—both human extinctions and of other species, and risks of human auto-extinction—the relation of socialism and communism should be rethought. Socialism could be understood as a phase in which an emancipatory project depends on a progressive amassing of “biopower”, broadly understood as the capacity to regulate not only human populations but their environment, with its vast non-human populations of flora, fauna and other life-forms (Leonardi 2012). Communism — or Biocommunism — might then be a moment at which, for still-anthropocentric reasons of self-preservation, biopower is subjected to a social limitation to avoid eradicating the ecological “web of life” (Moore 2015) in which humanity is enmeshed. This would be a point at which “to each according to their need” is re-interpreted by the recognition that human need includes, materially and psychologically, the need for flourishing non-human species and populations of plankton, fungi, insects, frogs and other entities upward along the evolutionary scale. However, in capitalism, where resource allocation continues to be stratified by intersecting forces of class, gender and racialization, the restraint or reduction of productive powers, repudiating growth to diminish ecological destruction, would be tantamount to reactionary consolidation of established pyramids of exploitation and dispossession. The only way in which a self-diminution of human inter-species ascendancy could be socially tolerable is if it were accompanied by a razing of differential intra-human allocations of wealth and well-being. "

- Nick Dyer-Whiteford [32]

Closing the Arc of Civilization

"As capital endangers the very survival of the human species, the historical arc is now closing that began with terror, man's dread before nature that reactively produced the separation of man from animal, the negation of instinct, and the ratio that has become autonomous from man himself. This means that this foundational event, by which man separated himself from his natural universe and thus constituted the world as a thing facing him, is not an event that happened once and for all, but is an event that continues to occur and that involves the political history of humanity in its entirety. It is this relationship of man with the material universe that constitutes for Cesarano "the invariance of a fundamental contradiction" throughout the history of the species. This invariance became actualisable in his time and traces the "lines of force of the real war". Moreover, since the destruction of nature by humans can now destroy man himself, it is now that this question must arise – and we see here the urgency with which Cesarano writes – because the species has no choice but to abandon itself to "the death drive", a drive that has never been observed on the scale of an entire species. This way of understanding the conflict as the emergence and overcoming, by the species itself, of the disregarded and repressed, of this remainder, abandoned between the instinctual sphere and the rational sphere, the animal and the human sphere of needs."

- Yann Sturmer explaining Giorgio Cesareno [33]

Directory 1: Approaches to the History of Civilizations and World History

The literature is vast and there is more than one way to order a reading list on this topic. I am following the recommendations of John David Ebert, who interprets civilizational analysis largely as a reaction to the provocation by Oswald Spengler.

So, my categorization distinguishes:

  • a 'culturalist' thread, focusing on the provocation by Oswald Spengler and the responses to it, who all acknowledge a key role for culture
  • a materialist thread, i.e. neo-marxist and world-systems analysis, who focus on the political economy
  • a spiritualist thread, i.e. authors who believe the ideas of the sacred and the relation to the divine are strong determinants (Aurobindo, de Chardin)
  • an integrative thread, authors who try to hold these polarities together
  • A cybernetics/complexity/systems science thread: Big History authors look for the commonalities for an evolutionary history (in the neo-Darwinian sense, or systems sense) of the world of matter, life, and culture.

There are of course other ways, here is one list, recommended by Andrew Targowski: 20th Century Attempts To Define a Grand Model of Human Developmental History.

Paweł Skrzydlewski, of which I excerpt the Theories of Civilization distinguishes four categories:

  • The Biological Theory of Civilization (Spengler)
  • The Historical Theory of Civilization (Toynbee)
  • The Sociological Theory of Civilization (Toffler)
  • The Political-Science Theory of Civilization (Huntington)

Thread 1: The cultural stream: Post-Spenglerian Civilizational Analysis

"We do not have a sufficient range of historical examples for planetization, though meta-historians like Spengler and Toynbee did try to generalize about what happens when tribe is stretched into empire and then empire is stretched into a world." [34]

Suggested order of reading

The order of reading below follows the suggestions of John David Ebert. We start with the cultural bombshell that was Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, and who awoke civilizational studies from a certain slumber by rejecting 19th century 'linearity' for cyclicality. All the authors listed here reacted in one way or another to the challenges posed by the interpretations of Spengler. Toynbee in the English sphere, Quigley in the American sphere, but also Gebser and Campbell in the cultural sphere. William Irwin Thompson's recaps their work in a later generation and was a mentor of John David Ebert. Thompson integrates the cultural and scientific developments that occurred after 1968 and the information revolution.

