ISSN 2330-717X

The Four Stages Of Civilization – Analysis

By

By Zhijiang Zhao*

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is now in its seventh month and has caused 14,059 civilian casualties to date, with 5,767 people killed and 8,292 injured. The US and its European allies have imposed sanctions against Russia since February in response to this crisis. As a result, the West is bracing for natural gas shortages and struggling with rising food prices. 

In many parts of the world, there is a surge in crimes. Our world is in disarray. The year 2022 is invoking the immortal lines of W. B Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” (1919): “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold”.

In 2020, Kung Chan, the founder of ANBOUND Think Tank based in Beijing, proposed the model of four stages of civilization to explain the conflicts among nations. On the basis of modernity, these four stages are primitive, early learning, developmental, and stable.

The primitive stage, according to this model, refers to the cultures with zero tolerance for modern civilizations. The Hadza tribe from Tanzania is one of the few primitive societies left in today’s world. The tribal members are hunters and gatherers whose survival depends on natural resources. The Hadza people do not have written language, nor do they have the concepts of hierarchy or land ownership. The men have no personal possession other than their bows and arrows used for hunting. The Hadza tribe inevitably clashes with the more developed Datooga and Sukuma people in Tanzania, witnessing the disappearance of their ancestral territories which are encroached by the development of Datooga’s pastoralism and Sukuma people’s expansion of their agricultural lands. If it had not been for the NGOs that have helped the tribe fight for land rights in recent years, the Hadza people would likely be squeezed out of existence.

Some poor and war-torn nations are at the primitive stage too. They have no adequate technology or matured political institutions to evolve into modern civilizations. They often need international aid to sustain themselves. The fault lines of the gap between them and higher civilizations are the roots of chaos, foreign interferences, and clashes among domestic groups as well as conflicts with external actors in these countries. Primitive nations are not stable. They will not develop unless they begin to embrace the idea of modernity.

Early learning stage concerns countries that begin to adapt to modernity. Many developing countries, including China, fall into this category. 

There is no denying that China has made significant economic and technological achievements since the Reform and Opening. China has been the world’s second-largest economy since 2010, with its GDP accounting for about 17% of the global economy. Even though more and more people are out of poverty and have access to education, somewhere along the way, many parts of China face numerous social issues. Episodes such as the Feng County Mother Scandal where a mother of eight children is locked in a tiny shed and the Tangshan Incident where a group of men assaulted four women at a restaurant are but some incidents that should not happen in modern China. The country must undergo the process of moral awakening and become enlightened through this change. Only then, China will move toward a higher modern civilization that is inherently stable.

The developmental stage refers to a country that is trying to find the balance between its traditional culture and the country’s current level of modernization. 

Russia is a perfect example of this. Since the Tsardom, Russia had tried to become a main European power by actively participating in the Continent’s political affairs. Peter the Great led a cultural revolution that westernized the Russian economic system, political institutions, military, religion, and cultural norms. His purpose was to transform Tsarist Russia into a civilized nation such as England and France. This effort brought Russia closer to Europe until the breakout of the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856, which is a watershed event for Russia as it ended its alliance with Prussia and Austria, and thereafter Europe started to reject Russia’s involvement in European politics. 

For the next 166 years, Russia has tried many times to rebuild its relations with the West, but every time the gap becomes even wider. Now Russian leaders firmly believe their country is the center of the Slavic heartland whose culture is essentially different from that of Europe. From the view of Alexander Dugin, who is referred to as “Putin’s brain” by some media, Russia is a conservative empire in perpetual conflict with the liberal West. Today, Putin is spelling out this rivalry by unleashing cruelty against the Ukrainians. His war in Ukraine is driven by the concept of ethnonationalism and hatred toward the West. In essence, underlying this war is the clash of European and Russian civilizations. 

Russia produces renowned writers such as Alexander Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy, as well as scientists like Dmitri Mendeleev and Ivan Pavlov. Russia is not primitive, nor does it need enlightenment, but Russia is not at the highest level of modern civilization. 

The stable stage is the final stage in this civilization model, which manifests pronounced and structurally stable modernity. The US and major European powers such as Germany and France are at this stage. This model suggests that although European countries and societies have encountered numerous challenges from different historical periods, and their institutions have undergone many changes, the characteristics of these civilizations such as political systems, sovereignty, communities, and interests stay consistent. This reflects the structures of many European countries are inherently stable. 

Stability is indispensable for effective reforms. Without institutional stability, radical reforms make countries fall into the abyss. Libya and Afghanistan had tried to reform many aspects of their societies, but now they are failed states. Their political structures are not stable enough to bear the pressure and consequences brought by changes. In contrast, since the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, Britain has continued to call for further parliamentary reforms. It has never experienced any social unrest resulting in the demise of the government. Britain stays as a modern nation, and one of the most developed countries in the world, on account of its inherent structural stability. However, many countries at the stable stage are now at risk of retrogression. For example, gun violence, racial tensions, and domestic terrorism are undermining the modern civilization of the U.S. It needs to take strong actions such as institutional reforms to solve these issues.

Japanese scholar Fukuzawa Yukichi and American anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan referred to “civilization” as the highest stage of human development. To reach the highest level of modern civilizations, however, this model of suggests that a country needs to advance to the stages of development and stability. 

Additionally, this model simplifies British historian Arnold Toynbee’s theory, which is deeply rooted in a Eurocentric interpretation of the Roman Empire, by eliminating factors such as religions and migrants. The understanding of these four stages in the current model allows better analysis of various social trends, norms, and popular opinions of a country

*Zhijiang Zhao, Research Assistant at ANBOUND.

Anbound

Anbound Consulting (Anbound) is an independent Think Tank with the headquarter based in Beijing. Established in 1993, Anbound specializes in public policy research, and enjoys a professional reputation in the areas of strategic forecasting, policy solutions and risk analysis. Anbound's research findings are widely recognized and create a deep interest within public media, academics and experts who are also providing consulting service to the State Council of China.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *