Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Idea of Progress by J.B. Bury

Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

individual men divested of their life in society is a misleading
abstraction. They put this in extravagant and untenable forms, but
there was a large measure of truth in their criticism, which did its
part in helping the nineteenth century to revise and transcend the
results of eighteenth century speculation.

In this reactionary literature we can see the struggle of the
doctrine of Providence, declining before the doctrine of Progress,
to gain the upper-hand again. Chateaubriand, Bonald, De Maistre,
Lamennais firmly held the dogma of an original golden age and the
degradation of man, and denounced the whole trend of progressive
thought from Bacon to Condorcet. These writers were unconsciously
helping Condorcet's doctrine to assume a new and less questionable
shape. [Footnote: Bonald indeed in his treatise De pouvoir adopted
the idea of development and applied it to religion (as Newman did
afterwards) for the purpose of condemning the Reformation as a
retrograde movement.]


Along with the discovery of the Middle Ages came the discovery of
German literature. In the intellectual commerce between the two
countries in the age of Frederick the Great, France had been
exclusively the giver, Germany the recipient. It was due, above all,
to Madame de Stael that the tide began to flow the other way. Among
the writers of the Napoleonic epoch, Madame de Stael is easily first
in critical talent and intellectual breadth. Her study of the
Revolution showed a more dispassionate appreciation of that
convulsion than any of her contemporaries were capable of forming.
But her chef-d'oeuvre is her study of Germany, De l'Allemagne,
[Footnote: A.D. 1813.] which revealed the existence of a world of
art and thought, unsuspected by the French public. Within the next
twenty years Herder and Lessing, Kant and Hegel were exerting their
influence at Paris. She did in France what Coleridge was doing in
England for the knowledge of German thought.

Madame de Stael had raised anew the question which had been raised
in the seventeenth century and answered in the negative by Voltaire:
is there progress in aesthetic literature? Her early book on
Literature had clearly defined the issue. She did not propose the
thesis that there is any progress or improvement (as some of the
Moderns had contended in the famous Quarrel) in artistic form.
Within the limits of their own thought and emotional experience the
ancients achieved perfection of expression, and perfection cannot be
surpassed. But as thought progresses, as the sum of ideas increases
and society changes, fresh material is supplied to art, there is "a
new development of sensibility" which enables literary artists to
compass new kinds of charm. The Genie du Christianisme embodied a
commentary on her contention, more arresting than any she could
herself have furnished. Here the reactionary joined hands with the
disciple of Condorcet, to prove that there is progress in the domain
of art. Madame de Stael's masterpiece, Germany, was a further
impressive illustration of the thesis that the literature of the
modern European nations represents an advance on classical
literature, in the sense that it sounds notes which the Greek and
Roman masters had not heard, reaches depths which they had not
conjectured, unlocks chambers which to them were closed,--as a
result of the progressive experiences of the human soul. [Footnote:
German literature was indeed already known, in some measure, to
readers of the Decade philosophique, and Kant had been studied in
France long before 1813, the year of the publication of De
l'Allemagne. See Picavet, Les Ideologues, p. 99.] [Footnote: We can
see the effect of her doctrine in Guizot's remarks (Histoire de la
civilisation en Europe, 2e lecon) where he says of modern
literatures that "sous le point de vue du fond des sentiments et des
idees elles sont plus fortes et plus riches [than the ancient]. On
voit que l'ame humaine a ete remuee sur un plus grand nombre de
points a une plus grande profondeur"--and to this very fact he
ascribes their comparative imperfection in form.]

This view is based on the general propositions that all social
phenomena closely cohere and that literature is a social phenomenon;
from which it follows that if there is a progressive movement in
society generally, there is a progressive movement in literature.
Her books were true to the theory; they inaugurated the methods of
modern criticism, which studies literary works in relation to the
social background of their period.


France, then, under the Bourbon Restoration began to seek new light
from the obscure profundities of German speculation which Madame de
Stael proclaimed. Herder's "Ideas" were translated by Edgar Quinet,
Lessing's Education by Eugene Rodrigues. Cousin sat at the feet of
Hegel. At the same time a new master, full of suggestiveness for
those who were interested in the philosophy of history, was
discovered in Italy. The "Scienza nuova" of Vico was translated by

The book of Vico was now a hundred years old. I did not mention him
in his chronological place, because he exercised no immediate
influence on the world. His thought was an anachronism in the
eighteenth century, it appealed to the nineteenth. He did not
announce or conceive any theory of Progress, but his speculation,
bewildering enough and confused in its exposition, contained
principles which seemed predestined to form the basis of such a
doctrine. His aim was that of Cabanis and the ideologists, to set
the study of society on the same basis of certitude which had been
secured for the study of nature through the work of Descartes and
Newton. [Footnote: Vico has sometimes been claimed as a theorist of
Progress, but incorrectly. See B. Croce, The Philosophy of
Giambattista Vico (Eng. tr., 1913), p. 132--an indispensable aid to
the study of Vico. The first edition of the Scienza nuova appeared
in 1725; the second, which was a new work, in 1730.

Vico influenced Ballanche, a writer who enjoyed a considerable
repute in his day. He taught the progressive development of man
towards liberty and equality within the four corners of the
Christian religion, which he regarded as final. His Palingenesie
sociale appeared in 1823-30.]

His fundamental idea was that the explanation of the history of
societies is to be found in the human mind. The world at first is
felt rather than thought; this is the condition of savages in the
state of nature, who have no political organisation. The second
mental state is imaginative knowledge, "poetical wisdom"; to this
corresponds the higher barbarism of the heroic age. Finally, comes
conceptual knowledge, and with it the age of civilisation. These are
the three stages through which every society passes, and each of
these types determines law, institutions, language, literature, and
the characters of men.

Vico's strenuous researches in the study of Homer and early Roman
history were undertaken in order to get at the point of view of the
heroic age. He insisted that it could not be understood unless we
transcended our own abstract ways of thinking and looked at the
world with primitive eyes, by a forced effort of imagination. He was
convinced that history had been vitiated by the habit of ignoring
psychological differences, by the failure to recapture the ancient
point of view. Here he was far in advance of his own times.

Concentrating his attention above all on Roman antiquity, he
adopted--not altogether advantageously for his system--the
revolutions of Roman history as the typical rule of social
development. The succession of aristocracy (for the early kingship
of Rome and Homeric royalty are merely forms of aristocracy in
Vico's view), democracy, and monarchy is the necessary sequence of
political governments. Monarchy (the Roman Empire) corresponds to
the highest form of civilisation. What happens when this is reached?
Society declines into an anarchical state of nature, from which it
again passes into a higher barbarism or heroic age, to be followed
once more by civilisation. The dissolution of the Roman Empire and
the barbarian invasions are followed by the Middle Ages, in which
Dante plays the part of Homer; and the modern period with its strong
monarchies corresponds to the Roman Empire. This is Vico's principle
of reflux. If the theory were sound, it would mean that the
civilisation of his day must again relapse into barbarism and the
cycle begin again. He did not himself state this conclusion directly
or venture on any prediction. It is obvious how readily his doctrine
could be adapted to the conception of Progress as a spiral movement.
Evidently the corresponding periods in his cycles are not identical
or really homogeneous. Whatever points of likeness may be discovered
between early Greek or Roman and medieval societies, the points of
unlikeness are still more numerous and manifest. Modern civilisation
differs in fundamental and far-reaching ways from Greek and Roman.
It is absurd to pretend that the general movement brings man back
again and again to the point from which he started, and therefore,
if there is any value in Vico's reflux, it can only mean that the
movement of society may be regarded as a spiral ascent, so that each
stage of an upward progress corresponds, in certain general aspects,
to a stage which has already been traversed, this correspondence
being due to the psychical nature of man.

A conception of this kind could not be appreciated in Vico's day or
by the next generation. The "Scienza nuova" lay in Montesquieu's
library, and he made no use of it. But it was natural that it should
arouse interest in France at a time when the new idealistic
philosophies of Germany were attracting attention, and when
Frenchmen, of the ideological school, were seeking, like Vico
himself, a synthetic principle to explain social phenomena.
Different though Vico was in his point of departure as in his
methods from the German idealists, his speculations nevertheless had
something in common with theirs. Both alike explained history by the
nature of mind which necessarily determined the stages of the
process; Vico as little as Fichte or Hegel took eudaemonic
considerations into account. The difference was that the German
thinkers sought their principle in logic and applied it a priori,
while Vico sought his in concrete psychology and engaged in
laborious research to establish it a posteriori by the actual data
of history. But both speculations suggested that the course of human
development corresponds to the fundamental character of mental
processes and is not diverted either by Providential intervention or
by free acts of human will.


These foreign influences co-operated in determining the tendencies
of French speculation in the period of the restored monarchy,
whereby the idea of Progress was placed on new basements and became
the headstone of new "religions." Before we consider the founders of
sects, we may glance briefly at the views of some eminent savants
who had gained the ear of the public before the July Revolution--
Jouffroy, Cousin, and Guizot.

Cousin, the chief luminary in the sphere of pure philosophy in
France in the first half of the nineteenth century, drew his
inspiration from Germany. He was professedly an eclectic, but in the
main his philosophy was Hegelian. He might endow God with
consciousness and speak of Providence, but he regarded the world-
process as a necessary evolution of thought, and he saw, not in
religion but in philosophy, the highest expression of civilisation.
In 1828 he delivered a course of lectures on the philosophy of
history. He divided history into three periods, each governed by a
master idea: the first by the idea of the infinite (the Orient); the
second by that of the finite (classical antiquity); the third by
that of the relation of finite to infinite (the modern age). As with
Hegel, the future is ignored, progress is confined within a closed
system, the highest circle has already been reached. As an opponent
of the ideologists and the sensational philosophy on which they
founded their speculations, Cousin appealed to the orthodox and all
those to whom Voltairianism was an accursed thing, and for a
generation he exercised a considerable influence. But his work--and
this is the important point for us--helped to diffuse the idea,
which the ideologists were diffusing on very different lines--that
human history has been a progressive development.

Progressive development was also the theme of Jouffroy in his slight
but suggestive introduction to the philosophy of history (1825),
[Footnote: "Reflexions sur la philosophie de l'histoire," in
Melanges philosophiques, 2nd edition, 1838.] in which he posed the
same problem which, as we shall see, Saint-Simon and Comte were
simultaneously attempting to solve. He had not fallen under the
glamour of German idealism, and his results have more affinity with
Vico's than with Hegel's.

He begins with some simple considerations which conduct to the
doubtful conclusion that all the historical changes in man's
condition are due to the operation of his intelligence. The
historian's business is to trace the succession of the actual
changes. The business of the philosopher of history is to trace the
succession of ideas and study the correspondence between the two
developments. This is the true philosophy of history: "the glory of
our age is to understand it."

Now it is admitted to-day, he says, that the human intelligence
obeys invariable laws, so that a further problem remains. The actual
succession of ideas has to be deduced from these necessary laws.
When that deduction is effected--a long time hence--history will
disappear; it will be merged in science.

