[Marxism] Re: Civilization, civilisation

Gilles d'Aymery aymery at ix.netcom.com
Wed Jun 2 13:31:00 MDT 2004

Richard Fidler writes:

Interesting note from Gilles. Le Petit Robert (see below) suggests that 
the word goes back to the 16th century in French. One of its 
meanings is "to police" or govern. As an example of its earlier usage, 
Le PR cites Babeuf (Gracchus): "The masters, instead of policing us, 
have barbarized  us".


Yes, the words "civil," "civiliser,"  as my entry indicates seem to get 
into usage as early as the XIII or XIV century. the word "civilisation" 
appears to have been coined later. The review of Patterson's book 
(posted by Lou) seems to confirm this.

However, I am not sure how the usage moved from "policé" to 
"civilisé." The meaning of policé (Etym: Greek: 'polis' = city), before 
taking its modern usage (cops) was educated, "une personne 
cultivée." To police the countryside was to bring the "higher" values 
held in the cities to the 'peasants'. It also had (and still have, I think) 
the meaning of political/social organization (polity).

It's also interesting to note that civil comes from the Latin "civis" 
(citizen). So during that period of capitalism/colonialism, there seems 
to have been a change in the thinking of those luminaries, moving from 
the propagation of the "higher" values coming from the city to the 
countryside, to the propagation of the "higher" values of the 
people/citizens (racial connotation?) to the countries (being 
colonized), in the name of progress of course!

To bring class into the picture, David Hume wrote to Turgot 
(correspondence, 1767): "...Independently from land owners and 
poor workers, there is in any civilized nation a group very 
considerable and very opulent that employs its capital in commerce 
and that gets important revenues by giving work to the poorer class." 
(approximate translation from the French; in Histoire de la pensée et 
des doctrines économiques, Luc Bourcier de Carbon, Editions 
Montchrestien, 1971, Tome I, page 61).

And centuries later we're still at it.... 

Gilles d'Aymery

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