Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CIVILIZATION. Civilization is the aggregate of the material and moral progress made and still making by man. The source of this progress is to be found in the faculty which has been given to man of knowing himself and the world in which he lives, and of accumulating and transmitting information, as well as of combining the different branches of his knowledge. Thus material progress is the result of the more and more extended knowledge which observation gives us of the natural resources of our globe, and of the means of developing them; moral progress likewise is developed by means of the more and more exact and complete ideas which observation suggests, of our nature, our destiny, and the society in which we live.


—Man's wants are the powerful stimulants which urge him to increase his observation and to accumulate knowledge. Nature furnishes him the material necessary to satisfy these wants, but this material he must collect and fashion for his use. None of his appetites can be satisfied without exertion and labor. Now, this exertion, this labor, by the very nature of his organization, implies suffering. It is his interest, consequently, to reduce his labor as much as possible, while increasing his gratifications; it is his interest to obtain a maximum of satisfaction with a minimum of labor. How can he reach this end? By one means, and by one only—by applying more and more perfect processes to the production of the things he needs. And how can he discover these processes? Only by observation and experience.


—Urged by hunger, primitive man attacked the animals that were least able to defend themselves, and devoured them. He discovered that the flesh of some of these animals was fit to appease his hunger, and agreeable to the taste; but it was hard for him to procure a sufficient quantity of it regularly, for most of these animals were swifter of foot than he was. Spurred on by want, he endeavored to overcome this difficulty, and succeeded. A savage more intelligent than the rest, noticing the property in certain kinds of wood which allowed them to be bent without breaking, and to straiten out again with a violent recoil after being bent, thought of utilizing this force to hurl projectiles. The bow was invented. It at once became easier for man to subsist. He could now turn his thoughts to observation in another field and combine his observations so as to increase his enjoyments and diminish his pains. At the same time his moral wants, awakened by a multitude of mysterious phenomena, urged him onward in this direction, as well as his physical wants. Must not the terrible phenomenon of death, for instance, by filling his soul with curiosity, dread, and sometimes with grief, have incited him to penetrate the secret of his destiny? Thus, incessantly urged onward by the increasing and irresistible wants of his nature, man has never ceased, since the beginning of the world, to pile observation on observation, one kind of knowledge on another, and thus to improve his material and moral condition.


—Civilization, therefore, seems to us a natural fact; it is the result of man's very organization, of his intelligence and wants. Its source is in observation stimulated by interest, and it has no limit but that of the knowledge which is given to man to accumulate and combine under the pressure of his wants. Now, this limit we can not see; whence it follows that it has been possible to say with truth that progress is indefinite.


—Civilization, however, although inherent in human nature, has not equally developed among all nations. Certain peoples have remained, even to our day, plunged in the darkness of primitive barbarism, while at their very side we find civilization arrayed in all its power. To what is this inequality of development to be attributed? We must attribute it to the inequality of the physical and moral faculties of the different races of men; we must attribute it also to the surroundings in the midst of which each race is developed. We must attribute it, to use the language of economists, to the amount of natural goods, both external and internal, which the Creator has bestowed upon each people. Now, these raw materials of civilization are very unequally distributed: between the stupid Botocudo and the Anglo-Saxon, who has become his neighbor, the distance, from both a physical and a moral point of view, is immense, and between these two varieties of the human species, who seem to form the extreme links in the chain of the varieties, of man, we find a whole multitude of races all unequal, all different; just as, between the sands of the Sahara and the alluvial soil of Senegal there are many degrees of fertility.


—We must carefully examine how these natural inequalities have acted upon civilization. If two nations, unequally favored with natural gifts, be placed in similar environments, it is evident that the one best provided with this natural capital, will develop more rapidly and more completely than the other. It is also clear that if two nations, equally favored with internal gifts, be placed amid unequal environments, their development also will be unequal. The influence of internal gifts, and of their unequal distribution upon civilization, has not as yet, we believe, been sufficiently studied and appreciated. On the other hand, the influence of external surroundings has been much better recognized and more attention has been called to it. Jean Bodin, Montesquieu and Herder, clearly demonstrated its importance. They might even be accused of having exaggerated it.


—However this may be, by taking well into account these natural elements of civilization, we can readily understand how certain races have reached a very high degree of civilization, while others have remained plunged in barbarism. If, for instance, we but study the natural history of the various races of men who inhabit the archipelagoes of the Pacific ocean, and their physical surroundings, we will comprehend why they have remained the most backward of the human species. In the first place, these tribes are generally of very weak intellect; they have but a small share of that faculty of observing, and of accumulating and combining their observations, which constitutes the essential motor of civilization. In the second place, the mildness of the climate and the natural fecundity of the soil enabling them to satisfy, without labor, their grossest wants, leaves their intellect without any stimulant to action. Finally, their topographical situation, by isolating them from the rest of mankind, has restricted them to the development of their own resources, to their own limited elements of civilization. To obtain other resources or elements of civilization, they would have had to cross the abyss of the ocean. But to traverse the ocean, they would have had to know the art of navigation, to be acquainted with the compass, etc., a knowledge beyond the reach of their intellect. These tribes of men, lost in the immensity of the ocean, were thus condemned to languish for a longer time than the rest of mankind in the darkness of barbarism. In all probability they would still be plunged in this darkness had not light come to them from without, had not nations already advanced in civilization begun to visit them.


—But suppose that these tribes, instead of being separated from civilization by the depths of the ocean, had lived on or near the main land, their condition certainly would have been very different. In the course of time they would have communicated with one another, they could have intermingled, they would have exchanged their discoveries and their products. This contact and this intermingling of tribes differently endowed, would have resulted in a civilization, coarse and incomplete, no doubt, but which would have produced a social state far superior to that of all the isolated tribes of the Polynesian archipelagoes. This is one example of the influence of natural gifts, internal and external, upon civilization. Let us give another illustration. At the opposite extremity of the scale of civilization is Great Britain. The inhabitants of Great Britain are a composite people, the product of six or seven races, which successively invaded British soil, whose different aptitudes united and combined to develop it. The natural conditions of the soil, climate and topographical situation of Great Britain, admirably seconded the work of civilization. The soil is fertile, but its fecundity is not exuberant enough to allow those who cultivate it to become the victims of indolence. The climate, although not exceedingly rigorous, renders clothing and shelter necessary to man. Lastly, Great Britain is separated from the continent by an arm of the sea, which, while it protects the inhabitants from foreign invasion, allows them easy communication with other nations abundantly provided with the elements necessary to progress. Favored by such a concurrence of natural advantages, civilization could not but develop rapidly. Let us suppose, however, that the inhabitants of Great Britain had been cast upon the shores of New Zealand; that, consequently, they could not intermingle with such people as those who successively came to settle beside them, nor communicate with a continent on which civilization had already shed its light, is it not likely that they would to-day differ very little from the natives of New Zealand?


—Now that the influence which the distribution of natural gifts, both internal and external, exercises on civilization is clearly recognized, let us see what influence the state of the relations which men bear to one another may exercise on their progressive activity; under what social circumstances they are most stimulated to utilize the elements of progress at their disposal.


—If civilization be a product of the human intellect, stimulated by human events, it is evident that it will develop more rapidly in proportion as man may more freely employ his faculties in channels suitable to them, and in proportion as he is himself certain of enjoying the fruit of his endeavors. If I have an aptitude for mathematics, and am forced, without any regard for my talent, to devote myself to painting, the most active and powerful part of my intellect will remain almost inactive. I might have been able to solve a number of mathematical problems; but as I was forbidden to devote myself to this work, for which I was naturally fitted, the problems which I might have solved will not be solved at all, or at least they will be solved later, and civilization will be thereby retarded by so much. On the other hand, I may paint, but, as I have little talent for the art of painting, I shall contribute nothing to its progress. A good mathematician has been spoiled in me to make a bad painter. To interfere with the liberty of labor, therefore, is to nullify and to suppress the forces which would have stimulated human progress; it is in some sense to do away with that part of human intelligence which would have contributed most effectually to the advancement of civilization. The progress of civilization is permanently hindered by the restrictions which close the ranks of certain professions to men who might excel in them, or when admission to them is rendered expensive and difficult, when immutable rules prescribe for each the career he must follow. All attacks on the right of property are another cause which retards civilization. Why does a man condemn his intellect to the labor of accumulating, combining and applying observations to the satisfaction of his wants? Is it not because this labor procures him enjoyment or spares him trouble? He has no other aim. But if he be deprived of this enjoyment, in whole or in part; if the fruit of his self-imposed labor be consumed by others, what reason would he have left to labor intellectually or otherwise? If, for instance, another compels this man to work for him, to cultivate his field, to grind his corn, and leaves him barely enough of the fruit of his own labor to subsist upon; if, in a word, he be a slave, what interest can he have to improve the cultivation of his land or the grinding of corn? What will it avail him? Does he not know that the fruit of his laborious research will belong entirely to his master, that is, to his natural enemy, to the person who each day robs him of his legitimate wages to appropriate them to himself? Why, then, should he add to the gratification of a man who unjustly deprives him of his own? Slavery, therefore, which is, however, but one of the innumerable forms of spoliation, appears as one of the most serious obstacles that impede human progress; in like manner, every arbitrary or legal act which injures or menaces property, natural or acquired, delays the progress of civilization, by weakening the incentive which urges men to extend the circle of their knowledge and their acquisition.


—Liberty, which allows every man to draw the utmost possible benefit from the gifts with which nature has endowed him, and the right of property, which entitles him to the absolute enjoyment of these gifts, and of the fruit which he can derive from them, are the necessary conditions of human progress. Spoliation, under the multitude of forms which it assumes, is the great obstacle that retards, and has, from the beginning of the world, retarded the development of civilization—This being the case, it would seem that men should have, from the very beginning, contrived some means of maintaining inviolable their rights of liberty and property. Unfortunately they have learned only after a long and rude experience, how essential respect for liberty and property is to their well being. If we try to leave this experience out of consideration, and examine the natural conditions in which men were placed in the beginning, taking into account their instincts, their wants, and the means which they had of satisfying them, we will be convinced that they could not begin except by spoliation.


—Ignorant men, fresh from the hand of nature, with no other guide than their instincts, no acquired experience either of the world or of themselves, were obliged to supply wants felt anew every day, and which had to be satisfied under pain of death. Unprovided with the instruments and knowledge necessary to assure them a regular subsistence, they were incessantly exposed to the hardship of extreme hunger. When one of these ignorant and famished beings met one of his fellowmen, who, more fortunate than he, had succeeded in getting some prey, a struggle for it was inevitable. Why should not a starving and destitute man attempt to possess himself of the booty which came in his way? Not scrupling to rob the bee of its honey and to devour the sheep, why should he respect man? There is undoubtedly a natural instinct which prompts beings of the same species not to injure one another, but must not this instinct, whose intensity varies in different individuals, have yielded before the all-powerful pressure of want? Let us picture to ourselves what would happen even in our day, notwithstanding the great progress we have made, notwithstanding our acquisitions in the physical and moral order, if there were no superior power established to suppress individual cruelty, and society were abandoned to anarchy. The most frightful disorder would inevitably result from this condition of things. Robberies and assassinations would increase in a frightful manner, until such time as men had reorganized a repressive force. For still stronger reasons must not the result have been the same in the first ages of the world?


