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wherein manners were simpler, passions more under control, and legislation more equitable, than in the period known to history. Mr. Maine has admirably delineated the process by which, from the constantly felt want of a system of principles fit for settling disputes between Roman citizens and foreigners, there gradually arose in the Prætorian courts an equitable body of law founded upon customs common to all nations alike. That this process, even while being energetically carried on, should never have been correctly understood or interpreted as a phenomenon of moral improvement, shows in the most striking manner how foreign to ancient modes of thought was the conception of progress. Far from perceiving the real character of the noble juristic system steadily growing up under their own supervision, — daily attaining grander proportions as the grotesque and barbarous elements hallowed by local usage one by one were eliminated from the mass of equitable ideas which formed their common substratum,- the Prætors of the Republic and the great Antonine jurisconsults, under the influence of Stoic conceptions, supposed themselves to be merely restoring to their original integrity the disfigured and partially obliterated ordinances of a primeval state of nature. The state of faultless morality and unimpeachable equity which constituted the ideal goal of their labors, they mistook for the shadow of a real though unseen past.
The mighty sway exercised by the ideas of Roman jurisprudence over all departments of modern thought is nowhere more clearly to be discerned than in the subsequent history of this conception. The great writers who in the seventeenth century illustrated with exquisite beauty and clearness the doctrines of Public Law seem to have been completely saturated with the notion of a primitive natural code, fit for regulating international concerns, and for supplying everywhere the shortcomings of civil legislation, its degenerate offspring, whose worth must be uniformly rated according to the degree in which it approaches the perfection of its parent. The influence of this conception, so thoroughly incompatible with a consistent belief in progress, may be best appreciated by reflecting on the extent to which contemporary legal literature, whether embodied in expository treatises or in judicial decisions, is impregnated by
it. The appeals to “ right reason” and “natural reason,” which since Blackstone's time have filled so large a place in juristic dissertation, bear unequivocal marks of their origin. Somewhat less subtile, but equally notorious, has been the influence of the Roman theory upon social and historical speculation. The vulgar opinion that national decadence in general, and the decline of the Roman Empire in particular, may be ascribed to the prevalence of luxury, and the abandonment of barbarous simplicity, is a case in point. The wide-spread notion of a Social Compact traces its pedigree to the same remote source from which sprang the Ethics of Epictetus and the juridícal theories of Puffendorf.* And the extravagant doctrines of Rousseau, advocating so far as practicable a return to the primitive happy state,
“ When wild in woods the noble savage ran," were merely distorted caricatures of the prevalent opinions of antiquity respecting the more or less hopeless deterioration of the human race.
According to Mr. Maine," the tendency to look not to the past but to the future for types of perfection was brought into the world by Christianity”; and his statement, with some qualifications, may be accepted as profoundly true. Of the three ancient nations, whose lines of moral, intellectual, and religious development by their convergence resulted in Christianity, the Greeks and Romans, as we have seen, embraced with one consent the melancholy doctrine of human retrogression. Far more hopeful was the view of life taken by the eminent thinkers and writers of Palestine. Among the Jews, it is true, traditions of a long-lost state of primitive innocence and happiness were more or less current, as is seen in the myth of the garden of Eden and man's expulsion therefrom. But this particular tradition bears upon its face strong indications of a Persian origin,† and seems to have been entirely ignored by Jewish writers, until the late age of the apostles. Be
* See the discussion of the doctrine in Austin, Prov. Jurisp. 331 - 371; Kant. Rechtslehre, Th. II. Abschn. i. ; Stahl, Phil. des Rechts, II. 142; and Mainc, Chap. IV.
# Bohlen's Genesis, II. 57 – 59; Colenso, SS 1065, 1087 – 1090.
this as it may, Hebrew prophecy, from beginning to end, is inspired by exulting faith in a future state of glory destined to eclipse and render of no account all that had preceded it. The Messianic kingdom might indeed in its general features be copied from the romantic reign of David, but it was to be a copy immeasurably transcending its original pattern. These expectations of future glory were, however, reserved for Jews alone. For all other nations the fate in store was irretrievable ruin. They were to be dashed in pieces like a potter's vessel. But on passing into Christian hands, the Messianic theory assumed a different aspect. It was metamorphosed into the doctrine of Christ's millennial reign upon the earth, in the blessings of which all nations were equally to share, on complying with certain prescribed conditions. Thus, for the first time, there appears a well-defined belief in the possible advance of all mankind to future perfection ; thus do we find presented, albeit in crude and meagre outline, the rudiments of the modern idea of progress. The Christian theory of human perfectibility, ever preserving a subtle antagonism to the classic theory of deterioration, has in modern times assumed grand and imposing proportions, and, allying itself with the conclusions of scientific investigation, it is now rapidly driving its opponent from the field. Antiquated conceptions of a past state of nature must abdicate in favor of modern conceptions of a future state of equilibrium. Civil legislation must no longer be judged by its conformity to the rules of “natural reason," but by its power of fulfilling the requirements of advancing humanity. And as for the noble savage, the results of historic research may be summed up in Dickens's emphatic declaration that he is “a prodigious nuisance and an enormous superstition,” – that “ his virtues are a fable, his happiness a delusion, his nobility nonsense.”
