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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CLIMATE. We have, after a struggle of thousands of years, broken away from the ancient belief in fatalism. Inexorable fate has been laid in the quiet graveyard of human institutions. When the European hears the eastern fatalist murmur his formula of blind submission to "that which was written," he smiles, and congratulates himself on having been born after Voltaire's time. But this does not prevent the same European from admitting that the laws which govern matter govern man; that the Oriental is, was, and will be, a polygamist; that for many reasons, excellent in themselves, southern nations will always be governed by arbitrary rulers, while republicanism will flourish in the north. The European rests his argument on the authority of the "spirit of laws." The more he rejects religious fatalism, the more likely he is to accept, at least in theory the doctrine of the materially inevitable.


—It is, indeed, true that climate exercises on organic and inorganic bodies an influence extending even to man, whom it modifies from the physical, the moral and the intellectual points of view. For our vices and our virtues, our weakness and our strength, are so closely connected with our physical constitution, that one can not be altered without change or modification of the other. Climatology, notwithstanding the numerous and noteworthy treatises written on it, is still in its infancy. It is so many sided; its points of contact with other subjects are so numerous; facts so often refute theories which had been constructed with the greatest labor, that the synthesis of the science can not be formulated. The reader must not expect here a treatise on climatology. He will find the subject treated ably and at length in the works of Humboldt, Michel Lévy, Toissac, Virey and Wilson.


—Our business is only to consider to what extent climate influences political institutions; which is equivalent to asking, "can man break the chain that binds him to the soil; or does the fact of his being born within a certain degree of latitude necessarily and definitively limit his social condition?" In other words, the object of research is the relation of climatology to sociology. Let us confine ourselves to facts. Humboldt, who by the study of the isotherms laid the true foundation of climatology, defines this science as "The aggregate of all those atmospheric modifications which sensibly affect our organs of sense, such as temperature; moisture; the variations of barometric pressure; the stillness of the air; the effect of the winds; purity of the air, or its admixture with more or less unhealthy gaseous exhalations; the degree of usual diaphaneity, the brightness of the sky, so important in its influence, not only on the fertility of the soil, the development of organic tissues in plants, and the ripening of fruits, but also in its effect on the aggregate of the moral sensations which men feel and which differ from day to day."


—Climate exercises a direct influence on the moral and physical characteristics of the individual, by the necessities to which it subjects him, the habits it gives rise to, and the advantages it procures him. Vegetius expressed this fact when he wrote Et plaga coeli non solum ad robur corporum, sed etiam animorum facit. (Climate contributes not only to the strength of the body, but to that of the mind.) Before him, Hippocrates, in his treatise on water and air, noticed the influence of climate on the character of nations, and therefore on their destiny. Modern science has not belied this testimony. Its classification of climates, and the different moral and physical effects which they cause are the following. We, of course, concern ourselves with the greater divisions.


—Climates are: the warm, temperate, or cold. The inhabitant of the north is generally tall and strong.*62 His fine, white skin reveals the color of the blood circulating beneath it. The severity of the work which imperative necessity compels him to perform involves a considerable expenditure of force. The need he feels of restoring his strength when exhausted, engenders material appetites. As, in cold countries, labor is the prime condition of existence, the love of gain and the means of satisfying man's many wants, is almost universal. The sexual appetite is developed only late. The individual, whose entire activity is taken up in the production of wealth, finds in woman an assistant and a companion. In making her a participant in his labors he learns to consider her his equal. Besides, woman here grows old at about the same rate as man. Monogamy is the rule. The slowness of organic functions explains the longevity of the inhabitants of northern countries. Their leading mental characteristics are thoughtfulness and precision. They must have invented the mechanical sciences and been the first to apply them.


—In warm climates, on the contrary, man is small in stature, and his muscular development not great. The relaxation of the tissues gives rise to apathy. The earth produces without toil, the wherewithal to satisfy his hunger and thirst. There is no struggle with material obstacles, and hence no industry. Man seems to follow nature in its prodigious fecundity. Sexual desire is developed early and reaches a degree of violence unknown elsewhere. Woman's consent is not asked there. Rather is she overpowered; she becomes an instrument of pleasure, and the number of wives may be increased at will. Woman is nothing; man is everything. The foundation of the family is paternal tyranny. The ignorance maintained in the family circle gives rise to superstition in society. People live fast, and die young. In southern climates the activity of the passions takes the place of the physical activity of men of the north.


