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LECTURE I.: CIVILIZATION IN GENERAL. - François Guizot, General History of Civilization in Europe 
General History of Civilization in Europe by François Pierre Guillaume Guizot, edited, with critical and supplementary notes, by George Wells Knight (New York: D Appleton and Co., 1896).
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CIVILIZATION IN GENERAL.
Having been called upon to give a course of lectures, and having considered what subject would be most agreeable and convenient to fill up the short space allowed us from now to the close of the year, it has occurred to me that a general sketch of the History of Modern Europe, considered more especially with regard to the progress of civilization—that a general survey of the history of European civilization, of its origin, its progress, its end, its character, would be the most profitable subject upon which I could engage your attention.
I say European civilization, because there is evidently so striking a uniformity in the civilization of the different states of Europe, as fully to warrant this appellation. Civilization has flowed to them all from sources so much alike—it is so connected in them all, notwithstanding the great differences of time, of place, and circumstances, by the same principles, and it so tends in them all to bring about the same results, that no one will doubt the fact of there being a civilization essentially European.
At the same time it must be observed that this civilization cannot be found in—its history cannot be collected from, the history of any single state of Europe. However similar in its general appearance throughout the whole, its variety is not less remarkable, nor has it ever yet developed itself completely in any particular country. Its characteristic features are widely spread, and we shall be obliged to seek, as occasion may require in England, in France, in Germany, in Spain, for the elements of its history.
The situation in which we are placed, as Frenchmen, affords us a great advantage for entering upon the study of European civilization; for, without intending to flatter the country to which I am bound by so many ties, I cannot but regard France as the center, as the focus, of the civilization of Europe. It would be going too far to say that she has always been, upon every occasion, in advance of other nations. Italy, at various epochs, has outstripped her in the arts; England, as regards political institutions, is by far before her; and, perhaps, at certain moments, we may find other nations of Europe superior to her in various particulars: but it must still be allowed, that whenever France has set forward in the career of civilization, she has sprung forth with new vigor, and has soon come up with, or passed by, all her rivals.
Not only is this the case, but those ideas, those institutions which promote civilization, but whose birth must be referred to other countries, have, before they could become general, or produce fruit,—before they could be transplanted to other lands, or benefit the common stock of European civilization, been obliged to undergo in France a new preparation: it is from France, as from a second country more rich and fertile, that they have started forth to make the conquest of Europe. There is not a single great idea, not a single great principle of civilization, which, in order to become universally spread, has not first passed through France.
There is, indeed, in the genius of the French, something of a sociableness, of a sympathy,—something which spreads itself with more facility and energy, than in the genius of any other people; it may be in the language, or the particular turn of mind of the French nation; it may be in their manners, or that their ideas, being more popular, present themselves more clearly to the masses, penetrate among them with greater ease; but, in a word, clearness, sociability, sympathy, are the particular characteristics of France, of its civilization; and these qualities render it eminently qualified to march at the head of European civilization.
In studying, then, the history of this great fact, it is neither an arbitrary choice, nor convention, that leads us to make France the central point from which we shall study it; but it is because we feel that, in so doing, we in a manner place ourselves in the very heart of civilization itself—in the heart of the very fact which we desire to investigate.
I say fact, and I say it advisedly: civilization is just as much a fact as any other—it is a fact which like any other may be studied, described, and have its history recounted.
It has been the custom for some time past, and very properly, to talk of the necessity of confining history to facts; nothing can be more just; but it would be almost absurd to suppose that there are no facts but such as are material and visible: there are moral, hidden facts, which are no less real than battles, wars, and the public acts of government. Besides these individual facts, each of which has its proper name, there are others of a general nature, without a name, of which it is impossible to say that they happened in such a year, or on such a day, and which it is impossible to confine within any precise limits, but which are yet just as much facts as the battles and public acts of which we have spoken.
That very portion, indeed, which we are accustomed to hear called the philosophy of history—which consists in showing the relation of events with each other—the chain which connects them—the causes and effects of events—this is history just as much as the description of battles, and all the other exterior events which it recounts. Facts of this kind are undoubtedly more difficult to unravel; the historian is more liable to deceive himself respecting them; it requires more skill to place them distinctly before the reader; but this difficulty does not alter their nature; they still continue not a whit the less, for all this, to form an essential part of history.
