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philosophers “who first lent direction and force to the stream of industrial science; we have been the first also to give the widest possible base to the watch-tower of international progress, which seeks the formation of the physical well-being of man and the extinction of the meaner jealousies of commerce.”[Footnote: Edinburgh Review, loc. cit.]

These quotations show that the great Exhibition was at the time optimistically regarded, not merely as a record of material achievements, but as a demonstration that humanity was at last well on its way to a better and happier state, through the falling of barriers and the resulting insight that the interests of all are closely interlocked. A vista was suggested, at the end of which far- sighted people might think they discerned Tennyson’s “Federation of the World.”


Since the Exhibition, western civilisation has advanced steadily, and in some respects more rapidly than any sober mind could have predicted–civilisation, at least, in the conventional sense, which has been not badly defined as “the development of material ease, of education, of equality, and of aspirations to rise and succeed in life.” [Footnote: B. Kidd, Social Evolution, p. 368.] The most striking advance has been in the technical conveniences of life– that is, in the control over natural forces. It would be superfluous to enumerate the discoveries and inventions since 1850 which have abridged space, economised time, eased bodily suffering, and reduced in some ways the friction of life, though they have increased it in others. This uninterrupted series of technical inventions, proceeding concurrently with immense enlargements of all branches of knowledge, has gradually accustomed the least speculative mind to the conception that civilisation is naturally progressive, and that continuous improvement is part of the order of things.

So far the hopes of 1851 have been fulfilled. But against all this technical progress, with the enormous expansion of industry and commerce, dazzling to the man in the market-place when he pauses to reflect, have to be set the exploitation and sufferings of industrial workers, the distress of intense economic competition, the heavier burdens of preparation for modern war. The very increase of “material ease” seemed unavoidably to involve conditions inconsistent with universal happiness; and the communications which linked the peoples of the world together modified the methods of warfare instead of bringing peace. “Toutes nos merveilleuses inventions sont aussi puissantes pour le mal que pour le bien.” [Footnote: H. de Ferron, Theorie du progres (1867), ii. 439.] One fact indeed might be taken as an index that humanity was morally advancing–the abolition of slavery in America at the price of a long and sanguinary war. Yet some triumphs of philanthropy hardly seemed to endanger the conclusion that, while knowledge is indefinitely progressive, there is no good reason for sanguine hopes that man is “perfectible” or that universal happiness is attainable. A thoughtful writer observed, discussing Progress in 1864, that the innumerable individual steps in the growth of knowledge and business organisation have not been combined, so far, to produce a general advance in the happiness of life; each step brings increase of pressure. [Footnote: Lotze, Microcosmus (Eng. tr.), vol. ii. p. 396.]

Yet in spite of all adverse facts and many eminent dissenters the belief in social Progress has on the whole prevailed. This triumph of optimism was promoted by the victory of a revolutionary hypothesis in another field of inquiry, which suddenly electrified the world. [Footnote: Against Lotze we might set many opinions which do not seem to have been influenced by the doctrine of evolution. For instance, the optimism of M. Marcellin-Berthelot in a letter to Renan in 1863. He says (Renan, Dialogues, p. 233) that one of the general results of historical study is “the fact of the incessant progress of human societies in science, in material conditions, and in morality, three correlatives. … Societies become more and more civilised, and I will venture to say more and more virtuous. The sum of good is always increasing, and the sum of evil diminishing, in the same measure as the sum of truth increases and the sum of ignorance diminishes.”

In 1867 Emerson delivered an address at Harvard on the “Progress of Culture” (printed in his Letters and Social Aims), in which he enumerates optimistically the indications of social advance: “the new scope of social science; the abolition of capital punishment and of imprisonment for debt: the improvement of prisons; the efforts for the suppression of intemperance, vice, etc.,” and asks: “Who would live in the stone age, or the bronze, or the iron, or the lacustrine? Who does not prefer the age of steel, of gold, of coal, petroleum, cotton, steam, electricity, and the spectroscope?”

The discursive Thoughts on the Future of the Human Race, published in 1866, by W. Ellis (1800-81), a disciple of J. S. Mill, would have been remarkable if it had appeared half a century earlier. He is untouched by the theory of evolution, and argues on common-sense grounds that Progress is inevitable.]




