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INTIMATELY bound up with the idea of freedom is that of progress. For, although our main approach to the discussion of freedom was made by way of the natural sciences, by a critique of physical determinism, and also by way of the problem of personal action, involving a critique of psychological determinism, it must be noted that there have appeared throughout the discussion very clear indications of the vital bearing of freedom upon the wide field of humanity's development considered as a whole—in short, its history. The philosopher must give some account of history, if he is to leave no gap in his view of the universe. The philosophy of history will obviously be vastly different if it be based on determinism rather than on freedom. When the philosopher looks at history his thoughts must inevitably centre around the idea of progress. He may believe in it or may reject it as an illusion, but his attitude to it will be very largely a reflection of the doctrine which he has formed regarding freedom.
The notion of progress is probably the most characteristic feature which distinguishes modern civilisation from those of former times. It would have seemed to the Greeks foolishness. We owe it to the people who, in the modern world, have been what Greece was in the ancient world, the glorious mother of ideas. The eighteenth century was marked in France by a growing belief in progress, which was encouraged by the Encyclopaedists and rose to enthusiasm at the Revolution. Its best expression was that given by Condorcet, himself an Encyclopaedist, and originally a supporter of the Revolution. His Sketch of an Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind was written in 1793 (while its author was threatened with the guillotine*), published two years later, and became, in the early years of the nineteenth century, a powerful stimulus to thought concerning progress. Much of the work is defective, but it had a great influence upon Saint-Simon, the early socialists, and upon the doctrines of Auguste Comte, which themselves are immediate antecedents of our own period. We may note briefly here, that Condorcet believed in a sure and infallible progress in knowledge and in social welfare. This is the important doctrine which Saint-Simon and Comte both accepted from him. His ideal of progress is contained in the three watchwords of the Revolution, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, particularly the last two. He forecasts an abandonment of militarism, prophesies an era of universal peace, and the reign of equality between the sexes. Equality is a point which he insists upon very keenly, and, although he did not speak of sociology as did Comte, nor of socialism as did Saint-Simon, he claimed that the true history of mankind is the history of the great mass of workers: it is not diplomatic and military, not the record of dazzling deeds of great men. Condorcet, however, was dogmatic in his belief in progress, and he did not work out any "law" of progress, although he believed progress to be a law of the universe, in general, and an undeniable truth in regard to the life-history of mankind.
[Footnote *: He was ultimately imprisoned and driven to suicide.]
Later, his friend Cabanis upheld a similarly optimistic view, and endeavoured to argue for it, against the Traditionalists, who we may remember endeavoured to restate Catholicism, and to make an appeal to those whom the events of the Revolution had disturbed and disillusioned. The outcome of the Terror had somewhat shaken the belief in a straightforward progress, but enthusiastic exponents of the doctrine were neither lacking nor silent. Madame de Staël continued the thought of Condorcet, thus forming a link between him and Saint-Simon and Comte. The influence of the Traditionalists and the general current of thought and literature known as Romanticism, helped also to solve a difficulty which distinguishes Condorcet from Comte. This difficulty lay in the eighteenth-century attitude to the Middle Ages, which Condorcet had accepted, and which seriously damaged his thesis of general progress, for in the eighteenth century the Middle Ages were looked upon as a black, dark regress, for which no thinker had a good word to say. The change of view is seen most markedly when we come to Comte, whose admiration of the Middle Ages is a conspicuous feature of his work. While, however, Saint-Simon and Comte were working out their ideas, great popularity was given to the belief in progress by the influence of Cousin, Jouffroy, Guizot, and by Michelet's translation of the Scienza nuova of the Italian thinker Vico, a book then a century old but practically unknown in France. For Cousin, the world process was a result of a necessary evolution of thought, which he conceived in rather Hegelian fashion. Jouffroy agreed with this fatal progress, although he endeavoured to reconcile it with that of personal freedom. Guizot's main point was that progress and civilisation are the same thing, or rather, that civilisation is to be defined only by progress, for that is its fundamental idea. His definition of progress is not, however, strikingly clear, and he calls attention to two types of progress—one involving an improvement in social welfare, the other in the spiritual or intellectual life. Although Guizot tried to show that progress in both these forms is a fact, he did not touch ultimate questions, nor did he successfully show that progress is the universal key to human history. He did not really support his argument that civilisation is progress in any convincing way, but he gave a stimulus to reflection on the question of the relationship of these two. Michelet's translation of Vico came at an appropriate time, and served a useful purpose. It showed to France a thinker who, while not denying a certain progress over short periods, denied it over the long period, and reverted rather to the old notion of an eternal recurrence. For Vico, the course of human history was not rectilineal but rather spiral, although he, too, refrained from indicating any law. He claimed clearly enough that each civilisation must give way to barbarism and anarchy, and the cycle be again begun.
Such were the ideas upon progress which were current at the time when Saint-Simon, Fourier and Comte were busily thinking out their doctrines, the main characteristics of which we have already noted in our Introduction on the immediate antecedents of our period. The thought given to the question of progress in modern France is almost unintelligible save in the light of the doctrines current from Condorcet, through Saint-Simon to Comte, for the second half of the century is again characterised by a criticism and indeed a reaction against the idea professed in the first half. This was true in regard to Science and to Freedom. We shall see a similar type of development illustrated again respecting Progress.
