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In I he same series: 

Race and Culture 

by Michel Lkiris. 46 pp. 
liacc and Psychology 

by Otto Klineberg. 39 ]ip. 
Race and Biology 

by Leslie C. Dunn. 48 pp. 
Racial Myths 

by Juan Comas. 51 pp. 
The Roots of Prejudice 

by Arnold M. Rosi:. 41 pp. 

In preparation: 

Race and Society 

by Kenneth L. Little. 
The Significance of Racial 

by Geoffrey M. Morant. 

Price per volume: 

$ .25; 1/6; 75 fr. 

Price: $-.25; 1/6; 75 fr 





Claude Levi-Strauss 

Director of Studies at the 
Ecole pratique des hautes etudes 


Published by the United Nations 

Educational, Scientijic and Cultural Organization 

19, avenue Kliber, Paris-16'^ 

Printed by G. Thone, Li^ge 

Copyright 1952 by Unesco, Paris 

SS.52.II. 6A 


I. Race and culture 5 

II. The diversity of cultures 8 

III. The ethnocentric attitude 11 

IV. Archaic and primitive cultures .... 16 

V. The idea of progress .20 

VI. "Stationary" and "cumulative" history 24 

VII. The place of western civilization .... 30 

VIII. Chance and civilization 34 

IX. Collaboration between cultures .... 41 

X. The Counter-currents of progress .... 46 
Bibliography 50 

$ 746071 


It may seem somewhat surprising, in a series of booklets 
intended to combat racial prejudice, to speak of the contribu- 
tions made by various races of men to world civilization. It 
vs^ould be a waste of time to devote so much talent and effort 
to demonstrating that, in the present state of scientific 
knowledge, there is no justification for asserting that any 
one race is intellectually superior or inferior to another, if 
we were, in the end, indirectly to countenance the concept 
of race by seeming to show that the great ethnic groups 
constituting human kind as a whole have, as such, made 
their own peculiar contributions to the common heritage. 

Nothing could be further from our intentions, for such a 
course of action would simply result in an inversion of the 
racist doctrine. To attribute special psychological charac- 
teristics to the biological races, with a positive definition, 
is as great a departure from scientific truth as to do so with 
a negative definition. It must not be forgotten that Gobineau, 
whose work was the progenitor of racist theories, regarded 
"the inequality of the human races" as qualitative, not quan- 
titative; in his view, the great primary races of early man — 
the white, the yellow and the black — differed in their special 
aptitudes rather than in their absolute value. Degeneration 
resulted from miscegenation, rather than from the relative 
position of individual races in a common scale of values; it 
was therefore the fate in store for all mankind, since all 
mankind, irrespective of race, was bound to exhibit an 
increasing intermixture of blood. The original sin of anthro- 
pology, however, consists in its confusion of the idea of race, 
in the purely biological sense (assuming that there is any 
factual basis for the idea, even in this limited field — which 
is disputed by modern genetics), with the sociological and 
psychological productions of human civilizations. Once he 
had made this mistake, Gobineau was inevitably committed 
to the path leading from an honest intellectual error to the 
unintentional justification of all forms of discrimination and 

When, therefore, in this paper, we speak of the contribu- 
tions of different races of men to civilization, we do not 
mean that the cultural contributions of Asia or Europe, 
Africa or America are in any way distinctive because these 
continents are, generally speaking, inhabited by peoples of 
different racial stocks. If their contributions are distinctive — 
and there can be little doubt that they are — the fact is to be 
accounted for by geographical, historical and sociological 
circumstances, not by special aptitudes inherent in the 
anatomical or physiological make-up of the black, yellow or 
white man. It seemed to us, however, that the very effort 
made in this series of booklets to prove this negative side of 
the argument, involved a risk of pushing into the background 
another very important aspect of the life of man— the fact that 
the development of human life is not everywhere the same 
but rather takes form in an extraordinary diversity of societies 
and civilizations. This intellectual, aesthetic and sociological 
diversity is in no way the outcome of the biological differ- 
ences, in certain observable features, between different groups 
of men; it is simply a parallel phenomenon in a different 
sphere. But, at the same time, we must note two important 
respects in which there is a sharp distinction. Firstly, the 
order of magnitude is different. There are many more human 
cultures than human races, since the first are to be counted 
in thousands and the second in single units; two cultures 
developed by men of the same race may differ as much as, 
or more than, two cultures associated with groups of entirely 
different racial origin. Secondly, in contrast to the diversity 
of races, where interest is confined to their historical origin 
or their distribution over the face of the world, the diversity 
of cultures gives rise to many problems; it may be wondered 
whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage for human kind, 
and there are naturally many subsidiary questions to be con- 
sidered under this general head. 

Last and most important, the nature of the diversity must 
be investigated even at the risk of allowing the racial preju- 
dices whose biological foundation has so lately been destroyed 
to develop again on new grounds. It would be useless to 
argue the man in the street out of attaching an intellectual or 
moral significance to the fact of having a black or white skin, 
straight or frizzy hair, unless we had an answer to another 
question which, as experience proves he will immediately ask: 
if there are no innate racial aptitudes, how can we explain 
the fact that the white man's civilization has made the tre- 

mendous advances with which we are all familiar while the 
civilizations of the coloured peoples have lagged behind, some 
of them having come only half way along the road, and others 
being still thousands or tens of thousands of years behind the 
times? We cannot therefore claim to have formulated a 
convincing denial of the inequality of the human races, so 
long as we fail to consider the problem of the inequality — or 
diversity — of human cultures, which is in fact — however 
unjustifiably — closely associated with it in the public mind. 


If wc are lo understand how, and to what extent, the various 
human cultures differ from one another, and whether these 
differences confhct or cancel one another out or, on the con- 
trary, are all instrumental in forming a harmonious whole, 
the first thing to do is to draw up a list of them. But here 
we immediately run into difficulties, for we are forced to 
recognize that human cultures do not all differ from one 
another in the same way or on the same level. Firstly, we 
have societies co-existing in space, some close together and 
some far apart but, on the whole, contemporary with one 
another. Secondly, we have social systems that have followed 
one another in time, of which we can have no knowledge by 
direct experience. Anyone can become an ethnographer and 
go out to share the life of a particular society which interests 
him. But not even the historian or archeologist can have any 
personal contact with a vanished civilization; all his know- 
ledge must be gleaned from the writings or the monuments 
which it or other societies have left behind. Nor must we 
forget that those contemporary societies which have no know-, 
legde of writing, like those wich we call "savage" or "primi- 
tive", were preceded by other forms of society of which we 
can learn nothing, even indirectly. If we are honest in drawing 
up our list, we shall have, in such cases, to leave blank spaces, 
which will probably be far more numerous than the spaces in 
which we feel we can make some entry. The first thing to 
be noted is therefore that, in fact in the present, as well as 
in fact and in the very nature of things in the past, the diver- 
sity of human cultures is much greater and richer than we 
can ever hope to appreciate to the full. 

But however humble we may be in our approach, and how- 
ever well we may appreciate our limitations in this respect, 
there are other problems to be considered. What are we to 
understand by "different" cultures.^ Some cultures appear to 
qualify for this description, but, if they are derived from a 
common stock, they cannot differ in the same way as two 
societies which have had no contacts with one another at any 


stage of their development. For instance, the ancient Inca 
Empire in Peru and the Kingdom of Dahomey in Africa are 
more absolutely different than are, let us say, England and the 
United States today, although these two societies also are to be 
regarded as distinct. Conversely, societies which have been 
in very close contact since a recent date give the impression 
of representing a single civilization, whereas in fact they have 
reached the present stage by different paths, which we are 
not entitled to ignore. Forces working in contrary directions 
operate simultaneously in human societies, some being conduc- 
tive to the preservation and even the accentuation of parti- 
cularism, while others tend to promote convergence and 
affinity. Striking instances are to be found in the study of 
language for, while languages whose origin is the same tend 
to develop differences from one another — e.g. Russian, 
French and English — languages of different origin which are 
spoken in adjacent territories developed common characteris- 
tics; Russian, for example, has developed differences from 
other Slavic languages in certain respects and grown closer, 
at least in certain phonetic features, to the Finno-Ugrian and 
Turkish languages spoken in its immediate geographic neigh- 

A study of such facts — and we could easily find similar 
instances in other aspects of civilization, such as social insti- 
tutions, art and religion — leads us to ask whether, in the 
inter-relations of human societies, there may not be an 
optimum degree of diversity, which they cannot surpass but 
which they can also not fall short of without incurring risks. 
This optimum would vary according to the number of socie- 
ties, their numerical strength their geographical distance from 
one another, and the means of communication (material and 
intellectual) at their disposal. The problem of diversity does 
not, in fact, arise solely with regard to the inter-relations of 
cultures; the same problem is found within each individual 
society with regard to the inter-relations of the constituent 
groups; the various castes, classes, professions or religious 
denominations develop certains differences, which each of 
them considers to be extremely important. It may be wondered 
whether this internal differentiation does not tend to increase 
Avhen the society becomes larger and otherwise more homo- 
geneous; this may perhaps have been what happened in 
ancient India, where the caste system developed as a sequel 
to the establishment of the Aryan hegemony. 

It is thus clear that the concept of the diversity of human 

cultures cannot be static. It is not the diversity of a collection 
of lifeless samples or the diversity to be found in the arid 
pages of a catalogue. Men have doubtless developed differen- 
tiated cultures as a result of geographical distance, the 
special features of their environment, or their ignorance of 
the rest of mankind; but this would be strictly and absolutely 
true only if every culture or society had been born and had 
developed without the slightest contact with any others. Such 
a case never occurs however, except possibly in such excep- 
tional instances as that of the Tasmanians (and, even then, 
only for a limited period). Human societies are never alone; 
when they appear to be most divided, the division is always 
between groups or clusters of societies. It would not, for 
instance, be an unwarranted presumption that the civiliza- 
tions of North and South America were cut off from almost 
all contacts with the rest of the world for a period lasting 
from 10,000 to 25,000 years. But the great section of mankind 
thus isolated consisted of a multitude of societies, great and 
small, having very close contacts with one another. Moreover, 
side by side with the differences due to isolation, there are 
others equally important which are due to proximity, bred 
of the desire to assert independence and individuality. Many 
customs have come into being, not because of an intrinsic 
need for them or of a favourable chance, but solely because 
of a group's desire not to be left behind by a neighbouring 
group which was laying down specific rules in matters in 
which the first group had not yet thought of prescribing 
laws. , We should not, therefore, be tempted to a piece-meal 
study bf the diversity of human cultures, for that diversity 
depends less on the isolation of the various groups than on 
the relations between them. 



