Robert Byron (1905-1941), The Byzantine Achievement
(1929; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell Inc, 1964), pp. 24-26:
From sifting the numerous implications of meaning
attaching to the word "civilisation," there emerges a
definition, which presumes it to consist in the vitality
of three elements in man's corporate mode of living.
These are: the Stable; the Transcendental; and the
Cultural. Vitality in each simultaneously is seldom
found, save in large cities whence they radiate their
combined influence throughout their city's dominion.
And the rarity of even this coincidence constitutes the
rarity of civilisations. Failure in the vitality of any
one of them denotes a lapse from true civilisation to
conditions of life comparable with those of fifteenth
century Italy or the present Middle West of the United
First essential to the definition of civilisation is the
stable element, the universal confidence in the social
organism to maintain itself and its government, and to
modify itself to external and internal necessity. This
confidence, when it exists, pervades people unconsciously. Security of property, the standards of living,
the countless services of local government—all go for
granted without thought or investigation, like the sun
and the stars, symbolised in those outward features,
dinner-jackets, bathrooms and asphalt roads, which
evoke the awe and envy of less advanced peoples.
Second is that composite element in human activity,
the quest of transcendental values and their collateral
ethics. To every race, in infancy and succeeding
childhoods, is vouchsafed the concept of a God. This,
ultimately, may lose identity in that of a gentleman.
But underneath social demeanour, there remains to
man his soul proper, his own greatness, his unquiet
spirit seeking cosmic direction, ever striving to soar
above the mental gravities of earth. It is contended
that civilisations such as that upon which we are entering, retard the divine quest in humanity by the very
security with which they encushion it against the
fundamental workings between man and earth, man
and man, man and God. But it remains to be seen
whether those relationships do not, as the scientific
revolution approaches its climax, attain a depth and
precision of definition hitherto undreamed. And the
soul, mathematically propelled, may redouble the exploration of its Affinity in space, dictating, with
historical experience as its partner, successive codes
and morals for the earth.
Third and final element in civilisation is the cultural,
product of the scientific and artistic impulse generated
by a corporate intellectual activity. It is in this province that the inspired individual souls of an age become
accessible to the majority, whose diversity of intelligence and occupation will not permit their investigation
of the mysteries with which they are communicant,
but not, beyond the one-sided peep-hole of religion,
The stable, the transcendental, the cultural: genii
of civilisation. Each has existed without the others.
Hellas had Culture, Judah a Soul, Renascence Europe
both. The United States of America now enjoy the
blessings of stability. But it is the fusion of the three
that constitutes a civilisation, the vitality of which will
vary inversely with the deficiency in any one of them.