This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
Does civilization itself have a cycle? In so far as the dominant peoples in the world organize their states in the same way, use the same mechanical devices, share in the same commercial system, have a common kind of morality - in short, have one social mind - their civilization as a whole might be expected to go through a cycle. It would be longer than that of a state or any single institution, because when a single institution suffers a collapse, say like France in 1789, its contemporaries help to reestablish it. They do this partly by design to save themselves from suffering the same fate. The Revolution, and the wars which grew out of it, constituted a recession in the world civilization; but the collapse was not general, and the year 1815 marks the beginning of a new era of progress.
So far there has been only one great cycle of civilization about which we have full information. It is the Graeco-Roman of ancient times. It began about 1000 B.C., grew slowly for five hundred years, then rapidly for the next five hundred; then it declined for five hundred years and ended in collapse.
This downfall of ancient civilization is usually regarded as a unique occurrence, due to special causes. Special causes there were in plenty, such as have come together at no other time, but there is evidence now at hand to show that the experience as a whole was not unique. About 1500 B.C. there was a mature civilization all over the Orient. It covered Egypt, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and the Tigris-Euphrates valley. It was not like our civilization, nor like the Graeco-Roman, but it was well developed after its own ideals, as the excavations recently made give abundant proof. Yet by the year 1000 B.C. that Oriental civilization had declined or been swept away, to be replaced everywhere by a cruder social organization until a new civilization could grow. In the island of Crete, for example, the old order disappeared so suddenly that the Cretan language was lost and the inscriptions, which exist in considerable quantity, remain undeci-phered to this day. The same thing happened to the Hittites in Syria. But the Babylonian and Egyptian inscriptions have been deciphered, and they tell us more about that civilization of 1000 to 2000 B.C. than is known about the Greeks of 1000 B.C., or the Romans of 500 b.c, or our own Teutonic ancestors of 900 a.d.
There are also traces of other great retrogressions in human progress. Some four or five thousand years before Christ the most advanced people in the Tigris-Euphrates valley were the Accadians, a non-Semitic stock. It was through their subjection and the taking over of their culture by Semitic invaders that the Chaldean or ancient Babylonian civilization began. And then what happened to the Cliff Dwellers in the valley of the Colorado River? To the cities of Yucatan which now lie in ruins? Did the Indians give up the stationary life which produced the mounds in order to chase the buffalo and so become nomads again? What became of the Lake Dwellers of Switzerland? Of the Cro-Magnon cave-dwellers in France and Spain who decorated the walls and ceilings of their homes with paintings and whose art perished with them? Conquest by outsiders may be presumed in some of these cases, but the example of the Romans shows us that there may have been internal decay which made the conquest easy.
These few instances - only two about which much is known - do not amount to proof that there is a fifteen-hun-dred-year cycle in the advance of civilization, or that what we call modern civilization is due to have a general downfall within the next century. But they do show that general recessions have come in the past and should be expected in the future. The hopeful feature in modern civilization is that it has never become unified. Great recessions take place, such as the Hundred Years' War, the Thirty Years' War, and the French Revolution; but being local they leave progress to go on in other countries; civilization as a whole does not collapse, but rather gathers new impetus after each recession.
Socialism appears to-day to be the gravest of the dangers that threaten the European peoples. It will doubtless complete a decadence for which many causes are paving the way, and it will perhaps mark the end of Western civilization. - Le Bon, The Psychology of Peoples, p. 225.