Civilisation (2013)

The Engelsberg Seminar 2013

June 13th–15th 2013 at Avesta Manor, Sweden

‘What is civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t defi ne it in abstract terms – yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it…’ Sir Kenneth Clark’s use of the term ‘civilisation’ in his series with the same name illustrates the ambiguity of the concept; it can therefore perhaps best be described as an Idealtypus similar to Max Weber’s concept, in that its legitimacy can be determined only in terms of adequacy. Civilisation has been described as a collective set of values of a people or a society; it can indicate a level of economic development, and can also point to a certain level of intellectual and artistic excellence. Furthermore, it can denote a self-boasting ideal of sophisticated civility, distinguishing our own regular habits from our neighbours. The distinction between what is supposed to be civilised or not has often bordered upon the xenophobic, and has sometimes also very much been an expression of that: Not only the ancient Greeks distinguished between themselves and other peoples that they saw as barbarians. Another distinction of importance in more modern times is the notion that the German peoples are cultured whereas as French and Anglo-Saxons only display a superfi cial civilisation without depth; a notion that played a signifi cant role in propaganda during the First World War. But what are the roots of civilisation and how did particular civilisations emerge in the ancient world? What do we today have in common with early civilisations, and what values do we still uphold that have its origins in the ancient world? What explains the rise and fall of civilisations, and how did the present Western ideals of civilisation emerge? In what way have alleged values of past civilisations re-emerged as exemplary models in a new context? How true is the popular golden age stereotype ‘already the Greeks’? What is really unique about Greek culture and which cultures infl uenced what we recognise as Greek? The supposed superiority of Western culture and its achievements was for a long time taken for granted. However, in the era of globalisation countries like India and China are already challenging Western dominance. Rome conquered Greece, but it is said that Greek culture conquered Rome; will we see new civilisations emerge and dominate the world, or will the challengers instead in practice become Westernised as Western technology and capitalism triumphs? And will then ‘Greek culture’ once again conquer ‘Rome’? In the final analysis: Is it possible to sustain a civilisation without the use of aggression and the willingness to defend its values by means of war?


Roots of Civilisation

Graeme Barker
Professor of Archaeology and Director at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge
Lecture: Origins of Human Settlement

Harriet Crawford
Honorary Visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, and a Fellow of the McDonald Institute, Cambridge
Lecture: Civilisation: An Example from Fourth Millennium Mesopotamia

David Wengrow
Professor of Comparative Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, UCL
Lecture: Civilisation Before the State

Rita Wright
Anthropological archaeologist and Professor of Anthropology, New York University
Lecture: Comparing Civilisations: Frameworks for Understanding their Variability


Roads to Athens

Martin West
Emeritus Fellow of All Souls, University of Oxford. A former Fellow and Praelector in Classics, University College, Oxford
Lecture: The Greeks’ Concept of Civilisation

Sheldon Pollock
Professor of Sanskrit and South Asian Studies, Columbia University
Lecture: Classicism: A Greek and Indian Comparison

Anthony Grafton
Henry Putnam University Professor of History, Princeton University
Lecture: The Revival of Greek in Renaissance Europe: The Changing Contours of a Canon

Richard Buxton
Professor of Greek Language and Literature, University of Bristol
Lecture: Can Ancient Greece Still Offer Us Viable Models of Behaviour and Thought?


Survival and Resurgence

Tom Holland
Historian, Author and Broadcaster
Lecture: The Rise of Rise and Fall

Richard Miles
Senior Lecturer of Classics, University of Sydney
Lecture: The End of (Roman) Civilisation and the Rise of Decline

Stephen Cave
Philosopher and Author
Lecture: Civilisation and the Promise of Immortality

Nathan Shachar
Journalist and Author
Lecture: Greeks and Jews: A Relationship Like No Other


Civilisation as a Set of Values

Peter Burke
Professor Emeritus of Cultural History, University of Cambridge
Lecture: Civilisation: A Historian’s View

Jonathan Israel
Professor of Modern History, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Lecture: Civilisation Versus the “State of Nature”

John Armstrong
Senior Advisor in the offi ce of the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne, and Author
Lecture: Civilisation as an Ideal


Civilisation and the Art of War

Christopher Coker
Professor of International Relations, LSE
Lecture: Civilisation and its Malcontents

Robert Johnson
Director of the Changing Character of War (CCW) research programme at Oxford University
Lecture: The Paradox of the Nature of War

Rolf Ekéus
Ambassador, Former Ambassador to the US, Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament and Director of United Nations Special Commission on Iraq
Lecture: Civilisation and its Challenges


Twentieth Century

Donald Sassoon
Professor Emeritus of History, Queen Mary College, University of London
Lecture: Trailblazers and Laggards in the Long 19th Century

David J. Taylor
Author and Critic
Lecture: George Orwell and the Idea of Civilisation

Karsten Fischer
Professor of Political Science, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich
Lecture: Sublimation and its Discontents: On the Modern Semantics of Decadence


Civilisation as the Good Life

John Armstrong
Senior Advisor in the office of the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne, and Author
Lecture: Civilisation as Integration

Jack Fuller
Lecture: Civilisation as the Good and Ambitious Use of Freedom

Eva Hoffman
Author and Broadcaster
Lecture: Freedom, Fragmentation, Conversation: The Good Life Today


The Future of Civilised Values

Göran Rosenberg
Journalist and Author
Lecture: What Makes the Values of Auschwitz Possible?

Richard Swartz
Journalist and Author
Lecture: Are the Basic Values of Civilisation Challenged?

Ruut Veenhoven
Professor Emeritus of Social Conditions for Human Happiness at Erasmus University Rotterdam
Lecture: Does Civilisation Add to the Value of Life?


The West and the Rest?

Rana Mitter
Professor of History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford
Lecture: The Rise of China, the Decline of the West and the New Nationalism

Jonathan Haslam
Professor of the History of International Relations Cambridge University
Lecture: The Rise and Rise of China or the Rise and Fall of China? Implications for Western Policy

Philip Bobbitt
Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence and the Director of the Center for National Security at Columbia University
Lecture: The Problem of American Power

Örjan Berner
Lecture: Implications of the Rise of China

Watch interviews held with the speakers throughout the seminar