The Idea of Progress eBook

J.B. Bury
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 354 pages of information about The Idea of Progress.

In the authoritarian character of the organisation to which these apostles of Progress wished to entrust the destinies of man we may see the influence of the great theocrat and antagonist of Progress, Joseph de Maistre.  He taught them the necessity of a strong central power and the danger of liberty.

But the fullest exposition of the Saint-Simonian doctrine of development was given by Bazard, one of the chief disciples, a few years later. [Footnote:  Exposition de la doctrine saint-simonienne, 2 vols., 1830-1.] The human race is conceived as a collective being which unfolds its nature in the course of generations, according to a law—­the law of Progress—­which may be called the physiological law of the human species, and was discovered by Saint-Simon.  It consists in the alternation of organic and critical epochs. [Footnote:  In the Globe, which became an organ of Saint-Simonism in 1831, Enfantin announced a new principle (Weill, op. cit. 107).  He defined the law of history as “the harmony, ceaselessly progressive, of flesh and spirit, of industry and science, of east and west, of woman and man.”  The role of woman played a large part in the teaching of the sect.

Saint-Simon’s law of organic and critical ages was definitely accepted by H. de Ferron, a thinker who did not belong to the school, as late as 1867.  See his Theorie du progres, vol. ii. p. 433.]

In an organic epoch men discern a destination and harmonise all their energies to reach it.  In a critical epoch they are not conscious of a goal, and their efforts are dispersed and discordant.  There was an organic period in Greece before the age of Socrates.  It was succeeded by a critical epoch lasting to the barbarian invasions.  Then came an organic period in the homogeneous societies of Europe from Charlemagne to the end of the fifteenth century, and a new critical period opened with Luther and has lasted till to-day.  Now it is time to prepare the advent of the organic age which must necessarily follow.

The most salient fact observable in history is the continual extension of the principle of association, in the series of family, city, nation, supernational Church.  The next term must be a still vaster association comprehending the whole race.

In consequence of the incompleteness of association, the exploitation of the weak by the strong has been a capital feature in human societies, but its successive forms exhibit a gradual mitigation.  Cannibalism is followed by slavery, slavery by serfdom, and finally comes industrial exploitation by the capitalist.  This latest form of the oppression of the weak depends on the right of property, and the remedy is to transfer the right of inheriting the property of the individual from the family to the state.  The society of the future must be socialistic.

The new social doctrine must not only be diffused by education and legislation, it must be sanctioned by a new religion.  Christianity will not serve, for Christianity is founded on a dualism between matter and spirit, and has laid a curse on matter.  The new religion must be monistic, and its principles are, briefly:  God is one, God is all that is, all is God.  He is universal love, revealing itself as mind and matter.  And to this triad correspond the three domains of religion, science, and industry.

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The Idea of Progress from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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