Civilization is just one of this kind of facts; it is so general in its nature that it can scarcely be seized; so complicated that it can scarcely be unravelled; so hidden as scarcely to be discernible. The difficulty of describing it, of recounting its history, is apparent and acknowledged; but its existence, its worthiness to be described and to be recounted, is not less certain and manifest. Then, respecting civilization, what a number of problems remain to be solved! It may be asked, it is even now disputed, whether civilization be a good or an evil? One party decries it as teeming with mischief to man, while another lauds it as the means by which he will attain his highest dignity and excellence.* Again, it is asked whether this fact is universal—whether there is a general civilization of the whole human race—a course for humanity to run—a destiny for it to accomplish; whether nations have not transmitted from age to age something to their successors which is never lost, but which grows and continues as a common stock, and will thus be carried on to the end of all things. For my part, I feel assured that human nature has such a destiny; that a general civilization pervades the human race; that at every epoch it augments; and that there, consequently, is a universal history of civilization to be written. Nor have I any hesitation in asserting that this history is the most noble, the most interesting of any, and that it comprehends every other.
Is it not indeed clear that civilization is the great fact in which all others merge; in which they all end, in which they are all condensed, in which all others find their importance? Take all the facts of which the history of a nation is composed, all the facts which we are accustomed to consider as the elements of its existence—take its institutions, its commerce, its industry, its wars, the various details of its government; and if you would form some idea of them as a whole, if you would see their various bearings on each other, if you would appreciate their value, if you would pass a judgment upon them, what is it you desire to know? Why, what they have done to forward the progress of civilization—what part they have acted in this great drama,—what influence they have exercised in aiding its advance. It is not only by this that we form a general opinion of these facts, but it is by this standard that we try them, that we estimate their true value. These are, as it were, the rivers of whom we ask how much water they have carried to the ocean. Civilization is, as it were, the grand emporium of a people, in which all its wealth—all the elements of its life—all the powers of its existence are stored up. It is so true that we judge of minor facts accordingly as they affect this greater one, that even some which are naturally detested and hated, which prove a heavy calamity to the nation upon which they fall—say, for instance, despotism, anarchy, and so forth,—even these are partly forgiven, their evil nature is partly overlooked, if they have aided in any considerable degree the march of civilization. Wherever the progress of this principle is visible, together with the facts which have urged it forward, we are tempted to forget the price it has cost—we overlook the dearness of the purchase.
Again, there are certain facts which, properly speaking, cannot be called social—individual facts which rather concern the human intellect than public life: such are religious doctrines, philosophical opinions, literature, the sciences and arts. All these seem to offer themselves to individual man for his improvement, instruction, or amusement; and to be directed rather to his intellectual melioration and pleasure, than to his social condition. Yet still, how often do these facts come before us—how often are we compelled to consider them as influencing civilization! In all times, in all countries, it has been the boast of religion, that it has civilized the people among whom it has dwelt. Literature, the arts, and sciences, have put in their claim for a share of this glory; and mankind has been ready to laud and honor them whenever it has felt that this praise was fairly their due. In the same manner, facts the most important—facts of themselves, and independently of their exterior consequences, the most sublime in their nature, have increased in importance, have reached a higher degree of sublimity, by their connection with civilization. Such is the worth of this great principle, that it gives a value to all it touches. Not only so, but there are even cases, in which the facts of which we have spoken, in which philosophy, literature, the sciences, and the arts, are especially judged, and condemned or applauded, according to their influence upon civilization.
Before, however, we proceed to the history of this fact, so important, so extensive, so precious, and which seems, as it were, to embody the entire life of nations, let us consider it for a moment in itself, and endeavor to discover what it really is.
I shall be careful here not to fall into pure philosophy; I shall not lay down a certain rational principle, and then, by deduction, show the nature of civilization as a consequence; there would be too many chances of error in pursuing this method. Still, without this, we shall be able to find a fact to establish and to describe.
For a long time past, and in many countries, the word civilization has been in use; ideas more or less clear, and of wider or more contracted signification, have been attached to it; still it has been constantly employed and generally understood. Now, it is the popular, common signification of this word that we must investigate. In the usual, general acceptation of terms, there will nearly always be found more truth than in the seemingly more precise and rigorous definitions of science. It is common sense which gives to words their popular signification, and common sense is the genius of humanity. The popular signification of a word is formed by degrees and while the facts it represents are themselves present. As often as a fact comes before us which seems to answer to the signification of a known term, this term is naturally applied to it, its signification gradually extending and enlarging itself, so that at last the various facts and ideas which, from the nature of things, ought to be brought together and embodied in this term, will be found collected and embodied in it. When, on the contrary, the signification of a word is determined by science, it is usually done by one or a very few individuals, who, at the time, are under the influence of some particular fact which has taken possession of their imagination. Thus it comes to pass that scientific definitions are, in general, much narrower, and, on that very account, much less correct, than the popular significations given to words. So, in the investigation of the meaning of the word civilization as a fact—by seeking out all the ideas it comprises, according to the common sense of mankind, we shall arrive much nearer to the knowledge of the fact itself, than by attempting to give our own scientific definition of it, though this might at first appear more clear and precise.