Yet it would seem that the diversity of cultures has seldom 
been recognized by men for what it is — a natural phenomenon 
resulting from the direct or indirect contacts between socie- 
ties; men have tended rather to regard diversity as something 
abnormal or outrageous; advances in our knowledge of these 
matters served less to destroy this illusion and replace it by 
a more accurate picture than to make us accept it or accommo- 
date ourselves to it. 

The attitude of longest standing which no doubt has a firm 
psychological foundation, as it tends to reappear in each one 
of us when we are caught unawares, is to reject out of hand 
the cultural institutions — ethical, religious, social or aesthetic 
which are furthest removed from those with which we inden- 
tify ourselves. "Barbarous habits", "not what we do", "ought 
not to be allowed", etc. are all crude reactions indicative of 
the same instinctive antipathy, the same repugnance for ways 
of life, thought or belief to which we are unaccustomed. The 
ancient world thus lumped together everything not covered 
by Greek (and later the Greco-Roman) culture under the 
heading of "barbarian": Western civilization later used the 
term "savage" in the same sense. Underlying both these epi- 
thets is the same sort of attitude. The word "barbarian" is 
probably connected etymologically with the inarticulate confu- 
sion of birdsong, in contra-distinction to the significant 
sounds of human speech, while "savage" — "of the woods" — 
also conjures up a brutish way of life as opposed to human 
civilization. In both cases, there is a refusal even to admit the 
fact of cultural diversity; instead, anything which does not 
conform to the standard of the society in which the individual 
lives is denied the name of culture and relegated to the realm 
of nature. 

There is no need to dwell on this naive attitude, which is 
nevertheless deeply rooted in most men, since this booklet 
— and all those in the same series — in fact refutes it. It will be 
enough, in this context, to note that a rather interesting para- 
dox lies behind it. This attitude of mind, which excludes 


"savages" (or any people one may choose to regard as savages) 
from human kind, is precisely the attitude most strikingly 
characteristic of those same savages. We knov^, in fact, that 
«the concept of humanity as covering all forms of the human 
species, irrespective of race or civilization, came into being 
very late in history and is by no means widespread. Even 
where it seems strongest, there is no certainty — as recent 
history proves — that it is safe from the dangers of misunder- 
standing or retrogression. So far as great sections of the 
human species have been concerned, however, and for tens 
of thousands of years, there seems to have been no hint of 
any such idea. Humanity is confined to the borders of the 
tribe, the linguistic group, or even, in some instances, to the 
Nillage, so that many so-called primitive peoples describe 
themselves as "the men" (or sometimes — though hardly more 
discreetly — as "the good", "the excellent", "the well- 
achieved"), thus implying that the other tribes, groups or 
villages have no part in the human virtues or even in human 
nature, but that their members are, at best, "bad", "wicked", 
"ground-monkeys", or "lousy eggs". They often go further 
and rob the outsider of even this modicum of actuality, by 
referring to him as a "ghost" or an "apparition". In this way, 
curious situations arise in which two parties at issue present 

tragic reflexion of one another's attitude. In the GreaterH 
Antilles, a few years after the discovery of America, while the 1 
Spaniards were sending out Commissions of investigation to 
discover whether or not the natives had a soul, the latter spent 
their time drowning white prisoners in order to ascertain, 
by long observation, whether or not their bodies Avould 
decompose. ■^ 

This strange and tragic anecdote is a good illustration of 
the paradox inherent in cultural relativism (which we shall 
find again elsewhere in other forms); the more we claim to 
discriminate between cultures and customs as good and bad, 
the more completely do we identify ourselves with those we 
would condemn. By refusing to consider as human those who 
seem to us to be the most "savage" or "barbarous" of their 
representatives, we merely adopt one of their own character- 
istic attitudes. The barbarian is, first and foremost, the man 
N\ho believes in barbarism. 

Admittedly the great philosophic and religious systems 
which humanity has evolved — Buddhism, Christianity or 
Islam, the Stoic, Kantian of Marxist doctrines — have con- 
stantly condemned this aberration. But the simple statement 


that all men are iialurally equal and should be hound 
together in brotlierhood, irrespective of race or culture, is not 
very satisfactory to the intellect, for it overlooks a factual 
diversity which we cannot help but see; and we are not 
entitled, either in theory or in practice, to behave as if there 
were no such diversity, simply because we say that it does not 
affect the essence of the question. The preamble to Unesco's 
second Statement on the race problem very rightly observes 
that the thing which convinces the man in the street that there 
are separate races is "the immediate evidence of his senses 
when he sees an African, a European, an Asiatic and an Ame- 
rican Indian together". 

Likewise, the strength and the weakness of the great decla- 
rations of human rights has always been that, in proclaiming 
an ideal, they too often forget that man grows to man's 
estate surrounded, not by humanity in the abstract, but by 
a traditional culture, where even the most revolutionary 
changes leave whole sectors quite unaltered. Such declarations 
can themselves be accounted for by the situation existing at 
a particular moment in time and in particular space. Faced 
with the two temptations of condemning things which are 
offensive to him emotionally or of denying differences which 
are beyond his intellectual grasp, modern man has launched 
out on countless lines of philosophical and sociological spe- 
culation in a vain attempt to achieve a compromise between 
these two contradictory poles, and to account for the diversity 
of cultures while seeking, at the same time, to eradicate what 
still shocks and offends him in that diversity. 

But however much these lines of speculation may differ, 
and however strange some of them may be, they all, in point 
of fact, come back to a single formula, which might probably 
best be described by the expression false evolutionism. In 
what does this consist.^ It is really an attempt to wipe out the 
diversity of cultures while pretending to accord it full recog- 
nition. If the various conditions in which human societies 
are found, both in the past and in far distant lands, are 
treated as phases or stages in a single line of development, 
starting from the same point and leading to the same end, 
it seems clear that the diversity is merely apparent. Humanity 
is claimed to be one and the same everywhere, but this unity 
and identity can be achieved only gradually; the variety of 
cultures we find in the world illustrates the several stages in 
a process which conceals the ultimate reality or delays our 
recognition of it. 


This may seem an over-simplification in view of the 
enormous achievements of Darwinism. But Darwinism is in 
no way implicated here, for the doctrine of biological evolu- 
tion, and the pseudo-evolutionism we have in mind, are two 
very different things. The first was developed as a great 
working hypothesis, based on observations in which there 
was very little need for interpretation. The various types in 
the genealogy of the horse, for instance, can be arranged in 
an evolutive series for two reasons: firstly, a horse can only 
be sired by a horse; and secondly, skeletons varying gradually 
from the most recent to the most ancient forms are found at 
different levels in the earth, representing earlier and earlier 
periods of history as we dig deeper. It is thus highly probable 
that Hipparion was the real ancestor of Equus caballus. The 
same reasoning is probably applicable to the human species 
and the different races constituting it. When, however, we 
turn from biology to culture, things become far more compli- 
cated. We may find material objects in the soil, and note that 
the form or manufacture of a certain type of object varies 
progressively according to the depth of the geological strata. 
But an axe does not give birth to an axe in the physical sense 
that an animal gives birth to an animal. Therefore, to say 
that an axe has developed out of another axe is to speak 
metaphorically and with a rough approximation to truth, but 
without the scientific exactitude which a similar expression 
has in biological parlance. What is true of material objects 
whose physical presence in the earth can be related to deter- 
minable periods, is even more true of institutions, beliefs and 
customs, whose past history is generally a closed book to us. 
The idea of biological evolution is a hypothesis with one of 
the highest coefficients of probability to be found in any of 
the natural sciences, whilst the concept of social or cultural 
evolution offers at best a tempting, but suspiciously convenient 
method of presenting facts. 

Incidentally, this difference, which is too often overlooked, 
between true and false evolutionism can be explained by the 
dates of their development. The doctrine of biological evolu- 
tion admittedly gave sociological evolutionism a decided fillip 
but the latter actually preceded the former. Without going 
back to the views which Pascal took over from antiquity, and 
looking upon humanity as a living being passing through the 
successive stages of childhood, adolescence and maturity, we 
may see in the eighteenth century the elaboration of all the 
basic images which were later to be bandied about — Vico's 


"spirals", and his "three ages" foreshadowing Comte's 
"three states", and Condorcet's "stairway". Spencer and 
Tylor, the two founders of social evolutionism, worked out 
and published their doctrine before the appearance of the 
Origin of Species, or without having read that work. Prior 
in date to the scientific theory of biological evolution, social 
evolutionism is thus too often merely a pseudo-scientific mask 
for an old philosophical problem, which there is no certainty 
of our ever solving by observation and inductive reasoning. 



We have already suggested that, from its own point of view, 
each society may divide cultures into three categories: contem- 
porary cultures found in another part of the world; cultures 
which have developed in approximately the same area as the 
society in question, but at an earlier period; and finally, those 
earlier in time and occupying a different area in space. 

We have seen that our knowledge of these three groups 
cannot be equally exact. In the last case, when we are con- 
cerned with cultures which have left behind no written records 
or buildings, and which employed very primitive techniques 
(as is true for one half of the inhabited world and for 
90-99 per cent varying according to region, of the time since 
the dawn of civilization), it may be said that we can really 
know nothing of them, and that our best efforts at under- 
standing them can be no more than suppositions. 

On the other hand, there is a great temptation to try to 
arrange cultures in the first category in an order representing 
a succession in time. It is, after all, natural that contemporary 
societies with no knowledge of electricity and the steam 
engine should call to mind the corresponding phase in the 
development of Western civilization. It is natural to compare 
natives tribes, ignorant of writing and metallurgy, but 
depicting figures on walls of rock and manufacturing stone 
implements, with the primitive forms of that same civiliza- 
tion, which, as the traces left behind in the caves of France 
and Spain bear witness, looked similar. It is in such matters 
that false evolutionism has mainly been given free reign. But 
the almost irresistible temptation to indulge in such compa- 
risons whenever opportunity offers (is not the Western tra- 
veller wont to see the "Middle Ages" in the East, "the days 
of Louis XIV" in pre-1914 Peking, and "Stone Age" among 
the Aborigines in Australia or New Guinea.!*), is extraordina- 
rily dangerous. We can know only certain aspects of a vanished 
civilization; and the older the civilization, the fewer are those 
aspects since we can only have knowledge of things which 
have survived the assaults of time. There is therefore a ten- 


dency to take the part for the whole and to conclude that, 
since certain aspects of two civilizations (one contemporary 
and the other lost in the past) show similarities, there must 
be resemblances in all aspects. Not only is this reasoning 
logically indefensible but, in many cases, it is actually refuted 
by the facts. 

