Page images
PDF
EPUB

furnishes you with a share of poison to destroy another. So that, in short, the question comes all to this : whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride, feeding and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and venom, producing nothing at all but flybane and a cobweb; or that which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.

99

19.-CIVILIZATION.

GUIZOT.

[We have translated the following broad view of Civilization from M. Guizot's · Histoire Générale de la Civilisation en Europe. Of that remarkable volume there is a very good translation,-as also of the . History of Civilization in France,'-—by Mr. W. Hazlitt, the son of the eminent critic. M. Guizot is a signal example of the force of great talents to win exalted station, under a particular system of society. He was born at Nismes in 1787; was a journalist in the time of Napoleon, and was wholly devoted to literature till 1816. He is Prime Minister of France. His great rival, M. Thiers, has pursued the same course. In England it is otherwise. The man of letters seldom wins wealth,-never power. The only class permitted to intrude upon the monopoly of hereditary politicians is the class of the lawyers. It may be a question, whether the technical practice of the courts, and the habit of advocacy which makes a lawyer successful in proportion to his power of identifying himself with narrow individual policies, are the best preparations for dealing with the great interests of humanity, and legislating for the most complicated condition of society that ever existed on the earth. Be this as it may, the man of letters is invariably regarded here as an impracticable man. The largest acquaintance with the past-the readiest power of observing the present—the widest benevolence—the most inflexible integrity — are no passports to worldly honour or greatness. It is better, we believe, that it should be so. There are enough second-rate intellects in the world to carry on the great game of expediency.]

The term civilization has been used for a long period of time, and in many countries : ideas more or less limited, more or less comprehensive, are attached to it, but still it is adopted and understood. It is the sense of this word, the general, human, and popular sense, that we must study. There is almost always more truth in the usual ac: ceptation of general terms, than in the apparently more precise and hard definitions of science. Common sense has given to words their ordinary signification, and common sense is the genius of mankind. The ordinary signification of a word is formed step by step in connection with facts; as a fact occurs, which appears to come within the sense of a known term, it is received as such, so to speak, naturally; the sense of the term becomes enlarged and extended, and by degrees the different facts, and different ideas which in virtue of the nature of the things themselves, men ought to class under this word, become in fact so classed. When the sense of a word, on the other hand, is determined by science, this determination, the work of one individual or of a small number of persons, originates under the influence of some particular fact which has struck upon their minds. Therefore scientific definitions are generally much more limited, and from that alone, much less trụe in the main than the popular sense of terms. In studying as a fact the meaning of the word civilization, in seeking out all the ideas that are comprehended within the term, according to the common sense of man, we shall make more advances in the knowledge of the fact itself than if we ourselves attempted to give to it a scientific definition, though that definition might at first appear more precise and clear.

To begin this investigation, I shall endeavour to place before you some hypotheses: I shall describe a certain number of states of society, and then we will see if common instinct can point out the civilized state of society, the state which exemplifies the meaning that mankind naturally attaches to the term civilization.

Suppose a people whose external life is pleasant and easy; they pay few taxes, they have no hardships; justice is well administered in all private relations; in a word, material existence, taken as a whole, is well and happily regulated. But at the same time the intellectual and moral existence of this people is carefully kept in a state of torpor and sluggishness—I do not say, of oppression, because that feeling does not exist among them, but of compression. This state of things is not without example. There have been a great number of small aristocratic republics where the people have been thus treated like flocks, well attended and corporeally happy, but without intellectual and moral activity. Is this civilization? Is this a people civilizing itself?

Here is another hypothesis. Suppose a people whose material existence is less easy, less agreeable, but endurable nevertheless. In compensation, their moral and intellectual wants have not been neglected; a certain amount of mental food is distributed to them; pure and elevated sentiments are cultivated among this people; their moral and religious opinions have attained a certain degree of development; but great care is taken to extinguish the principle of liberty ; satisfaction is given to intellectual and moral wants, as elsewhere to material wants; to each is given his portion of truth, no one is permitted to seek it by himself. Immobility is the character of the moral life; this is the state into which the greater part of the populations of Asia have fallen, where theocratical dominion holds back humanity: this is the condition of the Hindoos, for example. I ask the same question as about the preceding people: is this a people civilizing itself?

