In the first place, civilizations are short lived things compared with Men. We Men are eternal entities, eternal stretching in both directions; but civilizations are finite, and sometimes very brief.
Nonetheless, they set a context for our mortal lives; so it is important to recognize that the analogy, the metaphor, the model by which we explain civilization sets constraints on how we understand them - and so some extent how we understand ourselves.
Most discussion of civilizations is quasi-scientific, often very quantitative: nowadays to do with statistics of one sort or another, in an earlier time, to do with histories of conquest and conquerings. Oswald Spengler rejected this for a biological, organismic model - history as analogy with growth, vitality, seeding, disease, senescence and extinction.
But this is also extremely limited; and indeed grossly insufficient in terms of how the soul yearns.
Another framework is to look at civilizations in terms of intellectual and/or artistic 'achievement' - viewed with a long-termist perspective: philosophy, architecture, fine art, science and technology, poetry and literature... Yet although this is superficially inspiring, it soon palls and drags us down; and we notice the disturbing mismatch between The Man and the Civilization on the one hand, and The Accomplishment on the other hand.
To dwell inside the aesthetic framework becomes a dismaying, demoralizing, and even an un-aesthetic experience - it leads with apparent inevitability to the poseur, the dilettante, the pundit and the art dealer rather than to the sage: the man of depth and wisdom.
As eternal beings we crave an understanding of civilizations which includes divine aspirations - a context of God's plans, or hopes; and our own.
Closer to what we want is to understand civilizations in terms of spiritual warfare, the fight between good and evil, obedience to God and rebellion against him. But of course, warfare is sub-optimal, warfare may be necessary - but it is not what we most hope for.
What we do most hope for is something creative (creative in a very general sense - a making of things that are good).
So, best (it seems to me) is to understand civilizations in terms of spiritual progression, in terms of the striving (and otherwise) of Man and Men for higher levels of divinity, for God-like-ness, of participation in the ultimate work of creation and creativity - of progress in this goal, and corruption away from this goal.
A salvation and theosis story.
Indeed, once this spiritual evolution/ devolution analogy has been noted and explored, all other analogies of civilization seem grossly and dangerously impoverished.
"the mind of a nation (Athene for instance) is the divine, knowing and willing itself." -- Hegel
The spirit of an organic civilization is a pagan deity. This is why the Emperor is divine.
I was really surprised to find in Heidegger the best description of a a Shinto shrine:
"A building, a Greek temple, portrays nothing. It simply stands there in the middle of the rocky, fissured valley. The building encloses the figure of a god and within this concealment, allows it to stand forth through the columned hall within the holy precinct. Through the temple, the god is present in the temple. This presence of the god is, in itself, the extension and delimitation of the precinct as something holy. The temple and its precinct do not, however, float off into the indefinite. It is the temple work that first structures and simultaneously gathers around itself the unity of those paths and relations in which birth and death, disaster and blessing, victory and disgrace, endurance and decline acquire for the human being the shape of its destiny. The all-governing expanse of these open relations is the world of this historical people. From and within this expanse the people first returns to itself for the completion of its vocation."
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