My dear young friend,
You ask a question worthy of some time. I trust my answer will meet your
What indeed are the tests of civilization? Do recall that the word means “to
live in a city.” Any collection of fools can exist together farm by farm. The
test is in the city. I give you no answers, but only questions.
First, how are the weak treated? Are children treated well, or beaten? I am
old. In a barbarian tribe I would be left in the woods to die of starvation. My
sons care for my needs now. You tell me that in your time the governors are
charged with this. I ask you: would you receive your daily bread with cold
impartiality or the warmth of love? I think it better that the family provide
for the weak; failing that, the church.
Next, how are the young taught? Are they made to understand that they are the
heirs of wisdom and greatness, or are they taught only the latest whims of the
philosophers? Heirs of greatness become great. Those who know only what is new,
know little and learn less.
Again, is there justice in the land? Is that justice swift? Do all
acknowledge that it is fair? Even the thief on the cross knew he deserved his
If the wall is to be strong, the bricks must be sound. Consider the bricks of
civilization. Are men trustworthy, or is there great need of the courts? Is
marriage honored or mocked? Is the home a strength or a trial? Do those who live
in the city uphold it or feed off it?
Finally, are the rulers held to the standard of high honor, or is corruption
a common thing?
It seems to me that these questions need asking in any age. Upon them depends
your civilization. The strongest weapon will fail in weak hands.
Isaac the alchemist