In the sixties of the nineteenth century the idea of Progress entered upon the third period of its history. During the FIRST period, up to the French Revolution, it had been treated rather casually; it was taken for granted and received no searching examination either from philosophers or from historians. In the SECOND period its immense significance was apprehended, and a search began for a general law which would define and establish it. The study of sociology was founded, and at the same time the impressive results of science, applied to the conveniences of life, advertised the idea. It harmonised with the notion of “development” which had become current both in natural science and in metaphysics. Socialists and other political reformers appealed to it as a gospel.

By 1850 it was a familiar idea in Europe, but was not yet universally accepted as obviously true. The notion of social Progress had been growing in the atmosphere of the notion of biological development, but this development still seemed a highly precarious speculation. The fixity of species and the creation of man, defended by powerful interests and prejudices, were attacked but were not shaken. The hypothesis of organic evolution was much in the same position as the Copernican hypothesis in the sixteenth century. Then in 1859 Darwin intervened, like Galileo. The appearance of the ORIGIN OF SPECIES changed the situation by disproving definitely the dogma of fixity of species and assigning real causes for “transformism.” What might be set aside before as a brilliant guess was elevated to the rank of a scientific hypothesis, and the following twenty years were enlivened by the struggle around the evolution of life, against prejudices chiefly theological, resulting in the victory of the theory.

The ORIGIN OF SPECIES led to the THIRD stage of the fortunes of the idea of Progress. We saw how the heliocentric astronomy, by dethroning man from his privileged position in the universe of space and throwing him back on his own efforts, had helped that idea to compete with the idea of a busy Providence. He now suffers a new degradation within the compass of his own planet. Evolution, shearing him of his glory as a rational being specially created to be the lord of the earth, traces a humble pedigree for him. And this second degradation was the decisive fact which has established the reign of the idea of Progress.


Evolution itself, it must be remembered, does not necessarily mean, applied to society, the movement of man to a desirable goal. It is a neutral, scientific conception, compatible either with optimism or with pessimism. According to different estimates it may appear to be a cruel sentence or a guarantee of steady amelioration. And it has been actually interpreted in both ways.

In order to base Progress on Evolution two distinct arguments are required. If it could be shown that social life obeys the same general laws of evolution as nature, and also that the process involves an increase of happiness, then Progress would be as valid a hypothesis as the evolution of living forms. Darwin had concluded his treatise with these words:

As all the living forms of life are the lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Silurian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may look with some confidence to a secure future of equally inappreciable length. And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental environments will tend to progress towards perfection.

Here the evolutionist struck the note of optimism. And he suggested that laws of Progress would be found in other quarters than those where they had hitherto been sought.

The ablest and most influential development of the argument from evolution to Progress was the work of Spencer. He extended the principle of evolution to sociology and ethics, and was the most conspicuous interpreter of it in an optimistic sense. He had been an evolutionist long before Darwin’s decisive intervention, and in 1851 he had published his Social Statics, which, although he had not yet worked out the evolutionary laws which he began to formulate soon afterwards and was still a theist, exhibits the general trend of his optimistic philosophy. Progress here appears as the basis of a theory of ethics. The title indicates the influence of Comte, but the argument is sharply opposed to the spirit of Comte’s teaching, and sociology is treated in a new way. [Footnote: Social Statics, or the Conditions Essential to Human Happiness specified, and the first of them developed, is the full title.]

Spencer begins by arguing that the constancy of human nature, so frequently alleged, is a fallacy. For change is the law of all things, of every single object as well as of the universe. “Nature in its infinite complexity is ever growing to a new development.” It would be strange if, in this universal mutation, man alone were unchangeable, and it is not true. “He also obeys the law of indefinite variation.” Contrast the houseless savages with Newtons and Shakespeares; between these extremes there are countless degrees of difference. If then humanity is indefinitely variable, perfectibility is possible.

In the second place, evil is not a permanent necessity. For all evil results from the non-adaptation of the organism to its conditions; this is true of everything that lives. And it is equally true that evil perpetually tends to disappear. In virtue of an essential principle of life, this non-adaptation of organisms to their conditions is ever being rectified, and one or both continue to be modified until the adaptation is perfect. And this applies to the mental as well as to the physical sphere.

In the present state of the world men suffer many evils, and this shows that their characters are not yet adjusted to the social state. Now the qualification requisite for the social state is that each individual shall have such desires only as may fully be satisfied without trenching upon the ability of others to obtain similar satisfaction. This qualification is not yet fulfilled, because civilised man retains some of the characteristics which were suitable for the conditions of his earlier predatory life. He needed one moral constitution for his primitive state, he needs quite another for his present state. The resultant is a process of adaptation which has been going on for a long time, and will go on for a long time to come.