Jouffroy then presented the world with what he calls the FATALITY OF
INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT, to take the place of Providence or
Destiny. It is a fatality, he is careful to explain, which, so far
from compromising, presupposes individual liberty. For it is not
like the fatality of sensual impulse which guides the brute
creation. What it implies is this: if a thousand men have the same
idea of what is good, this idea will govern their conduct in spite
of their passions, because, being reasonable and free, they are not
blindly submissive to passion, but can deliberate and choose.

This explanation of history as a necessary development of society
corresponding to a necessary succession of ideas differs in two
important points from the explanations of Hegel and Cousin. The
succession of ideas is not conceived as a transcendent logic, but is
determined by the laws of the HUMAN mind and belongs to the domain
of psychology. Here Jouffroy is on the same ground as Vico. In the
second place, it is not a closed system; room remains for an
indefinite development in the future.


While Cousin was discoursing on philosophy at Paris in the days of
the last Bourbon king, Guizot was drawing crowded audiences to his
lectures on the history of European civilisation, [Footnote:
Histoire de la civilisation en Europe.] and the keynote of these
lectures was Progress. He approached it with a fresh mind,
unencumbered with any of the philosophical theories which had
attended and helped its growth.

Civilisation, he said, is the supreme fact so far as man is
concerned, "the fact par excellence, the general and definite fact
in which all other facts merge." And "civilisation" means progress
or development. The word "awakens, when it is pronounced, the idea
of a people which is in motion, not to change its place but to
change its state, a people whose condition is expanding and
improving. The idea of progress, development, seems to me to be the
fundamental idea contained in the word CIVILISATION."

There we have the most important positive idea of eighteenth century
speculation, standing forth detached and independent, no longer
bound to a system. Fifty years before, no one would have dreamed of
defining civilisation like that and counting on the immediate
acquiescence of his audience. But progress has to be defined. It
does not merely imply the improvement of social relations and public
well-being. France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was
behind Holland and England in the sum and distribution of well-being
among individuals, and yet she can claim that she was the most
"civilised" country in those ages. The reason is that civilisation
also implies the development of the individual life, of men's
private faculties, sentiments, and ideas. The progress of man
therefore includes both these developments. But they are intimately
connected. We may observe how moral reformers generally recommend
their proposals by promising social amelioration as a result, and
that progressive politicians maintain that the progress of society
necessarily induces moral improvement. The connection may not always
be apparent, and at different times one or other kind of progress
predominates. But one is followed by the other ultimately, though it
may be after a long interval, for "la Providence a ses aises dans le
temps." The rise of Christianity was one of the crises of
civilisation, yet it did not in its early stages aim at any
improvement of social conditions; it did not attack the great
injustices which were wrought in the world. It meant a great crisis
because it changed the beliefs and sentiments of individuals; social
effects came afterwards.

The civilisation of modern Europe has grown through a period of
fifteen centuries and is still progressing. The rate of progress has
been slower than that of Greek civilisation, but on the other hand
it has been continuous, uninterrupted, and we can see "the vista of
an immense career."

The effects of Guizot's doctrine in propagating the idea of Progress
were all the greater for its divorce from philosophical theory. He
did not touch perplexing questions like fatality, or discuss the
general plan of the world; he did not attempt to rise above common-
sense; and he did not essay any premature scheme of the universal
history of man. His masterly survey of the social history of Europe
exhibited progressive movement as a fact, in a period in which to
the thinkers of the eighteenth century it had been almost invisible.
This of course was far from proving that Progress is the key to the
history of the world and human destinies. The equation of
civilisation with progress remains an assumption. For the question
at once arises: Can civilisation reach a state of equilibrium from
which no further advance is possible; and if it can, does it cease
to be civilisation? Is Chinese civilisation mis-called, or has there
been here too a progressive movement all the time, however slow?
Such questions were not raised by Guizot. But his view of history
was effective in helping to establish the association of the two
ideas of civilisation and progress, which to-day is taken for
granted as evidently true.


The views of these eminent thinkers Cousin, Jouffroy, and Guizot
show that--quite apart from the doctrines of ideologists and of the
"positivists," Saint-Simon and Comte, of whom I have still to speak-
-there was a common trend in French thought in the Restoration
period towards the conception of history as a progressive movement.
Perhaps there is no better illustration of the infectiousness of
this conception than in the Historical Studies which Chateaubriand
gave to the world in 1831. He had learned much, from books as well
as from politics, since he wrote the GENIUS OF CHRISTIANITY. He had
gained some acquaintance with German philosophy and with Vico. And
in this work of his advanced age he accepts the idea of Progress, so
far as it could be accepted by an orthodox son of the Church. He
believes that the advance of knowledge will lead to social progress,
and that society, if it seems sometimes to move backward, is always
really moving forward. Bossuet, for whom he had no word of criticism
thirty years before, he now convicts of "an imposing error." That
great man, he writes, "has confined historical events in a circle as
rigorous as his genius. He has imprisoned them in an inflexible
Christianity--a terrible hoop in which the human race would turn in
a sort of eternity, without progress or improvement." The admission
from such a quarter shows eloquently how the wind was setting.

The notions of development and continuity which were to control all
departments of historical study in the later nineteenth century were
at the same time being independently promoted by the young
historical school in Germany which is associated with the names of
Eichhorn, Savigny, and Niebuhr. Their view that laws and
institutions are a natural growth or the expression of a people's
mind, represents another departure from the ideas of the eighteenth
century. It was a repudiation of that "universal reason" which
desired to reform the world and its peoples indiscriminately without
taking any account of their national histories.




Amid the intellectual movements in France described in the last
chapter the idea of Progress passed into a new phase of its growth.
Hitherto it had been a vague optimistic doctrine which encouraged
the idealism of reformers and revolutionaries, but could not guide
them. It had waited like a handmaid on the abstractions of Nature
and Reason; it had hardly realised an independent life. The time had
come for systematic attempts to probe its meaning and definitely to
ascertain the direction in which humanity is moving. Kant had said
that a Kepler or a Newton was needed to find the law of the movement
of civilisation. Several Frenchmen now undertook to solve the
problem. They did not solve it; but the new science of sociology was
founded; and the idea of Progress, which presided at its birth, has
been its principal problem ever since.


The three thinkers who claimed to have discovered the secret of
social development had also in view the practical object of
remoulding society on general scientific principles, and they became
the founders of sects, Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Comte. They all
announced a new era of development as a necessary sequel of the
past, an inevitable and desirable stage in the march of humanity,
and delineated its features.

Comte was the successor of Saint-Simon, as Saint-Simon himself was
the successor of Condorcet. Fourier stands quite apart. He claimed
that he broke entirely new ground, and acknowledged no masters. He
regarded himself as a Newton for whom no Kepler or Galileo had
prepared the way. The most important and sanest part of his work was
the scheme for organising society on a new principle of industrial
co-operation. His general theory of the universe and man's destinies
which lay behind his practical plans is so fantastic that it sounds
like the dream of a lunatic. Yet many accepted it as the apocalypse
of an evangelist.

Fourier was moved by the far-reaching effects of Newton's discovery
to seek a law which would coordinate facts in the moral world as the
principle of gravitation had co-ordinated facts in the physical
world, and in 1808 he claimed to have found the secret in what he
called the law of Passional Attraction. [Footnote: Theorie des
quatre mouvements et des destinees generales. General accounts of
his theories will be found in Charles Fourier, sa vie et sa theorie,
by his disciple Dr. Ch. Pellarin (2nd ed., 1843), and in Flint,
Hist. of Philosophy of History in France, etc., pp. 408 sqq.] The
human passions have hitherto been sources of misery; the problem for
man is to make them sources of happiness. If we know the law which
governs them, we can make such changes in our environment that none
of the passions will need to be curbed, and the free indulgence of
one will not hinder or compromise the satisfaction of the others.

His worthless law for harmonising the passions without restraining
them need not detain us. The structure of society, by which he
proposed to realise the benefits of his discovery, was based on co-
operation, but was not socialistic. The family as a social unit was
to be replaced by a larger unit (PHALANGE), economically self-
sufficing, and consisting of about 1800 persons, who were to live
together in a vast building (PHALANSTERE), surrounded by a domain
sufficient to produce all they required. Private property is not
abolished; the community will include both rich and poor; all the
products of their work are distributed in shares according to the
labour, talents, and capital of each member, but a fixed minimum is
assured to every one. The scheme was actually tried on a small scale
near the forest of Rambouillet in 1832.

This transformation of society, which is to have the effect of
introducing harmony among the passions, will mark the beginning of a
new epoch. The duration of man's earthly career is 81,000 years, of
which 5000 have elapsed. He will now enter upon a long period of
increasing harmony, which will be followed by an equal period of
decline--like the way up and the way down of Heraclitus. His brief
past, the age of his infancy, has been marked by a decline of
happiness leading to the present age of "civilisation" which is
thoroughly bad--here we see the influence of Rousseau--and from it
Fourier's discovery is the clue to lead humanity forth into the
epoch in which harmony begins to emerge. But men who have lived in
the bad ages need not be pitied, and those who live to-day need not
be pessimistic. For Fourier believed in metempsychosis, and could
tell you, as if he were the private secretary of the Deity
calculating the arithmetical details of the cosmic plan, how many
very happy, tolerably happy, and unhappy lives fall to the lot of
each soul during the whole 81,000 years. Nor does the prospect end
with the life of the earth. The soul of the earth and the human
souls attached to it will live again in comets, planets, and suns,
on a system of which Fourier knew all the particulars. [Footnote:
Details will be found in the Theorie de l'unite universelle,
originally published under the title Association domestique-agricole
in 1822.]

These silly speculations would not deserve even this slight
indication of their purport were it not that Fourier founded a sect
and had a considerable body of devoted followers. His "discovery"
was acclaimed by Beranger:

Fourier nous dit: Sors de la fange,
Peuple en proie aux deceptions,
Travaille, groupe par phalange,
Dans un cercle d'attractions;
La terre, apres tant de desastres,
Forme avec le ciel un hymen,
Et la loi qui regit les astres,
Donne la paix au genre humain.

Ten years after his death (1837) an English writer tells us that
"the social theory of Fourier is at the present moment engrossing
the attention and exciting the apprehensions of thinking men, not
only in France but in almost every country in Europe." [Footnote: R.
Blakey, History of the Philosophy of Mind, vol. iv. p. 293 (1848).
Fourier, born 1772, died in 1837. His principal disciple was Victor
Considerant.] Grotesque as was the theoretical background of his
doctrines, he helped to familiarise the world with the idea of
indefinite Progress.


"The imagination of poets has placed the golden age in the cradle of
the human race. It was the age of iron they should have banished
there. The golden age is not behind us, but in front of us. It is
the perfection of social order. Our fathers have not seen it; our
children will arrive there one day, and it is for us to clear the
way for them."

The Comte de Saint-Simon, who wrote these words in 1814, was one of
the liberal nobles who had imbibed the ideas of the Voltairian age
and sympathised with the spirit of the Revolution. In his literary
career from 1803 to his death in 1825 he passed through several
phases of thought, [Footnote: They are traced in G. Weill's valuable
monograph, Saint-Simon et son oeuvre, 1894.] but his chief masters
were always Condorcet and the physiologists, from whom he derived
his two guiding ideas that ethics and politics depend ultimately on
physics and that history is progress.

Condorcet had interpreted history by the progressive movement of
knowledge. That, Saint-Simon said, is the true principle, but
Condorcet applied it narrowly, and committed two errors. He did not
understand the social import of religion, and he represented the
Middle Ages as a useless interruption of the forward movement. Here
Saint-Simon learned from the religious reaction. He saw that
religion has a natural and legitimate social role and cannot be
eliminated as a mere perversity. He expounded the doctrine that all
social phenomena cohere. A religious system, he said, always
corresponds to the stage of science which the society wherein it
appears has reached; in fact, religion is merely science clothed in
a form suitable to the emotional needs which it satisfies. And as a
religious system is based on the contemporary phase of scientific
development, so the political system of an epoch corresponds to the
religious system. They all hang together. Medieval Europe does not
represent a temporary triumph of obscurantism, useless and
deplorable, but a valuable and necessary stage in human progress. It
was a period in which an important principle of social organisation
was realised, the right relation of the spiritual and temporal

It is evident that these views transformed the theory of Condorcet
into a more acceptable shape. So long as the medieval tract of time
appeared to be an awkward episode, contributing nothing to the
forward movement but rather thwarting and retarding it, Progress was
exposed to the criticism that it was an arbitrary synthesis, only
partly borne out by historical facts and supplying no guarantees for
the future. And so long as rationalists of the Encyclopaedic school
regarded religion as a tiresome product of ignorance and deceit, the
social philosophy which lay behind the theory of Progress was
condemned as unscientific; because, in defiance of the close
cohesion of social phenomena, it refused to admit that religion, as
one of the chief of those phenomena, must itself participate and co-
operate in Progress.

Condorcet had suggested that the value of history lies in affording
data for foreseeing the future. Saint-Simon raised this suggestion
to a dogma. But prevision was impossible on Condorcet's unscientific
method. In order to foretell, the law of the movement must be
discovered, and Condorcet had not found or even sought a law. The
eighteenth century thinkers had left Progress a mere hypothesis
based on a very insufficient induction; their successors sought to
lift it to the rank of a scientific hypothesis, by discovering a
social law as valid as the physical law of gravitation. This was the
object both of Saint-Simon and of Comte.

The "law" which Saint-Simon educed from history was that epochs of
organisation or construction, and epochs of criticism or revolution,
succeed each other alternately. The medieval period was a time of
organisation, and was followed by a critical, revolutionary period,
which has now come to an end and must be succeeded by another epoch
of organisation. Having discovered the clew to the process, Saint-
Simon is able to predict. As our knowledge of the universe has
reached or is reaching a stage which is no longer conjectural but
POSITIVE in all departments, society will be transformed
accordingly; a new PHYSICIST religion will supersede Christianity
and Deism; men of science will play the role of organisers which the
clergy played in the Middle Ages.

As the goal of the development is social happiness, and as the
working classes form the majority, the first step towards the goal
will be the amelioration of the lot of the working classes. This
will be the principal problem of government in reorganising society,
and Saint-Simon's solution of the problem was socialism. He rejected
the watchwords of liberalism--democracy, liberty, and equality--with
as much disdain as De Maistre and the reactionaries.

The announcement of a future age of gold, which I quoted above, is
taken from a pamphlet which he issued, in conjunction with his
secretary, Augustin Thierry the historian, after the fall of
Napoleon. [Footnote: De la reorganisation de la societe europeenne,
p. 111 (1814).] In it he revived the idea of the Abbe de Saint-
Pierre for the abolition of war, and proposed a new organisation of
Europe more ambitious and Utopian than the Abbe's league of states.
At this moment he saw in parliamentary government, which the
restored Bourbons were establishing in France, a sovran remedy for
political disorder, and he imagined that if this political system
were introduced in all the states of Europe a long step would have
been taken to the perpetuation of peace. If the old enemies France
and England formed a close alliance there would be little difficulty
in creating ultimately a European state like the American
Commonwealth, with a parliamentary government supreme over the state
governments. Here is the germ of the idea of a "parliament of man."


Saint-Simon, however, did not construct a definite system for the
attainment of social perfection. He left it to disciples to develop
the doctrine which he sketched. In the year of his death (1825)
Olinde Rodrigues and Enfantin founded a journal, the Producteur, to
present to humanity the one thing which humanity, in the opinion of
their master, then most needed, a new general doctrine. [Footnote:
The best study of the Saint-Simonian school is that of G. Weill,
L'Ecole saint-simonienne, son histoire, son influence jusqu'a nos
jours (1896), to which I am much indebted.]

History shows that peoples have been moving from isolation to union,
from war to peace, from antagonism to association. The programme for
the future is association scientifically organised. The Catholic
Church in the Middle Ages offered the example of a great social
organisation resting on a general doctrine. The modern world must
also be a social organisation, but the general doctrine will be
scientific, not religious. The spiritual power must reside, not in
priests but in savants, who will direct the progress of science and
public education. Each member of the community will have his place
and duties assigned to him. Society consists of three classes of
workers--industrial workers, savants, and artists. A commission of
eminent workers of each class will determine the place of every
individual according to his capacities. Complete equality is absurd;
inequality, based on merit, is reasonable and necessary. It is a
modern error to distrust state authority. A power directing national
forces is requisite, to propose great ideas and to make the
innovations necessary for Progress. Such an organisation will
promote progress in all domains: in science by co-operation, in
industry by credit, and in art too, for artists will learn to
express the ideas and sentiments of their own age. There are signs
already of a tendency towards something of this kind; its
realisation must be procured, not by revolution but by gradual

In the authoritarian character of the organisation to which these
apostles of Progress wished to entrust the destinies of man we may
see the influence of the great theocrat and antagonist of Progress,
Joseph de Maistre. He taught them the necessity of a strong central
power and the danger of liberty.

But the fullest exposition of the Saint-Simonian doctrine of
development was given by Bazard, one of the chief disciples, a few
years later. [Footnote: Exposition de la doctrine saint-simonienne,
2 vols., 1830-1.] The human race is conceived as a collective being
which unfolds its nature in the course of generations, according to
a law--the law of Progress--which may be called the physiological
law of the human species, and was discovered by Saint-Simon. It
consists in the alternation of ORGANIC and CRITICAL epochs.
[Footnote: In the Globe, which became an organ of Saint-Simonism in
1831, Enfantin announced a new principle (Weill, op. cit. 107). He
defined the law of history as "the harmony, ceaselessly progressive,
of flesh and spirit, of industry and science, of east and west, of
woman and man." The role of woman played a large part in the
teaching of the sect.

Saint-Simon's law of organic and critical ages was definitely
accepted by H. de Ferron, a thinker who did not belong to the
school, as late as 1867. See his Theorie du progres, vol. ii. p.

In an organic epoch men discern a destination and harmonise all
their energies to reach it. In a critical epoch they are not
conscious of a goal, and their efforts are dispersed and discordant.
There was an organic period in Greece before the age of Socrates. It
was succeeded by a critical epoch lasting to the barbarian
invasions. Then came an organic period in the homogeneous societies
of Europe from Charlemagne to the end of the fifteenth century, and
a new critical period opened with Luther and has lasted till to-day.
Now it is time to prepare the advent of the organic age which must
necessarily follow.

The most salient fact observable in history is the continual
extension of the principle of association, in the series of family,
city, nation, supernational Church. The next term must be a still
vaster association comprehending the whole race.

In consequence of the incompleteness of association, the
exploitation of the weak by the strong has been a capital feature in
human societies, but its successive forms exhibit a gradual
mitigation. Cannibalism is followed by slavery, slavery by serfdom,
and finally comes industrial exploitation by the capitalist. This
latest form of the oppression of the weak depends on the right of
property, and the remedy is to transfer the right of inheriting the
property of the individual from the family to the state. The society
of the future must be socialistic.

The new social doctrine must not only be diffused by education and
legislation, it must be sanctioned by a new religion. Christianity
will not serve, for Christianity is founded on a dualism between
matter and spirit, and has laid a curse on matter. The new religion
must be monistic, and its principles are, briefly: God is one, God
is all that is, all is God. He is universal love, revealing itself
as mind and matter. And to this triad correspond the three domains
of religion, science, and industry.

In combining their theory with a philosophical religion the Saint-
Simonian school was not only true to its master's teaching but
obeying an astute instinct. As a purely secular movement for the
transformation of society, their doctrine would not have reaped the
same success or inspired the same enthusiasm. They were probably
influenced too by the pamphlet of Lessing to which Madame de Stael
had invited attention, and which one of Saint-Simon's disciples

The fortunes of the school, the life of the community at
Menilmontant under the direction of Enfantin, the persecution, the
heresies, the dispersion, the attempt to propagate the movement in
Egypt, the philosophical activity of Enfantin and Lemonnier under
the Second Empire, do not claim our attention; the curious story is
told in M. Weill's admirable monograph. [Footnote: It may be
noticed that Saint-Simonians came to the front in public careers
after the revolution of 1848; e.g. Carnot, Reynaud, Charton.] The
sect is now extinct, but its influence was wide in its day, and it
propagated faith in Progress as the key to history and the law of
collective life.[Footnote: Two able converts to the ideas of Saint-
Simon seceded from the school at an early stage in consequence of
Enfantin's aberrations: Pierre Leroux, whom we shall meet again, and
P. J. B. Buchez, who in 1833 published a thoughtful "Introduction a
la science de l'histoire," where history is defined as "a science
whose end is to foresee the social future of the human species in
the order of its free activity" (vol. i. p. 60,. ed. 2, 1842).]




Auguste Comte did more than any preceding thinker to establish the
idea of Progress as a luminary which could not escape men's vision.
The brilliant suggestions of Saint-Simon, the writings of Bazard and
Enfantin, the vagaries of Fourier, might be dismissed as curious
rather than serious propositions, but the massive system wrought out
by Comte's speculative genius--his organic scheme of human
knowledge, his elaborate analysis of history, his new science of
sociology--was a great fact with which European thought was forced
to reckon. The soul of this system was Progress, and the most
important problem he set out to solve was the determination of its

His originality is not dimmed by the fact that he owed to Saint-
Simon more than he afterwards admitted or than his disciples have
been willing to allow. He collaborated with him for several years,
and at this time enthusiastically acknowledged the intellectual
stimulus he received from the elder savant. [Footnote: Comte
collaborated with Saint-Simon from 1818-1822. The final rupture came
in 1824. The question of their relations is cleared up by Weill
(Saint-Simon, chap. xi.). On the quarrel see also Ostwald, Auguste
Comte (1914), 13 sqq.] But he derived from Saint-Simon much more
than the stimulation of his thoughts in a certain direction. He was
indebted to him for some of the characteristic ideas of his own
system. He was indebted to him for the principle which lay at the
very basis of his system, that the social phenomena of a given
period and the intellectual state of the society cohere and
correspond. The conception that the coming age was to be a period of
organisation like the Middle Ages, and the idea of the government of
savants, are pure Saint-Simonian doctrine. And the fundamental idea
of a POSITIVE philosophy had been apprehended by Saint-Simon long
before he was acquainted with his youthful associate.

But Comte had a more methodical and scientific mind, and he thought
that Saint-Simon was premature in drawing conclusions as to the
reformation of societies and industries before the positive
philosophy had been constructed. He published--he was then only
twenty-two--in 1822 a "Plan of the scientific operations necessary
for the re-organisation of society," which was published under
another title two years later by Saint-Simon, and it was over this
that the friends quarrelled. This work contains the principles of
the positive philosophy which he was soon to begin to work out; it
announces already the "law of the Three Stages."

The first volume of the "Cours de philisophie positive" appeared in
1830; it took him twelve years more to complete the exposition of
his system. [Footnote: With vol. vi., 1842.]


The "law of Three Stages" is familiar to many who have never read a
line of his writings. That men first attempted to explain natural
phenomena by the operation of imaginary deities, then sought to
interpret them by abstractions, and finally came to see that they
could only be understood by scientific methods, observation, and
experiment--this was a generalisation which had already been thrown
out by Turgot. Comte adopted it as a fundamental psychological law,
which has governed every domain of mental activity and explains the
whole story of human development. Each of our principal conceptions,
every branch of knowledge, passes successively through these three
states which he names the theological, the metaphysical, and the
positive or scientific. In the first, the mind invents; in the
second, it abstracts; in the third, it submits itself to positive
facts; and the proof that any branch of knowledge has reached the
third stage is the recognition of invariable natural laws.

But, granting that this may be the key to the history of the
sciences, of physics, say, or botany, how can it explain the history
of man, the sequence of actual historical events? Comte replies that
history has been governed by ideas; "the whole social mechanism is
ultimately based on opinions." Thus man's history is essentially a
history of his opinions; and these are subject to the fundamental
psychological law.

It must, however, be observed that all branches of knowledge are not
in the same stage simultaneously. Some may have reached the
metaphysical, while others are still lagging behind in the
theological; some may have become scientific, while others have not
passed from the metaphysical. Thus the study of physical phenomena
has already reached the positive stage; but the study of social
phenomena has not. The central aim of Comte, and his great
achievement in his own opinion, was to raise the study of social
phenomena from the second to the third stage.

When we proceed to apply the law of the three stages to the general
course of historical development, we are met at the outset by the
difficulty that the advance in all the domains of activity is not
simultaneous. If at a given period thought and opinions are partly
in the theological, partly in the metaphysical, and partly in the
scientific state, how is the law to be applied to general
development? One class of ideas, Comte says, must be selected as the
criterion, and this class must be that of social and moral ideas,
for two reasons. In the first place, social science occupies the
highest rank in the hierarchy of sciences, on which he laid great
stress. [Footnote: Cours de phil. pos. v. 267. Law of consensus: op.
cit. iv. 347 sqq., 364, 505, 721, 735.] In the second, those ideas
play the principal part for the majority of men, and the most
ordinary phenomena are the most important to consider. When, in
other classes of ideas, the advance is at any time more rapid, this
only means an indispensable preparation for the ensuing period.

The movement of history is due to the deeply rooted though complex
instinct which pushes man to ameliorate his condition incessantly,
to develop in all ways the sum of his physical, moral, and
intellectual life. And all the phenomena of his social life are
closely cohesive, as Saint-Simon had pointed out. By virtue of this
cohesion, political, moral, and intellectual progress are
inseparable from material progress, and so we find that the phases
of his material development correspond to intellectual changes. The
principle of consensus or "solidarity," which secures harmony and
order in the development, is as important as the principle of the
three stages which governs the onward movement. This movement,
however, is not in a right line, but displays a series of
oscillations, unequal and variable, round a mean motion which tends
to prevail. The three general causes of variation, according to
Comte, are race, climate, and deliberate political action (such as
the retrograde policies of Julian the Apostate or Napoleon). But
while they cause deflections and oscillation, their power is
strictly limited; they may accelerate or retard the movement, but
they cannot invert its order; they may affect the intensity of the
tendencies in a given situation, but cannot change their nature.


In the demonstration of his laws by the actual course of
civilisation, Comte adopts what he calls "the happy artifice of
Condorcet," and treats the successive peoples who pass on the torch
as if they were a single people running the race. This is "a
rational fiction," for a people's true successors are those who
pursue its efforts. And, like Bossuet and Condorcet, he confined his
review to European civilisation; he considered only the ELITE or
advance guard of humanity. He deprecated the introduction of China
or India, for instance, as a confusing complication. He ignored the
ROLES of Brahmanism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism. His synthesis,
therefore, cannot claim to be a synthesis of universal history; it
is only a synthesis of the movement of European history. In
accordance with the law of the three stages, the development falls
into three great periods. The first or Theological came to an end
about A.D. 1400, and the second or Metaphysical is now nearing its
close, to make way for the third or Positive, for which Comte was
preparing the way.

The Theological period has itself three stages, in which Fetishism,
Polytheism, and Monotheism successively prevail. The chief social
characteristics of the Polytheistic period are the institution of
slavery and the coincidence or "confusion" of the spiritual and
temporal powers. It has two stages: the theocratic, represented by
Egypt, and the military, represented by Rome, between which Greece
stands in a rather embarrassing and uneasy position.

The initiative for the passage to the Monotheistic period came from
Judaea, and Comte attempts to show that this could not have been
otherwise. His analysis of this period is the most interesting part
of his survey. The chief feature of the political system
corresponding to monotheism is the separation of the spiritual and
temporal powers; the function of the spiritual power being concerned
with education, and that of the temporal with action, in the wide
senses of those terms. The defects of this dual system were due to
the irrational theology. But the theory of papal infallibility was a
great step in intellectual and social progress, by providing a final
jurisdiction, without which society would have been troubled
incessantly by contests arising from the vague formulae of dogmas.
Here Comte had learned from Joseph de Maistre. But that thinker
would not have been edified when Comte went on to declare that in
the passage from polytheism to monotheism the religious spirit had
really declined, and that one of the merits of Catholicism was that
it augmented the domain of human wisdom at the expense of divine
inspiration. [Footnote: Cours de philosophic positive, vi. 354.] If
it be said that the Catholic system promoted the empire of the
clergy rather than the interests of religion, this was all to the
good; for it placed the practical use of religion in "the
provisional elevation of a noble speculative corporation eminently
able to direct opinions and morals."

But Catholic monotheism could not escape dissolution. The
metaphysical spirit began to operate powerfully on the notions of
moral philosophy, as soon as the Catholic organisation was complete;
and Catholicism, because it could not assimilate this intellectual
movement, lost its progressive character and stagnated.

The decay began in the fourteenth century, where Comte dates the
beginning of the Metaphysical period--a period of revolution and
disorder. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the movement is
spontaneous and unconscious; from the sixteenth till to-day it has
proceeded under the direction of a philosophical spirit which is
negative and not constructive. This critical philosophy has only
accelerated a decomposition which began spontaneously. For as
theology progresses it becomes less consistent and less durable, and
as its conceptions become less irrational, the intensity of the
emotions which they excite decreases. Fetishism had deeper roots
than polytheism and lasted longer; and polytheism surpassed
monotheism in vigour and vitality.

Yet the critical philosophy was necessary to exhibit the growing
need of solid reorganisation and to prove that the decaying system
was incapable of directing the world any longer. Logically it was
very imperfect, but it was justified by its success. The destructive
work was mainly done in the seventeenth century by Hobbes, Spinoza,
and Bayle, of whom Hobbes was the most effective. In the eighteenth
all prominent thinkers participated in developing this negative
movement, and Rousseau gave it the practical stimulus which saved it
from degenerating into an unfruitful agitation. Of particular
importance was the great fallacy, which Helvetius propagated, that
human intellects are equal. This error was required for the full
development of the critical doctrine. For it supported the dogmas of
popular sovranty and social equality, and justified the principle of
the right of private judgement.

These three principles--popular sovranty, equality, and what he
calls the right of free examination--are in Comte's eyes vicious and
anarchical.[Footnote #1 Op. cit. iv. 36-38.] But it was necessary
that they should be promulgated, because the transition from one
organised social system to another cannot be direct; it requires an
anarchical interregnum. Popular sovranty is opposed to orderly
institutions and condemns all superior persons to dependence on the
multitude of their inferiors. Equality, obviously anarchical in its
tendency, and obviously untrue (for, as men are not equal or even
equivalent to one another, their rights cannot be identical), was
similarly necessary to break down the old institutions. The
universal claim to the right of free judgement merely consecrates
the transitional state of unlimited liberty in the interim between
the decline of theology and the arrival of positive philosophy.
Comte further remarks that the fall of the spiritual power had led
to anarchy in international relations, and if the spirit of
nationality were to prevail too far, the result would be a state of
things inferior to that of the Middle Ages.

But Comte says for the metaphysical spirit in France that with all
its vices it was more disengaged from the prejudices of the old
theological regime, and nearer to a true rational positivism than
either the German mysticism or the English empiricism of the same

The Revolution was a necessity, to disclose the chronic
decomposition of society from which it resulted, and to liberate the
modern social elements from the grip of the ancient powers. Comte
has praise for the Convention, which he contrasts with the
Constituent Assembly with its political fictions and
inconsistencies. He pointed out that the great vice in the
"metaphysics" of the crisis--that is, in the principles of the
revolutionaries--lay in conceiving society out of relation to the
past, in ignoring the Middle Ages, and borrowing from Greek and
Roman society retrograde and contradictory ideals.

Napoleon restored order, but he was more injurious to humanity than
any other historical person. His moral and intellectual nature was
incompatible with the true direction of Progress, which involves the
extinction of the theological and military regime of the past. Thus
his work, like Julian the Apostate's, exhibits an instance of
deflection from the line of Progress. Then came the parliamentary
system of the restored Bourbons which Comte designates as a
political Utopia, destitute of social principles, a foolish attempt
to combine political retrogression with a state of permanent peace.


The critical doctrine has performed its historical function, and the
time has come for man to enter upon the Positive stage of his
career. To enable him to take this step forward, it is necessary
that the study of social phenomena should become a positive science.
As social science is the highest in the hierarchy of sciences, it
could not develop until the two branches of knowledge which come
next in the scale, biology and chemistry, assumed a scientific form.
This has recently been achieved, and it is now possible to found a
scientific sociology.

This science, like mechanics and biology, has its statics and its
dynamics. The first studies the laws of co-existence, the second
those of succession; the first contains the theory of order, the
second that of progress. The law of consensus or cohesion is the
fundamental principle of social statics; the law of the three stages
is that of social dynamics. Comte's survey of history, of which I
have briefly indicated the general character, exhibits the
application of these sociological laws.

