By Charles A. Beard
TECHNOLOGICAL CIVILIZATION, by Charles A. Beard, in his Whither Mankind? , Longmans, Green and Company, publishers;reprinted in Lippmann and Nevins’s A Modern Reader, Boston, D.C.Heath and Company, 1936, pp. 166, 167.
Charles A. Beard （1874-1948）, American historian, taught politics at Columbia University from 1907 to 1917. He went to Japan in 1922 to direct the Institute for Municipal Research in Tokyo, and next year was adviser to Viscount Goto, Japanese Minister for Home Affairs, after the great earthquake. Thereafter he devoted himself to writing and to activity in the affairs of civic and learned organizations.
What is called Western or modern civilization by way of contrast with the civilization of the Orient or medieval times is at bottom a civilization that rests upon machinery and science as distinguished from one founded upon agriculture or handicraft commerce. It is in reality a technological civilization. It is only about two hundred years old, and, far from shrinking in its influence, is steadily extending its area into agriculture as well as handicrafts. If the records of patent offices, the statistics of production, and the reports of laboratories furnish evidence worthy of credence, technological civilization, instead of showing signs of contraction, threatens to overcome and transform the whole globe.
Considered with respect to its intrinsic nature, technological civilization presents certain precise characteristics. It rests fundamentally on power-driven machinery which transcends the physical limits of its human directors, multiplying indefinitely the capacity for the production of goods. Science in all its branches—physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology—is the servant and upholder of this system. The day of crude invention being almost over, continuous research in the natural sciences is absolutely necessary to the extension of the machine and its market, thus forcing continuously the creation of new goods, new processes, and new modes of life. As the money for learning comes in increasing proportions from taxes on industry and gifts by the captains of capitalism, a steady growth in scientific endowments is to be expected, and the scientific curiosity thus aroused and stimulated will hardly fail to expand—and to invade all fields of thought with a technique of ever-refining subtlety. Affording the demand for the output of industry are the vast populations of the globe; hence mass production and marketing are inevitable concomitants of the machine routine.
For the present, machine civilization is associated with capitalism, under which large-scale production has risen to its present stage, but machine civilization is by no means synonymous with capitalism—that ever-changing system of exploitation. While the acquisitive instinct of the capitalist who builds factories and starts mass production is particularly emphasized by economists and is, no doubt, a factor of immense moment, it must not be forgotten that the acquisitive passion of the earth’s multitudes for the goods, the comforts, and the securities of the classes is an equal, if not a more important, force, and in any case is likely to survive capitalism as we know it. Few choose nakedness when they can be clothed, the frosts of winter when they can be warm, or the misery of bacterial diseases when sanitation is offered to them. In fact, the ascetics and flagellants of the world belong nowhere in the main stream of civilization—and are of dubious utility and service in any civilization.
Though machine civilization has here been treated as if it were an order, it in fact differs from all others in that it is highly dynamic, containing within itself the seeds of constant reconstruction. Everywhere agricultural civilizations of the pre-machine age have changed only slowly with the fluctuations of markets, the fortunes of governments, and the vicissitudes of knowledge, keeping their basic institutions intact from century to century. Pre-machine urban civilizations have likewise retained their essential characteristics through long lapses of time. But machine civilization based on technology, science, invention, and expanding markets must of necessity change—and rapidly. The order of steam is hardly established before electricity invades it; electricity hardly gains a fair start before the internal combustion engine overtakes it. There has never been anywhere in the world any order comparable with it, and all analogies drawn from the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and the Orient are utterly inapplicable to its potentialities, offering no revelations as to its future.
technological civilization, a civilization that rests upon machinery, upon the industrial arts.
patent offices, the offices from which patents are issued. A patent is a government grant conferring to the inventor the exclusive privilege of making or selling a new invention.
intrinsic nature, nature of the thing in and of itself naturally; inherent nature; essential nature.
concomitants, accompanying things; things that go along together with.
capitalism, dominance exerted by private capitalists, persons who possess capital or funds used in production.
synonymous, identical or coextensive m sense and usage with another of the same language.
exploitation, utilizing others to serve one’s own ends; making undue use of others.
acquisitive instinct, innate impulse to acquire things.
ascetics, those who practice severe self-discipline; severe abstinents.
flagellants, those who scourge themselves, who flog themselves, to cleanse themselves of sin.
dynamic, active, potent, energetic.
fluctuations, irregular variations; rise and fall; lack of stability.
analogies, reasoning from parallel cases; drawing conclusions from cases which seem to agree or to be similar.
potentialities, capacity of coming into being or action; latent powers;possibilities.
- On what does modern or Western civilization rest?
- How do we know that this modern civilization is extending its area of influence?
- What precise characteristics does technological civilization present?
- What are inevitable concomitants of the machine routine?
- With what is technological civilization associated?
- Is the acquisitive instinct of the earth’s multitudes a more important force than the acquisitive instinct of the capitalist?
- In what way is machine civilization dynamic? What can we say of the future of this civilization?