Physics and Politics
Walter Bagehot

Part 1 out of 3

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No. I.


One peculiarity of this age is the sudden acquisition of much
physical knowledge. There is scarcely a department of science or art
which is the same, or at all the same, as it was fifty years ago. A
new world of inventions--of railways and of telegraphs--has grown up
around us which we cannot help seeing; a new world of ideas is in
the air and affects us, though we do not see it. A full estimate of
these effects would require a great book, and I am sure I could not
write it; but I think I may usefully, in a few papers, show how,
upon one or two great points, the new ideas are modifying two old
sciences--politics and political economy. Even upon these points my
ideas must be incomplete, for the subject is novel; but, at any
rate, I may suggest some conclusions, and so show what is requisite
even if I do not supply it.

If we wanted to describe one of the most marked results, perhaps the
most marked result, of late thought, we should say that by it
everything is made 'an antiquity.' When, in former times; our
ancestors thought of an antiquarian, they described him as occupied
with coins, and medals, and Druids' stones; these were then the
characteristic records of the decipherable past, and it was with
these that decipherers busied themselves. But now there are other
relics; indeed, all matter is become such. Science tries to find in
each bit of earth the record of the causes which made it precisely
what it is; those forces have left their trace, she knows, as much
as the tact and hand of the artist left their mark on a classical
gem. It would be tedious (and it is not in my way) to reckon up the
ingenious questionings by which geology has made part of the earth,
at least, tell part of its tale; and the answers would have been
meaningless if physiology and conchology and a hundred similar
sciences had not brought their aid. Such subsidiary sciences are to
the decipherer of the present day what old languages were to the
antiquary of other days; they construe for him the words which he
discovers, they give a richness and a truth-like complexity to the
picture which he paints, even in cases where the particular detail
they tell is not much. But what here concerns me is that man himself
has, to the eye of science, become 'an antiquity.' She tries to
read, is beginning to read, knows she ought to read, in the frame of
each man the result of a whole history of all his life, of what he
is and what makes him so,--of all his fore-fathers, of what they
were and of what made them so. Each nerve has a sort of memory of
its past life, is trained or not trained, dulled or quickened, as
the case may be; each feature is shaped and characterised, or left
loose and meaningless, as may happen; each hand is marked with its
trade and life, subdued to what it works in;--IF WE COULD BUT SEE

It may be answered that in this there is nothing new; that we always
knew how much a man's past modified a man's future; that we all knew
how much, a man is apt to be like his ancestors; that the existence
of national character is the greatest commonplace in the world; that
when a philosopher cannot account for anything in any other manner,
he boldly ascribes it to an occult quality in some race. But what
physical science does is, not to discover the hereditary element,
but to render it distinct,--to give us an accurate conception of
what we may expect, and a good account of the evidence by which we
are led to expect it. Let us see what that science teaches on the
subject; and, as far as may be, I will give it in the words of those
who have made it a professional study, both that I may be more sure
to state it rightly and vividly, and because--as I am about to apply
these principles to subjects which are my own pursuit--I would
rather have it quite clear that I have not made my premises to suit
my own conclusions.

1st, then, as respects the individual, we learn as follows: 'Even
while the cerebral hemispheres are entire, and in full possession of
their powers, the brain gives rise to actions which are as
completely reflex as those of the spinal cord.