I shall commence this investigation by placing before you a series of hypotheses. I shall describe society in various conditions, and shall then ask if the state in which I so describe it is, in the general opinion of mankind, the state of a people advancing in civilization—if it answers to the signification which mankind generally attaches to this word.
First, imagine a people whose outward circumstances are easy and agreeable; few taxes, few hardships; justice is fairly administered; in a word, physical existence, taken altogether, is satisfactorily and happily regulated. But with all this the moral and intellectual energies of this people are studiously kept in a state of torpor and inertness. It can hardly be called oppression; its tendency is not of that character—it is rather compression. We are not without examples of this state of society. There have been a great number of little aristocratic republics, in which the people have been thus treated like so many flocks of sheep, carefully tended, physically happy, but without the least intellectual and moral activity. Is this civilization? Do we recognize here a people in a state of moral and social advancement?
Let us take another hypothesis. Let us imagine a people whose outward circumstances are less favorable and agreeable; still, however, supportable. As a set-off, its intellectual and moral cravings have not here been entirely neglected. A certain range has been allowed them—some few pure and elevated sentiments have been here distributed; religious and moral notions have reached a certain degree of improvement; but the greatest care has been taken to stifle every principle of liberty. The moral and intellectual wants of this people are provided for in the way that, among some nations, the physical wants have been provided for; a certain portion of truth is doled out to each, but no one is permitted to help himself—to seek for truth on his own account. Immobility is the character of its moral life; and to this condition are fallen most of the populations of Asia, in which theocratic government restrains the advance of man: such, for example, is the state of the Hindoos. I again put the same question as before—Is this a people among whom civilization is going on?
I will change entirely the nature of the hypothesis: suppose a people among whom there reigns a very large stretch of personal liberty, but among whom also disorder and inequality almost everywhere abound. The weak are oppressed, afflicted, destroyed; violence is the ruling character of the social condition. Every one knows that such has been the state of Europe. Is this a civilized state? It may without doubt contain germs of civilization which may progressively shoot up; but the actual state of things which prevails in this society is not, we may rest assured, what the common sense of mankind would call civilization.
I pass on to a fourth and last hypothesis. Every individual here enjoys the widest extent of liberty; inequality is rare, or, at least, of a very slight character. Every one does as he likes, and scarcely differs in power from his neighbor. But then here scarcely such a thing is known as a general interest; here exist but few public ideas; hardly any public feeling; but little society: in short, the life and faculties of individuals are put forth and spent in an isolated state, with but little regard to society, and with scarcely a sentiment of its influence. Men here exercise no influence upon one another; they leave no traces of their existence. Generation after generation pass away, leaving society just as they found it. Such is the condition of the various tribes of savages; liberty and equality dwell among them, but no touch of civilization.
I could easily multiply these hypotheses; but I presume that I have gone far enough to show what is the popular and natural signification of the word civilization.
It is evident that none of the states which I have just described will correspond with the common notion of mankind respecting this term. It seems to me that the first idea comprised in the word civilization (and this may be gathered from the various examples which I have placed before you) is the notion of progress, of development. It calls up within us the notion of a people advancing, of a people in a course of improvement and melioration.
Now what is this progress? What is this development? In this is the great difficulty. The etymology of the word seems sufficiently obvious—it points at once to the improvement of civil life. The first notion which strikes us in pronouncing it is the progress of society; the melioration of the social state; the carrying to higher perfection the relations between man and man. It awakens within us at once the notion of an increase of national prosperity, of a greater activity and better organization of the social relations. On one hand there is a manifest increase in the power and well-being of society at large; and on the other a more equitable distribution of this power and this well-being among the individuals of which society is composed.
But the word civilization has a more extensive signification than this, which seems to confine it to the mere outward, physical organization of society. Now, if this were all, the human race would be little better than the inhabitants of an ant-hill or bee-hive; a society in which nothing was sought for beyond order and well-being—in which the highest, the sole aim, would be the production of the means of life, and their equitable distribution.
But our nature at once rejects this definition as too narrow. It tells us that man is formed for a higher destiny than this. That this is not the full development of his character—that civilization comprehends something more extensive, something more complex, something superior to the perfection of social relations, of social power and well-being.
That this is so, we have not merely the evidence of our nature, and that derived from the signification which the common sense of mankind has attached to the word; but we have likewise the evidence of facts.
No one, for example, will deny that there are communities in which the social state of man is better—in which the means of life are better supplied, are more rapidly produced, are better distributed, than in others, which yet will be pronounced by the unanimous voice of mankind to be superior in point of civilization.