Until a relatively recent date, the Tasmanians and Patago- 
nians used chipped stone implements, and certain Australian 
and American tribes still make such tools. But studying these 
teaches us very little about the use of similar tools in the 
palaeolithic period. How were the famous "hand-axes" used.^ 
And yet their purpose must have been so specific that their 
form and manufacture remained rigidly standardized for one 
or two hundred thousand years over an area stretching from 
England to South Africa and from France to China. What 
was the use of the extraordinary flat, triangular Levalloisian 
pieces .3 Hundreds of them are found in deposits and yet we 
have no hypothesis to explain them. What were the so-called 
Batons de commandement, made of reindeer antler.** What 
technical methods were used in the Tardenoisian cultures, 
which have left behind them an incredible number of tiny 
fragments of chipped stone, in an infinite variety of geo- 
metrical shapes, but very few tools adapted to the size of the 
human hand.** All these questions indicate that there may well 
be one resemblance between palaeolithic societies and certain 
contemporary native societies; both alike have used chipped- 
stone tools. But, even in the technological sphere, it is 
difficult to go further than that; the employment of the 
material, the types of instruments and therefore the purpose 
for which they were used, were quite different, and one group 
can teach us very little about the other in this respect. How 
then can we gain any idea of the language, social institutions 
or religious beliefs of the peoples concerned.!* 

According to one of the commonest explanations derived 
from the theory of cultural evolution, the rock paintings left 
behind by the middle palaeolithic societies were used for 
purposes of magic ritual in connexion with hunting. The line 
of reasoning is as follows: primitive peoples of the present day 
practise hunting rites, which often seem to us to serve no 
practical purpose; the many pre-historic paintings on rock 
walls deep in caves appear to us to serve no practical purpose; 
the artists who executed them were hunters; they were there- 
fore used in hunting rites. We have only to set out his implicit 
argument to see how entirely inconsequent it is. It is, 


incidentally, most current among non-specialists, for ethno- 
graphers, who have had actual dealings with the primitive 
peoples whom the pseudo-scientist is so cheerfully prepared 
to serve up for whatever purpose happens to concern him at 
the moment, with little regard for the true nature of human 
cultures, agree that there is nothing in the facts observed to 
justify any sort of hypothesis about these paintings. While 
we are on the subject of cave paintings, we must point out 
that, except for the cave paintings found in South Africa 
(which some hold to be the work of native peoples in recent 
times), "primitive" art is as far removed from Magdalenian 
and Aurignacian art as from contemporary European art, for 
it is marked by a very high degree of stylization, sometimes 
leading to complete distortion, while prehistoric art displays 
a striking realism. We might be tempted to regard this 
characteristic as the origin of European art; but even that 
would be untrue, since, in the same area, palaeolithic art was 
succeeded by other forms of a different character; the identity 
of geographical position does not alter the fact that different 
peoples have followed one another on the same stretch of 
earth, knowing nothing or caring nothing for the work of 
their predecessors, and each bringing in conflicting beliefs, 
techniques and styles of their own. 

The state which the civilizations of America had reached 
before Columbus' discovery is reminiscent of the neolithic 
period in Europe. But this comparison does not stand up to 
closer examination either; in Europe, agriculture and the 
domestication of animals moved forward in step, whereas in 
America, while agriculture was exceptionally highly devel- 
oped, the use of domestic animals was almost entirely 
unknown or, at all events, extremely restricted. In America, 
stone tools were still used in a type of agriculture which, in 
Europe, is associated with the beginnings of metallurgy. 

There is no need to quote further instances, for there is 
another and much more fundamental difficulty in the way of 
any effort, after discovering the richness and individuality of"* 
human cultures, to treat all as the counterparts of a more or 
less remote period in Western civilization: broadly speaking 
(and for the time being leaving aside America, to which we 
shall return later), all human societies have behind them a 
past of approximately equal length. If we were to treat 
certain societies as "stages" in the development of certain 
others, we should be forced to admit that, while something 
was happening in the latter, nothing — or very little — was 


going on in the former. In fact, we are inclined to talk of 
"peoples with no history" (sometimes implying that they are 
the happiest). This ellipsis simply means that their history is 
and will always be unknown to us, not that they actually have 
no history. For tens and even hundreds of millenaries, men 
there loved, hated, suffered, invented and fought as others 
did. In actual fact, there are no peoples still in their child- 
hood; all are adult, even those who have not kept a diary of 
their childhood and adolescence. 

We might, of course, say that human societies have made 
a varying use of their past time and that some have even 
wasted it; that some were dashing on while others were 
loitering along the road. This would suggest a distinction 
between two types of history: a progressive, acquisitive type, 
in which discoveries and inventions are accumulated to build 
up great civilizations; and another type, possibly equally 
active and calling for the utilization of as much talent, but 
lacking the gift of synthesis which is the hall-mark of the 
first. All innovations, instead of being added to previous 
innovations tending in the same direction, would be absorbed 
into a sort of undulating tide which, once in motion, could 
never be canalized in a permanent direction. 

This conception seems to us to be far more flexible and 
capable of differentiation than the over-simplified views we 
have dealt with in the preceding paragraphs. We may well 
give it a place in our tentative interpretation of the diversity 
of cultures without doing injustice to any of them. But before 
we reach that stage there are several other questions to be 



We must first consider the cultures in the second category 
we defined above: the historical predecessors of the "obser- 
ver's" culture. The situation here is far more complicated than 
in the cases vv^e have considered earlier. For in this case the 
hypothesis of evolution, which appears so tenuous and doubt- 
ful as a means of classifying contemporary societies occupying 
different areas in space, seems hard to refute, and would 
jindeed appear to be directly borne out by the facts. We 
know, from the concordant evidence of archaeology, pre- 
historic study and palaeontology, that the area now known 
as Europe was first inhabited by various species of the genus 
Homo, who used rough chipped flint implements; that these 
first cultures were succeeded by others in which stone was 
first more skilfully fashioned by chipping, and later ground 
and polished, while the working of bone and ivory was also 
perfected; that pottery, weaving, agriculture and stock rearing 
then came in, associated with a developing use of metals, the 
stages of which can also be distinguished. These successive 
forms therefore appear to represent evolution and progress; 
some are superior and others inferior. But, if all this is true, 
it is surely inevitable that the distinctions thus made must 
affect our attitude towards contemporary forms of culture 
exhibiting similar variations. The conclusions we reached 
above are thus in danger of being compromised by this new 
line of reasoning. 

The progress which humanity has made since its earliest 
days is so clear and so striking that an attempt to question it 
could be no more than an exercise of rhetoric. And yet, it is 
not as easy as it seems to arrange mankind's achievements in 
a regular and continuous series. About 50 years ago, scholars 
had a delightfully simple scheme to represent man's advance: 
the old stone age, the new stone age, the copper, bronze and 
iron ages. But in this, everything was over-simplified. We 
now suspect that stone was sometimes worked simultaneously 
by the chipping and polishing methods; when the latter 
replaced the former, it did not simply represent a natural 


technical advance from the previous stage, but also an attempt 
to copy, in stone, the metal arms and tools possessed by other 
civilizations, more "advanced" but actually contemporary with 
their imitators. On the other hand, pollery-making, which 
used to be regarded as a distinctive feature of the so-called 
"polished stone age", was associated with the chipping pro- 
cess of fashioning stone in certain parts of northern Europe. 

To go no further than the period when chipped-stone 
implements were manufactured, known as the palaeolithic 
age, it was thought only a few years ago that the variants of 
this method — characteristic of the "core-tool", "flake-tool" 
and "blade-tool" industries — represented a historical pro- 
gression in three stages, known respectively as lower palaeoli- 
thic, middle palaeolithic and upper palaeolithic. It is now 
recognized that these three variants were all found together, 
representing not stages in a single advance, but aspects or, 
to use the technical term, "facies" of a technique which may 
not have been static but whose changes and variations were 
extremely complex. In fact, the Levallois culture which we 
have already mentioned, and which reached its peak between 
the 2o0th and 70th millenary B.C., attained to a perfection in 
the art of chipping stone which was scarcely equalled until 
the end of the neolithic period, 245,000 to 65,000 years later, 
and which we would find it extremely difficult to copy today. 

Everything we have said about the development of cultures 
is also true of races, although (as the orders of magnitude 
are different) it is impossible to correlate the two processes. 
In Europe, Neanderthal Man was not anterior to the oldest 
known forms of Homo sapiens; the latter were his contempo- 
raries and maybe even his predecessors. And it is possible that 
the most diverse types of Hominidae may have been contem- 
porary even though they did not occupy the same parts of 
the world — "pygmies" living in South Africa, "giants" in 
China and Indonesia, etc. 

Once more, the object of our argument is not to deny the 
fact of human progress but to suggest that we might be more 
cautious in our conception of it. As our prehistoric and 
archaeological knowledge grows, we tend to make increasing 
use of a spatial scheme of distribution instead of a time scale 
scheme. The implications are two: firstly, that "progress" 
(if this term may still be used to describe something very 
different from its first connotation) is neither continuous nor 
inevitable; its course consists in a series of leaps and bounds, 
or, as the biologists would say, mutations. These leaps and 


bounds are not always in the same direction; the general 
trend may change too, rather like the progress of the knight 
in chess, who always has several moves open to him but never 
in the same direction. Advancing humanity can hardly be 
likened to a person climbing stairs and, with each movement, 
adding a new step to all those he has already mounted; a 
more accurate metaphor would be that of a gambler who has 
staked his money on several dice and, at each throw, sees 
them scatter over the cloth, giving a different score each time. 
What he wins on one, he is always liable to lose on another, 
and it is only occasionally that history is "cumulative", that 
is to say, that the scores add up to a lucky combination. 