'When the eyelids wink at a flash of light, or a threatened blow, a
reflex action takes place, in which the afferent nerves are the
optic, the efferent, the facial. When a bad smell causes a grimace,
there is a reflex action through the same motor nerve, while the
olfactory nerves constitute the afferent channels. In these cases,
therefore, reflex action must be effected through the brain, all the
nerves involved being cerebral. 'When the whole body starts at a
loud noise, the afferent auditory nerve gives rise to an impulse
which passes to the medulla oblongata, and thence affects the great
majority of the motor nerves of the body. 'It may be said that these
are mere mechanical actions, and have nothing to do with the acts
which we associate with intelligence. But let us consider what takes
place in such an act as reading aloud. In this case, the whole
attention of the mind is, or ought to be, bent upon the subject-
matter of the book; while a multitude of most delicate muscular
actions are going on, of which the reader is not in the slightest
degree aware. Thus the book is held in the hand, at the right
distance from the eyes; the eyes are moved, from side to side, over
the lines, and up and down the pages. Further, the most delicately
adjusted and rapid movements of the muscles of the lips, tongue, and
throat, of laryngeal and respiratory muscles, are involved in the
production of speech. Perhaps the reader is standing up and
accompanying the lecture with appropriate gestures. And yet every
one of these muscular acts may be performed with utter
unconsciousness, on his part, of anything but the sense of the words
in the book. In other words, they are reflex acts.

'The reflex actions proper to the spinal cord itself are NATURAL,
and are involved in the structure of the cord and the properties of
its constituents. By the help of the brain we may acquire an
affinity of ARTIFICIAL reflex actions. That is to say, an action may
require all our attention and all our volition for its first, or
second, or third performance, but by frequent repetition it becomes,
in a manner, part our organisation, and is performed without
volition, or even consciousness.

'As everyone knows, it takes a soldier a very long time to learn his
drill--to put himself, for instance, into the attitude of
'attention' at the instant the word of command is heard. But, after
a time, the sound of the word gives rise to the act, whether the
soldier be thinking of it or not. There is a story, which is
credible enough, though it may not be true, of a practical joker,
who, seeing a discharged veteran carrying home his dinner, suddenly
called out 'Attention!' whereupon the man instantly brought his
hands down, and lost his mutton and potatoes in the gutter. The
drill had been gone through, and its effects had become embodied in
the man's nervous structure.

'The possibility of all education (of which military drill is only
one particular form) is based upon, the existence of this power
which the nervous system possesses, of organising conscious actions
into more or less unconscious, or reflex, operations. It may be laid
down as a rule, that if any two mental states be called up together,
or in succession, with due frequency and vividness, the subsequent
production of the one of them will suffice to call up the other, and
that whether we desire it or not.' [Footnote: Huxley's Elementary
Physiology, pp. 284-286.]

The body of the accomplished man has thus become by training
different from what it once was, and different from that of the rude
man; it is charged with stored virtue and acquired faculty which
come away from it unconsciously.

Again, as to race, another authority teaches:--'Man's life truly
represents a progressive development of the nervous system, none the
less so because it takes place out of the womb instead of in it. The
regular transmutation of motions which are at first voluntary into
secondary automatic motions, as Hartley calls them, is due to a
gradually effected organisation; and we may rest assured of this,
that co-ordinate activity always testifies to stored-up power,
either innate or acquired.

'The way in which an acquired faculty of the parent animal is
sometimes distinctly transmitted to the progeny as a heritage,
instinct, or innate endowment, furnishes a striking confirmation of
the foregoing observations. Power that has been laboriously acquired
and stored up as statical in one generation manifestly in such case
becomes the inborn faculty of the next; and the development takes
place in accordance with that law of increasing speciality and
complexity of adaptation to external nature which is traceable
through the animal kingdom; or, in other words, that law, of
progress from the general to the special in development which the
appearance of nerve force amongst natural forces and the complexity
of the nervous system of man both illustrate. As the vital force
gathers up, as it were, into itself inferior forces, and might be
said to be a development of them, or, as in the appearance of nerve
force, simpler and more general forces are gathered up and
concentrated in a more special and complex mode of energy; so again
a further specialisation takes place in the development of the
nervous system, whether watched through generations or through
individual life. It is not by limiting our observations to the life
of the individual, however, who is but a link in the chain of
organic beings connecting the past with the future, that we shall
come at the full truth; the present individual is the inevitable
consequence of his antecedents in the past, and in the examination
of these alone do we arrive at the adequate explanation of him. It
behoves us, then, having found any faculty to be innate, not to rest
content there, but steadily to follow backwards the line of
causation, and thus to display, if possible, its manner of origin.
This is the more necessary with the lower animals, where so much is
innate.' [Footnote: Maudsley on the Physiology and Pathology of the
Mind, p. 73.]