The illustrious thinkers of the last century, who endeavored to study human history from a scientific point of view, were unconsciously led into an error from which contemporary writers have not as yet entirely freed themselves. The followers of Turgot and Condorcet were prone to regard progress as something necessary and universal. They attempted to account for it, much as Lamarck tried to explain organic develop
ment, as the continuous and ubiquitous manifestation of an inherent tendency toward perfection. Baseless as such a theory obviously is, it has nevertheless infected subsequent literature to a surprising extent. Thus Dr. Whately, in his edition of Archbishop King's Discourses, asserts that “civilization is the natural state of man, since he has evidently a natural tendency towards it.” Upon which it has been aptly remarked that,“ by a parity of reasoning, old age is the natural state of man, since he has evidently a natural tendency towards it.”* Mr. Adam labors under a similar confusion of ideas, when he finds fault with Sir G. C. Lewis for upholding the doctrine of progress while admitting that certain races have never advanced. In taking this course, the great scholar exhibited his usual good sense and caution; and, as he was ever wont to do, kept closely to the facts of the case. Yet for this Mr. Adam accuses him of virtually dividing mankind into two differently constituted races, of which the one possesses, while the other lacks, the inherent tendency toward perfection ! | Closely allied to this error is that which assumes that the theory of progression requires us to suppose that nowhere at any time has there been a temporary retrogression. Thus, Mr. Goldwin Smith, in his "Lectures on the Study of History," holds that “positivists cannot preserve consistency without admitting that the reign of Charles II. was an advance upon the Cromwellian Protectorate. Mr. Mansel, in his “Limits of Religious Thought," still more preposterously declares that on the theory of progression we ought to regard the polytheism of imperial Rome as a higher form of religion than the earlier Hebrew.worship of Jehovah. While thinkers of the opposite school, in order to save their cherished doctrine, inconsiderately accept dilemmas of this sort, and strive to coax the annals of the past into affirming the uninterrupted advance of civilization.
I cite these examples to show how vaguely the doctrine of progress has hitherto been apprehended. The fallacy of supposing civilization to have proceeded serially, or uniformly, or in consequence of any universal tendency, is nearly akin to the fallacy of classifying the animal kingdom in a series of as
* The Progress of Nations (London, 1861), p. 45. † Theories of History, p. 87.
cending groups, - a fruitful source of delusion, which it was Cuvier's great merit to have steadily avoided. The theological habit of viewing progressiveness as a divine gift to man,* and the metaphysical habit of regarding it as a necessary attribute of humanity, are equally unsound and equally fraught with
Until more accurate conceptions are acquired, no se cure advance can be made toward discerning the true order of social changes. Far from being necessary and universal, progress has been in an eminent degree contingent and partial. Its career has been frequently interrupted by periods of stagnation or declension, and, wherever it has gone on, it has been forwarded not by any inherent tendency, but by a concurrence of favorable conditions. Again, without going quite so far as to say, with Mr. Maine, that “the stationary condition of the human race is the rule, the progressive the exception," we must still be careful to remember that the communities which have attained to a conspicuous degree of civilization constitute a numerical minority of mankind. Contemporaneously with the rapidly advancing nations of Europe exist the sluggish nations of Asia, and the almost stationary tribes of Africa and Polynesia. So irregular, indeed, has been the march of civilization, that most stages of progress may be made the subject of ocular investigation at the present day.
In the science of history, therefore, old “means not old in chronology, but in structure: that is most archaic which lies nearest to the beginning of human progress considered as a development, and that is most modern which is farthest removed from that beginning." | Let us, then, pluck from our minds every twig and rootlet of the insidious tendency to associate lateness in time with completeness in development.
* “It is impossible for mere savages to civilize themselves. . . . . Consequeaus man must at some period have received the rudiments of civilization from a superhuman instructor.” (Whately's Rhetoric, p. 94.) A statement not altogether compatible with the one just quoted from the same author in the text.
† Ancient Law, p. 24. In Tylor's Early History of Mankind (p. 190) may be found some grounds for believing that even the lowest human races have advanced in civilization, though to an almost inappreciable extent. (C Lev Methods of Observation in Politics, Vol. I. p. 302.)
| M‘Lennan, Primitive Marriage, p. 9.