The case of the Americas proves convincingly that "cumu- 
lative" history is not the prerogative of any one civilization 
or any one period. Man first came to that enormous conti- 
nent, no doubt in small nomadic groups crossing the Behring 
Straits during the final stages of the Ice age, at some date 
which cannot have been much earlier than the 20th millenary 
B.C. In twenty or twenty-five thousand years, these men pro- 
duced one of the most amazing examples of "cumulative" 
history the world has ever seen: exploring the whole range of 
the resources of their new natural environment, cultivating 
a wide variety of plants (besides domesticating certain species 
of animals) for food, medicines and poisons, and — as no- 
where else — using poisonous substances as a staple article of 
diet (e.g. manioc) or as stimulants or anaesthetics; collect- 
ing various poisons or drugs for use on the animal species 
particularly susceptible to each of them; and finally de- 
veloping certain industries, such as weaving, ceramics and the 
working of precious metals, to the highest pitch of perfection. 
To appreciate this tremendous achievement, we need only 
assess the contribution which America has made to the civi- 
lizations of the Old World, starting with the potato, rubber, 
tobacco and coca (the basis of modern anaesthetics), repre- 
senting four pillars of Western culture, though admittedly 
on very different grounds; followed by maize and ground- 
nuts, which were to revolutionize the economy of Africa 
before perhaps coming into general use as an article of diet 
in Europe; coca, vanilla, the tomato, the pineapple, pepper, 
several species of beans, cottons and gourds. Finally, the zero 
on the use of which arithmetic and, indirectly, modern 
mathematics are founded, was known and employed by the 
Maya at least 500 years before it was discovered by the Indian 
scholars, from whom Europe received it via the Arabs. 


Possibly for that reason, the Maya calendar, at the same 
period of history, was more accurate than that of the Old 
World. Much has already been written on the question 
whether the political system of the Inca was socialistic or 
totalitarian, but, at all events, the ideas underlying it were 
close to some of those most characteristic of the modern 
world, and the system was several centuries ahead of similar 
developments in Europe. The recent revival of interest in 
curare would serve to remind us, if a reminder were needed, 
that the scientific knowledge of the American Indians con- 
cerning many vegetable substances not used elsewhere in the 
world may even now have much to teach the rest of the globe. 



The foregoing discussion of the American case would suggest 
that we ought to consider the difference between "stationary 
history" and "cumulative history" rather more carefully. 
Have we not, perhaps, acknowledged the "cumulative" 
character of American history simply because we recognize 
America as the source of a number of contributions we have 
taken from it, or which are similar to those we ourselves have 
made? W^hat would be the observer's attitude towards a civi- 
lization which had concentrated on developing values of its 
own, none of which was likely to affect his civilization? 
Would he not be inclined to describe that civilization as 
"stationary"? In other words, does the distinction between 
the two types of history depend on the intrinsic nature of the 
cultures to which the terms are applied, or does it not rather 
result from the ethnocentric point of view which we always 
adopt in assessing the value of a different culture? We should 
thus regard as "cumulative" any culture developing in a direc- 
tion similar to our own, that is to say, whose development 
would appear to us to be significant. Other cultures, on the 
contrary, would seem to us to be "stationary", not necessarily 
because they are so in fact, but because the line of their de- 
velopment has no meaning for us, and cannot be measured in 
terms of the criteria Ave employ. 

That this is indeed so is apparent from even a brief consider- 
ation of the cases in which we apply the same distinction, 
not in relation to societies other than our own, but within 
our own society. The distinction is made more often than we 
might think. People of advanced years generally consider that 
history during their old age is stationary, in contrast to the 
cumulative history they saw being made when they were 
young. A period in which they are no longer actively con- 
cerned, when they have no part to play, has no real meaning 
for them; nothing happens, or what does happen seems to 
them to be unproductive of good; while their grandchildren 
throw themselves into the life of that same period with all 
the passionate enthusiasm which their elders have forgotten. 


The opponents of a political system are disinclined to admit 
that the system can evolve; they condemn it as a whole, and 
would excise it from history as a horrible interval when life 
is at a standstill only to begin again when the interval is 
over. The supporters of the regime hold quite a different 
view, especially, we may note, when they take an intimate 
part, in a high position, in the running of the machine. The 
quality of the history of a culture or a cultural progression or, 
to use a more accurate term, its eventfulness, thus depends 
not on its intrinsic qualities but on our situation with regard 
to it and on the number and variety of our interests involved. 

The contrast between progressive and stagnant cultures 
would thus appear to result, in the first place, from a differ- 
ence of focus. To a viewer gazing through a microscope 
focused on a certain distance from the objective, bodies placed 
even a few hundredths of a millimetre nearer or further away 
will appear blurred and "wolly", or may even be invisible; 
he sees through them. Another comparison may be made to 
disclose the same illusion. It is the illustration used to 
explain the rudiments of the theory of relativity. In order to 
show that the dimensions and the speed of displacement of 
a body are not absolute values but depend on the position of 
the observer, it is pointed out that, to a traveller sitting at 
the window of a train, the speed and length of other trains 
vary according to whether they are moving in the same or the 
contrary direction. Any member of a civilization is as closely 
associated with it as this hypothetical traveller is with his 
train for, from birth onwards, a thousand conscious and 
unconscious influences in our environment instil into us a 
complex system of criteria, consisting in value judgments, 
motivations and centres of interest, and including the 
conscious reflexion upon the historical development of our 
civilization which our education imposes and without which 
our civilization would be inconceivable or would seem 
contrary to actual behaviour. Wherever we go, we are bound 
to carry this system of criteria with us, and external cultural 
phenomena can be observed only through the distorting glass 
it interposes, even when it does not prevent us from seeing 
anything at all. 

To a very large extent, the distinction between "moving 
cultures" and "static cultures" is to be explained by a differ- 
ence of position similar to that which makes our traveller 
think that a train, actually moving, is either travelling for- 
ward or stationary. There is, it is true, a difference, whose 


importance will be fully apparent when we reach the stage 
— already foreshadowed — of seeking to formulate a general 
theory of relativity in a sense different from that of Einstein, 
i.e. applicable both to the physical and to the social sciences: 
the process seems to be indentical in both cases, but the other 
way round. To the observer of the physical world (as the 
example of the traveller shows) systems developing in the 
same direction as his own appear to be motionless, while 
those which seem to move swiftest are moving in different 
directions. The reverse is true of cultures, since they appear to 
us to be in more active development when moving in the 
same direction as our own, and stationary when they are 
following another line. In the social sciences, however, speed 
has only a metaphorical value. If the comparison is to hold, 
we must substitute for this factor information or meaning. 
We know, of course, that it is possible to accumulate far more 
information about a train moving parallel to our own at 
approximately the same speed (by looking at the faces of the 
travellers, counting them, etc.) than about a train which we 
are passing or which is passing us at a high speed, or which 
is gone in a flash because it is travelling in a different 
direction. In the extreme case, it passes so quickly that we 
have only a confused impression of it, from which even the 
indications of speed are lacking; it is reduced to a momentary 
obscuration of the field of vision; it is no longer a train; it 
no longer has any meaning. There would thus seem to be 
some relationship between the physical concept of apparent 
movement and another concept involving alike physics, psy- 
chology and sociology — the concept of the amount of infor- 
mation capable of passing from one individual to another or 
from one group to another, which will be determined by the 
relative diversity of their respective cultures. 

Whenever we are inclined to describe a human culture as 
stagnant or stationary, we should therefore ask ourselves 
whether its apparent immobility may not result from our 
ignorance of its true interests, whether conscious or 
unconscious, and whether, as its criteria are different from 
our own, the culture in question may not suffer from the 
same illusion with respect to us. In other words, we may well 
seem to one another to be quite uninteresting, simply because 
we are dissimilar. 

For the last two or three centuries, the whole trend of 
Western civilization has been to equip man willi increasingly 
powerful mechanical resources. If this criterion is accepted, 


the quantity of energy available for each member of the popu- 
lation will be taken as indicating the relative level of develop- 
ment in human societies. Western civilization, as represented 
in North America, will take first place, followed by the 
European societies, with a mass of Asiatic and African 
societies, rapidly becoming indistinguishable from one 
another, bringing up the rear. But these hundreds, or even 
thousands of societies which are commonly called "under- 
developed" and "primitive", and which merge into an 
undifferentiated mass when regarded from the point of view 
we have just described (and which is hardly appropriate in 
relation to them, since they have had no such line of develop- 
ment or, if they have, it has occupied a place of very 
secondary importance) are by no means identical. From other 
points of view, they are diametrically opposed to one another; 
the classification of societies will therefore differ according 
to the point of view adopted. 

If the criterion chosen had been the degree of ability to 
overcome even the most inhospitable geographical conditions, 
there can be scarcely any doubt that the Eskimos, on the 
one hand, and the Bedouins, on the other, would carry off 
the palm. India has been more successful than any other civi- 
lization in elaborating a philosophical and religious system, 
and China, a way of life capable of minimizing the psycho- 
logical consequences of over-population. As long as 13 centu- 
ries ago, Islam formulated a theory that all aspects of human 
life — technological, economic, social and spiritual — are closely 
interrelated — a theory that has only recently been rediscovered 
in the West in certain aspects of Marxist thought and in the 
development of modern ethnology. We are familiar with the 
pre-eminent position in the intellectual life of the Middle Ages 
which the Arabs owed to this prophetic vision. The West, for 
all its mastery of machines, exhibits evidence of only the most 
elementary understanding of the use and potential resources 
of that super-machine, the human body. In this sphere, on 
the contrary, as on the related question of the connexion 
between the physical and the mental, the East and the 
Far East are several thousand years ahead; they have produced 
the great theoretical and practical summae represented by 
Yoga in India, the Chinese "breath-techniques", or the 
visceral control of the ancient Maoris. The cultivation of 
plants without soil, which has recently attracted public atten- 
tion, was practised for centuries by certain Polynesian peoples, 
who might also have taught the world the art of navigation, 


and who amazed it, in the eighteenth century, by their revela- 
tion of a freer and more generous type of social and ethical 
organization than had previously been dreamt of. 

