Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/571

This page has been validated.
555
EDITOR'S TABLE.

inferior animal. The civilized man of to-day is the descendant of this ancient and semi-brutal-savage; and the problem of human progress involves an elucidation of the laws by which human nature has been developed and transformed, so that the creature that could not count his fingers may yet count a Newton among his descendants.

It is obvious that Mr. George's theory of progress can not in the least explain the earlier stages of social development. The cave-men did not say "Go to, let us progress," but they blindly struggled with their circumstances, and out of these struggles came improvement. Their experience was of conflict with wild beasts, which they had to kill in self-defense and to get the means of subsistence. For this purpose, the brutal and aggressive passions required to be strong. The life was predatory, and the aboriginal savage was cruel, revengeful, and delighted in the infliction of pain. How could such a creature, with his unsympathetic and unsocial nature, be brought into even the rudest forms of society? Only by a coercion so stern that it could subjugate his refractory passions, and force him into some kind of coöperation.

Mr. George is unable to see how war and slavery could ever have aided improvement, progress, and freedom. He quotes as absurd the reasons given for this view, namely, Comte's idea that "the institution of slavery destroyed cannibalism," and that "slavery began civilization by giving slave-owners leisure for improvement." But these are by no means the reasons on which this view rests. The question is, how brutal men were first subjugated and learned the lessons of subordination, which are the first steps of social progress. A coarse and inexorable discipline was required, such as befitted the natures to be subdued. War and slavery were just those relentless agencies that could force savages to work together, and habituate them to that respect for power which was an indispensable condition of the lowest forms of social order. The strongest man became the chief and the despot. Tyranny was indispensable. Where the moral condition of men was evinced by the habitual practice of cruelty, the wanton destruction of life, the torture of prisoners, cannibalism, and human sacrifices, the restraining power had to be inexorable and ferocious. It was by the arbitrary discipline of war that men first learned obedience; and, as the chief became king and government a military despotism, there gradually grew a stability in social relations and a progress of social institutions. War was an education in obedience, but not the sole education. Slavery was the result of war. Prisoners not killed were reduced to bondage. Despotic coercion was thus systematized, and the benefits of war were thus gained in time of peace. With his unsubdued nature, the habit of submission and of continuous application could only be acquired by the aboriginal man through a long apprenticeship of painful enslavement.

Recoil as we may at these contemplations, there is no evading the fact that this is Nature's method of human progress, and accordingly as we value the result must we appreciate the means that brought it about. That war may now hinder the beneficent work which it formerly promoted, is undeniable; but we are not to forget the part it has played when we undertake to explain the conditions and causes of human progress. What is all history but a bloody record of War's and Slavery's violence and injustice? Men are greatly changed and greatly improved, but civilization is still barbarian. Hostility looking to war is the international norm. We have plenty of survivals from our savage ancestors. Animals that they hunted from necessity, we hunt for sport; the gratification of killing continues. War is a regnant profession, the pastime of Christendom;