In Defense of Civilisation.

By Michael R J Bonner

Printed: 2023

Publisher: Sutherland House. Toronto

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 15 × 22 × 2 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 15 x 22 x 2

Condition: As new  (See explanation of ratings)

Buy Now

Item information


In the original dustsheet. White cloth binding with silver title on the spine.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

Will our future imitate our past?

“The purpose of this book is threefold: to explain what makes civilization what it is; to show what we are in danger of losing in the event of collapse, and to point the way toward renewal.”

There is a consensus in the West that something is wrong. Many people have the uneasy feeling that the liberal democratic order is in danger, and that civilization itself hangs in the balance. This feeling could be dismissed as alarmism, but the present moment of pandemic, political instability, and rioting is a startling reminder of the fragility of civilization everywhere. And we should never forget that empires and societies have collapsed many times before.

But history shows that human civilization also has extraordinary powers of recuperation, writes Michael R.J. Bonner in this bracing tour de force. Drawing on such examples as the revival of Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the ebb and flow of civilization in China despite repeated foreign conquest, he shows how humankind’s quest for clarity, order, and beauty—the crucial elements of civilization—does not necessarily succeed through innovation or a futuristic orientation, but by thoughtful examination and imitation of past experience.

Review: The question posed by Michael R. J. Bonner, In Defense of Civilization, How Our Past Can Renew Our Present, of how to defend civilization, and against what, is inexhaustible. For the evolution and present of civilization also reflects the damage to which it is exposed by friend or foe.

Bonner’s book is divided into seven short chapters: (I) What Is Civilization (II) Rebirth (III) What Went Wrong (IV) Clarity (V) Beauty (VI) Order (VII) The Future. He condenses an erudition comparable to the classics that he exposes in many details. Each chapter offers a vision that expresses the attributes that its author gives to civilization: clarity, beauty and order. My reading was continuous, with short coffee breaks. Exciting amount of data and works referenced by Michael R. J. Bonner. The author does not limit himself to communicating the problems of civilization, but to formulating solutions. Bonner is contradictory, sharp and profound, something strange for our time.

I take it for granted, as I approach the frontiers of the book, that I am a non-problematic reader, and yet even one who is is in front of the representation of Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, or in my singular case, an emerging country, Colombia. In a situation that is anything but unproblematic – I’m thinking of Spanish-language writers as the example below. In the style of our countries, its identity publicly demands a complete subordination to what has been defined, with a word that the media have apparently pardoned, as “postmodernity”. But if he belongs to a country other thanq Colombia, not only is he prohibited from that same subordination, which is understandable, but he is also required to be particularly subordinate. Thus, for example, Colombia expects its writers, more or less, to be up-to-date writers on news about drug trafficking, organized crime, political conflicts. However, and there are builders of civilization who certify that a writer, however, can think or write about other things.

Elsewhere something similar is ongoing, and the claims of different identities and their conceptions of political ends have taken over the concept of civilization. From which follows a question that takes various forms, but in the end is always the same: is an idea of civilization reached by extracting from national, bourgeois, fascist or modern culture, what is national, bourgeois, etc., or is this concept something autonomous that can be realized in different ways? This book by Michael R.J. Bonner responds to the second direction.

I believe that a reflection such as the one proposed by In Defense of Civilization, How Our Past Can Renew Our Present, free of any political commitment or nationality, acquires meaning on the problems of our time without separating us from the world. Without underestimating the disadvantages of the term, I say that the author proposes us to understand his defense of civilization, admitting possible worlds (N. Goodman); “Relativism” does not suggest that it is worth anything. Rather, the author is tireless in rereading the projects of Modernity purifying its legacy of postmodern garbage.

Michael R.J. Bonner describes how the history of our age unfolds in contrast to a sharpened collectivism. Futurism, which teaches the Matrix of Fascism, Bolshevism, and Nazism (pp. 73-80); the end of ideology, decolonization, the West’s obsession with consumption and novelty, the songs of progress in the French Enlightenment, Condorcet, Da Lambert, and the effects of the Protestant Reformation. Postmodernism, the decline of institutions; And finally what we have now: the culture of narcissism, atomization and issues of identity. Need less to say, it is atomization differs in its forms, nor how different judgments can be made in all probability about its different future value. Politicians often cast their eye as natural prey of their campaigns to a civilizing process on Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok. Just as women once succumbed to the hero. The author, on the contrary, who, as far as his splendor is concerned, does a lot to the civilization in practicing the noble art of his defense.

One can carry forward the idea of a civilization that marches along many paths in a decentralized direction. But sometimes the simplest and most limited conception is imposed that the whole is nothing but a mere overreach and meddling of politics. From the triumphant entry of Donald Trump to Putin’s lethal invasion of Ukraine, everyone feels threatened and mobilizes all means. Among those so called up is also digital culture. The media and Kitsch propaganda. Chapter III, “What Went Wrong,” exposes these aspects starkly. Iti s not only that the state, class, nation, race, and Christendom are claimed, but they have even come to be included in the ranks of artists and scholars. Milan Kundera describes in his novels this disenchantment.

The author reflects the state of civilization present in the light of the classics. Today politics does not go to the civilizing process for ends, but wears them and dispatches them in it. In twenty-first century urban centers, Internet culture does not teach you how we should only write, paint, and philosophize. And that unique way is diverse, relative, postmodern, loose. It can be thrown into the garbage dumps. The development of civilization bears the paradoxical duplicity of Bouvard et Pécuchet, Gustave Flaubert. The tense rope between realization and fantasy, pessimism and optimism, belief and skepticism (Chapter VII, “The Future”).

Naturally, we also feel the right to belong to the community and the duty of the individual to be integrated into it. All the more important then is to know the limits. Getting an idea of what is part of civilization and what is not will be all the easier the more one has a given culture before one’s eyes, and all the more difficult it is to know in general what is validation or what it is capable of producing civilization.

Civilization is not linked to any political form. Any of them can favor it or hinder it. There is no civilizational axiom (and especially among those relating to feeling) that cannot be replaced by another in such a way as to make possible again some culture on that new basis. The decisive thing is in the whole for the same reason that it cannot be said of a person if he is a madman or a genius or a criminal based on isolated principles or actions. This reminds us of Nietzsche’s observation in the posthumous fragments: “The triumph of a moral ideal is achieved by the same immoral means as any victory: violence, lies, defamation, and injustice”.

We stumble upon this observation in Bonner’s book, whenever we not only stand up against some rudeness or perversion of the new, but also consider that this personal revolt is law in the story of creation. And from there it is not long to have the usual necessary.

To illustrate this, consider, for example, the strongly authoritarian forms of power in Putin or Lukashenko; or at its extremes, Bolshevism and fascism; after the defeats of communism as a system of closed society, they simply revert to being copies of the decadent forms of democracy in the West. These provoke the same adhesion as a suit perhaps somewhat used but that has already become comfortable. They guarantee the ancestral mentality a great measure of freedom. But then they also guarantee it in equal measure to their parasites. There is no need to equate these forms with the very essence of democracy. Enlightened absolutism is also good, it is just that the absolute must be properly enlightened.

So, if one cannot start from an ideal of civilization and even accept that today it is exposed to energetic transformative tendencies, and if we do not know exactly what civilization is – since for us who create civilization it is something received, lived, in no way sympathetic in all its aspects, that is, a purpose that lives in us and through us rather than a definable idea. Then the question is, against a frozen definition of civilization, why should one orient oneself?

The book’s message is consistently optimistic. I don’t think that’s why everything should be left to lucky guesses. Civilization is something that presupposes continuity and respect even for what is being fought. Simply this extreme is already difficult to ignore. The various phases of continuity of the civilizing process are found along processes that are themselves contradictory.

Then, we can also affirm that civilization has always overcome the narrow walls of nationalism. The history of arts and sciences in the Middle East and the West is a unique example. The civilizational process in the Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate, until the culture of the primitives shows such a phenomenon. Especially at its highest levels, civilization depends on transnational relations, and the same genius is also distributed as the appearance of other oddities. Political anthropology has marked new paths to understand this phenomenon.

And even if civilization itself were not supranational, it would surely be something supra-temporary, which in the bosom of the same people often jumps over great periods of collapse and splices with something that was left far behind. Homer, Dante, Sophocles or Shakespeare, Confucius or Alberti, Averroes or Al-Ghazali, the European Renaissance is unthinkable without the works of Hellenism, the Byzantine Empire or Manchurian traditions. From which it must be concluded that those who serve the civilization are forbidden to identify themselves simply with a momentary situation of their national culture.

In Defense of Civilization, clarity, beauty and order are not simply a legacy that can be passed from hand to hand, as traditionalists believe, but a surprising process intervenes: it is not so much that the creators take up what comes from other times and places as that this is reborn in them.

Moreover, we know that the foundation of that process is individuals. The family or community cooperates in a very important way, but the individual is at least its autonomous instrument. Thus, however, a very wide and well-known field of conditions for the evolution of civilization opens up, especially all those to which the personal creative force is subject. Without pretending to develop this in more detail, the author shows us that many concepts that are politically abused are used and then thrown away, reappear purified of the historical, as unavoidable political presuppositions in the liberal debate. Thus, for example, freedom, openness, courage, incorruptibility, responsibility, and criticism, the latter, applied more to what seduces us than against what repels us.

In defense of civilization the truth must also be present, and I mention it especially because what we call civilization, it is true, is not immediately subject to a criterion of truth, but no great civilization can rest on an irresponsible relationship with the truth. Without a political regime that supports such qualities in all human beings, they also do not make their appearance in the different specific talents. Working for the recognition of such social conditions could be the only thing accessible with cultural means. In any case, it is the most important thing when judging the value of Michael Bonner’s book and the perspectives it opens to the political debates of our time.

Want to know more about this item?

We are happy to answer any questions you may have about this item. In addition, it is also possible to request more photographs if there is something specific you want illustrated.
Ask a question

Share this Page with a friend