The capital feature of the third period, which we are now
approaching, will be the organisation of society by means of
scientific sociology. The world will be guided by a general theory,
and this means that it must be controlled by those who understand
the theory and will know how to apply it. Therefore society will
revive the principle which was realised in the great period of
Monotheism, the distinction of a spiritual and a temporal order. But
the spiritual order will consist of savants who will direct social
life not by theological fictions but by the positive truths of
science. They will administer a system of universal education and
will draw up the final code of ethics. They will be able, more
effectively than the Church, to protect the interests of the lower

Comte's conviction that the world is prepared for a transformation
of this kind is based principally on signs of the decline of the
theological spirit and of the military spirit, which he regarded as
the two main obstacles to the reign of reason. Catholicism, he says,
is now no more than "an imposing historical ruin." As for
militarism, the epoch has arrived in which serious and lasting
warfare among the ELITE nations will totally cease. The last general
cause of warfare has been the competition for colonies. But the
colonial policy is now in its decadence (with the temporary
exception of England), so that we need not look for future trouble
from this source. The very sophism, sometimes put forward to justify
war, that it is an instrument of civilisation, is a homage to the
pacific nature of modern society.

We need not follow further the details of Comte's forecast of the
Positive period, except to mention that he did not contemplate a
political federation. The great European nations will develop each
in its own way, with their separate "temporal" organisations. But he
contemplated the intervention of a common "spiritual" power, so that
all nationalities "under the direction of a homogeneous speculative
class will contribute to an identical work, in a spirit of active
European patriotism, not of sterile cosmopolitanism."

Comte claimed, like Saint-Simon, that the data of history,
scientifically interpreted, afford the means of prevision. It is
interesting to observe how he failed himself as a diviner; how
utterly he misapprehended the vitality of Catholicism, how
completely his prophecy as to the cessation of wars was belied by
the event. He lived to see the Crimean war. [Footnote: He died in
1857.] As a diviner he failed as completely as Saint-Simon and
Fourier, whose dream that the nineteenth century would see the
beginning of an epoch of harmony and happiness was to be fulfilled
by a deadly struggle between capitalism and labour, the civil war in
America, the war of 1870, the Commune, Russian pogroms, Armenian
massacres, and finally the universal catastrophe of 1914.


For the comprehension of history we have perhaps gained as little
from Comte's positive laws as from Hegel's metaphysical categories.
Both thinkers had studied the facts of history only slightly and
partially, a rather serious drawback which enabled them to impose
their own constructions with the greater ease. Hegel's method of a
PRIORI synthesis was enjoined by his philosophical theory; but in
Comte we also find a tendency to a PRIORI treatment. He expressly
remarks that the chief social features of the Monotheistic period
might almost be constructed a PRIORI.

The law of the Three Stages is discredited. It may be contended that
general Progress depends on intellectual progress, and that
theology, metaphysics, and science have common roots, and are
ultimately identical, being merely phases in the movement of the
intelligence. But the law of this movement, if it is to rank as a
scientific hypothesis, must be properly deduced from known causes,
and must then be verified by a comparison with historical facts.
Comte thought that he fulfilled these requirements, but in both
respects his demonstration was defective. [Footnote: Criticism of
Comte's assumption that civilisation begins with animism: Weber's
criticisms from this point of view are telling (Le Rythme du
progres, 73-95). He observes that if Comte had not left the
practical and active side of intelligence in the shade and
considered only its speculative side, he could not have formulated
the law of the Three Stages. He would have seen that "the positive
explanation of phenomena has played in every period a preponderant
role, though latent, in the march of the human mind." Weber himself
suggests a scheme of two states (corresponding to the two-sidedness
of the intellect), technical and speculative, practical and
theoretical, through the alternation of which intellectual progress
has been effected. The first stage was probably practical (he calls
it proto-technic). It is to be remembered that when Comte was
constructing his system palaeontology was in its infancy.]

The gravest weakness perhaps in his historical sketch is the
gratuitous assumption that man in the earliest stage of his
existence had animistic beliefs and that the first phase of his
progress was controlled by fetishism. There is no valid evidence
that fetishism is not a relatively late development, or that in the
myriads of years stretching back beyond our earliest records, during
which men decided the future of the human species by their technical
inventions and the discovery of fire, they had any views which could
be called religious or theological. The psychology of modern savages
is no clew to the minds of the people who wrought tools of stone in
the world of the mammoth and the RHINOCEROS TICHIRHINUS. If the
first stage of man's development, which was of such critical
importance for his destinies, was pre-animistic, Comte's law of
progress fails, for it does not cover the ground.

In another way, Comte's system may be criticised for failing to
cover the ground, if it is regarded as a philosophy of history. In
accordance with "the happy artifice of Condorcet," he assumes that
the growth of European civilisation is the only history that
matters, and discards entirely the civilisations, for instance, of
India and China. This assumption is much more than an artifice, and
he has not scientifically justified it. [Footnote: A propos of the
view that only European civilisation matters it has been well
observed that "human history is not unitary but pluralistic": F. J.
Teggart, The Processes of History, p. 24 (1918).]

The reader of the PHILOSOPHIE POSITIVE will also observe that Comte
has not grappled with a fundamental question which has to be faced
in unravelling the woof of history or seeking a law of events. I
mean the question of contingency. It must be remembered that
contingency does not in the least affect the doctrine of
determinism; it is compatible with the strictest interpretation of
the principle of causation. A particular example may be taken to
show what it implies. [Footnote: On contingency and the "chapter of
accidents" see Cournot, Considerations sur la marche des idees et
des evenements dans les temps modernes (1872), i. 16 sqq. I have
discussed the subject and given some illustrations in a short paper,
entitled "Cleopatra's Nose," in the Annual of the Rationalist Press
Association for 1916.]

It may plausibly be argued that a military dictatorship was an
inevitable sequence of the French Revolution. This may not be true,
but let us assume it. Let us further assume that, given Napoleon, it
was inevitable that he should be the dictator. But Napoleon's
existence was due to an independent causal chain which had nothing
whatever to do with the course of political events. He might have
died in his boyhood by disease or by an accident, and the fact that
he survived was due to causes which were similarly independent of
the causal chain which, as we are assuming, led necessarily to an
epoch of monarchical government. The existence of a man of his
genius and character at the given moment was a contingency which
profoundly affected the course of history. If he had not been there
another dictator would have grasped the helm, but obviously would
not have done what Napoleon did.

It is clear that the whole history of man has been modified at every
stage by such contingencies, which may be defined as the collisions
of two independent causal chains. Voltaire was perfectly right when
he emphasised the role of chance in history, though he did not
realise what it meant. This factor would explain the oscillations
and deflections which Comte admits in the movement of historical
progression. But the question arises whether it may not also have
once and again definitely altered the direction of the movement. Can
the factor be regarded as virtually negligible by those who, like
Comte, are concerned with the large perspective of human development
and not with the details of an episode? Or was Renouvier right in
principle when he maintained "the real possibility that the sequence
of events from the Emperor Nerva to the Emperor Charlemagne might
have been radically different from what it actually was"? [Footnote:
He illustrated this proposition by a fanciful reconstruction of
European history from l00 to 800 A.D. in his UCHRONIE, 1876. He
contended that there is no definite law of progress: "The true law
lies in the equal possibility of progress or regress for societies
as for individuals."]


It does not concern us here to examine the defects of Comte's view
of the course of European history. But it interests us to observe
that his synthesis of human Progress is, like Hegel's, what I have
called a closed system. Just as his own absolute philosophy marked
for Hegel the highest and ultimate term of human development, so for
Comte the coming society whose organisation he adumbrated was the
final state of humanity beyond which there would be no further
movement. It would take time to perfect the organisation, and the
period would witness a continuous increase of knowledge, but the
main characteristics were definitely fixed. Comte did not conceive
that the distant future, could he survive to experience it, could
contain any surprises for him. His theory of Progress thus differed
from the eighteenth century views which vaguely contemplate an
indefinite development and only profess to indicate some general
tendencies. He expressly repudiated this notion of INDEFINITE
progress; the data, he said, justify only the inference of
CONTINUOUS progress, which is a different thing.

A second point in which Comte in his view of Progress differed from
the French philosophers of the preceding age is this. Condorcet and
his predecessors regarded it exclusively from the eudaemonic point
of view. The goal of Progress for them was the attainment of human
felicity. With felicity Comte is hardly more concerned than Hegel.
The establishment of a fuller harmony between men and their
environment in the third stage will no doubt mean happiness. But
this consideration lies outside the theory, and to introduce it
would only intrude an unscientific element into the analysis. The
course of development is determined by intellectual ideas, and he
treats these as independent of, and indifferent to, eudaemonic

A third point to be noted is the authoritarian character of the
regime of the future. Comte's ideal state would be as ill to live in
for any unfortunate being who values personal liberty as a theocracy
or any socialistic Utopia. He had as little sympathy with liberty as
Plato or as Bossuet, and less than the eighteenth century
philosophers. This feature, common to Comte and the Saint-Simonians,
was partly due to the reaction against the Revolution, but it also
resulted from the logic of the man of science. If sociological laws
are positively established as certainly as the law of gravitation,
no room is left for opinion; right social conduct is definitely
fixed; the proper functions of every member of society admit of no
question; therefore the claim to liberty is perverse and irrational.
It is the same argument which some modern exponents of Eugenics use
to advocate a state tyranny in the matter of human breeding.

When Comte was writing, the progressive movement in Europe was
towards increase of liberty in all its forms, national, civic,
political, and economical. On one hand there was the agitation for
the release of oppressed nationalities, on the other the growth of
liberalism in England and France. The aim of the liberalism of that
period was to restrict the functions of government; its spirit was
distrust of the state. As a political theory it was defective, as
modern Liberals acknowledge, but it was an important expression of
the feeling that the interests of society are best furthered by the
free interplay of individual actions and aims. It thus implicitly
contained or pointed to a theory of Progress sharply opposed to
Comte's: that the realisation of the fullest possible measure of
individual liberty is the condition of ensuring the maximum of
energy and effectiveness in improving our environment, and therefore
the condition of attaining public felicity. Right or wrong, this
theory reckons with fundamental facts of human nature which Comte


Comte spent the later years of his life in composing another huge
work, on social reorganisation. It included a new religion, in which
Humanity was the object of worship, but made no other important
addition to the speculations of his earlier manhood, though he
developed them further.

The Course of Positive Philosophy was not a book that took the
public by storm. We are told by a competent student of social
theories in France that the author's name was little known in his
own country till about 1855, when his greatness began to win
recognition, and his influence to operate. [Footnote: Weill, Hist.
du mouvement social, p. 21.] Even then his work can hardly have been
widely read. But through men like Littre and Taine, whose
conceptions of history were moulded by his teaching, and men like
Mill, whom he stimulated, as well as through the disciples who
adopted Positivism as a religion, his leading principles, detached
from his system, became current in the world of speculation.