Other logics are of course possible. For example, Hughes Stuart, who evaluates Spengler, recommends reading, as reactions to Spengler, both Toynbee and Sorokin, followed by Configurations of Culture Growth, by Alfred Kroeber. I added Sorokin (Russian) and Feliks Keneczy (Polish) as typical of the 'other European, i.e. Polish reaction; the latter anticipates Huntington's more conflict oriented civilizational theory. I strongly welcome suggestions of non-European civilizational approaches.

Here is a possible guide for your reading: Andrew Targowski's Classification of the Civilizational Approaches To Human History

Mark Stahlman notes the different temporalities of the authors and how this influences the limitations of their worldview:

  • Oswald Spengler experiences World War I (his audience being the defeated Prussians)
  • Arnold Toynbee is a bridge between the two world wars (his audience being the British Empire)
  • Carroll Quigley experiences World War II (his audience being the State Dept in the US)
  • Samuel Huntington is the product of the Cold War and its aftermath (ibid. but a bit later than Quigley)

Oswald Spengler

The Decline of the West

  1. Intro: What I Learned From Reading Spengler
    1. Intro 1: Introduction to the main ideas [36] Summary Tables
    2. Intro 2: Spengler's Second Philosophy of World History. IMPORTANT UPDATE!
  2. Book: The Decline of the West
  3. Video: John David Ebert on Spengler's The Decline of the West
    1. + One lecture intro on Oswald Spengler and the Cycles of History + 2 hour conversation or Lafayette's Mill Series
  • Challenges to Spengler:
  1. Configurations of Culture Growth. By A.L. Kroeber. ("This book embodies the first systematic empirical examination of the temporal course of cultures throughout history. Its viewpoint differs in essential respects from that of Spengler.")
  2. Martin Heidegger on Oswald Spengler
  3. Piritim Sorokin: Social Philosophies in an Age of Crisis, critiques of world historians including Spengler
  4. Christopher Dawson: Dynamics of World History: includes critiques of Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee
  5. H. STUART HUGHES. Oswald Spengler. A CRITICAL ESTIMATE. Scribner's 1952. See: A Critical Estimate of Oswald Spengler.
  • Oswald Spengler and the Politics of Decline. Ben Lewis. Berghahn,2022 [37]

Man and Technics

  1. Video: John David Ebert on Oswald Spengler's Man and Technics

Why read Spengler

Spengler's book is dense, but also very rewarding; his command of cultural facts is astounding. His originality is to look at civilizations as living organisms, they are born, mature, wither and die. No one civilization is like any other, they have a distinct 'soul', something original they bring to the world; and, according to Spengler, they do not learn from each other, there is no progress or evolution; just different responses to life, rooted in particular landscapes and ecosystems. Once civilizations lose their spiritual roots and become universal and rational, they also die. Spengler invites us to reject the ancient-medieval-modern scheme, and if civilizations can be compared, it is not chronologically, but at the same relative period in their evolution. I.e. the 'winter' time of Europe, needs to be compared to the winter time of China, which occured in different millenia. Spengler's book, The Decline of the West, is considered by many to be the most important book of the 20th century, and sparked a conversation that is continuing to this day. Toynbee, Quigley, Campbell and Gebser, among many others, reacted specifically to Spengler. His thesis is quite deterministic, and sobering for individuals, the best we can do, is to live 'in according to the possibilities of our epoch'.

For more, please read: What I Learned from Reading Spengler

Contextual Quote

"The Spenglerian temptation is shared by the great majority of Westerners at this moment. They have lost the spirit and sit on their fannies and adore the basilisk who tells them: You are dead or dying. I do not feel surprise over your being overwhelmed by Spengler’s genius. The ordinary sources of history and politics which are accessible to your mind, must leave you starved compared to the spicy food offered by Spengler. And this is the first and last thing to be said of him. Your mind is awakening and growing. And for the mind, genius is the true food. But, my dear friend, genius is not the last criterion."