In all matters touching on the organization of the family 
and the achievement of harmonious relations between the 
family group and the social group, the Australian aborigines, 
though backward in the economic sphere, are so far ahead 
of the rest of mankind that, to understand the careful and 
deliberate systems of rules they have elaborated, we have to 
use all the refinements of modern mathematics. It was they in 
fact who discovered that the ties of marriage represent the 
very warp and woof of society, while other social institutions 
are simply embroideries on that background; for, even in 
modern societies, where the importance of the family tends 
to be limited, family ties still count for much: their ramifica- 
tions are less extensive but, at the point where one tie ceases 
to hold, others, involving other families, immediately come 
into play. The family connexions due to inter-marriage may 
result in the formation of broad links between a few groups, 
or of narrow links between a great number of groups; whether 
they are broad or narrow, however, it is those links which 
maintain the whole social structure and to which it owes its 
flexibility. The Australians, with an admirable grasp of the 
facts, have converted this machinery into terms of theory, and 
listed the main methods by which it may be produced, with 
the advantages and drawbacks attaching to each. They have 
gone further than empirical observation to discover the mathe- 
matical laws governing the systems, so that it is no exaggera- 
tion to say that they are not merely the founders of general 
sociology as a whole, but are the real innovators of measure- 
ment in the social sciences. 

The wealth and boldness of aesthetic imagination found in 
the Melanesians, and their talent for embodying in social life 
the most obscure products of the mind's subconscious activity, 
mark one of the highest peaks to which men have attained 
in these two directions. The African contribution is more 
complex, but also less obvious, for we have only recently 
suspected what an important part the continent had played 
as the cultural melting pot of the Old World — the place where 
countless influences came together and mingled to branch 
out anew or to lie dormant but, in every case, taking a new 
turn. The Egyptian civilization, whose importance to mankind 
is common knowledge, can be understood only when it is 
viewed as the co-product of Asia and Africa: and the great 


political systems of ancient Africa, its legal organization, its 
philosophical doctrines which for so long remained unknown 
to Western students, its plastic arts and music, systematically 
exploring all the opportunities opened up by each of these 
modes of expression, are all signs of an extraordinarily fertile 
past. There is, incidentally, direct evidence of this great past 
in the perfection of the ancient African methods of working 
bronze and ivory, which were far superior to any employed 
in the West at the same period. We have already referred to 
the American contribution and there is no need to revert to 
it now. 

Moreover, it is unwise to concentrate attention too much 
upon these isolated contributions, for they might give us 
the doubly false impression that world civilization is a sort 
of motley. Too much publicity has been given to the various 
peoples who were first with any discovery: the Phoenicians 
with the use of the alphabet; the Chinese with paper, gun- 
powder and the compass; the Indians with glass and steel. 
These things in themselves are less important than the way 
in which each culture puts them together, adopts them or 
rejects them. And the originality of each culture consists 
rather in its individual way of solving problems, and in the 
perspective in which it views the general A'alues which must 
be approximately the same for all mankind, since all men, 
without exception, possess a language, techniques, a form of 
art, some sort of scientific knowledge, religious beliefs, and 
some form of social, economic and political organization. 
The relations aie never quite the same, however, in every 
culture, and modern ethnology is concentrating increasingly 
on discovering the underlying reasons for the choices made, 
rather than on listing mere external features. 



It may perhaps be objected that such arguments are theo- 
retical. As a matter of abstract logic, it may be said, it is 
possible that no culture is capable of a true judgment of any 
other, since no culture can lay aside its own limitations, and 
its appreciation is therefore inevitably relative. But look 
around you; mark what has been happening in the world for 
the past 100 years, and all your speculations will come to 
nought. Far from "keeping themselves to themselves", all 
civilizations, one after the other, recognize the superiority of 
one of their number — ^Western civilization. Are we not 
witnesses to the fact that the whole world is gradually 
adopting its technological methods, its way of life, its amuse- 
ments and even its costume? Just as Diogenes demonstrated 
movement by walking, it is the course followed by all human 
cultures, from the countless thousands of Asia to the lost 
tribes in the remote fastnesses of the Brazilian or African 
jungles which proves, by the unanimous acceptance of a 
single form of human civilization, such as history has never 
Avitnessed before, that that civilization is superior to any other; 
the complaint which the "underdeveloped" countries advance 
against the others at international meetings is not that they 
are being westernized, but that there is too much delay in 
giving them the means to westernize themselves. 

This is the most difficult point in our argument; indeed it 
would be of no use to attempt to defend the individuality of 
human cultures against those cultures themselves. Moreover, 
it is extremely difficult for an ethnologist to assess at its true 
value such a phenomenon as the universal acceptance of 
Western civilization. There are several reasons for this fact. 
In the first place, there has probably never before in history 
been a world civilization or, if any paralled does exist, it 
must be sought in remote pre-historic times, about which 
we know practically nothing. Secondly, there is very con- 
siderable doubt about the permanence of this phenomenon. 
It is a fact that for the past 150 years there has been a tendency 
for Western civilization to spread throughout the world, either 


in its entirety or by the development of certain of its key 
features, such as industrialization; and that, where other 
cultures are seeking to preserve some part of their traditional 
heritage, the attempt is usually confined to the superstructure 
of society, thet is to say, to the least enduring aspects of a 
culture, v\^hich it may be expected will be swept away by the 
far more radical changes which are taking place. The process 
is still going on, however, and we cannot yet know what the 
result will be. Will it end in the complete westernization of 
our planet, with Russian or American variations? Will 
syncretic forms come into being, as seems possible so far as 
the Islamic world, India and China, are concerned.!^ Or is the 
tide already on the turn and will it now ebb back, before the 
imminent collapse of the Western world, brought to ruin, 
like the prehistoric monsters, by a physical expansion out of 
proportion to the structure on which their working depends? 
We must take all these possibilities into account in attempting 
to assess the process going on under our eyes, whose agents, 
instruments or victims we are, whether we know it or not. 

In the first place, we may note that acceptance of the 
Western way of life, or certain aspects of it, is by no means 
as spontaneous as Westerners would like to believe. It is less 
the result of free choice than of the absence of any alternative. 
W^estern civilization has stationed its soldiers, trading posts, 
plantations and missionaries throughout the world; directly 
or indirectly it has intervened in the lives of the coloured 
peoples; it has caused a revolutionary upheaval in their tra- 
ditional way of life, either by imposing its own customs, or by 
creating such conditions as to cause the collapse of the existing 
native patterns without putting anything else in their place. 
The subjugated and disorganized peoples have therefore had 
no choice but to accept the substitute solutions offered them 
or, if they were not prepared to do that, to seek to imitate 
Western ways sufficiently to be able to fight them on their 
own ground. When the balance of power is not so unequal, 
societies do not so easily surrender; their Weltanschauung 
tends rather to be similar to that of this poor tribe in eastern 
Brazil, whose members adopted the ethnographer, Curt 
Nimuendaju, as one of themselves and who, whenever he 
returned to them after a visit to civilization, would weep for 
pity to think of the sufferings he must have endured so far 
away from the only place — their village — where, in their 
opinion, life was worth living. 

Nevertheless, this reservation merely shifts the question to 


another point. If Western culture's claim to superiority is 
not founded upon free acceptance, must it not be founded 
upon its greater vitality and energy, which have enabled it 
to compel acceptance? Here we are down to bedrock. For this 
inequality of force is not to be accounted for by the subjective 
attitude of the community as a whole, as was the acceptance 
we were discussing above. It is an objective fact, and can only 
be explained by objective causes. 

This is not the place to embark on a study of the philosophy 
of civilization; volumes might be devoted to a discussion of 
the nature of the values professed by Western civilization. 
We shall deal only with the most obvious of those values, 
those that are least open to question. They would seem to be 
two: in the first place, to borrow Dr. Leslie White's phrase. 
Western civilization seeks continually to increase the per 
capita supply of energy; secondly, it seeks to protect and 
prolong human life. To put the matter in a nutshell, the 
second aspect may be regarded as a derivative of the first, since 
the absolute quantity of energy available increases in propor- 
tion to the length and health of the individual life. For the 
sake of avoiding argument, we may also admit at once that 
compensatory phenomena, acting, as it were, as a brake, may 
go with these developments, such as the great slaughters of 
world warfare and the inequalities in the consumption of 
available energy between individuals and classes. 

Once this is admitted, it is immediately apparent that, while 
Western civilization may indeed have devoted itself to these 
forms of development, to the exclusion of all others — wherein 
perhaps its weakness lies — it is certainly not the only civi- 
lization which has done so. All human societies, from the 
earliest times, have acted in the same way: and very early and 
primitive societies, which we should be inclined to compare 
with the "barbarian" peoples of today, made the most decisive 
advances in this respect. At present, their achievements still 
constitute the bulk of what we call civilization. We are still 
dependent upon the tremendous discoveries which marked the 
phase we describe, without the slightest exaggeration, as the 
neolithic revolution: agriculture, stock-rearing, pottery, weav- 
ing. In the last eight or ten thousand years, all we have done 
is to improve all these "arts of civilization". 

Admittedly, some people exhibit an unfortunate tendency 
to regard only the more recent discoveries as brought about 
by human effort, intelligence and imagination, while the 
discoveries humanity made in the "barbarian" period are 


regarded as due to chance, so that, upon the whole, humanity 
can claim little credit for them. This error seems to us so 
common and so serious, and is so likely to prevent a proper 
appreciation of the relations between cultures, that we think 
it essential to clear it up at once and for all. 



Treatises on ethnology, including some of the best, tell us that 
man owes his knowledge of fire to the accident of lightning 
or of a bush fire; that the discovery of a wild animal 
accidentally roasted in such circumstances revealed to him 
the possibility of cooking his food; and that the invention of 
pottery was the result of someone's leaving a lump of clay 
near a fire. The conclusion seems to be that man began his 
career in a sort of technological golden age, when inventions 
could, as it were, be picked off the trees as easily as fruit or 
flowers. Only modern man would seem to find it necessary 
to strain and toil; only to modern man would genius seem to 
grant a flash of insight. 

