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Example research essay topic: 19 Th Century Robinson Crusoe - 2,946 words

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... : religion. But, in a way, religion is also work and possession, working and possessing the minds. The island is transformed or civilised by Robinson. This does not even change when Robinson sees the first human beings, the cannibals.

The cannibals or the savages play the same role as the island; they represent both savagery and a point zero of civilization. From this point zero they can be tamed (in Robinson's own words) and turned into a copy of European civilization. This process is represented by the transformation of Friday from a cannibal to a copy of a European. Even Friday's speech is copied: "You do great deal much good, says he, you teach wild mans be good sober tarn mans; you tell them know God, pray God and live new life." [ 5 ]Note that he refers to himself as a wild man becoming a tarn man. When he speaks he does it within a copied European discourse.

He, in a way, apes the civilization process. Friday is attached to Robinson (as a servant and a child), but they never become equal. The reason for this is that civilization is located in Robinson. Only he can be the subject of this narrative of civilization. In this scheme there is only room for one civilization, the European. The civilization process must therefore be the taking into possession of metaphorically empty spaces.

In Montesquieu's Persian Letters we are presented with another scheme and another space. The novel (consisting mainly of letters written by the two Persian princes Rica and Usbek during their stay in France) is composed through inverting the traditional travel narrative: subjects are the two Persian princes travelling from Persia to Paris. The first person in the novel is an Oriental observing and describing Europeans. Montesquieu plays with the positions by constructing the European self as the Other's other. This enables him both to stage an encounter between two different civilizations (the Orientals being a civilised and learned observer of European manners), and to posit a non-possessive relation. The Orientals encounter the Europeans in discussions where they are on equal terms.

The force of European civilization is not linked to its power to transform, but rather to a certain seducing force. The Persian Princes become more and more attracted to Europe. In this process they loose their own magic or sense of belonging to another civilization. One of them, Rica, says it clearly: ."..

mon esprit per insensible ment tout ce qui lui reste d'asiatique, et se page sans effort aux moeurs europeans." [ 6 ]The other, Usbek, reacts by turning more and more towards the - from the point of view of Europe - negative sides of the Orient, the despotism which for Montesquieu is the antithesis of civilization. For both of them the end of their journey means being rooted in a specific culture. Civilization is not directly linked with Europe. It is something we might detect from Europe when analysing European manners. In this analysis we have to compare with other cultures in order to cut away the negative sides of culture.

In Montesquieu's text this process of cutting away is represented as a critique or lampoon of European institutions and manners. In the following passage the idea of a Christian mission in the New World is lampooned: "Cela est aussi ridicule, que si on voyage les European traveller, en favour de la nature humaine blanche le visage des African"[ 7 ]. This is actually a critique of the way civilization is understood in Robinson Crusoe. The seductive side of Europe, on the other hand, is represented by the growing self-criticism of one of the two princes (which is spurred on by his increasing contact with the autonomous French women - Montesquieu here as elsewhere turns traditional opinions upside-downs the Oriental women normally symbolizing the power of sexual attraction).

Instead of regarding civilization as a conquering and copying process Montesquieu treats it as a double process of detachment and fascination. Here the journey is a metaphor for the intellectual detachment that enables the observer to see the universal dimensions in European manners. Instead of Robinson's island we have here two 'neutral' observers through whom Montesquieu reveals the civilization in Europe. Here Civilization is not the power to transform, but the "inner principles" (as he calls it) such as justice and freedom underlying European life.

We are not presented with a confrontation between the civilised and the uncivilised, but between two cultures, the European being more fascinating, more seductive, and, therefore, closer to universal civilization. Civilization in a temporal perspective From the middle of the 18 th century focus turned from a spatial to a temporal configuration of civilization. Civilization became the structuring principle of world history, both its driving force and its end result - what Adam Ferguson called civil society (in his famous book An Essay on the History of Civil Society from 1767, which introduced the word civilization into the English language). The spatial meaning of civilization is not left out, but has to be placed within a temporal configuration. This is what Ferguson does when he places the so-called rude nations on a lower stage than civil society. As he says it: "They [humans] will be forever seperated into bands, and form a plurality of nations" and "The globe itself is traversed by degrees, and the history of every age, when past, is an accession of knowledge to those who succeed"[ 8 ].

Even though rude nations can be found in the present they must be compared to stages overcome by the European societies. A simple model can illustrate this: Progress is measured by the level of commercial and political refinement. Civil society at the end of the time line is located in the polished and commercial nations. The driving forces that lead to civil society are on the one hand knowledge (in Ferguson's words: Arts), on the other hand, virtue or the spirit of community. Here virtue is attached in a Machiavellian way directly to the community (the nation) and not to humanity as according to Mirabeau. So, in a way, what we have here is a specialization of social theory (through a language of community) that foreshadows later ideas of cultural roots.

