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.

[Footnote:  Krause divided man’s earthly career into three Ages—­ infancy, growth, and maturity.  The second of these falls into three periods characterised by (1) polytheism, (2) monotheism (Middle Ages), (3) scepticism and liberty, and we are now in the third of these periods.  The third Age will witness the union of humanity in a single social organism, and the universal acceptance of “panentheism” (the doctrine of the unity of all in God), which is the principle of Krause’s philosophy and religion.  But though this will be the final stage on the earth, Krause contemplates an ulterior career of humanity in other solar systems.

Krause never attracted attention in England, but he exerted some influence in France and Spain, and especially in Belgium, notwithstanding the grotesque jargon in which he obscured his thoughts.  See Flint, Philosophy of History, pp. 474-5.  Flint’s account of his speculations is indulgent.  The main ideas of his philosophy of history will be found in the Introduction a la philosophie (ed. 2, 1880) of G. Tiberghien, a Belgian disciple.]

All these transcendent speculations had this in common that they pretended to discover the necessary course of human history on metaphysical principles, independent of experience.  But it has been rightly doubted whether this alleged independence was genuine.  We may question whether any of them would have produced the same sequence of periods of history, if the actual facts of history had been to them a sealed book.  Indeed we may be sure that they were surreptitiously and subconsciously using experience as a guide, while they imagined that abstract principles were entirely responsible for their conclusions.  And this is equivalent to saying that their ideas of progressive movement were really derived from that idea of Progress which the French thinkers of the eighteenth century had attempted to base on experience.

The influence, direct and indirect, of these German philosophers reached far beyond the narrow circle of the bacchants or even the wandbearers of idealism.  They did much to establish the notion of progressive development as a category of thought, almost as familiar and indispensable as that of cause and effect.  They helped to diffuse the idea of “an increasing purpose” in history.  Augustine or Bossuet might indeed have spoken of an increasing purpose, but the “purpose” of their speculations was subsidiary to a future life.  The purpose of the German idealists could be fulfilled in earthly conditions and required no theory of personal immortality.

This atmosphere of thought affected even intelligent reactionaries who wrote in the interest of orthodox Christianity and the Catholic Church.  Progressive development is admitted in the lectures on the Philosophy of History of Friedrich von Schlegel. [Footnote:  Translated into English in 2 vols., 1835.] He denounced Condorcet, and opposed to perfectibility the corruptible nature of man.  But he asserted that the philosophy

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