Civilisation represents the adaptations which have already been accomplished. Progress means the successive steps of the process. That by this process man will eventually become suited to his mode of life, Spencer has no doubts. All excess and deficiency of suitable faculties must disappear; in other words, all imperfection. “The ultimate development of the ideal man is logically certain–as certain as any conclusion in which we place the most implicit faith; for instance, that all men will die.” Here is the theory of perfectibility asserted, on new grounds, with a confidence not less assured than that of Condorcet or Godwin.

Progress then is not an accident, but a necessity. Civilisation is a part of nature, being a development of man’s latent capabilities under the action of favourable circumstances which were certain at some time or other to occur. Here Spencer’s argument assumes a final cause. The ultimate purpose of creation, he asserts, is to produce the greatest amount of happiness, and to fulfil this aim it is necessary that each member of the race should possess faculties enabling him to experience the highest enjoyment of life, yet in such a way as not to diminish the power of others to receive like satisfaction. Beings thus constituted cannot multiply in a world tenanted by inferior creatures; these, therefore, must be dispossessed to make room; and to dispossess them aboriginal man must have an inferior constitution to begin with; he must be predatory, he must have the desire to kill. In general, given an unsubdued earth, and the human being “appointed” to overspread and occupy it, then, the laws of life being what they are, no other series of changes than that which has actually occurred could have occurred.

The argument might be put in a form free from the assumption of a final cause, and without introducing the conception of a divine Providence which in this work Spencer adopted, though in his later philosophy it was superseded by the conception of the Unknowable existing behind all phenomena. But the ROLE of the Divine ruler is simply to set in motion immutable forces to realise his design. “In the moral as in the material world accumulated evidence is gradually generating the conviction that events are not at bottom fortuitous, but that they are wrought out in a certain inevitable way by unchanging forces.”

The optimism of Spencer’s view could not be surpassed. “After patient study,” he writes, “this chaos of phenomena into the midst of which he [man] was born has begun to generalise itself to him”; instead of confusion he begins to discern “the dim outlines of a gigantic plan. No accidents, no chance, but everywhere order and completeness One by one exceptions vanish, and all becomes systematic.”

Always towards perfection is the mighty movement–towards a complete development and a more unmixed good; subordinating in its universality all petty irregularities and fallings back, as the curvature of the earth subordinates mountains and valleys. Even in evils the student learns to recognise only a struggling beneficence. But above all he is struck with the inherent sufficingness of things.

But the movement towards harmony, the elimination of evil, will not be effected by idealists imposing their constructions upon the world or by authoritarian governments. It means gradual adaptation, gradual psychological change, and its life is individual liberty. It proceeds by the give and take of opposed opinions. Guizot had said, “Progress, and at the same time resistance.” And Spencer conceives that resistance is beneficial, so long as it comes from those who honestly think that the institutions they defend are really the best and the proposed innovations absolutely wrong.

It will be observed that Spencer’s doctrine of perfectibility rests on an entirely different basis from the doctrine of the eighteenth century. It is one thing to deduce it from an abstract psychology which holds that human nature is unresistingly plastic in the hands of the legislator and the instructor. It is another to argue that human nature is subject to the general law of change, and that the process by which it slowly but continuously tends to adapt itself more and more to the conditions of social life–children inheriting the acquired aptitudes of their parents–points to an ultimate harmony. Here profitable legislation and education are auxiliary to the process of unconscious adaptation, and respond to the psychological changes in the community, changes which reveal themselves in public opinion.


During the following ten years Spencer was investigating the general laws of evolution and planning his Synthetic Philosophy which was to explain the development of the universe. [Footnote: In an article on “Progress: its Law and Cause,” in the Westminster Review, April 1857, Spencer explained that social progress, rightly understood, is not the increase of material conveniences or widening freedom of action, but changes of structure in the social organism which entail such consequences, and proceeded to show that the growth of the individual organism and the growth of civilisation obey the same law of advance from homogeneity to heterogeneity of structure. Here he used progress in a neutral sense; but recognising that a word is required which has no teleological implications (Autobiography, i. 500), he adopted evolution six months later in an article on “Transcendental Physiology” (National Review, Oct. 1857). In his study of organic laws Spencer was indirectly influenced by the ideas of Schelling through von Baer.] He aimed at showing that laws of change are discoverable which control all phenomena alike, inorganic, biological, psychical, and social. In the light of this hypothesis the actual progression of humanity is established as a necessary fact, a sequel of the general cosmic movement and governed by the same principles; and, if that progression is shown to involve increasing happiness, the theory of Progress is established. The first section of the work, FIRST PRINCIPLES, appeared in 1862. The BIOLOGY, the PSYCHOLOGY, and finally the SOCIOLOGY, followed during the next twenty years; and the synthesis of the world-process which these volumes lucidly and persuasively developed, probably did more than any other work, at least in England, both to drive home the significance of the doctrine of evolution and to raise the doctrine of Progress to the rank of a commonplace truth in popular estimation, an axiom to which political rhetoric might effectively appeal.

Many of those who were allured by Spencer’s gigantic synthesis hardly realised that his theory of social evolution, of the gradual psychical improvement of the race, depends upon the validity of the assumption that parents transmit to their children faculties and aptitudes which they have themselves acquired. On this question experts notoriously differ. Some day it will probably be definitely decided, and perhaps in Spencer’s favour. But the theory of continuous psychical improvement by a process of nature encounters an obvious difficulty, which did not escape some critics of Spencer, in the prominent fact of history that every great civilisation of the past progressed to a point at which instead of advancing further it stood still and declined, to become the prey of younger societies, or, if it survived, to stagnate. Arrest, decadence, stagnation has been the rule. It is not easy to reconcile this phenomenon with the theory of mental improvement.

The receptive attitude of the public towards such a philosophy as Spencer’s had been made possible by Darwin’s discoveries, which were reinforced by the growing science of palaeontology and the accumulating material evidence of the great antiquity of man. By the simultaneous advances of geology and biology man’s perspective in time was revolutionised, just as the Copernican astronomy had revolutionised his perspective in space. Many thoughtful and many thoughtless people were ready to discern–as Huxley suggested–in man’s “long progress through the past, a reasonable ground of faith in his attainment of a nobler future.” and Winwood Reade, a young African traveller, exhibited it in a vivid book as a long-drawn-out martyrdom. But he was a disciple of Spencer, and his hopes for the future were as bright as his picture of the past was dark. THE MARTYRDOM OF MAN, published in 1872, was so widely read that it reached an eighth edition twelve years later, and may be counted as one of the agencies which popularised Spencer’s optimism.

That optimism was not endorsed by all the contemporary leaders of thought. Lotze had asserted emphatically in 1864 that “human nature will not change,” and afterwards he saw no reason to alter his conviction.

Never one fold and one shepherd, never one uniform culture for all mankind, never universal nobleness. Our virtue and happiness can only flourish amid an active conflict with wrong. If every stumbling-block were smoothed away, men would no longer be like men, but like a flock of innocent brutes, feeding on good things provided by nature as at the very beginning of their course. [Footnote: Microcosmus, Bk. vii. 5 ad fin. (Eng. trans. p. 300). The first German edition (three vols.) appeared in 1856-64, the third, from which the English translation was made, in 1876. Lotze was optimistic as to the durability of modern civilisation: “No one will profess to foreknow the future, but as far as men may judge it seems that in our days there arc greater safeguards than there were in antiquity against unjustifiable excesses and against the external forces which might endanger the continued existence of civilisation.”]

But even if we reject with Spencer the old dictum, endorsed by Lotze as by Fontenelle, that human nature is immutable, the dictum of ultimate harmony encounters the following objection. “If the social environment were stable,” it is easy to argue, “it could be admitted that man’s nature, variable EX HYPOTHESI, could gradually adapt itself to it, and that finally a definite equilibrium would be established. But the environment is continually changing as the consequence of man’s very efforts to adapt himself; every step he takes to harmonise his needs and his conditions produces a new discord and confronts him with a new problem. In other words, there is no reason to believe that the reciprocal process which goes on in the growth of society between men’s natures and the environment they are continually modifying will ever reach an equilibrium, or even that, as the character of the discords changes, the suffering which they cause diminishes.”

In fact, upon the neutral fact of evolution a theory of pessimism may be built up as speciously as a theory of optimism. And such a theory was built up with great power and ability by the German philosopher E. von Hartmann, whose PHILOSOPHY OF THE UNCONSCIOUS appeared in 1869. Leaving aside his metaphysics and his grotesque theory of the destiny of the universe, we see here and in his subsequent works how plausibly a convinced evolutionist could revive the view of Rousseau that civilisation and happiness are mutually antagonistic, and that Progress means an increase of misery.

Huxley himself, [Footnote: See Agnosticism in Nineteenth Century (Feb. 1889); Government: Anarchy or Regimentation, ib. (May 1890); Essays on Evolution and Ethics (1894).] one of the most eminent interpreters of the doctrine of evolution, did not, in his late years at least, entertain very sanguine views of mankind. “I know of no study which is so saddening as that of the evolution of humanity as it is set forth in the annals of history. . . . Man is a brute, only more intelligent than other brutes”; and “even the best of modern civilisations appears to me to exhibit a condition of mankind which neither embodies any worthy ideal nor even possesses the merit of stability.” There may be some hope of a large improvement, but otherwise he would “welcome a kindly comet to sweep the whole affair away.” And he came to the final conclusion that such an improvement could only set in by deliberately resisting, instead of co-operating with, the processes of nature. “Social progress means the checking of the cosmic process at every step and the substitution for it of another which may be called the ethical process.” [Footnote: Huxley considers progress exclusively from an ethical, not from an eudaemonic point of view.] How in a few centuries can man hope to gain the mastery over the cosmic process which has been at work for millions of years? “The theory of evolution encourages no millennial anticipations.”

I have quoted these views to illustrate that evolution lends itself to a pessimistic as well as to an optimistic interpretation. The question whether it leads in a desirable direction or not is answered according to the temperament of the inquirer. In an age of prosperity and self-complacency the affirmative answer was readily received, and the term evolution attracted to itself in common speech the implications of value which belong to Progress.

It may be noticed that the self-complacency of the age was promoted by the popularisation of scientific knowledge. A rapidly growing demand (especially in England) for books and lectures, making the results of science accessible and interesting to the lay public, is a remarkable feature of the second half of the nineteenth century; and to supply this demand was a remunerative enterprise. This popular literature explaining the wonders of the physical world was at the same time subtly flushing the imaginations of men with the consciousness that they were living in an era which, in itself vastly superior to any age of the past, need be burdened by no fear of decline or catastrophe, but trusting in the boundless resources of science might securely defy fate.


[It was said in 1881 by an American writer (who strongly dissented from Spencer’s theory) that the current view was “fatalistic.” See Henry George, Progress and Poverty. But it may be doubted whether those of the general public who optimistically accepted evolution without going very deeply into the question really believed that the future of man is taken entirely out of his hands and is determined exclusively by the nature of the cosmic process. Bagehot was a writer who had a good deal of influence in his day; and in Physics and Politics (1872), where he discusses Progress, there is no suggestion of fatalism. In France, the chief philosophical writers who accepted Progress as a fact protested against a fatalistic interpretation(Renouvier, Cournot, Caro; and cf. L. Carrau’s article on Progress in the Revue des deux Mondes (Oct. 1875)).

Progress was discussed by Fiske in his Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy (1874), vol. ii. 192 sqq. For him (p. 201) “the fundamental characteristic of social progress is the continuous weakening of selfishness and the continuous strengthening of sympathy.”]

Thus in the seventies and eighties of the last century the idea of Progress was becoming a general article of faith. Some might hold it in the fatalistic form that humanity moves in a desirable direction, whatever men do or may leave undone; others might believe that the future will depend largely on our own conscious efforts, but that there is nothing in the nature of things to disappoint the prospect of steady and indefinite advance. The majority did not inquire too curiously into such points of doctrine, but received it in a vague sense as a comfortable addition to their convictions. But it became a part of the general mental outlook of educated people.

When Mr. Frederic Harrison delivered in 1889 at Manchester an eloquent discourse on the “New Era,” in which the dominant note is “the faith in human progress in lieu of celestial rewards of the separate soul,” his general argument could appeal to immensely wider circles than the Positivists whom he was specially addressing.

The dogma–for a dogma it remains, in spite of the confidence of Comte or of Spencer that he had made it a scientific hypothesis–has produced an important ethical principle. Consideration for posterity has throughout history operated as a motive of conduct, but feebly, occasionally, and in a very limited sense. With the doctrine of Progress it assumes, logically, a preponderating importance; for the centre of interest is transferred to the life of future generations who are to enjoy conditions of happiness denied to us, but which our labours and sufferings are to help to bring about. If the doctrine is held in an extreme fatalistic form, then our duty is to resign ourselves cheerfully to sacrifices for the sake of unknown descendants, just as ordinary altruism enjoins the cheerful acceptance of sacrifices for the sake of living fellow-creatures. Winwood Reade indicated this when he wrote, “Our own prosperity is founded on the agonies of the past. Is it therefore unjust that we also should suffer for the benefit of those who are to come?” But if it is held that each generation can by its own deliberate acts determine for good or evil the destinies of the race, then our duties towards others reach out through time as well as through space, and our contemporaries are only a negligible fraction of the “neighbours” to whom we owe obligations. The ethical end may still be formulated, with the Utilitarians, as the greatest happiness of the greatest number; only the greatest number includes, as Kidd observed, “the members of generations yet unborn or unthought of.” This extension of the moral code, if it is not yet conspicuous in treatises on Ethics, has in late years been obtaining recognition in practice.


Within the last forty years nearly every civilised country has produced a large literature on social science, in which indefinite Progress is generally assumed as an axiom. But the “law” whose investigation Kant designated as the task for a Newton, which Saint- Simon and Comte did not find, and to which Spencer’s evolutionary formula would stand in the same relation as it stands to the law of gravitation, remains still undiscovered. To examine or even glance at this literature, or to speculate how theories of Progress may be modified by recent philosophical speculation, lies beyond the scope of this volume, which is only concerned with tracing the origin of the idea and its growth up to the time when it became a current creed.

Looking back on the course of the inquiry, we note how the history of the idea has been connected with the growth of modern science, with the growth of rationalism, and with the struggle for political and religious liberty. The precursors (Bodin and Bacon) lived at a time when the world was consciously emancipating itself from the authority of tradition and it was being discovered that liberty is a difficult theoretical problem. The idea took definite shape in France when the old scheme of the universe had been shattered by the victory of the new astronomy and the prestige of Providence, CUNCTA SUPERCILIO MOUENTIS, was paling before the majesty of the immutable laws of nature. There began a slow but steady reinstatement of the kingdom of this world. The otherworldly dreams of theologians,

ceux qui reniaient la terre pour patrie,

which had ruled so long lost their power, and men’s earthly home again insinuated itself into their affections, but with the new hope of its becoming a place fit for reasonable beings to live in. We have seen how the belief that our race is travelling towards earthly happiness was propagated by some eminent thinkers, as well as by some “not very fortunate persons who had a good deal of time on their hands.” And all these high-priests and incense-bearers to whom the creed owes its success were rationalists, from the author of the Histoire des oracles to the philosopher of the Unknowable.


In achieving its ascendency and unfolding its meaning, the Idea of Progress had to overcome a psychological obstacle which may be described as THE ILLUSION OF FINALITY.

It is quite easy to fancy a state of society, vastly different from ours, existing in some unknown place like heaven; it is much more difficult to realise as a fact that the order of things with which we are familiar has so little stability that our actual descendants may be born into a world as different from ours as ours is from that of our ancestors of the pleistocene age.

The illusion of finality is strong. The men of the Middle Ages would have found it hard to imagine that a time was not far off in which the Last Judgement would have ceased to arouse any emotional interest. In the sphere of speculation Hegel, and even Comte, illustrate this psychological limitation: they did not recognise that their own systems could not be final any more than the system of Aristotle or of Descartes. It is science, perhaps, more than anything else–the wonderful history of science in the last hundred years–that has helped us to transcend this illusion.

But if we accept the reasonings on which the dogma of Progress is based, must we not carry them to their full conclusion? In escaping from the illusion of finality, is it legitimate to exempt that dogma itself? Must not it, too, submit to its own negation of finality? Will not that process of change, for which Progress is the optimistic name, compel “Progress” too to fall from the commanding position in which it is now, with apparent security, enthroned? [words in Greek] … A day will come, in the revolution of centuries, when a new idea will usurp its place as the directing idea of humanity. Another star, unnoticed now or invisible, will climb up the intellectual heaven, and human emotions will react to its influence, human plans respond to its guidance. It will be the criterion by which Progress and all other ideas will be judged. And it too will have its successor.

In other words, does not Progress itself suggest that its value as a doctrine is only relative, corresponding to a certain not very advanced stage of civilisation; just as Providence, in its day, was an idea of relative value, corresponding to a stage somewhat less advanced? Or will it be said that this argument is merely a disconcerting trick of dialectic played under cover of the darkness in which the issue of the future is safely hidden by Horace’s prudent god?