- Eugen Rosenstock-Huessay [38]

Arnold Toynbee

A Study of History

  1. Intro: Arnold Toynbee on the Rhythms of History
  2. Bio: Life of Arnold Toynbee: Arnold J. Toynbee : a life / William H. McNeill. Oxford University Press, 1990,
  3. Articles:
    1. Arnold Toynbee and the Process of Civilizations
    2. Arnold Toynbee on the Unification of the World
  4. Books:
    1. A Study of History (10 + 2 vols): Ebert recommends reading the 2-volume abridgment first, then the one-volume summary written by Toynbee himself at the end of his life.
    2. Vol. 11 is an atlas; In the last Vol. 12, “Reconsiderations”, the authors responds to his critics:
    3. A Study of History. Vol. xii. Reconsiderations. By Arnold J. Toynbee. London, New York, Toronto, Oxford University Press for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1961. x+740 pp. Bibliog. Index. 45s.
  5. Videos:
    1. John David Ebert on Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History
    2. Darren Staloff on the World Historical Speculations of Arnold Toynbee
  6. Challenges:
    1. An Interpretation of Universal History. José Ortega y Gasset.
    2. Response to Toynbee by Piritim Sorokin and Pieter Geyl: The Pattern of the Past; key thesis: civilizations are not the proper unit of study
    3. Also by Sorokin: Social Philosophies in an Age of Crisis, critiques of world historians including Toynbee
    4. The Intent of Toynbee's History: A Cooperative Appraisal. Ed. by Edward T. Gargan. Preface by Arnold Toynbee. Chicago, Loyola University Press, 1961. viii+224 pp. . Fulltext available via [39]
    5. In the last volume of The Study of History, i.e. Vol. 12, “Reconsiderations”, the author responds to his critics: (A Study of History. Vol. xii. Reconsiderations. By Arnold J. Toynbee. Oxford University, 1961)
    6. Borkenau has an in-depth critique of both Spengler and Toynbee: [40]

Other books by Toynbee

  1. Civilization on Trial
  2. Mankind and Mother Earth
  3. The World and the West

Carroll Quigley

  1. Book: Evolution of Civilizations
  2. Video: John David Ebert on Carroll Quigley's Evolution of Civilizations
  3. Video: Samu Burja on Carroll Quigley's Instruments of Civilization Expansion and How They Enter Into Crisis

Other books by Carroll Quigley

  • Weapons Systems and Political Stability: A History. Washington, DC: University Press of America. 1983. pp. 1064 pages: “From a historical study of weapons and political dynamics, Quigley concludes that the characteristics of weapons are the main predictor of democracy. Democracy tends to emerge only when the best weapons available are easy for individuals to buy and use."

Joseph Campbell

  1. Book:
    1. The Monomyth of the Hero's Journey in Joseph Campbell's book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces
    2. Joseph Campbell's Masks of God and the Evolution of World Mythology
    3. Visual / Illustrated: Historical Atlas of World Mythology
    4. Complementary book: Erich von Neumann. The Origins and History of Consciousness.
  2. Video: John David Ebert on Joseph Campbell

Why read Campbell

Although Campbell is most famous for his work on the hero's journey which inspired the Star Wars narrative arc, his most important work is the four volume comparative study of mythology. (Primitive Mythology, Oriental Mythology, Occidental Mythology, Creative Mythology). Mythology is not just something that lies in our past, but also a kind of 'collective intelligence' that structures our unconscious. We cannot understand life and society, if we do not understand its underlying mythological basis.

An excellent companion book, which looks at the evolution of mythological themes to understand the evolution of human consciousness, is Erich von Neumann in 'The Origins and History of Consciousness. Gebser's specification of different modalities of consciousness is also an important comparative source.

