Worldbuilders can find the details in On the Plurality of Civilisations (foreword by Arnold Toynbee). We only provide a short digest here.
A civilisation is a method of organising a community's life, encompassing all the practical and axiological aspects of it, like whether it has clans or nuclear families, the intricate details of law and how it relates to ethics (very important!), how communal the community is, and so on.
Of course, there are hundreds of possible civilisations. Ancient Greece alone had several, although it's hard to tell exactly, because, unlike ceramics and weapons, laws don't leave much archeological evidence note . Some civilisations die out (like spartan or republican roman, although this one sort of survives in the latin civilisation), some last for a really, really long time (the jewish civilisation is circa 6000 years old and going strong). There's no law to this.
Oh, and when two civilisations meet beyond occasional trade, you get Values Dissonance of epic proportions, obviously. If civilisations try to meld together, Apathetic Citizens inevitably result, because of all the confusion (one says eg. Be Yourself, the other shouts Conform! - what's a poor guy going to do?). If the civilisations are too far apart to even try melding, the more advanced one (that is, the one demanding more effort from its members) usually gets squished by the less advanced one. The advanced one may also split, as was the case with the roman civilisation, even on the same territory (a staunch republican Cato and very imperial Julius Caesar lived alongside), with the less advanced one getting to rule (more or less oppresively).
All civilisations have laws - sometimes just the word of the ruler. They also have the basic concepts of ethics: duty, selflessness, responsibility, justice, conscience, attitude towards time note , attitude towards work note . These concepts mean different things in various civilisations: "duty" is always "what you ought to do, because not doing it is immoral" but what exactly your duty is varies.
Apart from ethics and law, the most visible difference between civilisations is their treatment of the five basic values: spiritual Truth and Good, spiritual/physical Beauty, physical Health and Wealth. For example, the attican civilisation tended towards Beauty Equals Goodness equals Truth - but pursuit of Wealth for itself was ridiculed. All the values are important, though - neglecting one negatively impacts your ability to recognise and pursuit the others (For Science! tends to require money and health, for example).
Civilisations tend to be tied to at least one religion (although sometimes religions turn out to fit another civilisation better: Buddhism has mostly migrated out of its civilisation of origin, the brahmin, into the chinese and tibetan). Their connection to places is less important - you simply need somewhere for the people to live and build their society, which at least at the beggining usually is a specific state. Within a civilisation, varieties called cultures arise (and fall): for example arabian civilisation used to have the cordoban culture (in Spain), which was still arabian, just with some local flavour. It had the potential to split off, but didn't.
The major (surviving) civilisations Koneczny distinguished are:
- latin: heir to both the attican and republican roman, christian - catholic; Double Standards are bad - the same morality applies to the rulers and the ruled; law should be ethical, people should be independent (if morally principled), small land-owners if possible (because that secures them economical independence); also facilitates development of science and tends towards maximum variety (within its limits) and creativity (see G. K. Chesterton for a nice example of a latin civilisation member); has concepts of nation and critical, scientific history;
- byzantine: heir to the imperial roman and hellenistic, also christian, but either orthodox or protestant, Might Makes Right; with a Vast Bureaucracy (very micromanaging), the Supreme Boss of which is above morality and uses Disproportionate Retribution whenever he likes, cause he makes the rules;
- turanian: Proud Warrior Race, nomadic; Might Makes Right even more than in the byzantine, but the organisation is loose and tends to fall apart when deprived of a leader; not tied to any particular religion (it accommodates animists, buddhists, muslims and several christian sects); see Genghis Khan;
- jewish: scholarly sacral civilisation (that means Sacred Scripture is the source of all their laws note ) of Rules Lawyers; severed too early and abruptly from its land of origin, hence tending towards mercantile occupations; perceive themselves as the Chosen People, Double Standard towards the gentiles;
- arabian: The Clan (cordoban culture had Nuclear Family); sacral - The Qur'an is the highest authority (which the ruler has to obey), but law only deals with immediate human relationships and The Government must make do with that (justifying e.g. taxes by the koranic duty of almsgiving), has stricter and less strict cultures - some of the less strict ones developed science, e.g. the Baghdad culture, which took some cues from the persian civilisation;
- brahmin: very formal sacral civilisation with The Clans and castes;
- chinese: The Clan up to eleven, with the ruler treated as a sort of The Patriarch for the entire state, not very religious (see Confucius) although they invented Zen, Vast Bureaucracy with scholarly tendencies.
The arabian, brahmin and chinese civilisations were not described by Koneczny in much detail, possibly because their members are not found in Poland in significant numbers. There are also numerous (Koneczny never claims to know how many) civilisations with smaller numbers of members, like tibetan (very distinct from the chinese) and however many of these exist in Oceania and Amazonia (Koneczny doesn't have the sufficient data to tell much about these, but wherever two people meet, there must be some civilisation - on the other hand, small, isolated communities can potentially become very different from anyone else, so there's that).
Some of the books by Feliks Koneczny:
- O wielości cywilizacyj - the abridged English translation was published by Polonica Publications in 1962 as On the Plurality of Civilisations
- Rozwój moralności translation
- Cywilizacja bizantyńska translation
- Cywilizacja żydowska translation
- Państwo w cywilizacji łacińskiej. Zasady prawa w cywilizacji łacińskiej translation
Tropes attributable to Koneczny's theory:
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: You can't discuss morality with a member of another civilisation, because your frames of reference are too different - someone from a civilisation in which time and trains wait for no man would seem a crazy Schedule Fanatic to a member of one that couldn't care less about being at a specific place when the sun moves to a specific point.
- The Clan: How civilisations start. Some develop nuclear families later on, some don't.
- Cool People Rebel Against Authority: In latin civilisation, and only within reason - latin civilisation values Truth above all, the search of which requires independent thinking. But you can't think freely without acknowledging that maybe you're wrong - the authority, of course, may be wrong as well.
- Double Standard: Some civilisations have these Inherent in the System.
- Ethnic God: Koneczny classified religions into: tribal (a pantheon of Ethnic Gods), local (bound to a place, like greek cults of e.g. Arthemis in Ephesus) and universal (anyone can join, right now on Earth these are: buddhism, christianity and islam).
- The Empire: Byzantean civilisation has a tendency for "one folk, one Reich, one Fuhrer" style of ruling.
- The Federation: Latin civilisation, on the other hand, tends towards diversity, making its states the Federation or The Republic.
- God-Emperor: Some historical civilisations (notably the egyptian) believed that a real ruler has to be divine, or at least Semi-Divine. This proved problematic for those who tried to conquer them - either they assumed God Guise or were hated and despised, thus forced to rule with an iron fist, which made the people even more happy to renounce them.
- Marry Them All: The latin civilisation is strictly monogamous, as were the republican roman and greek civilisations, the others have various degrees of Polyamory (and Koneczny treats divorce as Polyamory, but not remarrying after your spouse has died).
- Nurture over Nature: Biology, genes, blood and whatnot have nothing to do with civilisation. You can be ethnically Jewish and belong to the byzantine, or, as Hungarians did, come from the inland Asia and adopt the latin civilisation. Language may be of some importance, but all the greek civilisations spoke koine, the latin civilisation is right now using languages derived from actual latin (like Spanish Language) or related to it (like English and Polish) as well as completely unrelated ones, like the aforementioned Hungarian. In general, Koneczny thinks explaining human behaviour by biology alone is complete rubbish.
- Screw Destiny: There's no such thing as historical determinism. Sure, history repeats, but that's because people are too lazy to learn from it and keep making the same choices from the same pool of ideas.
- Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Koneczny assumed humans were naturally monogamous and both polygamy and low social position of women arise from slavery. As such, he frowned on them, since he deemed slavery demoralising for both the slave and the owner.
- Turbulent Priest: Approved through and through. In latin civilisation, it doesn't matter that's the king is doing wrong - what matters is that the king is doing wrong and ought to be told that.
- Women Are Delicate: Discussed Trope in O wielości cywilizacyj - Koneczny points out that many cultures have men sowing the fields and women grinding, which is harder work. His hypothesis is that women in primitive society were the primary caretakers and so had to Stay in the Kitchen to be close to the less mobile part of The Clan, which is why female work is usually done at home.