« AnteriorContinuar »
near a relation as that of fellow-citizens, differences upon the main points of human life, led to a general carelessness and skepticism, and encouraged the notion that right and wrong have no real existence, but are the mere creatures of human opinion.” But if this be so, the oligarchies were right : commerce brings this mingling of ideas, this breaking down of old creeds, and brings it inevitably. It is nowadays its greatest good that it does so, — the change is what we call “enlargement of mind"; but in early
” times Providence “set apart the nations," and it is not till the frame of their morals is set by long ages of transmitted discipline that such enlargement can be borne. The ages of isolation had their use, for they trained men for ages when they were not to be isolated.
THE USE OF CONFLICT.
“The difference between progression and stationary inaction,” says one of our greatest living writers, “is one of the great secrets which science has yet to penetrate." I am sure I do not pretend that can completely penetrate it; but it undoubtedly seems to me that the problem is on the verge of solution, and that scientific successes in kindred fields by analogy suggest some principles which wholly remove many of its difficulties, and indicate the sort of way in which those which remain may hereafter be removed too.
But what is the problem? Common English - I might perhaps say common civilized - thought ignores it. Our habitual instructors, our ordinary con
. versation, our inevitable and ineradicable prejudices, tend to make us think that “progress” is the normal
" fact in human society, the fact which we should expect to see, the fact which we should be surprised if we did not see; but history refutes this. The ancients had no conception of progress : they did not so much as reject the idea, they did not even entertain the idea. Oriental nations are just the same now: since history began, they have always been what they are. Savages, again, do not improve : they hardly seem to have the basis on which to build, much less the material to put up anything worth having. Only a few nations, and those of European origin, advance; and yet these think-seem irresistibly compelled to think - such advance to be inevitable, natural, and eternal. Why then is this great contrast ?
( 456 )
Before we can answer, we must investigate more accurately. No doubt history shows that most nations are stationary now; but it affords reason to think that all nations once advanced. Their progress was arrested at various points; but nowhere, probably not even in the hill tribes of India, not even in the Andaman Islanders, not even in the savages of Tierra del Fuego, do we find men who have not got some way. They have made their little progress in a hundred different ways; they have framed with infinite assiduity a hundred curious habits; they have, so to say, screwed themselves into the uncomfortable corners of a complex life, which is odd and dreary, but yet is possible, - and the corners are never the same in any two parts of the world. Our record begins with a thousand unchanging edifices, but it shows traces of previous building. In historic times there has been little progress; in prehistoric times there must have been much.
In solving or trying to solve the question, we must take notice of this remarkable difference and explain it too, or else we may be sure our principles are utterly incomplete and perhaps altogether unsound. But what then is that solution, or what are the principles which tend towards it? Three laws or approximate laws may, I think, be laid down, with only one of which I can deal in this paper, but all three of which it will be best to state, that it may be seen what I am aiming at:
First, in every particular state of the world, those nations which are strongest tend to prevail over the others; and in certain marked peculiarities the strongest tend to be the best.
Secondly, within every particular nation the type or types of character then and there most attractive tend to prevail; and the most attractive, though with exceptions, is what we call the best character.
Thirdly, neither of these competitions is in most historic conditions intensified by extrinsic forces; but
in some conditions, such as those now prevailing in the most influential part of the world, both are so intensified.
These are the sort of doctrines with which, under the name of “natural selection” in physical science, we have become familiar; and as every great scientific conception tends to advance its boundaries and to be of use in solving problems not thought of when it was started, so here, what was put forward for mere animal history may, with a change of form but an identical essence, be applied to human history.
At first some objection was raised to the principle of “natural selection” in physical science, upon religious grounds: it was to be expected that so active an idea and so large a shifting of thought would seem to imperil much which men valued. Both in this as in other cases the objection is, I think, passing away: the new principle is more and more seen to be fatal to mere outworks of religion, not to religion itself. At all events, to the sort of application here made of it, which only amounts to searching out and following up an analogy suggested by it, there is plainly no objection : every one now admits that human history is guided by certain laws; and all that is here aimed at is, to indicate in a more or less distinct way an infinitesimally small portion of such laws.
The discussion of these three principles cannot be kept quite apart except by pedantry; but it is almost exclusively with the first — that of the competition between nation and nation or tribe and tribe (for I must use these words in their largest sense, and so as to include every cohering aggregate of human beings) — that I can deal now; and even as to that I can but set down a few principal considerations.
The progress of the military art is the most conspicuous- I was about to say the most showy - fact in human history. Ancient civilization may be compared with modern in many respects, and plausible arguments constructed to show that it is better; but you cannot compare the two in military power. Napoleon could indisputably have conquered Alexander; our Indian army would not think much of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand. And I suppose the improvement has been continuous : I have not the slightest pretense to special knowledge, but looking at the mere surface of the facts it seems likely that the aggregate battle array, so to say, of mankind, the fighting force of the human race, has constantly and invariably grown. It is true that the ancient civ. ilization long resisted the “barbarians," and was then destroyed by the barbarians ; but the barbarians had improved. “By degrees,” says a most accomplished writer,* “barbarian mercenaries came to form the largest or at least the most effective part of the Roman armies. The body-guard of Augustus had been so composed; the prætorians were generally selected from the bravest frontier troops, most of them Germans. ... Thus,” he continues, “in many ways was the old antagonism broken down: Romans admitting barbarians to rank and office, barbarians catching something of the manners and culture of their neighbors. And thus, when the final movement came, the Teutonic tribes slowly established themselves through the provinces, knowing something of the system into which they came, and not unwilling to be considered its members.” Taking friend and foe together, it may be doubted whether the fighting capacity of the two armies was not as great at last, when the Empire fell, as ever it was in the long period while the Empire prevailed. During the Middle Ages the combining power of men often failed ; in a divided time you cannot collect as many soldiers as in a concentrated time: but this difficulty is political, not military. If you added up the many little hosts of any century of separation, they would