Take Rome, for example, in the splendid days of the republic, at the close of the second Punic war; the moment of her greatest virtues, when she was rapidly advancing to the empire of the world—when her social condition was evidently improving. Take Rome again under Augustus, at the commencement of her decline, when, to say the least, the progressive movement of society halted, when bad principles seemed ready to prevail: but is there any person who would not say that Rome was more civilized under Augustus than in the days of Fabricius or Cincinnatus?
Let us look further: let us look at France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In a merely social point of view, as respects the quantity and the distribution of well-being among individuals, France, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was decidedly inferior to several of the other states of Europe; to Holland and England in particular. Social activity, in these countries, was greater, increased more rapidly, and distributed its fruits more equitably among individuals. Yet consult the general opinion of mankind, and it will tell you that France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the most civilized country of Europe. Europe has not hesitated to acknowledge this fact, and evidence of its truth will be found in all the great works of European literature.
It appears evident, then, that all that we understand by this term is not comprised in the simple idea of social well-being and happiness; and, if we look a little deeper, we discover that, besides the progress and melioration of social life, another development is comprised in our notion of civilization: namely, the development of individual life, the development of the human mind and its faculties—the development of man himself.
It is this development which so strikingly manifested itself in France and Rome at these epochs; it is this expansion of human intelligence which gave to them so great a degree of superiority in civilization. In these countries the godlike principle which distinguishes man from the brute exhibited itself with peculiar grandeur and power, and compensated in the eyes of the world for the defects of their social system. These communities had still many social conquests to make; but they had already glorified themselves by the intellectual and moral victories they had achieved. Many of the conveniences of life were here wanting; from a considerable portion of the community were still withheld their natural rights and political privileges: but see the number of illustrious individuals who lived and earned the applause and approbation of their fellow-men. Here, too, literature, science, and art, attained extraordinary perfection, and shone in more splendor than perhaps they had ever done before. Now, wherever this takes place, wherever man sees these glorious idols of his worship displayed in their full luster—wherever he sees this fund of rational and refined enjoyment for the godlike part of his nature called into existence, there he recognizes and adores civilization.*
Two elements, then, seem to be comprised in the great fact which we call civilization;—two circumstances are necessary to its existence—it lives upon two conditions—it reveals itself by two symptoms: the progress of society, the progress of individuals; the melioration of the social system, and the expansion of the mind and faculties of man. Wherever the exterior condition of man becomes enlarged, quickened, and improved; wherever the intellectual nature of man distinguishes itself by its energy, brilliancy, and its grandeur; wherever these two signs concur, and they often do so, notwithstanding the gravest imperfections in the social system, there man proclaims and applauds civilization.
Such, if I mistake not, would be the notion mankind in general would form of civilization, from a simple and rational inquiry into the meaning of the term. This view of it is confirmed by History. If we ask of her what has been the character of every great crisis favorable to civilization, if we examine those great events which all acknowledge to have carried it forward, we shall always find one or other of the two elements which I have just described. They have all been epochs of individual or social improvement; events which have either wrought a change in individual man, in his opinions, his manners; or in his exterior condition, his situation as regards his relations with his fellowmen. Christianity, for example: I allude not merely to the first moment of its appearance, but to the first centuries of its existence—Christianity was in no way addressed to the social condition of man; it distinctly disclaimed all interference with it. It commanded the slave to obey his master. It attacked none of the great evils, none of the gross acts of injustice, by which the social system of that day was disfigured:* yet who but will acknowledge that Christianity has been one of the greatest promoters of civilization? And wherefore? Because it has changed the interior condition of man, his opinions, his sentiments: because it has regenerated his moral, his intellectual character.†
We have seen a crisis of an opposite nature; a crisis affecting not the intellectual, but the outward condition of man, which has changed and regenerated society. This also we may rest assured is a decisive crisis of civilization. If we search history through, we shall everywhere find the same result; we shall meet with no important event, which had a direct influence in the advancement of civilization, which has not exercised it in one of the two ways I have just mentioned.
Having thus, as I hope, given you a clear notion of the two elements of which civilization is composed, let us now see whether one of them alone would be sufficient to constitute it: whether either the development of the social condition, or the development of the individual man taken separately, deserves to be regarded as civilization? or whethare not produced simultaneously, sooner or later, one uniformly produces the other?
There are three ways, as it seems to me, in which we may proceed in deciding this question. First: we may investigate the nature itself of the two elements of civilization, and see whether by that they are strictly and necessarily bound together. Secondly: we may examine historically whether, in fact, they have manifested themselves separately, or whether one has always produced the other. Thirdly: we may consult common sense, i. e., the general opinion of mankind. Let us first address ourselves to the general opinion of mankind—to common sense.
