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It was Turgot, however, who completed the historical conception of Montesquieu, in a piece written in 1750, two years after the appearance of the Esprit des Lois, and in one or two other fragmentary compositions of about the same time, which are not the less remarkable because the writer was only twenty-three years old when these advanced ideas presented themselves to his intelligence. Vico, in Italy, had insisted on the doctrine that the course of human affairs is in a cycle, and that they move in a constant and self-repeating orbit. Turgot, on the contrary, with more wisdom, at the opening of his subject is careful to distinguish the ever-varying spectacle of the succession of men from generation to generation, from the circle of identical revolutions in which the phenomena of nature are enclosed. In the one case time only restores at each instant the image of what it has just caused to disappear: in the other, the reason and the passions are ever incessantly producing new events. “All the ages are linked together by a succession of causes and effects which bind the state of the world to all the states that have gone before. The multiplied signs of speech and writing, in supplying men with the means of an assured possession of their thoughts and of communicating them to one another, have formed a common treasure that one generation transmits to another, as an inheritance constantly augmented by the discoveries of each generation; and the human race, looked at from its origin, appears in the eyes of the philosopher one immense whole, which, just as in the case of each individual, has its infancy and its growth.”2
Pascal and others in ancient and modern times had compared in casual and unfruitful remarks the history of the race to the history of the individual, but Turgot was able in some sort to see the full meaning and extent of the analogy, as well as the limitations proper to it, and to draw from it some of the larger principles which the idea involved. The first proposition in the passage just quoted, that a chain of causes and effects unites cach age with every other age that has gone before, is one of the most memorable sentences in the history of thought. And Turgot not only saw that there is a relation of cause and effect between successive states of society ; he had glimpses into some of the conditions of that relation. To a generation that stands on loftier heights his attempts seem rudimentary and strangely simple, but it was these attempts which cut the steps for our ascent. How is it, he asked, for instance, that the succession of social states is not uniform; that they follow with unequal step along the track marked out for them ? He found the answer in the inequality of
(1) The well-known words of Thucydides may contain the germ of the same idea, when he speaks of the future as being likely to represent again, after the fashion of human things, “if not the very image, yet the near resemblance of the past," i. 22. 4.
(2) Discours en Sorbonne. Euvres de Turgot, ii. 597. (Edition of 1844.) (3) Cf. Sir G. C. Lewis's Methods of Observation in Politics, üi. 439, note.
natural advantages, and he was able to discern the necessity of including in these advantages the presence, apparently accidental, in some communities and not in others of men of especial genius or capacity in some important direction. Again he saw that just as in one way natural advantages accelerate the progress of a society, in another natural obstacles also accelerate it, by stimulating men to the efforts necessary to overcome them : Le besoin perfectionne l'instrument. The importance of following the march of the human mind over all the grooves along which it travels to further knowledge was fully present to him, and he dwells repeatedly on the constant play going on between discoveries in one science and those in another. In no writer is there a fuller and more distinct sense of the essential unity and integrity of the history of mankind, nor of the multitude of the mansions in which this vast house is divided and the many keys which he must possess that would open and enter in.
Even in empirical explanations he shows a breadth and accuracy of vision truly striking, considering his own youth and what we may venture to call the youth of his subject. The reader will be able to appreciate this, and to discern at the same time the arbitrary nature of Montesquieu's method, if he will contrast, for example, the remarks of this writer upon Polygamy with the far wider and more sagacious explanation of the circumstances of such an institution given by Turgot.3 Unfortunately, he has left us only short and fragmentary pieces, but they suggest more than many large and complete works. That they had a very powerful and direct influence upon Condorcet there is no doubt, as well from the similarity of general conception between him and Turgot, as from the nearly perfect identity of many passages in their writings. Let us add that in Turgot’s fragments we have what is unhappily not a characteristic of Condorcet, the peculiar satisfaction and delight in scientific history of a style which states a fact in such phrases as serve also to reveal its origin, bearings, significance; in which every successive piece of description is so worded as to be self-evidently a link in the chain of explanation, an ordered term in a series of social conditions.
Before returning to Condorcet, we ought to glance at the remarkable piece, written in 1784, in which Kant propounded his idea of a universal or cosmo-political history, that contemplating the agency of the human will upon a large scale should unfold to our view a regular stream of tendency in the great succession of events. The
(1) Euvres de Turgot, ii. 599, 645, &c. (2) ii. 601.
(3) Esprit des Lois, xvi. cc. 2-4. And Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle, in Turgot's Works, ü. 640–641.
(4) Idea of a Universal History on a Cosmo-Political Plan. It was translated by De Quincey, and is to be found in vol. xiii. of his collected works, pp. 133—152.
will metaphysically considered, Kant said, is free, but its manifestations, that is to say, human actions, “ are as much under the control of universal laws of nature as any other physical phenomena.”
