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.

In combining their theory with a philosophical religion the Saint-Simonian school was not only true to its master’s teaching but obeying an astute instinct.  As a purely secular movement for the transformation of society, their doctrine would not have reaped the same success or inspired the same enthusiasm.  They were probably influenced too by the pamphlet of Lessing to which Madame de Stael had invited attention, and which one of Saint-Simon’s disciples translated.

The fortunes of the school, the life of the community at Menilmontant under the direction of Enfantin, the persecution, the heresies, the dispersion, the attempt to propagate the movement in Egypt, the philosophical activity of Enfantin and Lemonnier under the Second Empire, do not claim our attention; the curious story is told in M. Weill’s admirable monograph. [Footnote:  It may be noticed that Saint-Simonians came to the front in public careers after the revolution of 1848; e.g.  Carnot, Reynaud, Charton.] The sect is now extinct, but its influence was wide in its day, and it propagated faith in Progress as the key to history and the law of collective life.[Footnote:  Two able converts to the ideas of Saint-Simon seceded from the school at an early stage in consequence of Enfantin’s aberrations:  Pierre Leroux, whom we shall meet again, and P. J. B. Buchez, who in 1833 published a thoughtful “Introduction a la science de l’histoire,” where history is defined as “a science whose end is to foresee the social future of the human species in the order of its free activity” (vol. i. p. 60,. ed. 2, 1842).]

CHAPTER XVI

THE SEARCH FOR A LAW OF PROGRESS:  II.  COMTE

1.

Auguste Comte did more than any preceding thinker to establish the idea of Progress as a luminary which could not escape men’s vision.  The brilliant suggestions of Saint-Simon, the writings of Bazard and Enfantin, the vagaries of Fourier, might be dismissed as curious rather than serious propositions, but the massive system wrought out by Comte’s speculative genius—­his organic scheme of human knowledge, his elaborate analysis of history, his new science of sociology—­was a great fact with which European thought was forced to reckon.  The soul of this system was Progress, and the most important problem he set out to solve was the determination of its laws.

His originality is not dimmed by the fact that he owed to Saint-Simon more than he afterwards admitted or than his disciples have been willing to allow.  He collaborated with him for several years, and at this time enthusiastically acknowledged the intellectual stimulus he received from the elder savant. [Footnote:  Comte collaborated with Saint-Simon from 1818-1822.  The final rupture came in 1824.  The question of their relations is cleared up by Weill (Saint-Simon, chap. xi.).  On the quarrel see also Ostwald, Auguste Comte (1914), 13 sqq.] But he derived from Saint-Simon

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