This naive attitude is the result of a complete failure to 
appreciate the complexity and diversity of operations involved 
in even the most elementary technical processes. To make 
a useful stone implement, it is not enough to keep on striking 
a piece of flint until it splits; this became quite apparent when 
people first tried to reproduce the main types of prehistoric 
tools. That attempt — in conjunction with observation of the 
same methods still in use among certain native peoples — 
taught us that the processes involved are extremely com- 
plicated, necessitating, in some cases, the prior manufacture 
of veritable "chipping tools"; hammers with a counterweight 
to control the impact and direction of the blow; shock- 
absorbers to prevent the vibration from shattering the flake. 
A considerable body of knowledge about the local origin of 
the materials employed, the processes of extracting them, their 
resistance and structure, is also necessary; so is a certain 
mu.scular skill and "knack", acquired by training; in short, 
the manufacture of such tools calls for a "lithurgy" matching, 
mutatis mutandis, the various main divisions of metal- 

Similarly, while a natural conflagration might on occasion 
broil or roast a carcass, it is very hard to imagine (except in 
the case of volcanic eruptions, which are restricted to a rela- 
tively small number of areas in the world) that it could suggest 


boiling or steaming food. The latter methods of cooking, 
however, are no less universally employed than the others. 
There is, therefore, no reason for ruling out invention, which 
must certainly have been necessary for the development of 
the latter methods, when trying to explain the origin of the 

Pottery is a very good instance, for it is commonly believed 
that nothing could be simpler than to hollow out a lump of 
clay and harden it in the fire. We can only suggest trying it. 
In the first place, it is essential to find clays suitable for baking; 
but while many natural conditions are necessary for this 
purpose, none of them is sufficient in itself, for no clay would, 
after baking, produce a receptable suitable for use unless 
it were mixed with some inert body chosen for its special 
properties. Elaborate modelling techniques are necessary to 
make possible the achievement of keeping in shape for some 
time a plastic body which will not "hold" in the natural state, 
and simultaneously to mould it; lastly, it is necessary to 
discover the particular type of fuel, the sort of furnace, the 
degree of heat, and the duration of the baking process which 
will make the clay hard and impermeable and avoid the 
manifold dangers of cracking, crumbling and distortion. Many 
other instances might be quoted. 

There are far too many complicated operations involved for 
chance to account for all. Each one by itself means nothing, 
and only deliberate imaginative combination, based on 
research and experiment, can make success possible. Chance 
admittedly has an influence, but, by itself, produces no result. 
For about 2,500 years, the Western world knew of the existence 
of electricity — which was no doubt discovered by accident — 
but that discovery bore no fruit until Ampere and Faraday and 
others set deliberately to work on the hypotheses they had for- 
mulated. Chance played no more important a part in the 
invention of the bow, the boomerang or the blow-pipe, in the 
development of agriculture or stock-rearing, than in the 
discovery of penicillin, into which, of course, we know it 
entered to some extent. We must therefore distinguish carefully 
between the transmission of a technique from one generation 
to another, which is always relatively easy, as it is brought 
about by daily observation and training, and the invention and 
improvement of new techniques by each individual generation. 
The latter always necessitate the same power of imagination 
and the same tireless efforts on the part of certain individuals, 
whatever may be the particular technique in question. The 


societies we describe as "primitive" have as many Pasteurs 
and Palissys as the others. 

We shall shortly come back to chance and probability, but 
in a different position and a different role; we shall not 
advance them as a simple explanation for the appearance of 
full-blown inventions, but as an aid to the interpretation of 
a phenomenon found in another connexion — the fact that, in 
spite of our having every reason to suppose that the quantity of 
imagination, inventive power and creative energy has been 
more or less constant throughout the history of mankind, the 
combination has resulted in important cultural mutations 
only at certain periods and in certain places. Purely personal 
factors are not enough to account for this result: a sufficient 
number of individuals must first be psychologically pre- 
disposed in a given direction, to ensure the inventor's 
immediate appeal to the public; this condition itself depends 
upon the combination of a considerable number of other 
historical, economic and sociological factors. We should thus 
be led, in order to explain the differences in the progress of 
civilizations, to invoke so many complex and unrelated causes 
that we could have no hope of understanding them, either for 
practical reasons, or even for theoretical reasons, such as the 
inevitable disturbances provoked by the very use of mass 
observation methods. In order to untangle such a skein of 
countless filaments, it would in fact be necessary to submit 
the society in question (and the surrounding world) to a 
comprehensive ethnographical study covering every moment 
of its life. Even apart from the enormous scope of the 
undertaking, we know that ethnographers working on an 
infinitely smaller scale often find their opportunities for 
observation limited by the subtle changes introduced by their 
very presence in the human group they are studying. Wc 
also know that, in modern societies, one of the most efficient 
methods of sounding reactions — public opinion polls — tend 
to modify opinion at the same time, since they introduce 
among the population a factor which Avas previously absent — 
awareness of their own opinions. 

This justifies the introduction into the social sciences of 
the concept of probability, which has long since been recog- 
nized in certain branches of physics, e.g. thermodynamics. We 
shall return to this question; for the time being we may 
content ourselves with a reminder that the complexity of 
modern discoveries is not the result of the more common 
occurrence or better supply of genius among our contem- 


poraries. Rather the reveise, since we have seen that, through 
the centuries, the progress of each generation depends merely 
on its adding a constant contribution to the capital inherited 
from earlier generations. Nine-tenths of our present wealth 
is due to our predecessors — even more if the date when the 
main discoveries made their appearance is assessed in relation 
to the approximate date of the dawn of civilization. We then 
find that agriculture was developed during a recent phase, 
representing 2 per cent of that period of time; metallurgy 
would represent 0.7 per cent, the alphabet 0.35 per cent, 
Galileo's physics 0.035 per cent and Darwin's theories 
0.009 per cent.^ The whole of the scientific and industrial 
revolution of the West would therefore fall within a period 
equivalent to approximately one-half of one-thousandth of 
the life span of humanity to date. Some caution therefore 
seems advisable in asserting that this revolution is destined 
to change the whole meaning of human history. 

It is nevertheless true — and this we think finally sums 
up our problem — that, from the point of view of technical 
inventions (and the scientific thought which makes such 
inventions possible) , Western civilization has proved itself to 
be more "cumulative" than other civilizations. Starting with 
the same initial stock of neolithic culture, it successfully 
introduced a number of improvements (alphabetic script, 
arithmetic and geometry), some of which, incidentally, it 
rapidly forgot; but, after a period of stagnation, lasting roughly 
for 2,000 or 2,500 years (from the first millenary b.c. until 
approximately the eighteenth century a.d.), it suddenly pro- 
duced an industrial revolution so wide in scope, so com- 
prehensive and so far-reaching in its consequences that 
the only previous comparison was the neolithic revolution 

Twice in its history, at an interval of approximately 
10,000 years, then, humanity has accumulated a great number 
of inventions tending in the same direction; enough such 
inventions, exhibiting a sufficient degree of continuity have 
come close enough together in time for technical co-ordination 
to take place at a high level; this co-ordination has brought 
about important changes in man's relations with nature, 
w^hich, in their turn, have made others possible. This process, 
which has so far occurred twice, and only twice, in the history 
of humanity, may be illustrated by the simile of a chain 

1. Leslie A. White, The Science of Culture, New York, 1949, p. 356. 


reaction brought about by catalytic agents. What can account 
for it? 

First of all, we must not overlook the fact that other revolu- 
tions with the same cumulative features may have occurred else- 
where and at other times, but in different spheres of human 
activity. We have explained above why our own industrial 
revolution and the neolithic revolution (which preceded it 
in time but concerned similar matters) are the only groups 
of events which we can appreciate as revolutions, because they 
are measurable by our criteria. All the other changes which 
have certainly come about are only partially perceptible to us, 
or are seriously distorted in our eyes. They cannot have any 
meaning for modern Western man (or, at all events, not their 
full meaning); they may even be invisible to him. 

Secondly, the case of the neolithic revolution (the only one 
which modern Western man can visualize clearly enough) 
should suggest a certain moderation of the claims he may be 
tempted to make concerning the preeminence of any given 
race, region or country. The industrial revolution began in 
Western Europe, moving on to the United States of America 
and then to Japan; since 1917 it has been gathering momentum 
in the Soviet Union, and in the near future, no doubt, we 
shall see it in progress elsewhere; now here, now there, within 
a space of 50 years, it flares up or dies down. What then of the 
claims to be first in the field, on which we pride ourselves so 
much, when we have to take into account thousands upon 
thousands of years .^ 

The neolithic revolution broke out simultaneously, to within 
1,000 or 2,000 years, around the Aegean, in Egypt, the Near 
East, the 'Valley of the Indus, and China; and since radio- 
active carbon has been used for determining archaeological 
ages, we are beginning to suspect that the neolithic age in 
America is older than we used to think and cannot have 
begun much later than in the Old World. It is probable that 
three or four small valleys might claim to have led in the 
race by a few centuries. What can we know of that today? On 
the other hand, we are certain that the question of who was 
first matters not at all, for the very reason that the simul- 
taneity of the same technological upheavals (closely followed 
by social upheavals) over such enormous stretches of territory, 
so remote from one another, is a clear indication that they 
resulted not from the genius of a given race or culture but from 
conditions so generally operative that they are beyond the con- 
scious sphere of man's thought. We can therefore be sure 


that, if the industrial revolution had not begun in North- 
western Europe, it would have come about at some other 
time in a different part of the world. And if, as seems 
probable, it is to extend to cover the whole of the inhabited 
globe, every culture will introduce into it so many contri- 
butions of its own that future historians, thousands of years 
hence, will quite rightly think it pointless to discuss the 
question of which culture can claim to have led the rest 100 
or 200 years. 

If this is admitted, we need to introduce a new qualification, 
if not of the truth, at least of the precision of our distinction 
between stationary history and cumulative history. Not only 
is this distinction relative to our own interests, as we have 
already shown, but it can never be entirely clear cut. So far 
as technical inventions are concerned, it is quite certain 
that no period and no culture is absolutely stationary. All 
peoples have a grasp of techniques, which are sufficiently 
elaborate to enable them to control their environment and 
adapt, improve or abandon these techniques as they proceed. 
If it were not so, they would have disappeared long since. 
There is thus never a clear dividing line between "cumulative" 
and "non-cumulative" history; all history is cumulative and 
the difference is simply of degree. We know, for instance, 
that the ancient Chinese and the Eskimos had developed the 
mechanical arts to a very high pitch; they very nearly reached 
the point at which the "chain reaction" would set in and carry 
them from one type of civilization to another. Everyone knows 
the story of gunpowder; from the technical point of view, 
the Chinese had solved all the problems involved in its use 
save that of securing a large-scale effect. The ancient Mexicans 
were not ignorant of the wheel, as is often alleged; they were 
perfectly familiar with it in the manufacture of toy animals on 
wheels for children to play with; they merely needed to take 
one more step forward to have the use of the cart. 