When any great change takes place in the state of a country—when any great development of social prosperity is accomplished within it—any revolution or reform in the powers and privileges of society, this new event naturally has its adversaries. It is necessarily contested and opposed. Now what are the objections which the adversaries of such revolutions bring against them?
They assert that this progress of the social condition is attended with no advantage; that it does not improve in a corresponding degree the moral state—the intellectual powers of man; that it is a false, deceitful progress, which proves detrimental to his moral character, to the true interests of his better nature. On the other hand, this attack is repulsed with much force by the friends of the movement. They maintain that the progress of society necessarily leads to the progress of intelligence and morality; that, in proportion as the social life is better regulated, individual life becomes more refined and virtuous. Thus the question rests in abeyance between the opposers and partisans of the change.
But reverse this hypothesis; suppose the moral development in progress. What do the men who labor for it generally hope for?—What, at the origin of societies, have the founders of religion, the sages, poets, and philosophers, who have labored to regulate and refine the manners of mankind, promised themselves? What but the melioration of the social condition: the more equitable distribution of the blessings of life? What, now, let me ask, should be inferred from this dispute and from those hopes and promises? It may, I think, be fairly inferred that it is the spontaneous, intuitive conviction of mankind, that the two elements of civilization—the social and moral development—are intimately connected; that, at the approach of one, man looks for the other. It is to this natural conviction, we appeal when, to second or combat either one or the other of the two elements, we deny or attest its union with the other. We know that if men were persuaded that the melioration of the social condition would operate against the expansion of the intellect, they would almost oppose and cry out against the advancement of society. On the other hand, when we speak to mankind of improving society by improving its individual members, we find them willing to believe us, and to adopt the principle. Hence we may affirm that it is the intuitive belief of man, that these two elements of civilization are intimately connected, and that they reciprocally produce one another.
If we now examine the history of the world we shall have the same result. We shall find that every expansion of human intelligence has proved of advantage to society; and that all the great advances in the social condition have turned to the profit of humanity. One or other of these facts may predominate, may shine forth with greater splendor for a season, and impress upon the movement its own particular character. At times, it may not be till after the lapse of a long interval, after a thousand transformations, a thousand obstacles, that the second shows itself, and comes, as it were, to complete the civilization which the first had begun; but when we look closely we easily recognize the link by which they are connected. The movements of Providence are not restricted to narrow bounds: it is not anxious to deduce to-day the consequence of the premises it laid down yesterday. It may defer this for ages, till the fulness of time shall come. Its logic will not be less conclusive for reasoning slowly. Providence moves through time, as the gods of Homer through space—it makes a step, and ages have rolled away! How long a time, how many circumstances intervened, before the regeneration of the moral powers of man, by Christianity, exercised its great, its legitimate influence upon his social condition? Yet who can doubt or mistake its power?
If we pass from history to the nature itself of the two facts which constitute civilization, we are infallibly led to the same result. We have all experienced this. If a man makes a mental advance, some mental discovery, if he acquires some new idea, or some new faculty, what is the desire that takes possession of him at the very moment he makes it? It is the desire to promulgate his sentiment to the exterior world—to publish and realize his thought. When a man acquires a new truth—when his being in his own eyes has made an advance, has acquired a new gift, immediately there becomes joined to this acquirement the notion of a mission. He feels obliged, impelled, as it were, by a secret interest, to extend, to carry out of himself the change, the melioration which has been accomplished within him. To what, but this, do we owe the exertions of great reformers? The exertions of those great benefactors of the human race, who have changed the face of the world, after having first been changed themselves, have been stimulated and governed by no other impulse than this.
So much for the change which takes place in the intellectual man. Let us now consider him in a social state. A revolution is made in the condition of society. Rights and property are more equitably distributed among individuals; this is as much as to say, the appearance of the world is purer—is more beautiful. The state of things, both as respects governments, and as respects men in their relations with each other, is improved. And can there be a question whether the sight of this goodly spectacle, whether the melioration of this external condition of man, will have a corresponding influence upon his moral, his individual character—upon humanity? Such a doubt would belie all that is said of the authority of example, and of the power of habit, which is founded upon nothing but the conviction that exterior facts and circumstances, if good, reasonable, well-regulated, are followed, sooner or later, more or less completely, by intellectual results of the same nature, of the same beauty: that a world better governed, better regulated, a world in which justice more fully prevails, renders man himself more just. That the intellectual man then is instructed and improved by the superior condition of society, and his social condition, his external well-being, meliorated and refined by increase of intelligence in individuals; that the two elements of civilization are strictly connected; that ages, that obstacles of all kinds, may interpose between them—that it is possible they may undergo a thousand transformations before they meet together; but that sooner or later this union will take place is certain; for it is a law of their nature that they should do so—the great facts of history bear witness that such is really the case—the instinctive belief of man proclaims the same truth.