Jean Gebser

The Ever-Present Origin

  1. Book: The Ever-Present Origin
  2. Intro: The Evolution of Consciousness According to Jean Gebser
  3. Video: John David Ebert on Jean Gebser's Ever-Present Origin

Franz Borkenau

  1. Book: Borkenau Franz. End and Beginning: On the Generations of Cultures and the Origins of the West. Edited by Lowenthal Richard. (European Perspectives.) New York: Columbia University Press. 1981.
  2. Video:
    1. John David Ebert on Franz Borkenau's Cycle of the Dead
    2. On the Generations of Cultures and the Origins of the West
  3. Challenge: Borkenau has an in-depth critique of both Spengler and Toynbee: [41]

William Irwin Thompson

  1. Book(s):
    1. At the Edge of History: Examines the structure of four stages in Plato, Vico, Blake, Marx, Yeats, Jung, and McLuhan
    2. The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture; reviewed and critiqued the scholarship on the emergence of civilization from the Paleolithic to the historical period.
    3. Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness; Works and authors analyzed include the Enuma Elish, Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, the Book of Judges, the Rig Veda, Ramayana, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching
    4. Self and Society: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness; related Gebser's structures to periods in the development of mathematics (arithmetic, geometric, algebraic, dynamical, chaotic) and in the history of music.
    5. Beyond Religion: The Culture Evolution of the Sense of the Sacred from Shamanism to Post-Religious spirituality
  2. Video: John David Ebert on William Irwin Thompson

Pitirim Sorokin

  1. Introductory Articles: Very well done intro's done by John Uebersax. They cover both his analytical masterwork as well as his constructive work on altruism.
    1. Culture in Crisis: The Visionary Theories of Pitirim Sorokin
    2. Love: Pitirim Sorokin and the Transformation of Society by the Power of Love
    3. Transform: Pitirim Sorokin: Techniques for the Altruistic Transformation of Individuals and Society
    4. Pitirim Sorokin’s Personality Theory [42]
  2. Intro 2: Sensate, Idealistic and Ideational Cultural-Historical Typology of Pitirim Sorokin ; Sorokin's Three Sociocultural Supersystems
  3. Intro 3: Creative Altruism and the Prospects for a Common Humanity in the Age of Globalization: The fourth volume of Social and Cultural Dynamics proposes an integral sociology based on the Amitological Paradigm and the study of Creative Altruism. This article by Jay Weinstein offers a very good overview. See also: Pitirim Sorokin on the Four Techniques to Stimulate Authentic Love in Society
  4. Books from Sorokin:
    1. Social and Cultural Dynamics (4 vols);
    2. Social and Cultural Dynamics: Revised and abridged in one volume by the author. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1957.
    3. The Crisis of Our Age; a populization of 'Dynamics'
    4. Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time: a restatement of Dynamics for a scientific audience, focusing on the methods of his integralist sociology
    5. The Reconstruction of Humanity, 1948, a renewed critique of the Sensate system of values as root cause of the crisis ; The Meaning of Our Crisis, 1951, focuses on the law of polarization in times of crisis
    6. The Pattern of the Past: a response to Toynbee
    7. Social Philosophies of an Age of Crisis: Sorokin presents and evaluates critically the theories of world history propounded by Nikolai Danilevsky, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Walter Schubart, Nikolai Berdyaev, F. S. C. Northrop, Alfred Kroeber, Albert Schweitzer, and other writers."
  5. Books about Sorokin
    1. Sorokin and Civilization : a centennial assessment / edited by Joseph B. Ford, Michel P. Richard, and Palmer C. Talbutt. Taylor and Francis, 1996
    2. Sorokin, Pitirim A. The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1954. This is the book where Sorokin focuses on solutions.

Feliks Koneczny

  1. Intro:
    1. Feliks Koneczny's Theory of Civilization ; Historical-Philosophical Theory of Civilization of Feliks Koneczny
    2. Feliks Koneczny on the Types of Civilizations
    3. Anton Hilckman on Feliks Koneczny and the Comparative Science of Civilization
    4. Feliks Koneczny As Predating the Clash of Civilizations
  2. Books:
    1. On the Plurality of Civilizations (1962)
    2. For an Order in History (1977) (also translated as: On Order in History.)
    3. History Laws (1982) (also translated as: The Laws of History)

"Toynbee, in a preface to the English edition of On the Plurality of Civilizations, judged highly Koneczny’s contributions."

Samuel Huntington

  • Update: The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ 25 Years On: A Multidisciplinary Appraisal. [43]

Thread 2: Earlier Macrohistory and Macrohistorians

See the book, Macrohistory and Macrohistorians, edited by Sohail Inayatullah and Johan Galtung.

