Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/864

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Editor's Table.


CIVILIZATION, whether considered as a result or as a process, may be defined as the improvement of individual lives through social intercourse. It is obvious that the isolated individual can not elevate or develop himself. Growth through society is the law of human nature; and the founder of Positivism had some very plausible reasons for speaking of humanity in the widest acceptation of the term as the "Grand Être." The individual realizes his powers in part through family life, further through national life, and still further through participation in the whole life, past and present, of the human race.

At the same time civilization, as we all know, does not go on continuously. Nations in the past have had their rise, their development, and their decay. They have had their rise when circumstances have compelled special social aggregations; their development during the period when, on the whole, individual characters were improving under social action; and their decay when the latter process has been reversed—when, upon the whole, men and women are receiving more harm than good from their social environment and their general intercourse with one another. Various reasons have been assigned for the decay of the older civilizations. An explanation which, so far as it goes, would apply to all cases is that men have not increased in virtue as they have increased in knowledge and power, and that they have consequently succumbed to temptations arising from the very successes they have achieved in social organization. If this theory is at all correct, a really stable civilization will only be founded when men have acquired the virtues necessary to enable them to use, as not abusing, the varied advantages accruing from their possession of advanced knowledge with its accompanying power over the resources of Nature.

This point of view seems to us, provisionally at least, a serviceable one; and we are therefore prompted to ask the question whether among the most favored nations of to-day public and private virtue is advancing as fast as material development, or whether there is any danger that modern civilization will, some generations hence, perish through the very abundance of the enjoyments and facilities of all kinds which it is furnishing, and will continue more and more to furnish, to the men and women of these latter times. In a word, are we able to stand up against the temptations that our industrial and scientific and artistic development is throwing in our way? If we are able, how will it be with our children and grandchildren?

It would be idle and ridiculous at this moment to predict evil of modern society; but it is not predicting evil to point out that, here and there, our moral forces, in the great Vanity Fair of the world as it is to-day, seem to be weakening. We think, for example, that few well-informed persons will deny that the conditions of business at the present time are anything but reassuring. The question which men who wish to be honest are asking themselves is whether business will much longer be possible at all except for the managers of huge capitals. There is much in the conditions of the industrial world,