I will now completely change the nature of the hypothesis. Imagine a people among whom there is a great display of some individual liberties, but among whom disorder and inequality are excessive : strength and chance have the dominion; every one, if he is not strong is oppressed, suffers, and perishes ; violence is the ruling character of the social state. Every body is aware that Europe has passed through this state. Is it a civilized state? It may doubtless contain the principles of civilization which will develop themselves by degrees, but the acting principle of such a society is not, unquestionably, what the judgment of men calls civilization.

I take a fourth and last hypothesis. The liberty of each individual is very great, inequality between them is rare, or, at least, very tran. sient. Every one does nearly what he likes, and in power differs little from his neighbour; but there are very few general interests, very few public ideas, in a word, very little sociability: the faculties and existence of each individual come forth and flow on in isolation, without one influencing the other, and without leaving any trace behind; successive generations leave society at the same point at which they found it. This is the condition of savage tribes ; liberty and equality exist, and yet, most certainly, civilization does not.

I could multiply these hypotheses; but I think I have brought forward sufficient to elucidate the popular and natural meaning of the word civilization.

It is clear that neither of the conditions I have just sketched an swers, according to the natural and right understanding of men, to this term. Why not? It appears to me that the first fact which is comprehended in the word civilization, (and this is the result of the various examples I have placed before you,) is the fact of progress, of development; it immediately gives the idea of a people, going on, not to change its place, but to change its condition; of a people whose condition becomes extended and ameliorated. The idea of progression, of development, seems to me to be the fundamental idea contained in the word civilization.

What is this progression? What is this development? Here lies the greatest difficulty we have to encounter.

The etymology of the word seems to answer in a clear and satisfactory manner, it tells us that it means the perfecting of civil life, the development of society properly so called, of the relations of men among themselves.

Such is in fact the first idea that offers itself to the minds of men, when they utter the word civilization ; they directly think of the extension, the greatest activity, and the best organization of all social relations; on one hand an increasing production of means of power and prosperity in society; on the other, a more equal distribution, among individuals, of the power and prosperity produced.

Is this all? Have we exhausted the natural and common meaning of the word civilization? Does it contain nothing more?

This is almost as if we asked : is the human species after all merely an ant-hill, a society where it is merely a question of order and prosperity, where the greater the amount of work done, and the more equitable the division of the fruits of that work, the more the aim is attained, and the progress accomplished.

The instinct of men repels so limited a definition of human destiny. It appears, at the first view, that the word civilization comprehends something more extended, more complex, superior to the mere perfection of social relations, of social power, and prosperity.

Facts, public opinion, the generally received meaning of the term, agree with this instinct.

Take Rome in the prosperous time of the republic, after the second Punic war, at the moment of her greatest power, when she was marching to the conquest of the world, when her social state was evidently progressing. Then take Rome under Augustus, at the time when her fall commenced, at least when the progressive movement of society was arrested, when evil principles were on the point of prevailing. Yet there is no one who does not think and does not say that the Rome of Augustus was more civilized than the Rome of Fabricius or of Cincinnatus.

Let us go elsewhere; let us take the France of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: it is evident, in a social point of view, that as to the amount and distribution of prosperity among individuals, the France of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was inferior to some other countries of Europe, to Holland, and to England, for example. I think that in Holland and in England social activity was greater, was increasing more rapidly, and distributing its fruits better than in France. Yet, consult the judgment of men; that will tell you that France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the most civilized country of Europe. Europe has not hesitated in answering this question. We find traces of this public opinion respecting France in all the monuments of European literature.

We could point out many other states where prosperity is greater, increases more rapidly, and is better divided among individuals than elsewhere, and yet where, by spontaneous instinct, in the judgment of men, the civilization is considered inferior to that of other countries whose purely social relations are not so well regulated.

What is to be said ? What do these countries possess, what gives them this privileged right to the name of civilized, which compensates so largely, in the opinion of men, for what they want in other re

spects?

Another development, besides that of social life, is in them strikingly manifested; the development of individual life, of internal life, the development of man himself, of his faculties, of his sentiments, of his ideas. If society is more imperfect than elsewhere, humanity appears with more grandeur and power. There remain many social conquests to make, but immense intellectual and moral conquests are accomplished ; many men stand in need of many benefits and many rights; but many great men live and shine before the world. Litera

« PreviousContinue »