—If we are to believe the learned Mr. Virey, who expatiates, not without a certain complacency, on the advantages and merits of the climate of Europe, the temperate zones are most favored. We quote his exact words: "In the temperate climate, the happy equilibrium of muscular vigor and nervous activity has united in the same people the gifts of body and of mind. In countries where such a climate exists, courage has been able to ally itself to moral sensibility, mental culture and the fine arts have not excluded warlike ardor and physical training. The base flattery, perfidy and servility of the south are as much abhorred as the ferocity, rudeness and outrageous excesses of the arrogant and reckless north. Delicacy of sentiment is associated with masculine energy. The mind takes a bolder flight. The arts and sciences give to the nations that cultivate them an immense superiority over all other nations. Puberty not so early developed as in the south, nor so late as in the north, evokes the most delicate feelings of love, without exaggerating or weakening them."


—These are the main physiognomical features of the inhabitants of the different climates. We must not, however, lose sight of the fact that man comes into the world with certain idiosyncrasies, which explains how the inhabitants of the same climate vary so much in character. It is clear that certain faculties are developed more especially under the influence of certain climates. Manners and customs which are nothing but the frequently repeated exercise of the faculties peculiar to a certain aggregation of men, must certainly feel the influence of climate. Religious forms, if not religious faiths, depend on manners and customs, as manners and customs depend on climate. For, as Voltaire tells us, "the lawgiver to whom the Indians listened when he bade them bathe in the Ganges, would have been badly received if he had given a similar command to the inhabitants of the Arctic regions." Voltaire says further: "Climate has some influence; government a hundred times more; religion, united to government, more still."


—After Jean Bodin, who led the way in the fifth book of his "Republic," came Montesquieu, who does not hesitate to make climate the sole cause of all the effects which, in any way, influence mankind. This theory would tend to deprive man of all moral freedom.


—The north has scarcely any fauna. Vegetation breaks with difficulty its prison of ice and snow. Domestic animals are rare, and their species are but few. Here, according to Montesquieu, man, whose wants as above mentioned, are in inverse ratio to the resources at his command, attempts to obtain what he is in need of by the integral development of his activity.


—In the south the fertility of the soil fatally entails the dependence of the race as a consequence. Tyranny prospers in fertile lands, while other countries, by the same law, select the form of government best suited to their needs. Montesquieu's theory, violently combated at the time of its first appearance, has found more convincing opponents among the moderns to whom the advance in the arts and sciences has furnished many serious arguments. Mr. E. Toissac, while recognizing the influence of climate on national character, thinks that Montesquieu, in maintaining absolutely that a positive relation exists between climatology and forms of government, did not sufficiently take into consideration the teachings of history. Besides, events which have occurred since the death of that great writer have completely overturned his theory. Mr. Toissac calls our attention to the fact that in little sequestered Europe every form of government has found a place. Greece, where the climate has not changed, has very much modified its institutions. Turkey has a government almost identical with that of Russia, and yet it is situated in the same latitude as Greece, Italy or Spain. "Forms of government," says Mr. Toissac, in conclusion, "seem to depend more or less on the degree of enlightenment in a nation. Therefore, to dispel ignorance is to destroy despotism; to enthrone intellect is to establish the rule of liberty and law."


—We think that man, whatever latitude he may be born in, whatever be the color of his skin, is advancing toward a goal that recedes and grows greater as man advances toward it, to wit, physical and intellectual liberty. In some places he goes on step by step, scarcely ever stopping or looking back. He is working out the problem of his own development. In another degree of latitude man goes forward with great bounds, remains stationary for long periods, and then advances again. We believe that climate determines the nature of man's advance, but not the goal which is the object of his aims. Material progress, which we can not think of as separate from intellectual progress, is a means of emancipation from first influences. Again we say, it does not show us the goal, but it traces out the road, removes the obstacles, fills the ravine, and unites ocean to ocean. Is it necessary for us to call attention to the extent to which machinery, railways, and electricity, have already, in many places, lessened the influence of climate?


—As regards forms of government, which are in themselves but means to hasten or retard the progress of nations, experience shows us that climate has but a meagre influence on them. In all the countries of the world those in authority seek to extend the limits of their authority, while the governed strain every nerve to conquer freedom. Cold has no more to do with it than heat. The matter must be decided between the principle of authority and the principle of liberty. (See CIVILIZATION.)


Notes for this chapter

Except in the polar region. It is a known fact that the Laplanders, Esquimaux and Samoieds are undersized.

Footnotes for CONGRESS

End of Notes

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