Thus, though I have not by a great deal advanced all that might be said upon this subject, I trust I have given a tolerably correct and adequate notion, in the foregoing cursory account, of what civilization is, of what are its offices, and what its importance. I might here quit the subject; but I cannot part with it, without placing before you another question, which here naturally presents itself—a question not purely historical, but rather, I will not say hypothetical, but conjectural; a question which we can see here but in part; but which, however, is not less real, but presses itself upon our notice at every turn of thought.
Of the two developments, of which we have just now spoken, and which together constitute civilization,—of the development of society on one part, and of the expansion of human intelligence on the other—which is the end? which are the means? Is it for the improvement of the social condition, for the melioration of his existence upon the earth, that man fully develops himself, his mind, his faculties, his sentiments, his ideas, his whole being? Or is the melioration of the social condition, the progress of society,—is indeed society itself merely the theatre, the occasion, the motive and excitement for the development of the individual? In a word, is society formed for the individual, or the individual for society? Upon the reply to this question depends our knowledge of whether the destiny of man is purely social, whether society exhausts and absorbs the entire man, or whether he bears within him something foreign, something superior to his existence in this world?
One of the greatest philosophers and most distinguished men of the present age, whose words become indelibly engraved upon whatever spot they fall, has resolved this question; he has resolved it, at least, according to his own conviction. The following are his words: “Human societies are born, live, and die, upon the earth; there they accomplish their destinies. But they contain not the whole man. After his engagement to society there still remains in him the more noble part of his nature; those high faculties by which he elevates himself to God, to a future life, and to the unknown blessings of an invisible world. We, individuals, each with a separate and distinct existence, with an identical person, we, truly beings endowed with immortality, we have a higher destiny than that of states.”*
I shall add nothing on this subject; it is not my province to handle it; it is enough for me to have placed it before you. It haunts us again at the close of the history of civilization.—Where the history of civilization ends, when there is no more to be said of the present life, man invincibly demands if all is over—if that be the end of all things? This, then, is the last problem, and the grandest, to which the history of civilization can lead us. It is sufficient that I have marked its place, and its sublime character.*
From the foregoing remarks, it becomes evident that the history of civilization may be considered from two different points of view—may be drawn from two different sources. The historian may take up his abode during the time prescribed, say a series of centuries, in the human soul, or with some particular nation. He may study, describe, relate, all the circumstances, all the transformations, all the revolutions, which may have taken place in the intellectual man; and when he had done this he would have a history of the civilization among the people, or during the period which he had chosen. He might proceed differently: instead of entering into the interior of man, he might take his stand in the external world. He might take his station in the midst of the great theatre of life; instead of describing the change of ideas, of the sentiments of the individual being, he might describe his exterior circumstances, the events, the revolutions of his social condition. These two portions, these two histories of civilization, are strictly connected with each other; they are the counterpart, the reflected image of one another. They may, however, be separated.* Perhaps it is necessary, at least in the beginning, in order to be exposed in detail and with clearness, that they should be. For my part I have no intention, upon the present occasion, to enter upon the history of civilization in the human mind; the history of the exterior events of the visible and social world is that to which I shall call your attention. It would give me pleasure to be able to display before you the phenomenon of civilization in the way I understand it, in all its bearings, in its widest extent—to place before you all the vast questions to which it gives rise. But, for the present, I must restrain my wishes; I must confine myself to a narrower field: it is only the history of the social state that I shall attempt to narrate.
My first object will be to seek out the elements of European civilization at the time of its birth, at the fall of the Roman empire—to examine carefully society such as it was in the midst of these famous ruins. I shall endeavor to pick out these elements, and to place them before you, side by side; I shall endeavor to put them in motion, and to follow them in their progress through the fifteen centuries which have rolled away since that epoch.
We shall not, I think, proceed far in this study, without being convinced that civilization is still in its infancy. How distant is the human mind from the perfection to which it may attain—from the perfection for which it was created! How incapable are we of grasping the whole future destiny of man! Let any one even descend into his own mind—let him picture there the highest point of perfection to which man, to which society may attain, that he can conceive, that he can hope;—let him then contrast this picture with the present state of the world, and he will feel assured that society and civilization are still in their childhood: that however great the distance they have advanced, that which they have before them is incomparably, is infinitely greater. This, however, should not lessen the pleasure with which we contemplate our present condition. When you have run over with me the great epochs of civilization during the last fifteen centuries, you will see, up to our time, how painful, how stormy, has been the condition of man; how hard has been his lot, not only outwardly as regards society, but internally, as regards the intellectual man. For fifteen centuries the human mind has suffered as much as the human race. You will see that it is only lately that the human mind, perhaps for the first time, has arrived, imperfect though its condition still be, to a state where some peace, some harmony, some freedom is found. The same holds with regard to society—its immense progress is evident—the condition of man, compared with what it has been, is easy and just. In thinking of our ancestors we may almost apply to ourselves the verses of Lucretius:—
“Suave, mari magno turbantibus æquora ventis, E terra magnum alterius spectare laborem.”*
Without any great degree of pride we may, as Sthenelus is made to do in Homer, ‘Ημει̑ς τοι πατὲρων μεγ’ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ’ εἰ̑ναι, “Return thanks to God that we are infinitely better than our fathers.”