[Footnote: The influence of Comte. The manner in which ideas filter
through, as it were, underground and emerge oblivious of their
source is illustrated by the German historian Lamprecht's theory of
historical development. He surveyed the history of a people as a
series of what he called typical periods, each of which is marked by
a collective psychical character expressing itself in every
department of life. He named this a diapason. Lamprecht had never
read Comte, and he imagined that this principle, on which he based
his kulturhistorische Methode, was original. But his psychical
diapason is the psychical consensus of Comte, whose system, as we
have seen, depended on the proposition that a given social
organisation corresponds in a definite way to the contemporary stage
of mental development; and Comte had derived the principle from
Saint-Simon. Cf. his pamphlet Die kulturhistorische Methode (1900).
The succession of "typical period" was worked out for Germany in his
History of the German People.]

He laid the foundations of sociology, convincing many minds that the
history of civilisation is subject to general laws, or, in other
words, that a science of society is possible. In England this idea
was still a novelty when Mill's System of Logic appeared in 1843.

The publication of this work, which attempted to define the rules
for the investigation of truth in all fields of inquiry and to
provide tests for the hypotheses of science, was a considerable
event, whether we regard its value and range or its prolonged
influence on education. Mill, who had followed recent French thought
attentively and was particularly impressed by the system of Comte,
recognised that a new method of investigating social phenomena had
been inaugurated by the thinkers who set out to discover the "law"
of human progression. He proclaimed and welcomed it as superior to
previous methods, and at the same time pointed out its limitations.

Till about fifty years ago, he said, generalisations on man and
society have erred by implicitly assuming that human nature and
society will for ever revolve in the same orbit and exhibit
virtually the same phenomena. This is still the view of the
ostentatiously practical votaries of common sense in Great Britain;
whereas the more reflective minds of the present age, analysing
historical records more minutely, have adopted the opinion that the
human race is in a state of necessary progression. The reciprocal
action between circumstances and human nature, from which social
phenomena result, must produce either a cycle or a trajectory. While
Vico maintained the conception of periodic cycles, his successors
have universally adopted the idea of a trajectory or progress, and
are endeavouring to discover its law. [Footnote: Philosophical
writers in England in the middle of the century paid more attention
to Cousin than to Comte or Saint-Simon. J. D. Morell, in his
forgotten History and Critical View of Speculative Philosophy
(1846), says that eclecticism is the philosophy of human progress
(vol. ii. 635, 2nd ed.). He conceived the movement of humanity as
that of a spiral, ever tending to a higher perfection (638).]

But they have fallen into a misconception in imagining that if they
can find a law of uniformity in the succession of events they can
infer the future from the past terms of the series. For such a law
would only be an "empirical law"; it would not be a causal law or an
ultimate law. However rigidly uniform, there is no guarantee that it
would apply to phenomena outside those from which it was derived. It
must itself depend on laws of mind and character (psychology and
ethology). When those laws are known and the nature of the
dependence is explained, when the determining causes of all the
changes constituting the progress are understood, then the empirical
law will be elevated to a scientific law, then only will it be
possible to predict.

Thus Mill asserted that if the advanced thinkers who are engaged on
the subject succeed in discovering an empirical law from the data of
history, it may be converted into a scientific law by deducing it a
priori from the principles of human nature. In the meantime, he
argued that what is already known of those principles justifies the
important conclusion that the order of general human progression
will mainly depend on the order of progression in the intellectual
convictions of mankind.

Throughout his exposition Mill uses "progress" in a neutral sense,
without implying that the progression necessarily means improvement.
Social science has still to demonstrate that the changes determined
by human nature do mean improvement. But in warning the reader of
this he declares himself to be personally an optimist, believing
that the general tendency, saving temporary exceptions, is in the
direction of a better and happier state.


Twenty years later [Footnote: In later editions of the Logic.] Mill
was able to say that the conception of history as subject to general
laws had "passed into the domain of newspaper and ordinary political
discussion." Buckle's HISTORY OF CIVILISATION IN ENGLAND [Footnote:
2 Vol. i. appeared in 1857, vol. ii. in 1861.] which enjoyed an
immediate success, did a great deal to popularise the idea. In this
stimulating work Buckle took the fact of Progress for granted; his
purpose was to investigate its causes. Considering the two general
conditions on which all events depend, human nature and external
nature, he arrived at two conclusions: (1) In the early stage of
history the influence of man's external environment is the more
decisive factor; but as time goes on the roles are gradually
inverted, and now it is his own nature that is principally
responsible for his development. (2) Progress is determined, not by
the emotional and moral faculties, but by the intellect; [Footnote:
This was the view of Jouffroy, Comte, and Mill; Buckle popularised
it.] the emotional and moral faculties are stationary, and therefore
religion is not a decisive influence in the onward movement of
humanity. "I pledge myself to show that the progress Europe has made
from barbarism to civilisation is entirely due to its intellectual
activity. . . . In what may be called the innate and original morals
of mankind there is, so far as we are aware, no progress."
[Footnote: Buckle has been very unjustly treated by some critics,
but has found an able defender in Mr. J.M. Robertson (Buckle and his
Critics (1895)). The remarks of Benn (History of Rationalism in the
Nineteenth Century, ii. 182 sqq.) are worth reading.]

Buckle was convinced that social phenomena exhibit the same
undeviating regularity as natural phenomena. In this belief he was
chiefly influenced by the investigations of the Belgian statistician
Quetelet (1835). "Statistics," he said, "has already thrown more
light on the study of human nature than all the sciences put
together." From the regularity with which the same crimes recur in
the same state of society, and many other constant averages, he
inferred that all actions of individuals result directly from the
state of society in which they live, and that laws are operating
which, if we take large enough numbers into account, scarcely
undergo any sensible perturbation. [Footnote: Kant had already
appealed to statistics in a similar sense; see above, p. 243.] Thus
the evidence of statistics points to the conclusion that progress is
not determined by the acts of individual men, but depends on general
laws of the intellect which govern the successive stages of public
opinion. The totality of human actions at any given time depends on
the totality of knowledge and the extent of its diffusion.

There we have the theory that history is subject to general laws in
its most unqualified form, based on a fallacious view of the
significance of statistical facts. Buckle's attempt to show the
operation of general laws in the actual history of man was
disappointing. When he went on to review the concrete facts of the
historical process, his own political principles came into play, and
he was more concerned with denouncing the tendencies of which he did
not approve than with extricating general laws from the sequence of
events. His comments on religious persecution and the obscurantism
of governments and churches were instructive and timely, but they
did not do much to exhibit a set of rigid laws governing and
explaining the course of human development.

The doctrine that history is under the irresistible control of law
was also popularised by an American physiologist, J. W. Draper,
1864 and was widely read. His starting-point was a superficial
analogy between a society and an individual. "Social advancement is
as completely under the control of natural law as a bodily growth.
The life of an individual is a miniature of the life of a nation,"
and "particles" in the individual organism answer to persons in the
political organism. Both have the same epochs--infancy, childhood,
youth, manhood, old age--and therefore European progress exhibits
five phases, designated as Credulity, Inquiry, Faith, Reason,
Decrepitude. Draper's conclusion was that Europe, now in the fourth
period, is hastening to a long period of decrepitude. The prospect
did not dismay him; decrepitude is the culmination of Progress, and
means the organisation of national intellect. That has already been
achieved in China, and she owes to it her well-being and longevity.
"Europe is inevitably hastening to become what China is. In her we
may see what we shall be like when we are old."

Judged by any standard, Draper's work is much inferior to Buckle's,
but both these books, utterly different though they were in both
conception and treatment, performed a similar function. Each in its
own way diffused the view which had originated in France, that
civilisation is progression and, like nature, subject to general




In 1850 there appeared at Paris a small book by M. A. Javary, with
the title DE L'IDEE DU PROGRES. Its interest lies in the express
recognition that Progress was the characteristic idea of the age,
ardently received by some, hotly denounced by others. [Footnote:
Lamartine denounced in his monthly journal Le Conseiller du peuple,
vol. i. (1849), all the progressive gospels of the day, socialist,
communist, Saint-Simonian, Fourierist, Icarian--in fact every school
of social reform since the First Republic--as purely materialistic,
sprung from the "cold seed of the century of Helvetius" (pp. 224,

"If there is any idea," he says, "that belongs properly to one
century, at least by the importance accorded to it, and that,
whether accepted or not, is familiar to all minds, it is the idea of
Progress conceived as the general law of history and the future of

He observes that some, intoxicated by the spectacle of the material
improvements of modern civilisation and the results of science, set
no limits to man's power or his hopes; while others, unable to deny
the facts, say that this progress serves only the lower part of
human nature, and refuse to look with complacency on a movement
which means, they assert, a continuous decadence of the nobler part.
To which it is replied that, If moral decadence is a fact, it is
only transient; it is a necessary phase of a development which means
moral progress in the end, for it is due to the process by which the
beliefs, ideas, and institutions of the past disappear and make way
for new and better principles.

And Javary notes a prevailing tendency in France to interpret every
contemporary movement as progressive, while all the social
doctrinaires justify their particular reforms by invoking the law of
Progress. It was quite true that during the July monarchy nearly all
serious speculations on society and history were related to that
idea. It was common to Michelet and Quinet, who saw in the march of
civilisation the gradual triumph of liberty; to Leroux and Cabet,
who preached humanitarian communism; to Louis Blanc and to Proudhon;
to the bourgeois, who were satisfied with the regime of Louis
Philippe and grew rich, following the precept of Guizot, as well as
to the workers who overthrew it. It is significant that the journal
of Louis Blanc, in which he published his book on the ORGANISATION
OF WORK (1839), was entitled REVUS DES PROGRES. The political
question as to the due limits between government and individual
freedom was discussed in terms of Progress: is personal liberty or
state authority the efficient means of progressing? The metaphysical
question of necessity and freewill acquired a new interest: is
Progress a fatality, independent of human purposes, determined by
general, ineluctable, historical laws? Quinet and Michelet argued
vigorously against the optimism of Cousin, who with Hegel held that
history is just what it ought to be and could not be improved.


Among the competing theories of the time, and sharply opposed to the
views of Comte, was the idea, derived from the Revolution, that the
world is moving towards universal equality and the obliteration of
class distinctions, that this is the true direction of Progress.
This view, represented by leaders of the popular movement against
the bourgeois ascendency, derived powerful reinforcement from one of
the most enlightened political thinkers of the day. The appearance
of de Tocqueville's renowned study of American democracy was the
event of 1834. He was convinced that he had discovered on the other
side of the Atlantic the answer to the question whither the world is
tending. In American society he found that equality of conditions is
the generating fact on which every other fact depends. He concluded
that equality is the goal of humanity, providentially designed.

"The gradual development of equality of conditions has the principal
characteristics of a providential fact. It is universal, it is
permanent, it eludes human power; all events and all men serve this
development. . . . This whole book has been written under the
impression of a sort of religious terror produced in the author's
soul by the view of this irresistible revolution which for so many
centuries has been marching across all obstacles, and which is to-
day seen still advancing in the midst of the ruins it has made. ...
If the men of our time were brought to see that the gradual and
progressive development of equality is at once the past and the
future of their history, this single discovery would give that
development the sacred character of the will of the sovran master."