The very same course of incidents, which taken separately and individually would have seemed perplexed and incoherent, “yet viewed in their connection and as the action of the human species and not of independent beings, never fail to observe a steady and continuous though slow development of certain great predispositions in our nature.” As it is impossible to presume in the human race any rational purpose of its own, we must seek to observe some natural purpose in the current of human actions. Thus a history of creatures with no plan of their own may yet admit a systematic form as a history of creatures blindly pursuing a plan of nature. Now we know that all predispositions are destined to develop themselves according to their final purpose. Man's rational predispositions are destined to develop themselves in the species and not in the individual. History then is the progress of the development of all the tendencies laid in man by nature. The method of development is the antagonism of these tendencies in the social state, and its source the unsocial sociality of man—a tendency to enter the social state, combined with a perpetual resistance to that tendency, which is ever threatening to dissolve it. The play of these two tendencies unfolds talents of every kind, and by gradual increase of light a preparation is made for such a mode of thinking as is capable of “ exalting a social concert that had been pathologically extorted from the mere necessities of situation, into a moral union founded on the reasonable choice.” Hence the highest problem for man is the establishment of a universal civil society, founded on the empire of political justice ; and “the history of the human species as a whole may be regarded as the unravelling of a hidden plan of nature for accomplishing a perfect state of civil constitution for society in its internal relations (and, as the condition of that, in its external relations also), as the sole state of society in which the tendencies of human nature can be all and fully developed.” Nor is this all. We shall not only be able to unravel the intricate web of past affairs, but shall also find a clue for the guidance of future statesmen in the art of political prediction. Nay more, this clue “will open a consolatory prospect into futurity, in which at a remote distance we shall observe the human species seated upon an eminence won by infinite toil, where all the germs are unfolded which nature has implanted, and its destination on this earth accomplished.”
That this conception involves an assumption about tendencies and final purposes which reverses the true method of history, and moreover reduces what ought to be a scientific inquiry to be a foregone justification of Nature or Providence, should not prevent us from
appreciating its signal merits in insisting on a systematic presentation of the collective activity of the race, and in pointing out, however cursorily, the use of such an elucidation of the past in furnishing the grounds of practical guidance in dealing with the future and in preparing it. Considering the brevity of this little tract, its pregnancy and suggestiveness have not often been equalled. We have seen enough of it here to enable us to realise the differences between this and the French school, with its wholesome objectivity resulting from the stage which had been reached in France by the physical sciences. Condorcet's series of Eloges shows unmistakably how deep an impression the history of physical discovery had made upon him, and how clearly he understood the value of its methods. The peculiar study which their composition had occasioned him, is of itself almost enough to account for the fact that a conception which had long been preparing in the superior minds of the time, should fully develop itself in him rather than in anybody else.
VI. The Physiocrats, as we have seen, had introduced the idea of there being a natural order in social circumstances, that order being natural which is most advantageous to mankind. Turgot had declared that one age is bound to another by a chain of causation. Condorcet fused these two conceptions. He viewed the history of the ages as a whole, and found in their succession a natural order; an order which when uninterrupted and undisturbed tended to accumulate untold advantages upon the human race, which was every day becoming more plain to the vision of men, and therefore every day more and more assured from disturbance by ignorant prejudice and sinister interests. There is an order at once among the circumstances of a given generation, and among the successive sets of circumstances of successive generations. “If we consider the development of human faculties in its results relating to the individuals who exist at the same time on a given space, and if we follow it from generation to generation, then we have before us the picture of the progress of the human mind. This progress is subject to the same general laws that are to be observed in the development of the faculties in individuals, for it is the result of that development, considered at the same time in a great number of individuals united in society. But the result that presents itself at any one instant depends upon that which was offered by the instants preceding; in turn it influences the result in times still to follow.”
This picture will be of a historical character, inasmuch as being subject to perpetual variations it is formed by the observation in due order of different human societies in the different epochs through which they have passed. It will expose the order of the various changes, the influence exercised by each period over the next, and
thus will show in the modifications impressed upon the race, ever renewing itself in the immensity of the ages, the track that it has followed, and the exact steps that it has taken towards truth and happiness. Such observation of what man has been and of what he is, will then lead us to means proper for assuring and accelerating the fresh progress that his nature allows us to anticipate still further.
“If man is able to predict with nearly perfect confidence, phenomena with whose laws he is acquainted; if, even when they are unknown to him, he is able, in accordance with the experience of the past to foresee with a large degree of probability the events of the future; why should we treat it as a chimerical enterprise to trace with some verisimilitude the picture of the future destinies of the human race in accordance with the results of its history ? The only foundation of belief in the natural sciences is this idea, that the general laws known or unknown which regulate the phenomena of the universe are necessary and constant; and why should this principle be less true for the development of the moral and intellectual faculties of man than for other natural operations ? In short, opinions grounded on past experience in objects of the same order being the single rule of conduct for even the wisest men, why should the philosopher be forbidden to rest his conjectures on this same base, provided he never attributes to them a degree of certainty beyond what is warranted by the number, the constancy, and the accuracy of his observations ?”2
Thus Condorcet's purpose was not to justify Nature, as it had been with Kant, but to search in the past for rational grounds of a belief in the unbounded splendour of men's future destinies. His view of the character of the relations among the circumstances of the social union, either at a given moment or in a succession of periods, was both accurate and far-sighted. When he came actually to execute his own great idea, and to specify the manner in which those relations arose and operated, he instantly diverged from the right path. Progress in his mind is exclusively produced by improvement in intelligence. It is the necessary result of man's activity in the face of that disproportion ever existing between what he knows and what he desires and feels the necessity to know. Hence the most fatal of the errors of Condorcet's sketch. He measures only the contributions made by nations and eras to what we know; leaving out of sight their failures and successes in the elevation of moral standards and ideals, and in the purification of the passions. - .
Now even if we hold the intellectual principle only to be progressive, and the moral elements to be fixed, being coloured and shaped and quickened by the surrounding intellectual conditions, still, inasmuch as the manner of this shaping and colouring is continually changing
(1) Tableau des Progrès de l'Esprit Humain. Euvres, vi. 12, 13.
(3) vi. 21.