Joachim di Fiore

G.W.F. Hegel

  1. Intro: Hegel’s Spirit is a Ghost That Operates in the Way of the Unconscious By Kojin Karatani.
  2. Book: The Phenomenology of Spirit.
  3. Video: Cadell Last on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit ; John David Ebert on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

Ibn Khaldun

  1. Intro: His key concept: Asabiyyah
  2. Book: The Muqaddimah pdf

Giambattista Vico

  1. Intro: Giambattista Vico's Stages in World History
  2. Video: Darren Staloff on Vico's New Science of History
  3. Book: The New Science.


Among the other macro historians discussed in this book are:

  1. Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, (also called Sima Qian)
    1. Book: Records of the Grand Historian
    2. About: Watson B. (1958). Ssu-Ma Ch’ien: Grand Historian of China. 221 pp. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sohail Inayatullah recommends: "Excellent interpretation of the ancient Chinese philosopher Ssu-Ma Ch’ien. Does the Tao operate in history, what are the stages in history? For Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, it was the sage-king that intervened when the Tao degenerated. History and future are thus cyclical with the rise and fall of the Tao. When wisdom and learning separate, then society degenerates." [44]

  1. St. Augustine,
  2. Adam Smith,
  3. G.W.F. Hegel,
  4. Auguste Comte,
  5. Karl Marx,
  6. Herbert Spencer,
  7. Vilfredo Pareto,
  8. Max Weber,
  9. Rudolf Steiner,
  10. Antonio Gramsci,

Thread 3: The 'Spiritual' Cosmic Thread

Histories of the cosmos and the web of life, which may include a spiritual bent.

Contextual Quote

"In his book Transcendence and History: The Search for Ultimacy from Ancient Societies to Postmodernity, Glenn Hughes has explored this problem in depth. Following Voegelin’s insights into the human desire for transcendence, he succeeds in demonstrating, through a thorough analysis of myths, poetry, and art from many historical periods and cultures, that there is a basic human relationship to a trans-finite, trans-spatial, and trans-temporal realm of meaning, which cultures express and symbolize in phenotypically different ways. He argues, “Human fulfillment entails the willing embrace and development of our relationship to the eternal and imperishable ground of existence.”[xix] Anything less than this willingness to participate in the transcendent mystery of the cosmos will be ultimately unsatisfying for human beings" .

- Michael Colebrook [45]

The authors

Sri Aurobindo

Thomas Berry

Thomas Berry is continues and updates the work of Teilhard de Chardin, and updates the scientific basis of a 'ecozoic' worldview. With Brian Swinne, he has worked on a Big History style history of the universe, focusing on the necessary role of humanity in the unfolding of the universe.

  • Bio: Thomas Berry
  • Books:
    • The Dream of the Earth. By Thomas Berry. Counterpoint Press, 2015 (orig. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988) [46]: “The most difficult transition to make is from an anthropocentric to a biocentric norm of progress. If there is to be any true progress, then the entire life community must progress. Any progress of the human at the expense of the larger life community must ultimately lead to a diminishment of human life itself.” (Thomas Berry, “Bioregions: The Context for Reinhabiting the Earth,” in The Dream of the Earth, 165).>
    • The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era – A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. By Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992

[47]: “To tell the full story of a single particle we must tell the story of the universe, for each particle is in some way intimately present to every other particle in the universe.” (Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, 29).

    • The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. By Thomas Berry. New York: Harmony/Bell Tower,1999.

[48]: “If the central pathology that has led to the termination of the Cenozoic is the radical discontinuity established between the human and the nonhuman, then the renewal of life on the planet must be based on the continuity between the human and the other than human as a single integral community. Once this continuity is recognized and accepted, then we will have fulfilled the basic condition that will enable the human to become more present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.” (Thomas Berry, “The University,” in The Great Work, 80).

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

According to Thomas Berry, Teilhard was the first to tell the full story of the universe in its four phases: Galactic, Earth, Life, and Humanity.

Christopher Dawson

Georges Dumezil

  • Book: Mitra-Varuna: "the ultimate work of political theology, exhaustively describing our social reality from the Bronze Age to now. It is of course more than that—it is a set of theological categories which have political implications, not a set of political categories." Review: see Concept of Sovereignty in the Indo-European World.

Jacques Ellul

Raimon Panikkar

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar

Eric Voegelin

Voegelin's foray into macrohistory is the five-volume Order and History. But he is also particularly important for introducing the theme of 'political gnosticism', which explains how the drive for the transcendent, which he sees as innate, was 'secularized' or 'immanentized' by modern political ideologies.