We must, however, take care not to deliver ourselves up too fully to a notion of our happiness and our improved condition. It may lead us into two serious evils, pride and inactivity;—it may give us an overweening confidence in the power and success of the human mind, of its present attainments; and, at the same time, dispose us to apathy, enervated by the agreeableness of our condition. I know not if this strikes you as it does me, but in my judgment we continually oscillate between an inclination to complain without sufficient cause, and to be too easily satisfied. We have an extreme susceptibility of mind, an inordinate craving, an ambition in our thoughts, in our desires, and in the movements of our imagination; yet when we come to practical life—when trouble, when sacrifices, when efforts are required for the attainment of our object, we sink into lassitude and inactivity. We are discouraged almost as easily as we had been excited. Let us not, however, suffer ourselves to be invaded by either of these vices. Let us estimate fairly what our abilities, our knowledge, our power enable us to do lawfully; and let us aim at nothing that we cannot lawfully, justly, prudently—with a proper respect to the great principles upon which our social system, our civilization is based—attain. The age of barbarian Europe, with its brute force, its violence, its lies and deceit,—the habitual practice under which Europe groaned during four or five centuries is passed away for ever, and has given place to a better order of things. We trust that the time now approaches when man’s condition shall be progressively improved by the force of reason and truth, when the brute part of nature shall be crushed, that the godlike spirit may unfold. In the mean time let us be cautious that no vague desires, that no extravagant theories, the time for which may not yet be come, carry us beyond the bounds of prudence, or beget in us a discontent with our present state. To us much has been given, of us much will be required. Posterity will demand a strict account of our conduct—the public, the government, all is now open to discussion, to examination. Let us then attach ourselves firmly to the principles of our civilization, to justice, to law, to liberty; and never forget, that, if we have the right to demand that all things shall be laid open before us, and judged by us, we likewise are before the world, who will examine us, and judge us according to our works.
[* ] This dispute turns upon the greater or less extension given to the term. Civilization may be taken to signify merely the multiplication of artificial wants, and of the means and refinements of physical enjoyment. It may also be taken to imply both a state of physical well being and a state of superior intellectual and moral culture. It is only in the former sense that it can be alleged that civilization is an evil.
Civilization is properly a relative term. It refers to a certain state of mankind as distinguished from barbarism.
Man is formed for society. Isolated and solitary, his reason would remain perfectly undeveloped. Against the total defeat of his destination for rational development God has provided by the domestic relations. Yet without a further extension of the social ties, man would still remain comparatively rude and uncultivated—never emerging from barbarism. In proportion as the social relations are extended, regulated and perfected, man is softened, ameliorated, cultivated. To this improvement various social conditions combine; but as the political organization of society—the state—is that which first gives security and permanence to all the others, it holds the most important place. Hence it is from the political organization of society, from the establishment of the state (in Latin civitas), that the word civilization is taken.
Civilization, therefore, in its most general idea, is an improved condition of man resulting from the establishment of social order in place of the individual independence and lawlessness of the savage or barbarous life. It may exist in various degrees: it is susceptible of continual progress: and hence the history of civilization is the history of the progress of the human race towards realizing the idea of humanity, through the extension and perfection of the social relations, and as affected, advanced or retarded, by the character of the various political and civil institutions which have existed. II.
The term “civilization” has two distinct meanings, signifying either a force at work upon and among mankind, or a particular condition or state of human society. In the former sense it denotes the forces by which and the process through which mankind as a whole, or in some of its branches, is uplifted and developed in its internal spirit and external relations. It sums up all the humanizing forces that have raised man and are now carrying him higher in his thoughts, his deeds, his aspirations. In its other meaning the word is used to denote an advanced condition of humanity or human society, marked by political, social, and industrial order and organization, and a high degree of knowledge and culture. In this sense we may properly compare and contrast different civilizations, meaning thereby different conditions or types of human society.
