Author(s): John Armstrong
In Arthur Ransome's charming tale of childhood adventure, "Secret Water", four children are pretending to be savages approaching an outpost of the civilized world. 'What is civilization?' asks Bridget, the youngest. 'Ices', explains her brother, 'and all that sort of thing'. It is probably the briefest definition of the term on record in English, though it doesn't quite do justice to the grand idea of civilization. But if it isn't ices then what exactly is meant by civilization, and why do we need it? Today, the debate around civilization and its meaning has almost disappeared. If talked about at all, it will be as part of a different debate: the political tensions between different parts of the world, colonial history, and developments in engineering. Yet the promise of civilization is greater: if considered in its full meaning civilization can be a way of reconnecting grand, societal forces - economic liberty, social freedom - with the more intimate and deeper needs of life - wisdom, maturity, and a flourishing of culture. In "In Search of Civilization", John Armstrong argues cogently and passionately that our sources of wisdom, maturity and happiness are rapidly drying up. Only by reviving a conversation about civilization, we can put in place the conditions for our renaissance.
An engaging and persuasive writer with a very non-technical approach to theoretical issues ... he has some fine turns of phrase ... His aesthetic sense seems strong and reliable Sunday Telegraph In a passionate defence of its qualities, John Armstrong argues that the concept of civilisation still has specific meaning ... it is underscored with the fragments of a memoir that in part explains ... the book's considerable charm and spirit of innocent longing Financial Times John Armstrong's new book, lyrical, courageous and uplifting, is seeking to do nothing less than reform the ambitions of western societies and encourage the growth of a set of values he captures with a highly unusual and intriguing word: "civilisation". Guardian
Associate Professor John Armstrong is Philosopher in Residence at the Melbourne Business School and Senior Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University. Born in Glasgow and educated at Oxford and London, he has lived in Australia since 2001. He is the author of several internationally acclaimed books on art, aesthetics and philosophy, including The Secret Power of Beauty and Conditions of Love.