Young and Civilized: GK Chesterton

“The dawn of history reveals a humanity already civilized. Perhaps it reveals a civilization already old. And among other more important things, it reveals the folly of most of the generalizations about the previous and unknown period when it was really young. The two first human societies of which we have any reliable and detailed record are Babylon and Egypt. It so happens that these two vast and splendid achievements of the genius of the ancients bear witness against two of the commonest and crudest assumptions of the culture of the moderns. If we want to get rid of half the nonsense about nomads and cave-men and the old man of the forest, we need only look steadily at the two solid and stupendous facts called Egypt and Babylon.” – G.K. Chesterton, in “The Everlasting Man”


3 thoughts on “Young and Civilized: GK Chesterton

  1. Of course the first written histories would come from civilized societies. Writing had no place in a society whose only concern was survival. This in no way disproves nomadic or less civilized early societies.

  2. Logan- thanks for the comment. You’re actually bringing up the same thing that Chesterton is challenging tho. You’re assertion that “Writing had no place in a society whose only concern was survival” is a secular — but empirically unproven (and unprovable) — assumption about ancient history. Chesterton remarks elsewhere in the book that anthropologists wax long about the meaning and purpose behind ancient finds like cave paintings, but their theories are not rooted in actual evidence or facts, only bald assertions founded upon a conception of history that unreasonably assumes an evolutionary trajectory. Cave men could have just as easily and just as likely have painted pictures on cave walls — not to attempt to deal with some metaphysical crisis of sacred hunting grounds or fear of death — but to keep their little children entertained in the evening hours…which is the same reason that modern men paint pictures of giraffes and monkeys on their children’s nursery walls. Simply put, the most ancient civilization we know the most about were not only civilized, they were thoroughly civilized. We still don’t know how the Egyptians made the pyramids or how much knowledge and civilization we lost in the great fire of the Library in Alexandria. But everything we know about cavemen or nomads is made up by silent bones and quite imaginative secular scientists – with as much proof as an ancient Egyptian myth…or sometimes less.

    • Sorry I thought he was implying that because written history began in a civilized society, that more primitive societies did not exist. It’s true that we can only speculate about the intentions behind any evidence we find of early man, but the most accepted speculations tend to be the ones with the most evidence supporting them. Most archaeologists and anthropologists are well aware that their theories cannot be proven, hence calling them theories, but this is not grounds to dismiss them entirely. As with any theory, even the most educated, informed, and evidentially supported one may not be true, but it will be the best tool to help us understand the topic.

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