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The Pivot of Civilization


Catholic culture, and it will be a great misfortune if the issues
between the Old Civilization and the New are allowed to slip into the
deep ruts of religious controversies that are only accidentally and
intermittently parallel.
Cont rasted with the ancient civilization, with the Traditional
disposition, whic h accepts institutions and moral values as though
they were a part of nature, we have what I may call–with an evident
bias in its favour–the civilization of enquiry, of experimental
knowledge, Creative and Progressive Civilization. The first great
outbreak of the spirit of this civilization was in republican Greece;
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the martyrdom of Socrat es, the fearless Utopianism of Plato, the
ambitious encyclopaedism of Aristotle, mark the dawn of a new courage
and a new wilfulness in human aairs. The fear of set limitations,
of punitive and restrictive laws imposed by Fate upon human life was
visibly fading in human minds. These names mark the first clear
realization that to a large extent, and possibly to an illimitable
extent, man’s moral and social life and his general destiny could be
seized upon and controlled by man. But–he must have knowledge. Said
the Ancient Civilization–and it says it still through a multitude of
vigorous voices and harsh repressive acts: “Let man learn his duty
and obey.” Says the New Civilization, with ever-increasing
confidence: “Let man know, and trust him.”
For long ages, the Old Civilization kept the New subordinate,
apologetic and ineective, but for the last two centuries, the New
has fought its way to a position of cont entious equality. The two go
on side by side, jostling upon a thousand issues. The world changes,
the conditions of life change rapidly, through that development of
organized science which is the nat ural method of the New Civilization.
The old tradition demands that national loyalties and ancient
belligerence should continue. The new has produced means of
communication that break down the pens and separations of human life
upon which nationalist emotion depends. The old tradition insists
upon its ancient blood-letting of war; the new knowledge carries that
war to undreamt of levels of destruction. The ancient system needed
an unrestricted breeding to meet the normal waste of life through war,
pestilence, and a multitude of hitherto unpreventable diseases. The
new knowledge sweeps away the venerable checks of pestilence and
disease, and confronts us with the congestions and explosive dangers
of an over-populated world. The old tradition demands a special
prolific class doomed to labor and subservience; the new points to
mechanism and to scientific organization as a means of escape from
this immemorial sub jugation. Upon every main issue in life, there is
this quarrel between the method of submission and the method of
knowledge. More and more do men of science and intelligent people
generally realize the hopelessness of pouring new wine into old
bottles. More and more clearly do they grasp the significance of the
Great Teacher’s parable.
The New Civilization is saying to the Old now: “We cannot go on
making power for you to spend upon international conflict. You must
stop waving flags and bandying insults. You must organize the Peace of
the World; you must subdue yourselves to the Federation of all
mankind. And we cannot go on giving you health, freedom, enlargement,
limitless wealth, if all our gifts to you are to be swamped by an
indiscriminat e torrent of progeny. We want fewer and better children
who can be reared up to their full possibilities in unencumbered
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