Ferguson postulates a necessary relation between the two driving forces. Without arts there can be no progress. But without virtue progress can take a negative turn and instead become corruption. Virtue is necessary to avoid an abomination of society (along the lines of Adam Smith).

Virtue can be found in every nation, but the rude nations were mainly based on virtue, while the polished and commercial nations also have "arts." But leaning to much on "arts" create risk of a false civilization where refinement is superficial. The loss of virtue (or of masculinity) leads to what Ferguson calls effiminization (commerce turns into the quest for luxury) or to despotism (political rule without virtue empties the rule paving the way for dictatorship). Like Montesquieu, Ferguson constructs a position from where Europe can be critiqued. But this position is now placed within the historical development as a risk of negative civilization or corruption. The East or the Orient functions as a sort of mirror where the risk can be seen.

Spatially, Europe (or the West) is placed between the rude nations ("the wilds of America") and the despotic Orient. Both play a role as mirror for Europe. America as pure virtue without "arts" and the Orient as "arts" without virtue. Following Enlightenment thought Ferguson had to place Europe within a universal history.

With the break up of this paradigm in the 19 th century it became possible to give European civilization its own history. This is very clear in Franois Guizot's work Histoire grade de la civilisation en Europe from 1828. Guizot is writing in what we could call a Herderian paradigm in which cultures are seen as the foundation of the human community. Instead of having time frame nations as does Ferguson we now have cultures or spaces framing time or history. Culture is universal while history is particular, every history having its proper roots. Guizot is approaching Europe and civilization from two sides, both from a Fergusonian one where civilization is a universal principle, and from a Herderian one where the only universal principle is that every human is formed by his specific culture.

In his words .".. civilization is a sort of ocean, constituting the wealth of a people, and on whose bosom all the elements of the life of that people, all the powers supporting its existence, assemble and unite"[ 9 ]. But it is also possible to locate a specific European civilization: .".. it is evident that there is an European civilisation; that a certain unity pervades the civilization of the various European states... ." [ 10 ] Guizot is not interested in the general concept of civilization. He only uses it to produce a progressive movement in history. What he wants to work out is a specific European civilization that stems from its specific history and its division into specific nations.

Europe is "an aggregate civilization." Thus the specificity does not stop with Europe. Europe consists of nations that have their own proper interpretation of their European ness. This gives us a sort of three layer definition of civilization: a universal civilization related to progress in time; a European civilization related to the common roots of Europe; and finally national levels (Guizot talks about French and English The incorporation of the European level into the universal is formulated within a paradigm of universal history (where it is possible to speak of civilization as such). On the other hand, the interesting point for Guizot is not to detect a universal civilization, but to show Europe's quest for universal meaning. European history becomes such a quest or search.

This search goes through different epochs that are the same for all the nations. Each epoch is at the same time a step towards the final truth where Europe realises its universal potentials. The universal driving forces here are not arts and virtue, but politics and religion or morals that materialise in different European institutions (church, cities, states) and ideas (Christianity and political freedom). (Like Huntington, Guizot gives an important role to Christianity). The approach ment of truth is seen as a process of unity both in Europe as such and in the different European states. Guizot locates European civilization directly in history.

There is no room for any alternative developments as was the case with Ferguson. After Guizot we can observe a strong weakening of the idea of both a European and a universal civilization. Instead of civilization we have the total dominance of nations. For a historian like the German Leopold von Ranke, Europe is only the environment of the nations, and there is certainly no talk of a universal level.

We saw that for Guizot there was a sort of dialectical play between the universal, the European and the national dimension. The only universal principle in the historicist paradigm that dominates 19 th century European thinking is that every nation is formed by its own history. The nation becomes both the driving force and the final aim of history. European civilization comes to play a new and powerful role in the imperialist discourse of late 19 th century. But in this discourse there is no exchange between a universal and a European level. Rather, it is taken for granted that Europe is the civilization, or in more racial forms that civilization is white.

In another, more intra-European discourse civilization popped up as a negative term contrasted to culture. Oswald Spengler used this contrast - in his famous work The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 1918 and 1922) - to construct a monumental scheme for perceiving world history as an organic development from culture to civilization. Spengler's approach to civilization is a highly interesting case for several reasons. Firstly, it is a synthesis of the different approaches I have sketched here. He combines an idea of a decadent or corrupted civilization with a Herderian-like cultural paradigm which makes it possible to operate with different independent civilizations.

Secondly, there is a direct link between Spengler and Huntington with regard to the civilization al outlook on history. But while Huntington is working within a more traditional theoretical framework, Spengler constructs a very original, even bizarre, theory on his civilizations. Civilization is only the last phase in the development of cultures. Culture is the only organic form within which history is formed. History is not the proper word. In Spengler's 'organic' language cultures form "a destiny" as a life cycle with different stages of (birth, youth, maturity, old age, senility and finally death).