Order and History
    • Order and History, Volume I-V. By Eric Voegelin. Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol.14-18, 2001

  • About: Consciousness and Transcendence (on The Theology of Eric Voegelin)
  • Bio: Autobiographical Reflections [50]
  • Intro's:
    • The Eric Voegelin Reader: "Drawing from the University of Missouri Press’s thirty-four-volume edition of his collected works, Charles Embry and Glenn Hughes have assembled a selection of Voegelin’s representative writings, satisfying the need for a single volume that can serve as a general introduction to his philosophy."
    • Eric Voegelin's Philosophy of History
  • Books:

Arthur Young:

Florian Znaniecki

  • Intro: Florian Znaniecki on Fluid Civilization and World Culture Society: "presents the concept of “civilization of the future” as a pan-human civilization, which requires the formation of a new type of cultural community – the world culture society."
  • Books (in Polish): 1) The Fall of Western Civilization, 1921, and 2) Contemporary People and the Civilization of the Future, 1934

The Sophianic / Sophiological and Cosmobiological Traditions

A tradition that 'sacralizes' the material world.

Michael Martin

Vladimir Soloviev

(also spelled as Solovyov)

Nicholas Berdjaev

Sergei Bulgakov

Materialist Biocosmological Approaches

From the materialist tradition, a quite similar argument and approach:

Loren Goldner

identifies a 'warm Marxism'.

Ernst Bloch

Thread 4: The 'materialist' (neo-Marxist?) World Systems and Objective Cycles Approaches

Contextual Quote

"The best way to deal with the discussions between civilizationists and world-systems analysts is to aver that the entities we are studying largely are, and ought to be, the same. Our theories ought to be merged. Having attempted to develop such a merger since encountering the civilizationist literature in the 1950s and the international-systems literature in the early 1960s, I can only view the current interaction with great pleasure."

- David Wilkinson [55]


Is there a recommended order of reading?

I recommend starting with the masterly synthesis of world evolution, written by Kojin Karatani, i.e. The Structure of World History. Peter Pogany should be a close second as he anchors global history into the basic thermodynamic realities, i.e. resource availability. Mark Whitaker's Political Origins of Environmental Degradation and the Environmental Origins of Axial Religions, then goes into the details of cycles and counter-cycles during the ebb and flow of civilizations. Once you have done this, Modelsky discusses long cycles of hegemony, and Goldstein overviews the cycle theory in general. Peter Turchin also offers an overview in his Secular Cycles. After a quick detour with David Wilkinson, on his important thesis on Central Civilization, you can then tackle the details of the World Systems Analysis school, reading Braudel's 3-volume Civilization and Capitalism, followed by Immanuel Wallerstein's, The Modern World-System.

Please note there is a Russian World-Systems Analysis School that has the merit of making a huge effort at integration and resolving the contradictions and controversies between the various authors in the field.

  • The long history of globalization: Long-Term Trends in Politics. By George Modelski. Journal of World-Systems Research 11(2): 195, August 2015. [56]: This paper applies "the learning algorithm of Lewontin-Campbell: g-c-t-r: generate-cooperate-test-regenerate a sequence of four iterations of that algorithm at the global institutional level"

See also:

  • Korotayev A., Malkov A., & Khaltourina D. (2006) Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends.
  • How Old Is the World System ? The World System: Five hundred years or five thousand? Edited by Andre Gander Frank and Barry K. Gills. Routledge, 1993.



Recommended books (selection):

  • Turchin, Peter; Nefedov, Sergei (2009). Secular Cycles. Princeton University Press
  • To Govern the Globe. World Orders and Catastrophic Change. by Alfred W. McCoy. Haymarket Books, 2021 [60] : "In a tempestuous narrative that sweeps across five continents and seven centuries, this book explains how a succession of catastrophes—from the devastating Black Death of 1350 through the coming climate crisis of 2050—has produced a relentless succession of rising empires and fading world orders.

From the 'Economy in Command' to the 'Ecology in Demand' approach

  1. World Ecological Degradation,
  2. The Recurring Dark Ages, and
  3. Ecological Futures

Sing Chew surveys 5,000 years of human history and finds a distinctive, recurring pattern: Civilizations that amass vast wealth do so by exhausting their environment."