The special laws of inheritance are indeed as yet unknown. All which
is clear, and all which is to my purpose is, that there is a
tendency, a probability, greater or less according to circumstances,
but always considerable, that the descendants of cultivated parents
will have, by born nervous organisation, a greater aptitude for
cultivation than the descendants of such as are not cultivated; and
that this tendency augments, in some enhanced ratio, for many

I do not think any who do not acquire--and it takes a hard effort to
acquire--this notion of a transmitted nerve element will ever
understand 'the connective tissue' of civilisation. We have here the
continuous force which binds age to age, which enables each to begin
with some improvement on the last, if the last did itself improve;
which makes each civilisation not a set of detached dots, but a line
of colour, surely enhancing shade by shade. There is, by this
doctrine, a physical cause of improvement from generation to
generation: and no imagination which has apprehended it can forget
it; but unless you appreciate that cause in its subtle materialism,
unless you see it, as it were, playing upon the nerves of men, and,
age after age, making nicer music from finer chords, you cannot
comprehend the principle of inheritance either in its mystery or its

These principles are quite independent of any theory as to the
nature of matter, or the nature of mind. They are as true upon the
theory that mind acts on matter--though separate and altogether
different from it--as upon the theory of Bishop Berkeley that there
is no matter, but only mind; or upon the contrary theory--that there
is no mind, but only matter; or upon the yet subtler theory now
often held--that both mind and matter are different modifications of
some one tertium quid, some hidden thing or force. All these
theories admit--indeed they are but various theories to account for-
-the fact that what we call matter has consequences in what we call
mind, and that what we call mind produces results in what we call
matter; and the doctrines I quote assume only that. Our mind in some
strange way acts on our nerves, and our nerves in some equally
strange way store up the consequences, and somehow the result, as a
rule and commonly enough, goes down to our descendants; these
primitive facts all theories admit, and all of them labour to

Nor have these plain principles any relation to the old difficulties
of necessity and freewill. Every Freewillist holds that the special
force of free volition is applied to the pre-existing forces of our
corporeal structure; he does not consider it as an agency acting in
vacuo, but as an agency acting upon other agencies. Every
Freewillist holds that, upon the whole, if you strengthen the motive
in a given direction, mankind tend more to act in that direction.
Better motives--better impulses, rather--come from a good body:
worse motives or worse impulses come from a bad body. A Freewillist
may admit as much as a Necessarian that such improved conditions
tend to improve human action, and that deteriorated conditions tend
to deprave human action. No Freewillist ever expects as much from
St. Giles's as he expects from Belgravia: he admits an hereditary
nervous system as a datum for the will, though he holds the will to
be an extraordinary incoming 'something.' No doubt the modern
doctrine of the 'Conservation of Force,' if applied to decision, is
inconsistent with free will; if you hold that force 'is never lost
or gained,' you cannot hold that there is a real gain--a sort of new
creation of it in free volition. But I have nothing to do here with
the universal 'Conservation of Force.' The conception of the nervous
organs as stores of will-made power does not raise or need so vast a

Still less are these principles to be confounded with Mr. Buckle's
idea that material forces have been the main-springs of progress,
and moral causes secondary, and, in comparison, not to be thought
of. On the contrary, moral causes are the first here. It is the
action of the will that causes the unconscious habit; it is the
continual effort of the beginning that creates the hoarded energy of
the end; it is the silent toil of the first generation that becomes
the transmitted aptitude of the next. Here physical causes do not
create the moral, but moral create the physical; here the beginning
is by the higher energy, the conservation and propagation only by
the lower. But we thus perceive how a science of history is
possible, as Mr. Buckle said,--a science to teach the laws of
tendencies--created by the mind, and transmitted by the body--which
act upon and incline the will of man from age to age.