In these circumstances, the problem of the relatively small 
number (for each individual system of criteria) of "more 
cumulative" cultures, as compared with the "less cumulative" 
cultures, comes down to a problem familiar in connexion with 
the theory of probabilities. It is the problem of determining 
the relative probability of a complex combination, as com- 
pared with other similar but less complex combinations. In 
roulette, for instance, a series of two consecutive numbers 
(such as 7 and 8, 12 and 13, 30 and 31) is quite 
frequent; a series of three is rarer, and a series of four 


very much more so. And it is only once in a very large 
number of spins that a series of six, seven or eight numbers 
may occur in their natural order. If our attention is con- 
centrated exclusively on the long series (if, for instance, we 
are betting on series of five consecutive numbers), the shorter 
series will obviously mean no more to us than a non-con- 
secutive series. But this is to overlook the fact that they differ 
from the series in which we are interested only by a fraction 
and that, when viewed from another angle, they may display 
a similar degree of regularity. We may carry our comparison 
further. Any player who transferred all his winnings to longer 
and longer series of numbers might grow discouraged, after 
thousands and millions of tries, at the fact that no series of 
nine consecutive numbers ever turned up, and might come to 
the conclusion that he would have been better advised to stop 
earlier. Yet there is no reason why another player, following 
the same system but with a different type of series (such as 
a certain alternation between red and black or between odd 
and even) might not find significant combinations where the 
first player would see nothing but confusion. Mankind is not 
developing along a single line. And if, in one sphere, it appears 
to be stationary or even retrograde, that does not mean that, 
from another point of view, important changes may not be 
taking place in it. 

The great eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, Hume, 
set out one day to clear up the mistaken problem which has 
puzzled many people, why not all women, but only a small 
minority, are pretty. He had no difficulty in showing that 
the question means nothing at all. If all women were at least 
as pretty as the most beautiful woman of our acquaintance, 
we should think they were all ordinary and should reserve 
the adjective for the small minority who surpassed the average. 
Similarly, when we are interested in a certain type of progress, 
we restrict the term "progressive" to those cultures which 
are in the van in that type of development, and pay little 
attention to the others. Progress thus never represents 
anything more than the maximum progress in a given direc- 
tion, pre-determined by the interests of the observer. 



Lastly, there is one more point of view from which we must 
consider our problem. A gambler such as we have discussed 
in the preceding paragraphs, who placed his bets only upon 
the longest series (however arranged), would almost certainly 
be ruined. But this would not be so if there were a coalition of 
gamblers betting on the same series at several different tables, 
with an agreement that they would pool the numbers which 
each of them might reqpiire to proceed with his series. For 
if I, for instance, have already got 21 and 22 myself, and need 
23 to go on, there is obviously more chance of its turning up 
if 10 tables, instead of only one, are in play. 

The situation of the various cultures which have achieved 
the most cumulative forms of history is very similar. Such 
history has never been produced by isolated cultures but by 
cultures which, voluntarily or involuntarily, have combined 
their play and, by a wide variety of means (migration, 
borrowing, trade and warfare), have formed such coalitions 
as we have visualized in our example. This brings out very 
clearly the absurdity of claiming that one culture is superior 
to another. For, if a culture were left to its own resources, it 
could never hope to be "superior"; like the single gambler, 
it would never manage to achieve more than short series of a 
few units, and the prospect of a long series' turning up in its 
history (though not theoretically impossible) would be so 
slight that all hope of it would depend on the ability to con- 
tinue the game for a time infinitely longer than the whole 
period of human history to date. But, as we said above, no 
single culture stands alone; it is always part of a coalition 
including other cultures, and, for that reason, is able to 
build up cumulative series. The probability of a long series' 
appearing naturally depends on the scope, duration and 
variation allowed for in the organization of the coalition. 

Two consequences follow. 

In the course of this study, we have several times raised the 
question why mankind remained stationary for nine-tenths 
or even more of its history; the earliest civilizations date back 


from 200,000 to 500,000 years, while living conditions have 
been transformed only in the last 10,000 years. If we are 
correct in our analysis, the reason was not that palaeolithic 
man was less intelligent or less gifted than his neolithic 
successor, but simply that, in human history, the combination 
took a time to come about; it might have occurred much 
earlier or much later. There is no more significance in this 
than there is in the number of spins a gambler has to wait 
before a given combination is produced; it might happen at 
the first spin, the thousandth, the millionth or never. But, 
throughout that time of waiting, humanity, like the gambler, 
goes on betting. Not always of its own free will, and not 
always appreciating exactly what it is doing, it "sets up 
business" in culture, embarks on "operation civilization", 
achieving varying measures of success in each of its under- 
takings. In some cases, it very nearly succeeds, in others, it 
endangers its earlier gains. The great simplifications which 
are permissible because of our ignorance of most aspects of 
prehistoric societies help to illustrate more closely this 
hesitant progress, with its manifold ramifications. There can 
be no more striking examples of regression than the descent 
from the peak of Levallois culture to the mediocrity of the 
Mousterian civilization, or from the splendour of the Auri- 
gnacian and Solutrean cultures to the rudeness of the Magda- 
lenean, and to the extreme contrasts we find in the various 
aspects of mesolithic culture. 

What is true in time is equally true in space, although it 
must be expressed in a different way. A culture's chance of 
uniting the complex body of inventions of all sorts which 
we describe as a civilization depends on the number and 
diversity of the other cultures with which it is working out, 
generally involuntarily, a common strategy. Number and 
diversity: a comparison of the Old World with the New on 
the eve of the latter 's discovery provides a good illustration 
of the need for these two factors. 

Europe at the beginning of the Renaissance was the meeting- 
place and melting-pot of the most diverse influences: the 
Greek, Roman, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon traditions com- 
bined with the influences of Arabia and China. Pre-Columbian 
America enjoyed no fewer cultural contacts, quantitatively 
speaking, as the various American cultures maintained relations 
with one another and the two Americas together represent a 
whole hemisphere. But, while the cultures which were cross- 
fertilizing each other in Europe had resulted from diffcren- 


tiation dating back several tens of thousands of years, those 
on the more recently occupied American continent had had 
less time to develop divergences; the picture they offered was 
relatively homogeneous. Thus, although it would not be true 
to say that the cultural standard of Mexico or Peru was 
inferior to that of Europe at the time of the discovery (we 
have in fact seen that, in some respects, it was superior), the 
various aspects of culture were possibly less well organized 
in relation to each other. Side by side with amazing achieve- 
ments, we find strange deficiencies in the pre-Columbian 
civilizations; there are, so to speak, gaps in them. They also 
afford evidence of the coexistence — not so contradictory as 
it may seem — of relatively advanced forms of culture with 
others which were abortive. Their organization, less flexible 
and diversified, probably explains their collapse before a 
handful of conquerors. And the underlying reason for this 
may be sought in the fact that the partners to the American 
cultural "coalition" were less dissimilar from one another 
than their counterparts in the Old World. 

No society is therefore essentially and intrinsically cumu- 
lative. Cumulative history is not the prerogative of certain 
races or certain cultures, marking them off from the rest. 
It is the result of their conduct rather than their Jiature. It 
represents a certain "way of life" of cultures which depends 
on their capacity to "go-along-together". In this sense, it may 
be said that cumulative history is the type of history charac- 
teristic of grouped societies — social super-organisms — while 
stationary history (supposing it to exist) would be the 
distinguishing feature of an inferior form of social life, the 
isolated society. 

The one real calamity, the one fatal flaw which can afflict a 
group of men and prevent them from fulfilment is to be alone. 

We can thus see how clumsy and intellectually unsatisfactory 
the generally accepted efforts to defend the contributions of 
various human races and cultures to civilization often are. 
We list features, we sift questions of origin, we allot first 
places. However well-intentioned they may be, these efforts 
serve no purpose, for, in three respects, they miss their aim. 
In the first place, there can never be any certainty about a 
particular culture's credit for an invention or discovery. For 
100 years, it was firmly believed that maize had been produced 
by the American Indians, by crossing wild grasses; this 
explanation is still accepted for the time being, but there is 
increasing doubt about it, for it may well be, after all, that 


maize was introduced into America (we cannot tell when 
or how) from South-East Asia. 

In the second place, all cultural contributions can be divided 
into two groups. On the one hand, we have isolated acqui- 
sitions or features, whose importance is evident but which are 
also somewhat limited. It is a fact that tobacco came from 
America; but after all, and despite the best efforts of inter- 
national institutions, we cannot feel overwhelmed with 
gratitude to the American Indians every time we smoke a 
cigarette. Tobacco is a delightful adjunct to the art of living, 
as other adjuncts are useful (such as rubber) ; we are indebted 
to these things for pleasures and conveniences we should not 
otherwise enjoy, but if we were deprived of them, our civi- 
lization would not rock on its foundations and, had there been 
any pressing need, we could have found them for ourselves 
or substituted something else for them. 

At the other end of the scale (with a whole series of inter- 
mediates, of course), there are systematized contributions, 
representing the peculiar form in which each society has 
chosen to express and satisfy the generality of human 
aspirations. There is no denying the originality and particularity 
of these patterns, but, as they all represent the exclusive choice 
of a single group, it is difficult to see how one civilization can 
hope to benefit from the way of life of another, unless it is 
prepared to renounce its own individuality. Attempted com- 
promises are, in fact, likely to produce only two results: either 
the disorganization and collapse of the pattern of one of the 
groups; or a new combination, which then, however, represents 
the emergence of a third pattern, and cannot be assimilated 
to either of the others. The question with which we are con- 
cerned, indeed, is not to discover whether or not a society 
can derive benefit from the way of life of its neighbours, but 
whether, and if so to what extent, it can succeed in under- 
standing or even in knowing them. We have already seen that 
there can be no definite reply to this question. 

