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.

But Bodin had a much wider range of thought than Machiavelli, whose mind was entirely concentrated on the theory of politics; and his importance for us lies not in the political speculations by which he sought to prove that monarchy is the best form of government [Footnote:  Les six livres de la Republique, 1576.], but in his attempt to substitute a new theory of universal history for that which prevailed in the Middle Ages.  He rejected the popular conception of a golden age and a subsequent degeneration of mankind; and he refuted the view, generally current among medieval theologians, and based on the prophecies of Daniel, which divided the course of history into four periods corresponding to the Babylonian Persian, Macedonian, and Roman monarchies, the last of which was to endure till the day of Judgement.  Bodin suggests a division into three great periods:  the first, of about two thousand years, in which the South-Eastern peoples were predominant; the second, of the same duration, in which those whom he calls the Middle (Mediterranean) peoples came to the front; the third, in which the Northern nations who overthrew Rome became the leaders in civilisation.  Each period is stamped by the psychological character of the three racial groups.  The note of the first is religion, of the second practical sagacity, of the third warfare and inventive skill.  This division actually anticipates the synthesis of Hegel. [Footnote:  Hegel’s division is (1) the Oriental, (2) a, the Greek, b, the Roman, and (3) the Germanic worlds.] But the interesting point is that it is based on anthropological considerations, in which climate and geography are taken into account; and, notwithstanding the crudeness of the whole exposition and the intrusion of astrological arguments, it is a new step in the study of universal history. [Footnote:  Climates and geography.  The fullest discussion will be found in the Republique, Book v. cap. i.  Here Bodin anticipated Montesquieu.  There was indeed nothing new in the principle; it had been recognised by Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, and other Greeks, and in a later age by Roger Bacon.

But Bodin first developed and applied it methodically.  This part of his work was ignored, and in the eighteenth century Montesquieu’s speculations on the physical factors in history were applauded as a new discovery.]

I have said that Bodin rejected the theory of the degeneration of man, along with the tradition of a previous age of virtue and felicity. [Footnote:  See especially Methodus, cap. v. pp. 124, 130, 136.] The reason which he alleged against it is important.  The powers of nature have always been uniform.  It is illegitimate to suppose that she could at one time produce the men and conditions postulated by the theory of the golden age, and not produce them at another.  In other words, Bodin asserts the principle of the permanent and undiminishing capacities of nature, and, as we shall see in the sequel, this

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The Idea of Progress from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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