Here we have a view of the direction of Progress and the meaning of
history, pretending to be based upon the study of facts and
announced with the most intense conviction. And behind it is the
fatalistic doctrine that the movement cannot be arrested or
diverted; that it is useless to struggle against it; that men,
whatever they may do, cannot deflect the clock-like motion regulated
by a power which de Tocqueville calls Providence but to which his
readers might give some other name.


It has been conjectured, [Footnote: Georges Sorel, Les Illusions du
progres, pp. 247-8 (1908).] and seems probable enough, that de
Tocqueville's book was one of the influences which wrought upon the
mind of Proudhon. The speculations of this remarkable man, who, like
Saint-Simon and Comte, sought to found a new science of society,
attracted general attention in the middle of the century. [Footnote:
Compare the appreciation by Weill in Histoire du mouvement social en
France 1852-1910 (1911, ed. 2), p. 41: "Le grande ecrivain
revolutionnaire et anarchiste n'etait au fond ni un revolutionnaire
ni un anarchiste, mais un reformateur pratique et modere qui a fait
illusion par le ton vibrant de ses pamphlets centre la societe
capitaliste."]His hostility to religion, his notorious dictum that
"property is theft," his gospel of "anarchy," and the defiant,
precipitous phrases in which he clothed his ideas, created an
impression that he was a dangerous anti-social revolutionary. But
when his ideas are studied in their context and translated into
sober language, they are not so unreasonable. Notwithstanding his
communistic theory of property and his ideal of equality, he was a
strong individualist. He held that the future of civilisation
depends on the energy of individuals, that liberty is a condition of
its advance, and that the end to be kept in view is the
establishment of justice, which means equality. He saw the
difficulty of reconciling liberty with complete equality, but hoped
that the incompatibility would be overcome by a gradual reduction of
the natural differences in men's capacities. He said, "I am an
anarchist," but his anarchy only meant that the time would come when
government would be superfluous, when every human being could be
trusted to act wisely and morally without a restraining authority or
external sanctions. Nor was he a Utopian. He comprehended that such
a transformation of society would be a long, slow process, and he
condemned the schools of Saint-Simon and Fourier for imagining that
a millennium might be realised immediately by a change of

He tells us that all his speculations and controversial activities
are penetrated with the idea of Progress, which he described as "the
railway of liberty"; and his radical criticism on current social
theories, whether conservative or democratic, was that they did not
take Progress seriously though they invoked it.

"What dominates in all my studies, what forms their beginning and
end, their summit and their base, their reason, what makes my
originality as a thinker (if I have any), is that I affirm Progress
resolutely, irrevocably, and everywhere, and deny the Absolute. All
that I have ever written, all I have denied or affirmed, I have
written, denied or affirmed in the name of one unique idea,
Progress. My adversaries, on the other hand, are all partisans of
the Absolute, IN OMNI GENERE, CASU, ET NUMERO, to use the phrase of
Sganarelle." [Footnote: Philosophie du progres, Premiere lettre


A vague confidence in Progress had lain behind and encouraged the
revolution of 1789, but in the revolution of 1848 the idea was
definitely enthroned as the regnant principle. It presided over the
session of the Committee which drew up the Constitution of the
second Republic. Armand Marrast, the most important of the men who
framed that document, based the measure of universal suffrage upon
"the invisible law which rules societies," the law of progress which
has been so long denied but which is rooted in the nature of man.
His argument was this: Revolutions are due to the repression of
progress, and are the expression and triumph of a progress which has
been achieved. But such convulsions are an undesirable method of
progressing; how can they be avoided? Only by organising elastic
institutions in which new ideas of amelioration can easily be
incorporated, and laws which can be accommodated without struggle or
friction to the rise of new opinions. What is needed is a flexible
government open to the penetration of ideas, and the key to such a
government is universal suffrage.

[Footnote: Marrast, "the invisible law"; "Oui," he continues, "toute
societe est progressive, parce que tout individu est educable,
perfectible; on peut mesurer, limiter, peut-etre les facultes d'un
individu; on ne saurait limiter, mesurer ce que peuvent, dans
l'ordre des idees, les intelligences dont les produits ne s'ajoutent
pas seulement mais se fecondent et se multiplient dans une
progression indefinie." No. 393 Republique francoise. Assemblee
nationale. Projet de Constitution ... precede par un rapport fait au
nom de la Commission par le citoyen Armand Marrast. Seance du 30
aout, 1848.]

Universal suffrage was practical politics, but the success of the
revolution fluttered agreeably all the mansions of Utopia, and
social reformers of every type sought to improve the occasion. In
the history of the political struggles of 1848 the names are written
of Proudhon, of Victor Considerant the disciple of Fourier, of
Pierre Leroux the humanitarian communist, and his devoted pupil
George Sand. The chief title of Leroux to be remembered is just his
influence over the soul of the great novelist. Her later romances
are pervaded by ideas derived from his teaching. His communism was
vague and ineffectual, but he was one of the minor forces in the
thought of the period, and there are some features in his theory
which deserve to be pointed out.

Leroux had begun as a member of the Saint-Simonian school, but he
diverged into a path of his own. He reinstated the ideal of equality
which Saint-Simon rejected, and made the approach to that ideal the
measure of Progress. The most significant process in history, he
held, is the gradual breaking down of caste and class: the process
is now approaching its completion; "today MAN is synonymous with

In order to advance to the city of the future we must have a force
and a lever. Man is the force, and the lever is the idea of
Progress. It is supplied by the study of history which displays the
improvement of our faculties, the increase of our power over nature,
the possibility of organising society more efficaciously. But the
force and the lever are not enough. A fulcrum is also required, and
this is to be found in the "solidarity" of the human race. But this
conception meant for Leroux something different from what is
ordinarily meant by the phrase, a deeper and even mystical bond.
Human "solidarity" was a corollary from the pantheistic religion of
the Saint-Simonians, but with Leroux, as with Fourier, it was
derived from the more difficult doctrine of palingenesis. We of this
generation, he believed, are not merely the sons and descendants of
past generations, we are the past generations themselves, which have
come to birth again in us.

Through many pages of the two volumes [Footnote: De l'humanite, 1840
(dedicated to Beranger).] in which he set forth his thesis, Leroux
expended much useless learning in endeavouring to establish this
doctrine, which, were it true, might be the central principle in a
new religion of humanity, a transformed Pythagoreanism. It is easy
to understand the attractiveness of palingenesis to a believer in
Progress: for it would provide a solution of the anomaly that
generations after generations are sacrificed for the sake of
posterity, and so appear to have no value in themselves. Believers
in Progress, who are sensitive to the sufferings of mankind, past
and present, need a stoical resolution to face this fact. We saw how
Herder refused to accept it. A pantheistic faith, like that of the
Saint-Simonian Church, may help some, it cannot do more, to a
stoical acquiescence. The palingenesis of Leroux or Fourier removes
the radical injustice. The men of each generation are sacrificed and
suffer for the sake of their descendants, but as their descendants
are themselves come to life again, they are really suffering in
their own interests. They will themselves reach the desirable state
to which the slow, painful process of history is tending.

But palingenesis, notwithstanding all the ancient opinions and
traditions that the researches of Leroux might muster, could carry
little conviction to those who were ceasing to believe in the
familiar doctrine of a future life detached from earth, and Madame
Dudevant was his only distinguished convert.


The ascendency of the idea of Progress among thoughtful people in
France in the middle of the last century is illustrated by the work
which Ernest Renan composed under the immediate impression of the
events of 1848. He desired to understand the significance of the
current revolutionary doctrines, and was at once involved in
speculation on the future of humanity. This is the purport of
L'AVENIR DE LA SCIENCE. [Footnote: L'Avenir de la science--Pensees
de (1848). Published in 1890.]

[Footnote: The ascendency of the idea of Progress at this epoch may
be further illustrated by E. Pelletan's Profession de foi du dix-
neuvieme siecle, 1852 (4th ed., 1857), where Progress is described
as the general law of the universe; and by Jean Reynaud's
Philosophie religieuse: Terre et ciel (3rd ed., 1858), a religious
but not orthodox book, which acclaims the "sovran principle of
perfectibility" (cp. p. 138). I may refer also to the rhetorical
pages of E. Vacherot on the Doctrine du progres, printed (as part of
an essay on the Philosophy of History) in his Essais de philosophie
critique (1864).]

The author was then convinced that history has a goal, and that
mankind tends perpetually, though in an oscillating line, towards a
more perfect state, through the growing dominion of reason over
instinct and caprice. He takes the French Revolution as the critical
moment in which humanity first came to know itself. That revolution
was the first attempt of man to take the reins into his own hands.
All that went before we may call, with Owen, the irrational period
of human existence.

We have now come to a point at which we must choose between two
faiths. If we despair of reason, we may find a refuge from utter
scepticism in a belief in the external authority of the Roman
Church. If we trust reason, we must accept the march of the human
mind and justify the modern spirit. And it can be justified only by
proving that it is a necessary step towards perfection. Renan
affirmed his belief in the second alternative, and felt confident
that science--including philology, on the human bearings of which he
enlarged,--philosophy, and art would ultimately enable men to
realise an ideal civilisation, in which all would be equal. The
state, he said, is the machine of Progress, and the Socialists are
right in formulating the problem which man has to solve, though
their solution is a bad one. For individual liberty, which socialism
would seriously limit, is a definite conquest, and ought to be
preserved inviolate.

Renan wrote this work in 1848 and 1849, but did not publish it at
the time. He gave it to the world forty years later. Those forty
years had robbed him of his early optimism. He continues to believe
that the unfortunate conditions of our race might be ameliorated by
science, but he denounces the view that men can ever be equal.
Inequality is written in nature; it is not only a necessary
consequence of liberty, but a necessary postulate of Progress. There
will always be a superior minority. He criticises himself too for
having fallen into the error of Hegel, and assigned to man an unduly
important place in the universe.

[Footnote: Renan, speaking of the Socialists, paid a high tribute to
Bazard (L'Avenir de la science, p. 104). On the other hand, he
criticised Comte severely (p. 149).

Renan returned to speculation on the future in 1863, in a letter to
M. Marcellin-Berthelot (published in Dialogues et fragments
philosophiques, 1876): "Que sera Ie monde quand un million de fois
se sera reproduit ce qui s'est passe depuis 1763 quand la chimie, au
lieu de quatre-vingt ans de progres, en aura cent millions?" (p.
183). And again in the Dialogues written in 1871 (ib.), where it is
laid down that the end of humanity is to produce great men: "le
grand oeuvre s'accomplira par la science, non par la democratic.
Rien sans grands hommes; le salut se fera par des grands hommes" (p.