Finally, wherever a contribution is made, there must be a 
recipient. But, while there are in fact real cultures which can 
be localized in time and space, and which may be said to 
have "contributed" and to be continuing their contributions, 
what can this "world civilization" be, which is supposed to 
be the recipient of all these contributions.!^ It is not another 
civilization distinct from all the others, and yet real in the 
same sense that they are. When we speak of world civilization, 
we have in mind no single period, no single group of men: 


we are employing an abstract conception, to which we 
attribute a moral or logical significance — moral, if we are 
thinking of an aim to be pursued by existing societies; logical, 
if we are using the one term to cover the common features 
which analysis may reveal in the different cultures. In both 
cases, we must not shut our eyes to the fact that the concept 
of world civilization is very sketchy and imperfect, and that 
its intellectual and emotional content is tenuous. To attempt 
to assess cultural confribulions with all the weight of count- 
less centuries behind them, rich with the thoughts and 
sorrows, hopes and toil of the men and women who brought 
them into being, by reference to the sole yard-stick of a world 
civilization which is still a hollow shell, would be greatly to 
impoverish them, draining away their life-blood and leaving 
nothing but the bare bones behind. 

We have sought, on the contrary, to show that the true 
contribution of a culture consists, not in the list of inventions 
which it has personally produced, but in its difference from 
others. The sense of gratitude and respect which each single 
member of a given culture can and should feel towards all 
others can only be based on the conviction that the other 
cultures differ from his own in countless ways, even if the 
ultimate essence of these differences eludes him or if, in spite 
of his best efforts, he can reach no more than an imperfect 
understanding of them. 

Secondly, Ave have taken the notion of world civilization as 
a sort of limiting concept or as an epitome of a highly complex 
process. If our arguments are valid, there is not, and can 
never be, a world civilization in the absolute sense in which 
that term is often used, since civilization implies, and indeed 
consists in, the coexistence of cultures exhibiting the maxi- 
mum possible diversities. A world civilization could, in fact, 
represent no more than a world-wide coalition of cultures, 
each of which would preserve its oAvn originality. 



We thus surely find ourselves faced with a curious paradox. 

Taking the terms in the sense in which we have been using 
them above, we have seen that all cultural progress depends 
on a coalition of cultures. The essence of such a coalition is 
the pooling (conscious or unconscious, voluntary or invo- 
luntary, deliberate or accidental, on their own initiative or 
under compulsion) of the w^ins which each culture has scored 
in the course of its historical development. Lastly, we have 
recognized, that, the greater the diversity between the cultures 
concerned, the more fruitful such a coalition will be. If this 
is admitted, we seem to have two conditions which are 
mutually contradictory. For the inevitable consequence of the 
practice of playing as a syndicate, which is the source of all 
progress, is, sooner or later, to make the character of each 
player's resources uniform. If, therefore, one of the first 
requisites is diversity, it must be recognized that the chances 
of winning become progressively less as the game goes on. 

There are, it would seem, two possibilities of remedying this 
inevitable development. The first would be for each player 
deliberately to introduce differences in his own game; this 
is possible, because each society (the "player" in our 
hypothetical illustration) consists of a coalition of denomi- 
national, professional and economic groups, and because the 
society's stake is the sum total of the stakes of all these con- 
stituent groups. Social inequalities are the most striking 
instance of this solution. The great revolutions we have chosen 
to illustrate our argument — the neolithic and the industrial — 
were accompanied not only by the introduction of diversity 
into the body of society, as Spencer perceived, but by the 
introduction of differences in status between the several groups, 
particularly from the economic point of view. It was noted 
a long time ago that the discoveries of the neolithic age rapidly 
brought about social differentiation, as the great cities of 
ancient times grew up in the East, and States, castes and 
classes appeared on the scene. The same applies to the indus- 
trial revolution, which was conditioned by the emergence of 


a proletariat and is leading on to new and more elaborate 
forms of exploiting human labour. Hitherto, the tendency has 
been to treat these social changes as the consequence of the 
technical changes, the relation of the latter to the former 
being that of cause and effect. If we are right in our inter- 
pretation, this causality (and the succession in time which 
it implies) must be rejected — as, incidentally, is the general 
trend in modern science — in favour of a functional correlation 
between the two phenomena. We may note in passing that 
recognition of the fact that the historical concomitant of 
technical progress has been the development of the exploi- 
tation of man by man may somewhat temper the pride we 
are so apt to take in the first of these developments. 

The second remedy is very largely modelled on the first: 
it is to bring into the coalition, whether they will or no, new 
partners from outside, whose "stakes" are very different from 
those of the parties to the original coalition. This solution has 
also been tried and, while the first may roughly be identified 
with capitalism, the second may well be illustrated by the 
history of imperialism and colonialism. The colonial expansion 
of the nineteenth century gave industrial Europe a fresh 
impetus (which admittedly benefited other parts of the world 
as well) whereas, but for the introduction of the colonial 
peoples, the momentum might have been lost much sooner. 

It will be apparent that, in both ca-ses, the remedy consists 
in broadening the coalition, either by increasing internal 
diversity or by admitting new partners; in fact, the problem 
is always to increase the number of players or, in other words, 
to restore the complexity and diversity of the original situation. 
It is also apparent, however, that these remedies can only 
temporarily retard the process. Exploitation is possible only 
within a coalition; there is contact and interchange between 
the major and the minor parties. They, in turn, in spite of 
the apparently unilateral relationship between them, are 
bound, consciously or unconsciously, to pool their stakes and, 
as time goes by, the differences between them will tend to 
diminish. This process is illustrated by the social improve- 
ments that are being brought about and the gradual attainment 
of independence by the colonial peoples; although we have 
still far to go in both these directions, we must know that 
the trend of developments is inevitable. It may be that the 
emergence of antagonistic political and social systems should, 
in fact, be regarded as a third solution; conceivably, by a 
constant shifting of the grounds of diversity, it may be 


possible to maintain indefinitely, in varying forms which will 
constantly take men unawares, that state of disequilibrium 
which is necessary for the biological and cultural survival of 

However this may be, it is difficult to conceive as other 
than contradictory a process which may be sximmed up as 
follows: if men are to progress, they must collaborate; and, 
in the course of their collaboration, the differences in their 
contributions will gradually be evened out, although col- 
laboration was originally necessary and advantageous simply 
because of those differences. 

Even if there is no solution, however, it is the sacred duty 
of mankind to bear these two contradictory facts in mind, 
and never to lose sight of the one through an exclusive con- 
cern with the other; man must, no doubt, guard against the 
blind particularism which would restrict the dignity of 
humankind to a single race, culture or society; but he must 
never forget, on the other hand, that no section of humanity 
has succeeded in finding universally applicable formulae, and 
that it is impossible to imagine mankind pursuing a single way 
of life for, in such a case, mankind would be ossified. 

From this point of view our international institutions have 
a tremendous task before them and bear a very heavy res- 
ponsibility. Both task and responsibility are more complex 
than is thought. For our international institutions have a 
double part to play; they have firstly, to wind up the past and, 
secondly to issue a summons to fresh activity: In the first 
place, they have to assist mankind to get rid, with as little 
discomfort and danger as possible, of those diversities now 
serving no useful purpose, the abortive remnants of forms of 
collaboration whose putrefying vestiges represent a constant 
risk of infection to the body of international society. They 
will have to cut them out, resorting to amputation where 
necessary, and foster the development of other forms of 

At the same time, they must never for a moment lose sight 
of the fact that, if these new forms are to have the same 
functional value as the earlier forms, they cannot be merely 
copied or modelled on the same pattern; if they were, they 
would gradually lose their efficacy, until in the end they 
would be of no use at all. International institutions must be 
aware, on the contrary, that mankind is rich in unexpected 
resources, each of which, on first appearance, will always 
amaze men; that progress is not a comfortable "bettering of 


what we have", in which we might look for an indolent 
repose, but is a succession of adventures, partings of the way, 
and constant shocks. Humanity is forever involved in two 
conflicting currents, the one tending towards unification, and 
the other towards the maintenance or restoration of diversity. 
As a result of the position of each period or culture in the 
system, as a result of the way it is facing, each thinks that 
only one of these two currents represents an advance, while 
the other appears to be the negation of the first. But we 
should be purblind if we said, as we might be tempted to do, 
that humanity is constantly unmaking what it makes. For, 
in different spheres and at different levels, both currents are 
in truth two aspects of the same process. 

The need to preserve the diversity of cultures in a world 
which is threatened by monotony and uniformity has surely 
not escaped our international institutions. They must also be 
aware that it is not enough to nurture local traditions and 
to save the past for a short period longer. It is diversity itself 
which must be saved, not the outward and visible form in 
which each period has clothed that diversity, and which can 
never be preserved beyond the period which gave it birth. 
We must therefore hearken for the stirrings of new life, foster 
latent potentialities, and encourage every natural inclination 
for collaboration which the future history of the world may 
hold; we must also be prepared to view without surprise, 
repugnance or revolt whatever may strike us as strange in the 
many new forms of social expression. Tolerance is not a 
contemplative attitude, dispensing indulgence to what has 
been or what is still in being. It is a dynamic attitude, con- 
sisting in the anticipation, understanding and promotion of 
what is struggling into being. We can see the diversity of 
human cultures behind us, around us, and before us. The 
only demand that we can justly make (entailing corresponding 
duties for every individual) is that all the forms this diversity 
may take may be so many contributions to the fullness of 
all the others. 



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2nd ed. Paris, 1884. 
Hawkes, C. F. C, Prehistoric Foundations of Europe, London, 

Herskovits, M. J., Man and his Works, New York, 1948. 
Kroeber, a. L., Anthropology, new ed.. New York, 1948. 
Leroi-Gourhan, a., L' Homme et la matiere, Paris, 1943. 
Linton, R., The Study of Man, New York, 1936. 
Moraze, Ch., Essai sur la civilisation d'occident, VoL L, Paris, 

PiRENNE, J., Les grands courants de I'histoire universelle. 

Vol. 1., Paris 1947. 
Pittard, E., Les races et I'histoire, Paris, 1922. 
Spengler, 0., The Decline of the West, New York, 1927-28. 
ToYNBEE, A. J., A Study of History, London, 1934. 
White, L. A., The Science of Culture, New York, 1949. 




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110 plates, with captions. 

THE story of the struggle for basic Human Rights is 
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