Already we have noted the general aim and object which both Saint-Simon and Comte had in view. The important fact for our discussion here is that Saint-Simon, by his respect for the Middle Ages, and for the power of religion, was able to rectify the defects which the ideas of the eighteenth century had left in Condorcet's doctrine of progress. Moreover, he claimed, as Condorcet had not done, to indicate a "law of progress," which gives rise alternately to "organic" and to "critical" periods. The Middle Ages were, in the opinion of Saint-Simon, an admirable period, displaying as they did an organic society, where there was a temporal and spiritual authority. With Luther began an anarchical, critical period. According to Saint-Simon s law of progress a new organic period will succeed this, and the characteristic of that period will be socialism. He advocated a gradual change, not a violent revolutionary one, but he saw in socialism the inevitable feature of the new era. With its triumph would come a new world organisation and a league of peoples in which war would be no more, and in which the lot of the proletariat would be free from oppression and misery. The Saint-Simonist School became practically a religious sect, and the chief note in its gospel was "Progress."
That the notion of progress was conspicuous in the thought of this time is very evident. It was, indeed, in the foreground, and a host of writers testify to this, whom we cannot do much more than mention here. A number of them figured in the events of 1848. The social reformers all invoked "Progress" as justification for their theories being put into action. Bazard took up the ideas of Saint-Simon and expounded them in his Exposition de la Doctrine saint-simonienne (1830). Buchez, in his work on the philosophy of history, assumed progress (1833). The work of Louis Blanc on L'Organisation du Travail appeared in 1839 in a periodical calling itself Revue des Progrès. The brochure from Proudhon, on property, came in 1840, and was followed later by La Philosophie du Progrès (1851). Meanwhile Fourier's Théorie des Quatre Mouvements et des Destinées générales attempted in rather a fantastic manner to point the road to progress. Worthless as many of his quaint pages are, they were a severe indictment of much in the existing order, and helped to increase the interest and the faith in progress. Fourier's disciple, Considérant, was a prominent figure in 1848. The Utopia proposed by Cabet insisted upon fraternité as the keynote to progress, while the volumes of Pierre Leroux, De l'Humanité, which appeared in the same year as Cabet's volume, 1840, emphasised égalité as the essential factor. His humanitarianism influenced the woman-novelist, George Sand. This same watchword of the Revolution had been eulogised by De Tocqueville in his important study of the American Republic in 1834, and that writer had claimed égalité as the goal of human progress. All these men take progress as an undoubted fact; they only vary by using a different one of the three watchwords, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, to denote the kind of progress they mean. Meanwhile, Michelet and his friend Quinet combated the Hegelian conception of history maintained by Cousin, and they claimed liberté to be the watchword of progress. The confidence of all in progress is almost pathetic in its unqualified optimism. It is not remarkable that the events of 1851 proved a rude shock. Javary, a writer who, in 1850, published a little work, De l'Idée du Progrès, claimed that the idea is the supremely interesting question of the time in its relation to a general philosophy of history and to the ultimate destiny of mankind. This is fairly evident from the writers we have cited, without Javary's remark, but it is worth noting as being the observation of a contemporary. With the mention of Reynaud's Philosophie religieuse, upholding the principle of indefinite perfectability and Pelletan's Profession du Foi du XIXe Siècle, wherein he maintained confidently and dogmatically that progress is the general law of the universe, we must pass on from these minor people to consider one who had a profounder influence on the latter half of the century, and who took over the notion of progress from Saint-Simon.
This was Comte, whose attitude to progress in many respects resembles that of Saint-Simon, but he brought to his work a mental equipment lacking in the earlier writer and succeeded, by the position he gave to it in his Positive Philosophy, in making the idea of progress one which subsequent thinkers could not omit from consideration.
According to Comte, the central factor in progress is the mental. Ideas, as Fouillée was later to assert, are the real forces in humanity's history. These ideas develop in accordance with the "Law of the Three Stages," already explained in our Introduction. In spite of the apparent clearness and simplicity of this law, Comte had to admit that as a general law of all development it was to some degree rendered difficult in its application by the lack of simultaneity in development in the different spheres of knowledge and social life. While recognising the mental as the keynote to progress, he also insisted upon the solidarity of the physical, intellectual, moral and social life of man, and to this extent admitted a connection and interaction between material welfare and intellectual progress. The importance of this admission lay in the fact that it led Comte to qualify what first appears as a definite and confident belief in a rectilineal progress. He admits that such a conception is not true, for there is retrogression, conflict, wavering, and not a steady development. Yet he claims that there is a general and ultimate progress about a mean line. The causes which shake and retard the steady progress are not all-powerful, they cannot upset the fundamental order of development. These causes which do give rise to variations are, we may note in passing, the effects of race, climate and political and military feats like those of Napoleon, for whom Comte did not disguise his hatred, styling him the man who had done most harm to humanity. Great men upset his sociological theories, but Comte was no democrat and strongly opposed ideas of Liberty and Equality. We have remarked upon his general attitude to his own age, as one of criticism and anarchy. In this he was probably correct, but he quite underestimated the extent and duration of that anarchy, particularly by his estimate of the decline and fall of Catholicism and of militarism, which he regarded as the two evils of Europe. The events of the twentieth century would have been a rude shock to him, particularly the international conflagration of 1914-1918. It was to Europe that Comte confined his philosophy of history and consequently narrowed it. He knew little outside this field.
He endeavoured, however, to apply his new science of sociology to the development of European history. His work contains much which is good and instructive, but fails ultimately to establish any law of progress. It does not seem to have occurred to Comte's mind that there might not be one. This was the question which was presented to the thinkers after him, and occupies the chief place in the subsequent discussion of progress.
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