In 1890 there was nothing left of the sentimental socialism which he
had studied in 1848; it had been blown away by the cold wind of
scientific socialism which Marx and Engels created. And Renan had
come to think that in this new form socialism would triumph.
[Footnote: He reckoned without the new forces, opposed to socialism
as well as to parliamentary democracy, represented by Bakunin and
men like Georges Sorel.] He had criticised Comte for believing that
"man lives exclusively by science, or rather little verbal tags,
like geometrical theorems, dry formulae." Was he satisfied by the
concrete doctrine of Marx that all the phenomena of civilisation at
a given period are determined by the methods of production and
distribution which then prevail? But the future of socialism is a
minor issue, and the ultimate goal of humanity is quite uncertain.
"Ce qu'il y a de consolant, c'est qu'on arrive necessairement
quelque part." We may console ourselves with the certainty that we
must get somewhere.


Proudhon described the idea of Progress as the railway of liberty.
It certainly supplied motive power to social ideals which were
repugnant and alarming to the authorities of the Catholic Church. At
the Vatican it was clearly seen that the idea was a powerful engine
driven by an enemy; and in the famous SYLLABUS of errors which Pope
Pius IX. flung in the face of the modern world at the end of 1864,
Progress had the honour of being censured. The eightieth error,
which closes the list, runs thus:

Romanus Pontifex potest ac debet cum progressu, cum liberalismo et
cum recenti civilitate sese reconciliare et componere.

"The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, be reconciled and come to
terms with progress, with liberalism, and with modern civilisation."

No wonder, seeing that Progress was invoked to justify every
movement that offended the nostrils of the Vatican--liberalism,
toleration, democracy, and socialism. And the Roman Church well
understood the intimate connection of the idea with the advance of




It is not easy for a new idea of the speculative order to penetrate
and inform the general consciousness of a community until it has
assumed some external and concrete embodiment or is recommended by
some striking material evidence. In the case of Progress both these
conditions were fulfilled in the period 1820 to 1850. In the Saint-
Simonian Church, and in the attempts of Owen and Cabet to found
ideal societies, people saw practical enterprises inspired by the
idea. They might have no sympathy with these enterprises, but their
attention was attracted. And at the same time they were witnessing a
rapid transformation of the external conditions of life, a movement
to the continuation of which there seemed no reason for setting any
limit in the future. The spectacular results of the advance of
science and mechanical technique brought home to the mind of the
average man the conception of an indefinite increase of man's power
over nature as his brain penetrated her secrets. This evident
material progress which has continued incessantly ever since has
been a mainstay of the general belief in Progress which is prevalent

England was the leader in this material progress, of which the
particulars are familiar and need not be enumerated here. The
discovery of the power of steam and the potentialities of coal
revolutionised the conditions of life. Men who were born at the
beginning of the century had seen, before they had passed the age of
thirty, the rapid development of steam navigation, the illumination
of towns and houses by gas, the opening of the first railway.

It was just before this event, the opening of the Liverpool and
Manchester railway, which showed how machinery would abbreviate
SOCIETY (1829). There we see the effect of the new force on his
imagination. "Steam," he says, "will govern the world next, ... and
shake it too before its empire is established." The biographer of
Nelson devotes a whole conversation to the subject of "steam and
war." But the theme of the book is the question of moral and social
progress, on which the author inclines to the view that "the world
will continue to improve, even as it has hitherto been continually
improving; and that the progress of knowledge and the diffusion of
Christianity will bring about at last, when men become Christian in
reality as well as in name, something like that Utopian state of
which philosophers have loved to dream." This admission of Progress,
cautious though it was, circumscribed by reserves and compromised by
hesitations, coming from such a conservative pillar of Church and
State as Southey, is a notable sign of the times, when we remember
that the idea was still associated then with revolution and heresy.

It is significant too that at the same time an octogenarian
mathematician of Aberdeen was composing a book on the same subject.
Hamilton's PROGRESS OF SOCIETY is now utterly forgotten, but it must
have contributed in its day to propagating the same moderate view of
Progress, consistent with orthodoxy, which Southey held. "The belief
of the perfectibility of human nature and the attainment of a golden
age in which vice and misery have no place, will only be entertained
by an enthusiast; but an inquiry into the means of improving our
nature and enlarging our happiness is consistent with sober reason,
and is the most important subject, merely human, that can engage the
mind of man."[Footnote: P. 13. The book was published posthumously
by Murray in 1830, a year after the author's death.] [Footnote:
"Progress of Society." The phrase was becoming common; e.g.
Russell's History of Modern Europe (1822) has the sub-title A view
of the Progress of Society, etc. The didactic poem of Payne Knight,
The Progress of Civil Society (1796), a very dull performance, was
quite unaffected by the dreams of Priestley or Godwin. It was
towards the middle of the nineteenth century that Progress, without
any qualifying phrase, came into use.]


We have been told by Tennyson that when he went by the first train
from Liverpool to Manchester (1830) he thought that the wheels ran
in grooves.

"Then I made this line:

Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of
change." [Footnote: See Tennyson, Memoir by his Son, vol. i. p.

LOCKSLEY HALL, which was published in 1842, illustrates how the idea
of Progress had begun to creep into the imagination of Englishmen.
Though subsidiary to a love story, it is the true theme of the poem.
The pulsation of eager interest in the terrestrial destinies of
humanity, the large excitement of living in a "wondrous Mother-age,"
dreams of the future, quicken the passion of the hero's youth. His
disappointment in love disenchants him; he sees the reverse side of
civilisation, but at last he finds an anodyne for his palsied heart
in a more sober version of his earlier faith, a chastened belief in
his Mother-age. He can at least discern an increasing purpose in
history, and can be sure that "the thoughts of men are widened with
the process of the suns." The novelty of the poem lay in finding a
cathartic cure for a private sorrow, not in religion or in nature,
but in the modern idea of Progress. It may be said to mark a stage
in the career of the idea.

The view of civilisation which Tennyson took as his MOTIF had no
revolutionary implications, suggested no impatience or anger with
the past. The startling prospect unfolding itself before "the long
result of time," and history is justified by the promise of to-day:

The centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed.

Very different was the spirit in which another great poet composed,
nearly twenty years later, a wonderful hymn of Progress. Victor
Hugo's PLEIN CEIL, in his epic LA LEGENDE DES SIECLES,[Footnote:
A.D. 1859.] announces a new era of the world in which man, the
triumphant rebel, delivered from his past, will move freely forward
on a glorious way. The poet is inspired not by faith in a continuous
development throughout the ages, but by the old spirit of the
Revolution, and he sees in the past only a heavy chain which the
race at last flings off. The horrible past has gone, not to return:
"ce monde est mort"; and the poem is at once a paean on man's
victorious rebellion against it and a dithyramb on the prospect of
his future.

Man is imagined as driving through the heavens an aerial car to
which the four winds are harnessed, mounting above the clouds, and
threatening to traverse the ether.

Superbe, il plane, avec un hymne en ses agres;
Et l'on voit voir passer la strophe du progres.
Il est la nef, il est le phare!
L'homme enfin prend son sceptre et jette son baton.
Et l'on voit s'envoler le calcul de Newton
Monte sur l'ode de Pindare.

But if this vision foreshadows the conquest of the air, its
significance is symbolic rather than literal, and, like Pindar
checking the steeds of his song, Hugo returns to earth:

Pas si loin! pas si haut! redescendons. Restons
L'homme, restons Adam; mais non l'homme a tatons,
Mais non l'Adam tombe! Tout autre reve altere
L'espece d'ideal qui convient a la terre.
Contentons-nous du mot: meilleur! ecrit partout.

Dawn has appeared, after six thousand years in the fatal way, and
man, freed by "the invisible hand" from the weight of his chains,
has embarked for new shores:

Ou va-t-il ce navire? II va, de jour vetu,
A l'avenir divin et pur, a la vertu,
A la science qu'on voit luire,
A la mort des fleaux, a l'oubli genereux,
A l'abondance, au caime, au rire, a l'homme heureux,
Il va, ce glorieux navire.

Oh! ce navire fait le voyage sacre!
C'est l'ascension bleue a son premier degre;
Hors de l'antique et vil decombre,
Hors de la pesanteur, c'est l'avenir fonde;
C'est le destin de l'homme a la fin evade,
Qui leve l'ancre et sort de l'ombre!

The union of humanity in a universal commonwealth, which Tennyson
had expressed as "the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the
World," the goal of many theorists of Progress, becomes in Hugo's
imagination something more sublime. The magic ship of man's destiny
is to compass the cosmopolis of the Stoics, a terrestrial order in
harmony with the whole universe.

Nef magique et supreme! elle a, rien qu'eri marchant,
Change le cri terrestre en pur et joyeux chant,
Rajeuni les races fletries,
Etabli l'ordre vrai, montre le chemin sur,
Dieu juste! et fait entrer dans l'homme tant d'azur
Qu'elle a supprime les patries!

Faisant a l'homme avec le ciel une cite,
Une pensee avec toute l'immensite,
Elle abolit les vieilles regles;
Elle abaisse les monts, elle annule les tours;
Splendide, elle introduit les peuples, marcheurs lourds,
Dans la communion des aigles.


Between 1830 and 1850 railway transport spread throughout Great
Britain and was introduced on the Continent, and electricity was
subdued to man's use by the invention of telegraphy. The great
Exhibition of London in 1851 was, in one of its aspects, a public
recognition of the material progress of the age and the growing
power of man over the physical world. Its aim, said a contemporary,
was "to seize the living scroll of human progress, inscribed with
every successive conquest of man's intellect."[Footnote: Edinburgh
Review (October 1851), p. 562, in a review of the Official Catalogue
of the Exhibition.] The Prince Consort, who originated the
Exhibition, explained its significance in a public speech:

"Nobody who has paid any attention to the peculiar features of our
present era will doubt for a moment that we are living at a period
of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that
great end to which indeed all history points--THE REALISATION OF THE
UNITY OF MANKIND. ... The distances which separated the different
nations and parts of the globe are rapidly vanishing before the
achievements of modern invention, and we can traverse them with
incredible ease; the languages of all nations are known, and their
acquirements placed within the reach of everybody; thought is
communicated with the rapidity, and even by the power, of lightning.
On the other hand, the GREAT PRINCIPLE OF DIVISION OF LABOUR, which
may be called the moving power of civilisation, is being extended to
all branches of science, industry, and art... Gentlemen, the
Exhibition of 1851 is to give us a true test and a living picture of
the point of development at which the whole of mankind has arrived
in this great task, and a new starting-point from which all nations
will be able to direct their further exertions." [Footnote: Martin,
Life of the Prince Consort (ed. 3), iii. p. 247. The speech was
delivered at a banquet at the Mansion House on March 21, 1850.]

The point emphasised here is the "solidarity" of the world. The
Exhibition is to bring home to men's consciousness the community of
all the inhabitants of the earth. The assembled peoples, wrote
Thackeray, in his "May-day Ode," [Footnote: Published in the Times,
April 30, 1851. The Exhibition was opened on May I.] See the
sumptuous banquet set, The brotherhood of nations met Around the

And this was the note struck in the leading article of the Times on
the opening day: "The first morning since the creation that all
peoples have assembled from all parts of the world and done a common
act." It was claimed that the Exhibition signified a new,
intelligent, and moral movement which "marks a great crisis in the
history of the world," and foreshadows universal peace.

England, said another writer, produced Bacon and Newton, the two

Book of the day: