The Idea of Progress eBook

J.B. Bury
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 296 pages of information about The Idea of Progress.

You may establish social equality by means of laws and institutions, yet the equality actually enjoyed may be very incomplete.  Condorcet recognises this and attributes it to three principal causes:  inequality in wealth; inequality in position between the man whose means of subsistence are assured and can be transmitted to his family and the man whose means depend on his work and are limited by the term of his own life [Footnote:  He looked forward to the mitigation of this inequality by the development of life insurance which was then coming to the front.]; and inequality in education.  He did not propose any radical methods for dealing with these difficulties, which he thought would diminish in time, without, however, entirely disappearing.  He was too deeply imbued with the views of the Economists to be seduced by the theories of Rousseau, Mably, Babeuf, and others, into advocating communism or the abolition of private property.

Besides equality among the individuals composing a civilised society, Condorcet contemplated equality among all the peoples of the earth,—­a uniform civilisation throughout the world, and the obliteration of the distinction between advanced and retrograde races.  The backward peoples, he prophesied, will climb up to the condition of France and the United States of America, for no people is condemned never to exercise its reason.  If the dogma of the perfectibility of human nature, unguarded by any restrictions, is granted, this is a logical inference, and we have already seen that it was one of the ideas current among the philosophers.

Condorcet does not hesitate to add to his picture adventurous conjectures on the improvement of man’s physical organisation, and a considerable prolongation of his life by the advance of medical science.  We need only note this.  More interesting is the prediction that, even if the compass of the human being’s cerebral powers is inalterable, the range, precision, and rapidity of his mental operations will be augmented by the invention of new instruments and methods.

The design of writing a history of human civilisation was premature, and to have produced a survey of any durable value would have required the equipment of a Gibbon.  Condorcet was not even as well equipped as Voltaire. [Footnote:  But as he wrote without books the Sketch was a marvellous tour de force.] The significance of his Sketch lies in this, that towards the close of an intellectual movement it concentrated attention on the most important, though hitherto not the most prominent, idea which that movement had disseminated, and as it were officially announced human Progress as the leading problem that claimed the interest of mankind.  With him Progress was associated intimately with particular eighteenth century doctrines, but these were not essential to it.  It was a living idea; it survived the compromising theories which began to fall into discredit after the Revolution, and was

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The Idea of Progress from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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