—History proves, moreover, that abuse of power was general in these first ages, whose innocence has been so loudly vaunted by the poets. The liberty and property of the weak were always at the mercy of the strong. Every one was thus incessantly exposed to be robbed of the fruit of his labors. Consequently, no one took any interest in increasing his possessions or accumulating property. Progress was impossible under this system. What was the result? The experience of the evils of anarchy led men to combine together in order to better protect their liberty and property. Societies were formed everywhere, and in them assassination and robbery were forbidden and punished. Still the pacificatory action of these societies of mutual protection was at first very limited: if men appreciated clearly enough the necessity of living at peace with their immediate neighbors, the inconveniences of a war with men a little farther away did not impress them so forcibly. They often even believed it to their interest to conquer and plunder them. Experience had gradually to extend the domain of peace, that is, the systematized and organized respect for liberty and property. Little by little, nations dwelling in close proximity to one another, and nearly equal in strength, became convinced, by the results of their various encounters, that they lost more than they gained by making war. They, therefore, agreed to suspend their hostilities, to make truces, particularly, if they were employed in agriculture, especially during seed-time and harvest. They finally entered into mutual alliances offensive and defensive. Between these nations who had declared truces or concluded treaties there was regular communication. They imparted to each other the knowledge they had acquired and accumulated. Exchange of products and exchange of ideas took place at the same time. Thus we find that civilization developed in proportion as the experience of the evils of war enlarged the sphere of peace. The same result was obtained when a nation extended its dominion over other nations, for the conquerors soon perceived that it was to their interest to maintain peace in the countries submitted to their rule. Under Roman rule, for example, the most civilized nations of the world ceased to make war on one another, and magnificent roads united these nations which had so long been strangers and enemies. The progress made by each of them in its isolation extended to all. The Christianity of Judea, the philosophy and arts of Greece, the legislation of Rome spread to Africa, Spain, Gaul and Germany, and reached even to Great Britain. At the same time commerce was developing, and the useful plants, together with the art of cultivating them, passed from one country to another: the cherry was imported from Asia Minor into Europe, the vine was transported into Gaul; in a word, civilization under all its forms progressed from the east to the west—Nevertheless, in these first ages of humanity, peace could be neither general nor lasting: in the midst of peaceful nations, slavery in all its degrees appeared as a permanent cause of conflict. From without, hordes of barbarians coveted the wealth accumulated by these civilized peoples. All the early centres of civilization, Persia, Egypt, the Roman empire, after a thousand intestine struggles, became, as is well known, the prey of barbarians.


—The great invasions which occupy so large a place in the history of the world had not everywhere and always the same results. They were, according to circumstances, favorable or disastrous to the progress of humanity. In order to appreciate the influence they exercised from this point of view, we must ascertain first, what amount of material and immaterial capital was destroyed in the course of the invasion; we must examine also whether, the conquest once completed, the victors and the vanquished gained by their contact with each other more liberty and security; whether they increased their means of progress. Anarchy, slavery and war are the great obstacles in the way of civilization; but frequently these obstacles either destroyed or weakened one another. Sometimes slavery put an end to anarchy, and sometimes war to slavery. There was retrogression wherever the result of the conflict was a diminution of the liberty or security acquired, and, on the other hand, there was progress whenever the sum total of liberty and security in the world was increased by the conflict: at least whenever the destruction of capital caused by the conflict was not great enough to counterbalance the gain made—We can not say, for instance, whether the invasion of the Roman empire by the barbarians of the north hastened or retarded the progress of civilization; whether or not the immense destruction of material and immaterial capital occasioned by this cataclysm was compensated for by acquisitions of another nature; whether or not, if the Roman empire had lasted, the different varieties of men who to-day inhabit Europe would have been so advantageously intermingled; whether or not slavery would have continued for a longer time. We have not the data necessary to solve this historical problem. We can, however, conjecture that, if the establishment of Roman domination over nations, most of which had adopted slavery, could still serve the cause of civilization by causing peace to reign among these nations, by increasing, consequently, the amount of security which the world enjoyed, without sensibly diminishing the sum total of its liberty; in like manner, the establishment of the barbarians upon the ruins of the Roman domination contributed to the progress of civilization by hastening the abolition of slavery, and thus increasing the amount of liberty possessed by the human race.


—Be this as it may, liberty and security have been making constant progress ever since the downfall of the Roman empire, and especially since the end of the feudal barbarism which was substituted for it. This progress, whether quickened or not by the invasion of the barbarians who overran the old civilized countries, wonderfully aided the development of modern civilization. Thenceforth, as man had greater liberty to employ for the increase of his well-being the elements of progress at his disposal, and felt more assured of being able to preserve the fruit of his labors, he gave greater scope to his activity. He explored the material and the moral world with a power and a success of which he before had no idea. He discovered all at once the means of better preserving his old acquisitions, and of multiplying and propagating new ones more rapidly. Some of these discoveries have exercised such an influence upon the march of civilization that we must dwell upon them for a moment.


—We will mention first the invention of gunpowder. The immediate effect of this discovery was to change the proportion between the labor and capital necessary to the exercise of what we may call the military industry. It required less labor and more capital, fewer men and more machines. One piece of cannon served by eight men took the place of a hundred archers. What was the result? Civilized nations acquired an enormous advantage over barbarous peoples from the point of view both of attack and defense. The superiority of their implements of war, together with their superiority in the capital necessary to put this costly machinery in operation, assured them predominance. Thenceforth new invasions of barbarians coming to destroy the previous acquisitions of civilization were no longer to be feared. Moreover, now that they were freed from the corruption of slavery, which might in time render invasions useful, the civilized nations acquired in this respect a security which they did not enjoy in ancient times. Instead of being subjugated anew by the barbarians, they everywhere began to subject the barbarians to their rule.*61


—Thus were the accomplished results of civilization permanently assured, while a process was soon after discovered whereby to propagate, at small expense and with marvelous rapidity, the knowledge accumulated by the human mind: we refer to the invention of printing. But a short time ago, the diffusion of the immaterial capital of humanity was difficult and costly; sometimes even a part of previously acquired knowledge was lost. Thanks to the printing press, it became possible to reproduce indefinitely the same observation, the same thought and the same invention, and to send it thus multiplied through the immensity of the ages.


—Nor is this all. Civilization in ancient times was local. Each nation, separated from neighboring nations, either by physical obstacles, or by the hatred or prejudices of centuries, had its own narrow and isolated civilization. Thus, in the first place, a more and more extended experience of the evils of war, together with the progress of moral and political sciences, began to draw nations together by showing them that it was to their interest to dwell together in peace, and exchange with one another the products of their industry. Thus, again, the application of steam and electricity to locomotion, by annihilating space, so to speak, renders more and more practicable this exchange, which is now recognized as useful. Thus, thanks to this material and moral progress, local civilizations, formerly isolated, hostile, and without regular communication, began to unite, preserving in a general civilization their own peculiar characteristics.


—But if we seek out the origin of this great progress which has assured and accelerated the march of civilization, we shall find that it comes, like all other progress, from the employment of the human intellect in the observation of the phenomena of the moral and physical world; an employment which has become more general and more fruitful in proportion as men have been more interested in engaging in it. The men who have systematized the method of observation, and first among them chancellor Bacon, have been objects of great laudation, and surely this is but just. We must not, however, forget that this method was known and practiced from the very beginning of the world, since it is to observation, and to experience which is but another form of observation, that all human progress is due. If it was less fruitful in ancient times, it was, primarily, because the aggregate of anterior knowledge which could be used to acquire new knowledge was less; it resulted also from the fact that, as liberty and property were less generally guaranteed than now, fewer men were interested in observing and in utilizing their observations. The material arts, for instance, which were abandoned for the most part to slaves, remained of necessity at a standstill. What interest would the slaves have had in improving them? But must not this lack of progress in certain essential branches of human knowledge in turn weaken the spring of all the others? Do we not know that all progress is connected, and that discoveries made in any part of the domain of industry lead to others, frequently in an opposite extremity of this domain? There is certainly little connection between the manufacture of glass and the observation of celestial bodies; and still, how much has the progress in the art of glass-making advanced the progress of astronomy! In ancient times the lack of progress in the material arts, which slavery had degraded, deprived men of the ideas and instruments necessary to enlarge the circle of their knowledge. In consequence, the method of observation was less effective in their hands, and sometimes even remained sterile. What was the result? Men, pressed for the solution of certain problems, and not perceiving how to solve them, declared the method of observation powerless, and built, upon the fragile basis of hypothesis, systems to which science was destined to do justice at a later day. The method of observation was discredited, especially when certain classes believed themselves interested in maintaining the solutions given by hypotheses; but this discrediting of the method of observation which had its first source in slavery was inevitably bound to disappear with it. In proportion as slavery disappeared, and the gap in the progress of the material arts began to be filled up, the method of observation, provided with new instruments, acquired a range which no one would before have imagined it capable of. Its efficacy in solving problems which had before been regarded as above human intelligence, then became manifest to all. The honor of being the first to recognize this fact belongs to Bacon; but does not the credit of popularizing and universalizing the method of observation belong still more to liberty than to Bacon? Did not observation increase its endeavors and obtain its most marvelous results, after and from the very day that it acquired liberty as an all-powerful auxiliary; increase these efforts and obtain these results in proportion as liberty was greater? Since the advent of industrial liberty, for example, has not the domain of civilization extended more, in one century, than it had in twenty centuries before?


—By becoming more general, under the influence of the progress we have just described, the power of civilization has increased in an incalculable degree. Formerly, each isolated nation was confined almost exclusively to its own resources to develop its knowledge and increase its prosperity. Now, as the aptitudes of men are essentially different, according to race, climate and circumstances of place; as the qualities of the soil are no less so, and the same piece of land is not equally well adapted for all kinds of crops; each isolated civilization necessarily remained incomplete. Only certain privileged individuals could use for the satisfaction of their wants, products brought from other parts of the globe. The mass of the people were obliged to content themselves with the products of the country, and the small extent of the market proved an insurmountable obstacle to the progressive developments of these products. The lack of communication was to a certain extent compensated for by artificially increasing the number of national industries, by learning the industries of foreign nations. Unfortunately, this assimilation, useful when restricted within certain limits, was carried too far. Countries wished to produce everything, even those things which cost less when bought from foreign countries; and in this they partially succeeded by interdicting the use of imported goods. But they still failed to attain the desired result, which was to increase the amount of things calculated to satisfy the needs of their inhabitants. Instead of increasing the number of their satisfied wants, they diminished them. Instead of advancing in civilization, they relapsed into barbarism. We must add, however, that observation and experience are constantly endeavoring to do away with this error, as they have already done away with so many others. The more enlightened nations begin to perceive that it is their interest to obtain the greatest possible amount of satisfaction (the word satisfaction is here used in its politico-economical sense), for the smallest amount of labor, and that they can never attain this end by barricading themselves against the cheapness of goods. The time will come when they themselves will tear down the artificial barriers with which they have surrounded themselves in place of the natural barriers which the steam engine had broken down. On that day the elements of civilization which God has placed at the disposal of the human race, and the material and immaterial capital which man has accumulated in the course of the centuries, will be best and most fruitfully employed; on that day also will the natural division of labor among the different nations, now impeded by artificial restrictions, be fully developed. We do not know, and it would be superfluous to conjecture, to what height civilization thus universalized will rise, and to what degree it will increase man's moral and material satisfactions, while diminishing his labor and his suffering. All that we can say is, that considering the progress which civilization has already made, human intelligence, provided with a capital which increases so much the more rapidly the more it accumulates; provided with all the instruments necessary to preserve and propagate what it has required; urged on by wants which have never yet been satisfied, and which seem insatiable, will continue incessantly to advance with a more rapid and a surer step until it reaches the undefined limit beyond which it is not given to it to go.


—Nevertheless, some minds are still in doubt as to the future of civilization, and present various objections on this point which it will be well to answer. Their principal objection may be thus stated: if civilized nations have no longer to fear the invasions of barbarians from without, are they not, on the other hand, daily more and more exposed to be overrun by the barbarians in their own household? Do they not run the risk of falling back into barbarism, or at least of remaining a long time stationary, by becoming the prey of those men who have not ceased to wallow in primitive ignorance? Doubtless civilization may be retarded in a country by ignorance, or, what amounts to the same thing, by the mistaken interest of a dominant class. Nevertheless, this cause, antagonistic to civilization, has not so much influence as is attributed to it. If it is a multitude, imbued with chimerical ideas, that seizes upon the government of society, experience, or even the simple discussion of these theories, readily proves to them their emptiness, and, as the multitude is most interested in the good government of society, a reaction takes place in its midst; it divests itself of its dangerous illusions, and civilization at once resumes its onward march. If society is, on the contrary, under the domination of a class attached to the maintenance of old abuses, the evil caused by these abuses—after a greater or less delay, according to the more or less advanced state of intellectual communications—finally becomes manifest to every one. Then the pressure of public opinion puts an end to it.


—A grave question here presents itself incidentally. Is it well to crush, if necessary, the resistance of the class attached to established abuses, to resort to revolutions to destroy these abuses, or is it better to wait till they disappear of themselves under pressure of the progress made outside the range of their baneful influence? This question plainly admits of two solutions, according to the circumstances of time and place. It may be affirmed, however, that in our day the peaceful solution is generally the better. Think, indeed, with an unprejudiced mind, of the results of certain events of but recent occurrence, the enormous amount of capital they consumed, the active forces they absorbed, the dire calamities they produced; take into account, at the same time, the progress made since the invention of printing, and the application of steam to locomotion, and be convinced that revolution is too high a price to pay for progress in our day, and that it is best, therefore, to abstain from it, even in the interest of civilization.


—A second objection, no less frequently urged, is the following: material prosperity is not developed except at the expense of public morality; men become morally more corrupt, in proportion as their condition improves materially, and their civilization, so brilliant on the surface, is only a whited sepulchre. Nothing could be more false. In the first place, the history of civilization proves that the branches of human knowledge which concur in improving the moral nature of man, do not develop less rapidly than those which tend to develop his material prosperity. Religion, for instance, has never ceased, in the course of ages, to grow in perfection and purity, and to exercise, for this very reason, a most effectual influence over human morality. How far superior is not Christianity to Paganism in this respect! And can we not easily perceive a progress in Christianity itself? Is not the Christian religion of to-day a more perfect instrument of moralization than it was in the days of the St. Dominics and the Torquemadas? Do not the philosophical sciences also, and political economy in particular, labor more effectually every day to improve men's morals by showing them every day more clearly that the observance of the laws of morality is an essential condition of their existence and well-being? In the second place, ought not material progress of itself, far from being an obstacle to the moral development of the human race, contribute, on the contrary, to sustain it? By rendering man's labor more fruitful, and his existence easier, must it not tend to diminish the force and frequency of the temptations which impel him to violate the laws of morality in order to satisfy his material appetites? Experience, moreover, confirms these deductions drawn from the observation of our nature. The criminal records prove that the poorer classes commit, other things being equal, a greater number of crimes than the richer classes; they prove also that crime decreases and morals improve in proportion as the comforts of life are extended to the lower ranks of society. This objection, based upon a pretended demoralization of nations occasioned by the development of material prosperity, is therefore at variance with observation and experience.


—The third objection pretends that the progress of industry has increased inequality among men. It holds that the tendency of industrial progress is to agglomerate, on the one hand, masses of capital, and, on the other, multitudes of men whose condition becomes every day more miserable. Historical facts give the lie to this assertion. Compare the social inequality which exists in our day with that which existed in the time of the Roman empire; contrast with the slaves of the latifundia and the powerful head of a patrician family, the poorest workman with the richest of our bankers; and say whether the extremes of the social scale, far from having become more widely separated, have not come nearer together! Progress favors equality, or at least its continual tendency is to reduce social inequalities to the level of natural inequalities. We notice, in fact, that liberty and property are better guaranteed in proportion as civilization gains ground, and that the progress made in guaranteeing liberty and property, is the essential condition of all other progress. Now, if each man is obliged to depend upon his own industry for a livelihood; if there is no longer any spoliation, open or secret, to give to one man the fruits of another's labor; if, in a word, the most powerful and active causes of inequality disappear, must not social differences inevitably end by coming down to the level of the differences which nature has made between men? The only cause that could maintain and even aggravate these inequalities, by attributing to those who control the means of subsistence and the instruments of labor an unwarranted predominance, is the permanent excess of population. Fortunately, the multiplication of the human species does not depend solely upon man's prolific power; it depends also upon his foresight. Man has the power to control the production of beings like himself; he can quicken or slacken this production, according as he foresees that his own condition and that of the beings whom he brings into the world will be improved or impaired thereby. But this foresight, which puts a beneficial limit to generation, naturally acquires greater strength and greater control in proportion as man becomes more enlightened.


—In his Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain, Condorcet demonstrated that there would be less and less reason to fear an excess of population, owing to the natural development of foresight under the influence of civilization. "Suppose," he says, "the limit (at which population pressed on the means of subsistence) reached, no dreadful consequences would result, either to the well-being of the human species, or to its indefinite perfectibility; provided we suppose that before that limit was reached the progress of reason kept pace with the progress of the arts and sciences; * * * * men would then know that, if they had duties to beings not yet in existence, these duties consist, not in giving them existence, but happiness; these duties have for their object the general well-being of the human species, or of the society in which those who are bound by them live or of the family to which they belong; and not the puerile idea of loading down the earth with useless and unhappy beings. There might, therefore, be a limit to the sum total of the means of subsistence, and consequently to the possible maximum of population, without its resulting in the premature destruction of a portion of living beings, which is so contrary to nature and social prosperity."


—We see that the different elements of our nature, and of the world in which we live, are so disposed that civilization appeared as an inevitable and irresistible fact. There is nothing, however, of fatality about it, inasmuch as it continually feels the influence of our free will. If it is not in the power of any one to stop it, or cause it to retrograde, each one can nevertheless exert an influence over its progress, and perhaps also over its definitive extent. Raise your hand against the liberty and property of others; do not utilize as much as you might the productive forces at your disposal; be indolent, ignorant and prodigal; and you will retard civilization. On the contrary, set an example of moral virtue, of respect for liberty and property, of the spirit of research, of ardor and assiduity in labor, and you will contribute your share toward advancing it. Each individual acts upon civilization for good or for evil, within the more or less extended sphere of his activity. Only, each one being more and more interested to act in such a manner as to contribute to its progress, the number of the acts which advance it surpass every day more and more the number of those which retard it. The general impulse given to civilization depends upon the aggregate of the faculties and wants of man, and upon the natural resources which have been placed at his disposal; but it remains, on this account, none the less subject, in the accidents of its course, to the influence of man's free will. Civilization is the creature of Providence, not of fate.


—Now that we have described the elements of civilization, and have shown with the aid of what material and moral instruments the great work is carried on, how it can be accelerated and how retarded, let us sum up in a few words the economic marks by which civilization is recognized, and the end toward which it tends.


—Civilization is seen to be the development of the power of man over nature. Now, there is an external sign by which this development may be recognized: the division of labor. The country in which labor is most divided in all its branches, where, for this very reason, social relations are most developed, is therefore evidently that in which civilization is most advanced.


—Civilization has for its end the better satisfaction of our material and moral wants. It leads us, by progressively ameliorating the conditions of our existence, toward the ideal of the power and of the beauty adapted to our nature and the resources which the Creator has placed at our disposal.


—The idea of an indefinitely progressive civilization is modern. In ancient times, when material progress was impeded by slavery, men could not conceive of any other progress than that of the sciences and the fine arts. Still the sight of the dangers to which civilized people were exposed, the destruction of so many local civilizations by the invasion of barbarians, must have eradicated all ideas of general and uninterrupted progress. This idea could hardly appear until after the invention of gunpowder and of printing. Its germination was slow. Vico prepared the way for it by collecting, in a systematic manner, the observations which he had made upon the development of civilized nations; but Turgot was the first who enunciated it, supporting it by positive data (in his Discours en Sorbonne, and in his Essais de géographie politique). Condorcet, with some differences, amplified the ideas of Turgot. In Germany, Kant discovered civilization in the spread of human liberty; Herder studied, somewhat vaguely perhaps, its natural elements; the economist Storch undertook to propound the theory of it. Although incomplete, and faulty in certain respects, this theory is still worthy of study. At a later period Guizot drew a picture of the progress of civilization in Europe, and especially in France: but the insufficiency of his economic knowledge is seen in his work, which is otherwise one of the most remarkable of the French historical school. Lastly, civilization has also had its romances. Taking no account either of the nature of man, nor of the conditions of his development, as observation and experience reveal them to us; the socialists have built up imaginary civilizations, as false or incomplete as the data upon which they rest. Observation, which is the first instrument of civilization, is also the only instrument we can use to recognize and describe it.


Notes for this chapter

"Force will probably be found in the future on the side of civilization and enlightenment; for civilized nations are the only ones which can have enough wealth to maintain an imposing military force. This fact removes, so far as the future is concerned, the probability of the recurrence of those great upheavals of which history is full, and in which civilized nations became the victims of barbarians." (J. B. Say, Traite d'Economie Politique, liv. 3, ch. 7.)

Footnotes for CLIMATE

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