My previous post mentioned various hallmarks of civilization: liberty, complexity, and change, among others. But why is civilization a Good? We speak of “advanced civilizations,” but what does that mean? How does one measure one civilization against another? How is one civilization more advanced than another?
In the spirit of Mises, I would venture that the fundamental measure of a civilization is the wants that it meets: the number of those wants, the diversity of those wants, the character of those wants. A civilization that is able to meet many wants can support many people. And as one person among an growing population, any particular human desires to be different – so the wants diversify as they grow in number. And the particular human also wants to be seen as special, so the character of the wants deepens as well.
The number of wants is an obvious measure after reading Mises. The subjective theory of value at the root of all human action is based on the presupposition of individual wants. And any advanced civilization meets a vast number of wants; A group of troglodytes banging rocks together fulfills very few of anyone’s wants.
The diversity of wants implies the liberty needed to meet them. Overbearing states and dictatorships emphasize the wants of the (few) rulers over the many, thus creating a relative monoculture of wants being met. Thus the advance of civilization is stalled by a preponderance of government. Of course, the wants of specific groups of society (like intellects, like women) need protection afforded by government so every civilization must solve the balance of government and growth.
The character of the wants is also important – a civilization does not advance by merely meeting the simple wants of more and more children. So the intellects of society must have the greater freedom in society to propose and develop highly-sophisticated wants. The highest intellects of society thus become the vanguard of any civilization’s advance.
Many of the wants of society come from the female members of that society, so an enormous part of the measure of any civilization is the number of wants met for females. How well a civilization helps females to raise children, how well a civilization protects females from assault, how many opportunities a civilization affords females to have both a family and a career – these are also enlightening measures of the advance of civilization.
And back to the highest intellects – human beings are the highest intellects today, but maybe not tomorrow. The far future may see the rise of civilizations based on species other than Homo Sapiens.