Important Authors and Books (Full List):

Please note that Andre Gunder Frank, with ReOrient, and Janet Abu-Lughod, with 'Before European Hegemony', challenge the mainstream of this tradition as being Euro-centric, and claim that Europe's very late rise (only 200 years of hegemony in their eyes), was embedded in a prior world-economy that was dominated by Asia, and soon will be again. For Frank, even 'capitalism' does not exist.

They stress that the whole determines the behavior of the parts, and that most world history authors fail to take this into account, focusing on the internal agency of the West instead.

For some basic details, see: Andre Gunder Frank on the History of Going Beyond Eurocentrism in World Historical Approaches.

William H. McNeill, with his 'The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community' is considered the father of world history. Contra Spengler, he argues that contact between civilizations is the driver of history and contra Toynbee, that there were only 3 contributory civilizational streams. (McNeill was a student of Arnold Toynbee). Fernand Braudel was the second to take on a 'perspective of the world', and Immanuel Wallerstein then formally inaugurated the tradition of world-systems analysis.

Janet L. Abu-Lughod

Giovanni Arrighi

Fernand Braudel

Andre Gunder Frank

    • 1) World Accumulation, 1492–1789. (2011) ; 2) Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment: how the cycles of accumulation of world capital determine geopolitical history.
    • 1) ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age ; 2) ReOrienting the 19th Century. The global system is not 500 years old, but 5,000, and European hegemony is but a blip in this Asian-centric evolution.

Ellen Meiksins Wood:

George Modelski

Joshua Goldstein

  • Book: Goldstein, Joshua (1988), Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age, Yale University Press

Ian Morris

[62]: "A groundbreaking look at Western and Eastern social development from the end of the ice age to today."

William H. McNeill

  • Book: The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community. University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Joseph Tainter

Emmanuel Todd

  • Book: Lineages of Modernity: A History of Humanity from the Stone Age to Homo Americanus, 2019, Polity Press: this overview of world history is rooted in the psychological and sociological effects of family systems.

Peter Turchin

  • Books:
    • Turchin, Peter; Nefedov, Sergei (2009). Secular Cycles. Princeton University Press
    • Turchin, P. (2003) Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press;
    • War and Peace and War. The Rise and Fall of Empires. By Peter Turchin. PI Press / Plume / Penguin, 2006

Immanuel Wallerstein

  • Book: The Modern World-System. By Immanuel Wallerstein. vol. 1: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century; (1974); vol. 2: Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600-1750, (1980). Academic Press, 1974, 1980.

David Wilkinson

Thread 5: Directory of Neo-Integrative Worldviews

Contextual Quotes

"Whereas the distinguishing characteristic of the magic structure was the emergent awareness of nature, the essential characteristic of the mythical structure is the emergent awareness of soul." (Gebser, 1949/1985, p. 61)

- Jean Gebser [63]

The original, primal tribes had to find a way to transcend their isolated tribal kinship lineages . . . and mythology, not magic, provided the key for this new transcendence.(Wilber, 2000d, p. 175-176)

- Ken Wilber [64]


On the evolution of consciousness modes:

  • Roland Benedikter and Marcus Molz recognize different 'generations' in integrative thinking [66]:

"We have to consider integrative emancipatory frameworks originating from different cultures, contexts and disciplines. We divide these into three categories:

- first, those stemming from the first half of the twentieth century;

- second, those of the phase of transition between the 1960s and the twenty-first century; and

- third, twenty-first century approaches.

(1) The first half of the twentieth century gave birth to the pioneers of modern integrative worldviews, who laid the foundations for the basic idea of integrative worldviews within (and not against) evolving modernity.

(2) The second half of the twentieth century– and especially the period from the 1960s to the 1990s– can be considered a phase of transition, which brought about symptoms of the renewal of a renovated integrative intuition, manifested inter alia in the trend towards post-materialism in the 1980s and 1990s and in the ambiguous rise of a postmodern spirituality in the 1990s.

(3) Finally, the twenty-first century (presumably starting with the great political and cultural change of 1989/91) seems to be generating a new generation of integrative thought, which is still struggling to rise fully to the challenges of our time at the level of given problems and their comparatively increased complexity. Most representatives of this new generation of integrative thought and action seem to conceive themselves as part of a paradigm shift beyond classical modernity (including its latest stage of ‘postmodernity’), and as closely related with the emerging paradigm stage of a mature modernity."


