Consciousness and Civilization: the Inside Story


Robert W. Cox


History has an inside and an outside. The outside is all that happened. The inside is why it happened. The ‘why’ is consciousness leading to action or inaction. Different forms of collective consciousness arose as distinctive civilizations among separate groups of homo sapiens enabling each group to understand and deal with their particular environment and to evolve their own hierarchy of values. These civilizations, the inside of history, have coexisted in space and formed linkages over time. A cyclical view of time, reflecting the cycle of nature, was common to all at the beginning. In the West, a linear perspective moving towards some conclusive end arose with monotheistic eschatology later reinforced by economic and imperial expansion. Encounters among civilizations may gradually lead to awareness that each is relative to its particular historical experience. Today one tendency sees the future as a globalizing merger of all civilizations into one. Another looks for compatibility among different values through dialogue among coexisting civilizations in a plural world. American and Chinese political thinking can be examined in this regard. Each is constrained by the imperative necessity of making human behaviour everywhere compatible with the material survival of the biosphere.



Robert W. Cox, F.R.C.S., is professor emeritus of political science at York University. In 1947, a graduate in history of McGill University, he joined the staff of the International Labour Office (ILO) in Montreal where it had sought refuge during World War II. The following year he moved with it to Geneva, Switzerland. His career with the ILO lasted twenty-five years in the course of which he served as chef de cabinet to Director-General David A. Morse and subsequently as Assistant Director-General and Director of the International Institute of Labour Studies. He resigned from the ILO in 1972 and was appointed professor of international organization at Columbia University in the City of New York. In 1977 he returned to Canada as professor of political science at York University, Toronto. He has written about multilateralism, international political economy, world order, civil society and civilizations. Production, Power and World Order. Social Forces in the Making of History (Columbia University Press, 1987), perhaps his best known book, has now appeared in Chinese translation by World Affairs Press, Beijing. His most recent book is The Political Economy of a Plural World. Critical Reflections on Power, Morals and Civilization (Routledge, 2002).

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