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CivI | CivII | CivIII | CivIV | CivV 

to: the Diagram

Explanatory Notes about this Process (page 2) 

The idea here is that civilized societies grow more complex in the course of time. Like multi-cell organisms, they acquire a structure of specialized institutions. These institutions detach and become differentiated from the rest. Modern societies exhibit a pluralistic power structure.

         To a certain extent, world history follows a process of differentiation and detachment involving its major institutions. Specifically:   

The detachment of royal government as an institution separate from the temple culture marked the beginning of Civilization I.  

The detachment of the world religions as institutions apart from government marked the beginning of Civilization II.  

The detachment of commercial and educational institutions from a society dominated by government and religion marked the beginning of Civilization III.  

The detachment of news and entertainment media from commercial society marked the beginning of Civilization IV.  

The advent of computers suggests the future detachment of some as yet unknown institution from the society we have today. 

The formation of institutions as organized sectors of society takes place at the beginning of civilizations. As the historical epoch progresses, these institutions develop their own form of empire. A decline sets in at the end of the epoch as the once creative institutions become violent and obsessed with power.

After the historical epoch ends, its particular institution survives and undergoes further change, though less dynamically than before. There is cumulative movement toward an ever more complex set of institutions.

The diagram shows some of the forces acting upon society's principal institutions as they have progressed from prehistory to the present times. (See chapter 2 of Five Epochs of Civilization for further discussion of this topic.)


About five to six thousand years ago, royal government began to develop as a separate institution after it had detached from the temple cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The functions of the priest and king diverged.

Various local religious cults were now converted to civic worship. Monarchs went to war against each other and against barbarian tribes. By the time of Christ, much of the Old World was organized in large political empires such as Rome's.

A philosophical revolution led the way to the next civilization. The great thinkers and souls of the mid 1st millennium B.C. brought new ideas into the culture including a concern for goodness and truth.

The political empires of the first epoch provided a structural image for these philosophically-based religions. Some enjoyed state sponsorship. And so the world religions were born. Each religion had an institutional history and a certain geographical sphere of influence.

After barbarian (Hunnish and Germanic) tribes destroyed the political empires, the religious cultures lived on. Once-barbarian peoples adopted the religions as a mark of civilization.

Unfortunately organized religion had a desire for worldly power. This led to war. While for western people the Christian crusades against Moslems are the best-known example of religious warfare, military conflict also occurred between religious groups in India and the Far East.

Since Civilization III began in western Europe, its creative phase saw the emergence of European commerce and education.

The Crusades spurred European commerce by requiring much material support. Foreign travel exposed Europeans to new products, especially from Asia. When in 1453 A.D. the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and blocked overland trade routes to the East, an incentive was created for European navigators to seek an Atlantic route to India, China, and Japan.

Commercial rivalries between nations bordering the Atlantic led to a race to colonize non-European lands and, ultimately, to World War I.

The rediscovery of Graeco-Roman literature and art and the rivalry between Catholics and Protestants led to the development of education. In a later phase, schools became the principal means of preparing young people for work in careers.

Increased commercial development brought increased wealth and leisure and a desire for personal amusements to fill people's free time.

Increased newspaper circulation created an opportunity for advertising. This device became increasingly important as low-priced department stores supplanted the general stores. Entertainment as a consumer product was made even more valuable by the new technologies of radio and television broadcasting which could advertise a variety of products.

Network television became a cultural juggernaut that overpowered other media. News organizations had the power to make or break political candidates and set public agendas. Religion was subverted by the appeal of consumerism. Schools had to compete with pop culture.

Later in the epoch, cable-television technology overcame the monopoly of network television. There was a move toward decentralized entertainment.

The computer was invented by academics in a wartime environment. For a time, it served mainly government and corporate bureaucracies. Large businesses invested in computers to increase production efficiency and reduce labor costs.

Then came the revolution in personal computers. The computer became a device for communication as well as calculating. The Internet was its creation.

Where this civilization will go next is uncertain. What we call the "Quintepoch" - the Fifth Epoch of Civilization - is a future of unknown content waiting to happen.

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