The Prospects of Industrial Civilisation

  • R. A. Buchanan


History is, in part, a search for precedents — an interpretation of the past designed to indicate similarities and congruities in order to suggest lessons which can be applied to the present and the future so that our performance may be improved. It has been with this purpose that we have explored some of the most important themes in the development of modern Industrial Civilisation. The description of the exercise as an ‘exploration’ is appropriate because the treatment of many large subjects has undoubtedly been perfunctory. Some, indeed, have been dealt with in only a few words, and even with those chosen for examination in more detail little more than a preliminary survey has been possible. Nevertheless, even this cavalier treatment has sufficed to show the essential unity of our civilisation, and the shape of the problems which confront it and which require solutions in this generation. The argument of the preceding pages, in short, has been that Industrial Civilisation has arrived at a point of momentous significance in its development. In an over-worked but realistic metaphor, it is at a cross-roads, where a collective decision has to be made between alternative courses of action. In the generation of those of us who are alive now, decisions will be made, either explicitly or by default, which will affect the character of our civilisation, and even its survival. If it is to have a worth-while future, everything will depend on the wisdom and timeliness of our collective action in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The destiny of the species is in our hands. Never in human history has so much depended upon the decisions of a single generation of men and women.


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  1. 1.
    S. H. Meadows et al, The Limits to Growth (University Books N.Y., USA, 1972; Earth Island Ltd 1972) is the best known publication of the Club of Rome. The computer projections on which this study was based have been subjected to pertinent criticism —Google Scholar
  2. see, for instance, H. S. D. Cole et al, Thinking about the Future — A Critique of Limits to Growth (Chatto & Windus for Sussex University Press, 1973 ).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    The concept of stable equilibrium is an attempt to take into account the powerful arguments advanced by the ecologists in recent years. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Hamish Hamilton, 1963) was a pioneer in calling attention to environmental pollution, and was the first person to make the American and British public aware of the serious consequences of using insecticides indiscriminately.Google Scholar
  4. See also Barbara Ward and René Dubos, Only One Earth: the care and maintenance of a small planet (Andre Deutsch and Pelican, 1972),Google Scholar
  5. and Richard G. Wilkinson, Poverty and Progress ( Methuen 1973 ). The latter is a particularly forceful exposition of the dangers of disturbing ecological equilibrium.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Thomas More’s Utopia was written in Latin and first published in 1516. There is a good edition available in Penguin Classics, ed. Paul Turner (1965). It is significant that More coined the word ‘Utopia’ as a rather ironical pun, capable of meaning either ‘no place’ or ‘the good place’.Google Scholar
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    For a recent treatment of secularisation in a historical context, see Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge 1975).Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (1970 and Pan Books, 1975).Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    The course of this particularly important aspect of the European intellectual revolution has been admirably surveyed by Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, The Discovery of Time (Hutchinson 1965; Pelican 1967).Google Scholar
  10. This has been available in Pelican, as has also Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (1859), which is delightfully easy to read.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    Apart from the well-known classics of science fiction — Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and so on — which are still eminently readable, many less familiar works are worth careful consideration. In particular, Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men (1930; Penguin 1963) is a projection of extraordinary imaginative power, and amongst more recent authors Arthur C. Clarke possesses an outstanding capacity for plausible inventiveness.Google Scholar
  12. Although it is not strictly science fiction, Clarke’s Profiles of the Future (Gollancz, 1962; Pan Books 1964) is a brilliant evocation of the imaginative possibilities (and impossibilities) before mankind.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© R. A. Buchanan 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. A. Buchanan
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BathUK

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