Civilisation, by Kenneth Clark

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However complex and solid it seems, civilisation is actually quite fragile. It can be destroyed. What are its enemies? Well, first of all, fear – fear of war, fear of invasion, fear of plague and famine, that make it simply not worthwhile constructing things, or planting trees or even planting next year’s crops. And fear of the supernatural, which means that you daren’t question anything or change anything. The late antique world was full of meaningless rituals, mystery religions, that destroyed self-confidence. And then exhaustion, the feeling of hopelessness which can overtake people even with a high degree of material prosperity.

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Civilisation—in full, Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark—is a television documentary series outlining the history of Western art, architecture and philosophy since the Dark Ages. The series was produced by the BBC and aired in 1969 on BBC2. Both the television scripts and the accompanying book version were written by art historian Lord Clark (1903–1983), who also presented the series. The series is considered to be a landmark in British Television’s broadcasting of the visual arts. More…

IMAGE: Palmyra, Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty

Watch Episode 1 of Civilisation, below.

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