According to Irene Ateljevic pdf, "different authors use a variety of terms to capture what can essentially be described as the synchronised phenomenon of emerging higher collective consciousness —

  • the transmodernity paradigm (Ghisi);
  • transmodern philosophy of political liberation (Dussel);
  • Hegelian dialectical triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (Magda);
  • the reflective/livingsystems paradigm (Elgin);
  • the partnership model of caring economics (Eisler);
  • the relational global consciousness of biosphere politics (Rifkin);
  • love ethics (hooks);
  • the circularity paradigm of interdependence (Steinem)."

First Generation

  1. Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900),
  2. Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925),
  3. Aurobindo Ghose (1872–1950),
  4. Max Scheler (1874–1928),
  5. Jacques Maritain (1882–1973),
  6. Pitirim Sorokin (1889–1968),
  7. Thomé F. Fang(1899–1977),
  8. Jean Gebser (1905–73) and
  9. Herbert Witzenmann (1905–88)

Third Generation

"Current leading thinkers" :

  1. Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921–90),
  2. Enrique Dussel (1934–),
  3. Basarab Nicolescu (1942–),
  4. Johannes Heinrichs (1942–),
  5. Roy Bhaskar (1944–) and
  6. Ken Wilber (1949–).

Other representatives of neo-integrative thought from a de facto (much) larger sample include

  1. Fred Dallmayr (1928–),
  2. Paul Ehrlich (1932–),
  3. Kensei Hiwaki (1945–),
  4. Michael Opielka (1956–),
  5. Harald Walach (1957–),
  6. Jaap Sijmons (1959–),
  7. Niko Kohls (1972–) and
  8. Nikolaus von Stillfried (1976–).


Thread 6: The Big History approaches

This more recent trend aims to integrate physical-cosmic, life and earth, and human cultural history in one integrated but largely 'materialist' and academically justified narrative, with the aim of teaching children students and citizens a positive story of cosmic and human evolution.

  • Intro: Big History as the Study of All Existence: Rodrigue, Barry H. 2022. “Big History — A Study of All Existence: Part 1: A World Connected.” Journal of Big History 5 (1): 1-47.DOI [67]: "This is a brief overview of the field of big history and my personal reflection on its significance."

Please note

- the distinction between World History vs Global History and how it relates to Big History.

- the distinction between Big History and 'Deep History', which is a less ambitious attempt to extend the history of humanity to the start of its cultural life, i.e. before the advent of writing.

This is its foundational book:

  • Deep History. The Architecture of Past and Present. By Andrew Shryock and Daniel Lord Smail. University of California Press, 2011. [68]

The Books

Before Big History

  • The Self-Organizing Universe. Eric Jantsch. Pergamon Press, 1980: "Jantsch looked at all of history in terms of what he called 'process structures'. The honour of being the first to design a general structure for big history should therefore go to Erich Jantsch." - Fred Spier [69].

(Please note the heterodox version of the same idea: The Reflexive Universe, by Arthur Young.)

  • The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era – A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. By Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992

[70]: stresses the integral role of humanity in the unfolding of the universe.

Big History

  • Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature. By Eric Chaisson. Harvard University Press, 2001: "complexity emerges when energy flows through matter. Only in this way it is possible for more complex structures to arise." See: Cosmic Evolution as the Rise of Complexity in Nature.
  • Christian, David. Maps of time: an introduction to big history. University of California Press, 2004: Tells the story as a series of telescoping time periods, each representing a new threshold of complexity.


  • Two books about the increase in complexity over time, in both biological and cultural evolution:


Directory 2: Thematic Approaches on Civilizational History

This part includes, a treatment of:

  • Thread 7: The P2P/Commons View
  • Thread 8: Single Volume Treatments
  • Thread 9: Understanding the Dark Side
  • Thread 10: Civilizational Conflict and Collapse
  • Thread 11: Other Important Authors (Critical Theory Approaches)

Directory 3: Chronological / Temporal Approaches

For Part Two of our pages on Civilizational Analysis, go to: Chronological Approaches and Periodization of Civilizational History

Pages in category "Civilizational Analysis"

The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 1,020 total.

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