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quotations about civilization

Civilization quote

Civilization is a natural and inevitable consequence -- whether good or evil I am not prepared to state.

ROBERT E. HOWARD, letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Aug. 1930

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry ... The story of civilization is what happened on the banks.

WILL DURANT, The Story of Civilization

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

AYN RAND, The Fountainhead

The human species does not necessarily move in stages from progress to progress ... history and civilization do not advance in tandem. From the stagnation of Medieval Europe to the decline and chaos in recent times on the mainland of Asia and to the catastrophes of two world wars in the twentieth century, the methods of killing people became increasingly sophisticated. Scientific and technological progress certainly does not imply that humankind as a result becomes more civilized.

GAO XINGJIAN, Nobel Lecture, 2000

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.

H.L. MENCKEN, as quoted in James A. Haught's 2000 Years of Disbelief

Our civilization depends largely on paper.

PLINY THE ELDER, Natural History

For ever and anon the soul becomes weary of the conventions that are not of it, and with a single stroke shatters the civilized lies with which it is unable to cope, and the strong arm reaches out and takes by force what it cannot win by cunning.

WILLA CATHER, "On the Divide," The Troll Garden

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

ROBERT E. HOWARD, "The Towers of the Elephant" (1933)

I want to take the word Christianity back to Christ himself, back to that mighty heart whose pulse seems to throb through the world to-day, that endless fountain of charity out of which I believe has come all true progress and all civilization that deserves the name .. I go back to that great Spirit which contemplated a sacrifice for the whole of humanity. That sacrifice is not one of exclusion, but of an infinite and endless and joyous inclusion. And I thank God for it.

JULIA WARD HOWE, What is Religion?

Civilization sails prettily like a child's rubber balloon until it hits a sharp object; then it is likely to collapse like the balloon.

AUSTIN O'MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest.


All civilization in a sense exists only in the mind. Gunpowder, textile arts, machinery, laws, telephones are not themselves transmitted from man to man or from generation to generation, at least not permanently. It is the perception, the knowledge and understanding of them, their ideas in the Platonic sense, that are passed along. Everything social can have existence only through mentality.

ALFRED L. KROEBER, The Superorganic

Every civilization depends upon the quality of the individuals it produces.

FRANK HERBERT, Children of Dune

You can't say civilization don't advance ... in every war they kill you in a new way.

WILL ROGERS, New York Times, Dec. 23, 1929

What man calls civilization always results in deserts.

DON MARQUIS, what the ants are saying in archy does his part

The destruction that barbarians leave behind has a grim fascination, doesn't it? We're reminded how thin is the veneer of civilization.


Fear of change is a part of the state of fear man has ever lived in but out of which he has begun to escape. Civilization might be defined indeed as the steps in his escape.

ELSIE CLEWS PARSONS, Fear and Conventionality

Civilization is fragile and highly ambiguous. To hope in ourselves would be a big gamble.

CHRISTIAAN MOSTERT, Hope: Challenging the Culture of Despair

The first request of civilization ... is that of justice.

SIGMUND FREUD, Civilization and Its Discontents

Civilization helps the disabled and disables those who can help themselves.

ABRAHAM MILLER, Unmoral Maxims

Civilization is unbearable, but it is less unbearable at the top.

TIMOTHY LEARY, attributed, Still Casting Shadows

Long exile from Christendom and civilisation inevitably restores a man to that condition in which God placed him, i.e., what is called savagery.


Most civilization is based on cowardice. It's so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame.

FRANK HERBERT, God Emperor of Dune

Civilization is the way one's own people live. Savagery is the way foreigners live.


Civilization is maintained by a very few people in a small number of places and we need only some bombs and a few prisons to blot it out altogether.

CYRIL CONNOLLY, The Unquiet Grave

Civilization is the world with its leg asleep.

AUSTIN O'MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

A civilization begins to decline the moment Life becomes its sole obsession.

EMIL CIORAN, A Short History of Decay

The human race is doomed to sink back farther and farther into the primitive night ere again it begins its bloody climb upward to civilization.

JACK LONDON, The Scarlet Plague

Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?

G. K. CHESTERTON, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Were civilization itself to be estimated by some of its results, it would seem perhaps better for what we call the barbarous part of the world to remain unchanged.


Break the skin of civilization and you find the ape, roaring and red-handed.

ROBERT E. HOWARD, letter to Harold Preece, Jan. 1928

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Read Ambrose Bierce's essay on Civilization


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