Civilization is the last stage approaching death. The core of a culture is its "soul", or what we might call its inner principle. Every culture has to go through the same life stages. This is the reason why they can be compared, even though they traverse these stages in different historical periods.

The driving force of any culture is a growing cultural self-consciousness (note that Huntington also talks about a civilization al self-consciousness). Self-consciousness (Wachsein) means an increasingly reflexive relation to fundamental cultural existence (Darwin). But, at the same time, self-consciousness is followed by an increasing alienation from this basic existence. (In Spengler's pseudo-racist Blut-und-Boden terminology this existence is symbolized by the land, the peasant and the race). Alienation corresponds with civilization. Following Spengler the rise of specific cultures cannot be explained. This rise is casually, as he states.

Only the life cycles can be analysed. Cultures do not mix. Any mix will create false cultures, copies of existing ones. In their development they follow their inner truth, their soul. This strongly relativist position removes civilization from the universal level advocated in the earlier approaches we have been discussing here. World history in Spengler's version gets divided into totally autonomous cultures manifesting their souls and thereby following their destinies.

The cultures studied by Spengler are the Egyptian culture, the Classical (Greek and Roman) culture, the Chinese culture, the Indian culture, the Arabian culture and, of course his own, Western culture (das Abend land). But from these cultures can be detected only three different souls: Faustian (in Western culture), Apollinian (in the classical culture) and Magian or Magic (mainly in the Arabic culture). Of these the Faustian one is the one disposed to the most radical (and perverted) form of civilization, because it is the most irreligious. The Faustian soul is portrayed as a "will culture." It is dynamic, individualistic and powerful, or, as Spengler says about the Faustian ethics: " In the ethics of the West everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant." [ 11 ] Civilization in general is characterised by rigidity, senility, mechanical perceptions, empty abstractions, cosmopolitanism, imperialism, nihilism - all signs of what Spengler calls "a petrified culture." In Western civilization these signs are manifested in the tyranny of the masses, in democracy, in metropolitan life, in the dictatorship of money and the machine. Spengler makes up an impressive list of the different diseases of this civilization. In doing this he puts together the dominant 19 th century critiques such as Marx', Weber's, Nietzsche's and others.

Spengler describes a situation where civilization is on its deathbed. The agony involves a process of catharsis. In its most destructive phase, characterised by dictators manipulating the masses for their own purpose the destructive forces uncover the fundamental existence of the culture. This return to basic existence can lead to a new life cycle.

It is in his post-civilization diagnosis that Spengler comes closest to Nazi-like utopias. But he is more critical toward western civilization than the Nazis. This is one reason why he is fascinated by Magian, that is, religious cultures, such as the Arabic one. What Spengler does in his use of civilization is eliminate the universal, Eurocentrist approach. For him there are several, independent, watertight civilizations. He also portrays a Western culture detached from classical and Christian roots.

The real Western take-off phase is, in his view, the Gothic. Finally he depicts European or Western civilization in a very negative way. It is possible to state that Spengler shows the two ways of giving meaning to civilization: one in a relativist perspective leading to an idea of clashes between civilizations; the other in a universally pessimist perspective leading to catastrophes on a global scale. Bibliography: 1 ] R. Robertson: Globalization - Global Culture and Social Theory. London: Sage 1992 [ 2 ] Samuel P.

Huntington: The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World order. New York: Simon & Schuster 1996, p. 43 [ 3 ] Mirabeau: L'amy des femmes ou trait de la civilisation, (manuscript, app. 1768). Here quoted from the article Zivilization, Kultur, in O. Bruce, W. Code, R.

Koselleck (ed. ): Geschichtlich e Gurndbegriffe, Band VII. Stuttgart: Ernst Kept Verlag 1993, pp 717 [ 4 ] The Shakespeare Head Edition af the Novels and Selected Writings of Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe. Vol. I. Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1927, p. 114. [ 5 ] Op. cit.

vol II, p. 13. [ 6 ] Montesquieu: Lettres Persanes. Paris: Gallimard 1973, Lettre LXIII. [ 7 ] Ibid. Lettre LXI. [ 8 ] Adam Ferguson: An Essay on the History of Civil Society. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P. 1995, p. 26 and 33. [ 9 ] Franois Guizot: The History of Civilization in Europe. London: Penguin Books 1997, p. 13. [ 10 ] Ibid.

p. 11 [ 11 ] Oswald Spengler: The Decline of the West. London: Allen and Unwin 1923, vol I. , p. 341.

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Research essay sample on 19 Th Century Robinson Crusoe

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