When the author speaks of the “progress of civilization,” he is thinking of civilization as a force or group of forces. When he examines civilization as it was at the downfall of the Roman empire, he is regarding it as a particular condition or state in which European society was at that epoch, as a product of previously operative forces. When we speak of the civilization of to-day we may mean either (1) the actual state of mankind and society to-day as the product of past tendencies, or (2) the forces and tendencies themselves which are to-day operative and which will produce a different and more advanced condition of human society hereafter. It is only by keeping both ideas in mind that the student will get the full force of the author’s lectures. The history of civilization is obviously a history of the various causes and forces—intellectual, moral, political, social, industrial—which, working in the past, have made man and society what they are to-day; it is more than a mere account of the successive conditions or states in which past generations of men have lived.
[* ] In this passage the author seems, for the moment at least, inclined to make the term “civilization” almost synonymous with “intellectual development.” Mere intellectual advancement, especially where it is found only among a limited group, or peculiarly favored class, where its effects and influence do not extend downwards through the masses, does not necessarily indicate the highest type of civilization. The progress of civilization, as the author in other passages appreciates, must always be marked not merely by the intellectual and moral advancement of the individual, but also by improvement in his environment, in his social, political, and industrial condition and possibilities.
To-day civilization must be judged not merely by its best features and products, but by its bad features and results. The half century since these lectures were written has made it more evident than ever before that the progress of man can only be continuous when society—the social state, as M. Guizot calls it—is progressing, and that social conditions can only be permanently improved by the advancement of the individual.
[* ] It is true that Christianity was addressed primarily not to the social condition of man, to the social class relations, but to “the interior condition of man”; yet it has from the very first, by the fundamental principle on which it is based—the law of love—demanded justice as between classes and individuals. It has ever insisted on justice and charity by the rich towards the poor, by the strong towards the weak.
[† ] “It is impossible not to feel the incompleteness of any statement of the influence of Christianity upon civilization. Some of the more obvious and apparent results can be mentioned, but its full work cannot be traced. . . . Its operation lies in the realm of the silent and unobserved forces which act upon the individual character and the springs of action, but which can, in the nature of the case, leave no record of themselves for later time.”—Adams, Civilization during the Middle Ages, p. 64.
[* ] Opinion de Royer Collard, sur le Projet de Loi rélatif au Sacrilége, pp. 7 et 17.
[* ] Man can be comprehended only as a free moral being, that is, as a rational being: but as a rational being it is impossible to comprehend his existence, if it be limited to the present world. In the very nature of human reason and of the relations of the human race to it, lies the idea of the destination of the race for a supermundane and eternal sphere. Reason is the germ of a development which is not and cannot be reached here below. To doubt that it is destined for development, and that there is a corresponding sphere, is contradictory: it is to doubt whether the fruit, unfolding from the blossom, is destined by its constitution to ripen.
Herein, while the delusion of certain philosophical theories respecting Human Perfectibility is made apparent, may be seen nevertheless the correct idea of man’s earthly life. It is that of a continual progress, a reaching towards that perfection, the notion and desire of which lies in the nature of his reason.
Humanity in all its social efforts has always been governed by the idea of a perfection never yet attained. All human history may in one view be regarded as a series of attempts to realize this idea.
As individual man can attain the ideal perfection of his nature only as a rational being, by the harmony of all his powers with his reason; so it is equally clear that humanity can realize the idea of social perfection only as a rational society, by the union and brotherhood of the human family, and the harmony of all individuals with the Divine reason. How far it may be in the intentions of Divine Providence that the human race shall realize this perfection, it may be impossible to determine. Certain it is, that it can never be brought about by any mere political institutions, by checks and counterchecks of interest, by any balance of international powers. Only Christianity can effect this universal brotherhood of nations, and bind the human family together in a rational, that is, a free moral society. H.
The last half century is filled with suggestive facts and tendencies bearing on this point. If one examines merely external conditions and phenomena, he may think that classes have become more sharply defined during that time, and that the clash of supposed interests between classes and countries has become fiercer. It is, however, easy to note the prevalence as never before of a deep concern for the “common interest of humanity.” The spirit of philanthropy, the increasing effort to put an end to strife, to substitute reason for force of arms in the settlement of international disputes, to reconcile rather than set in antagonism the social and industrial classes—all these are evidences of the consciousness that the true civilization of the individual is attained only in the advance and betterment of society—the human family. The solidarity of the human race is recognized to-day. The universality of human brotherhood is more and more seen to be the only basis for that civilization which is the ultimate aim of individual and society.
[* ] It is impossible completely to separate these two parts of the history of civilization. Political institutions and social facts and forces are always in part the product of intellectual conditions, while the intellectual development of a people, hence of individuals, is always dependent on political, social—even at times industrial—environment. Institutions and ideas are not completely separable. The subsequent lectures are conclusive evidence of this.
[* ] “There is a pleasure in viewing from the shore the difficulties of another tossed on the sea in the tumbling waves and howling winds.”