With "In Search of Civilization," John Armstrong, the resident philosopher at the Melbourne Business School in Australia, sets out to restore the reputation of a word that, to him, represents something infinitely precious and life-sustaining, a source of strength and inspiration. . . .
He identifies two basic attitudes toward civilization. One is that of the pessimist, exemplified here by the medieval abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. To Bernard, civilization was a rare and delicate plant, one that could survive only when sheltered behind the thick walls of a monastery. Outside were brutal barons, vulgar merchants and hoggish peasants. Such benighted folk he considered beyond reach. . . .
The second, more generous attitude is represented by Suger, the 12th-century abbot of St. Denis who served as regent for Louis VI while the king was away on a crusade. To inspire his parishioners, Suger built a magnificent church in the emerging Gothic style. He had a levelheaded understanding of the frailties of his fellow men, Mr. Armstrong notes, yet he did not despise them. Instead, combining realism and idealism, he sought to raise them, to help them ascend from the material to the spiritual.
I’ve always thought that the "pessimist" viewed civilization as an unstable equilibrium while the "optimist" viewed civilization as a stable equilibrium (see the picture). I view it as an unstable condition. We’re always a few mis-steps away from barbarism.