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PREFACE TO COMPLETE EDITION (1920)
In looking over this volume, first published in 1889, with a view to a
final Edition, I am glad to note that after all there is not much in it
requiring alteration. Considering that the original issue took place
more than 30 years ago, I had thought that the great changes in
scientific and philosophic thought which have taken place during that
period would probably have rendered "out of date" a good deal of the
As a matter of fact, the first paper—that on Civilisation—was given as
a lecture before the Fabian Society, in 1888; and I shall not easily
forget the furious attacks which were made upon it on that occasion. The
book—published as a whole in 1889—came in for a very similar reception
from the press-critics. They slated it to the top of their bent—except
in those not unfrequent cases when they ignored it as almost beneath
notice. The whole trend of the thought of the time was against its
conclusions; and it is perhaps worth while to recall these facts in[Pg 8]
order to measure how far we have travelled in these 30 years. For to-day
(I think we may say) these conclusions are generally admitted as
correct; and the views which seemed so hazarded and precarious at the
earlier date are now fairly accepted and established.
The word Civilisation has undoubtedly during this period suffered an
ominous change of color. It is no longer an easy term denoting all that
is ideal and delightful in social life, but on the contrary, carries
with it a sense of doubt and of criticism, as of something that is by no
means accepted yet, but is rather on its trial—if not actually
I am sorry to note, however, that the suggestion made more than once in
the course of my book—namely that the term (Civilisation) should
properly be given an historical instead of ideal value, as applicable
to a certain period only in the history of each people, has not yet been
generally taken up. Yet a paper by some more competent person than
myself on the definite marks and signs of the civilisation-period in
History—their first appearance in the course of human progress and
evolution, and their probable disappearance again at a later
stage—would be greatly interesting and instructive.
My little essay on this subject was written at the time of its
composition with a good deal of imaginative élan; and is of course
open to criticism on that side, as being mainly enthusiastic in
character and only slenderly supported by exact data,[Pg 9] proofs,
historical illustrations, analogies, and so forth. But to largely alter
or amend the essay without seriously crippling it would be impossible;
and though the form may be hurried or inadequate, yet as far as the
actual contents and conclusions are concerned I still adhere to them
absolutely, and believe that time will show them to be fully justified.
With regard to my views on Modern Science the last quarter of a century
has curiously corroborated them. For while on the one hand—as
expected—the progress in actual discovery and application of observed
facts has been enormous, the theories on the other hand about all
these things have receded more and more into the background, and have
passed almost out of sight. While knowing, for instance, infinitely more
about electrical actions and adaptations than we did, we seem to be if
anything further off than ever from any valid theory of what Electricity
is. The same with regard to Heat and Light, to Astronomical,
Biological and Geological "laws," and so forth. On such matters Modern
Science is on the verge of confessing itself bankrupt, but not wishing
to do that, it keeps a discreet silence.
The Atom, which I ventured (to the disgust of my scientific friends) to
make fun of 30 years ago, has now exploded of itself as thoroughly as a
German "coal-box"; and the fixed Chemical Elements of older days have of
late dissolved into protean vapours and emanations, ions and electrons,
impossible to follow through their [Pg 10]endless transformations. As to the
numerous "Laws of Nature" which in the nineteenth century we were just
about to establish for all eternity, it is only with the greatest
difficulty that any of these can now be discovered—most of them having
got secreted away into the darkness of ancient text-books: where they
lead forlorn and sightless existences, like the fish in the caves of
Here again—in my chapters on Science—though some expressions remain
which are now out of date, I have thought it best to leave them as
originally written: the meanings and general conclusions being still
valid and as they were. It will be seen that the general drift of these
chapters is to point the moral that the true field of science is to be
found in Life, and that the best way to know things is to experience
their meaning and to identify oneself with them through Action. From a
study on these principles will ultimately emerge a Science truly humane
and creative, masterful, and capable of building a true home for
men—instead of the feverish, spectral and self-deluding thing which has
usurped the name up to now.
Something the same will happen with the conception of Morality. The
abstract codes on this subject, which have wrought so much havoc by
their fatal intrusion on the field of human Life, are rapidly fading
away. These ghosts, like the ghosts of Nature's "Laws," are receiving
their quietus. And the general outline which was [Pg 11]suggested in "The
Defence of Criminals" has now been traced more positively in the chapter
on "The New Morality" inserted at the end of the present volume.
Morality has at last to become truly human, and the real expression of
our organic need. Man has to be liberated from the cramps and
suppressions and fixations which have hitherto paralysed him in the
moral field. He has to emerge from the swathing bands of his pupal stage
into the free air of heaven, and to become in the highest sense
self-determining and creative.
Thus three things, (1) the realisation of a new order of Society, in
closest touch with Nature, and in which the diseases of class-domination
and Parasitism will have finally ceased; (2) the realisation of a
Science which will no longer be a mere thing of the brain, but a part of
Actual Life; and (3) the realisation of a Morality which will signalise
and express the vital and organic unity of man with his fellows—these
three things will become the heralds of a new era of humanity—an era
which will possibly prefer not to call itself by the name of
In order to corroborate and confirm the first paper in the book an
Appendix has now been added containing notes and data on the life and
customs of many "uncivilised" peoples; for much of which Appendix I am
indebted to the assistance of my widely-read and resourceful friend, E.
Links to Additional Media for Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure by Edward Carpenter such as audio and ebooks are located at the bottom of this web page.