But how do these principles change the philosophy of our politics? I
think in many ways; and first, in one particularly. Political
economy is the most systematised and most accurate part of political
philosophy; and yet, by the help of what has been laid down, I think
we may travel back to a sort of 'pre-economic age,' when the very
assumptions of political economy did not exist, when its precepts
would have been ruinous, and when the very contrary precepts were
requisite and wise.

For this purpose I do not need to deal with the dim ages which
ethnology just reveals to us--with the stone age, and the flint
implements, and the refuse-heaps. The time to which I would go back
is only that just before the dawn of history--coeval with the dawn,
perhaps, it would be right to say--for the first historians saw such
a state of society, though they saw other and more advanced states
too: a period of which we have distinct descriptions from eye-
witnesses, and of which the traces and consequences abound in the
oldest law. 'The effect,' says Sir Henry Maine, the greatest of our
living jurists--the only one, perhaps, whose writings are in keeping
with our best philosophy--'of the evidence derived from comparative
jurisprudence is to establish that view of the primeval condition of
the human race which is known as the Patriarchal Theory. There is no
doubt, of course, that this theory was originally based on the
Scriptural history of the Hebrew patriarchs in Lower Asia; but, as
has been explained already, its connection with Scripture rather
militated than otherwise against its reception as a complete theory,
since the majority of the inquirers who till recently addressed
themselves with most earnestness to the colligation of social
phenomena, were either influenced by the strongest prejudice against
Hebrew antiquities or by the strongest desire to construct their
system without the assistance of religious records. Even now there
is perhaps a disposition to undervalue these accounts, or rather to
decline generalising from them, as forming part of the traditions of
a Semitic people. It is to be noted, however, that the legal
testimony comes nearly exclusively from the institutions of
societies belonging to the Indo-European stock, the Romans,
Hindoos, and Sclavonians supplying the greater part of it; and
indeed the difficulty, at the present stage of the inquiry, is to
know where to stop, to say of what races of men it is NOT allowable
to lay down that the society in which they are united was originally
organised on the patriarchal model. The chief lineaments of such a
society, as collected from the early chapters in Genesis, I need not
attempt to depict with any minuteness, both because they are
familiar to most of us from our earliest childhood, and because,
from the interest once attaching to the controversy which takes its
name from the debate between Locke and Filmer, they fill a whole
chapter, though not a very profitable one, in English literature.
The points which lie on the surface of the history are these:--The
eldest male parent--the eldest ascendant--is absolutely supreme in
his household. His dominion extends to life and death, and is as
unqualified over his children and their houses as over his slaves;
indeed the relations of sonship and serfdom appear to differ in
little beyond the higher capacity which the child in blood possesses
of becoming one day the head of a family himself. The flocks and
herds of the children are the flocks and herds of the father, and
the possessions of the parent, which he holds in a representative
rather than in a proprietary character, are equally divided at his
death among his descendants in the first degree, the eldest son
sometimes receiving a double share under the name of birthright, but
more generally endowed with no hereditary advantage beyond an
honorary precedence. A less obvious inference from the Scriptural
accounts is that they seem to plant us on the traces of the breach
which is first effected in the empire of the parent. The families of
Jacob and Esau separate and form two nations; but the families of
Jacob's children hold together and become a people. This looks like
the immature germ of a state or commonwealth, and of an order of
rights superior to the claims of family relation.

'If I were attempting for the more special purposes of the jurist to
express compendiously the characteristics, of the situation in which
mankind disclose themselves at the dawn of their history, I should
be satisfied to quote a few verses from the "Odyssee" of Homer:--
[Words in Greek.] '"They have neither assemblies for consultation
nor THEMISTES, but everyone exercises jurisdiction over his wives
and his children, and they pay no regard to one another."' And this
description of the beginnings of history is confirmed by what may be
called the last lesson of prehistoric ethnology. Perhaps it is the
most valuable, as it is clearly the most sure result of that
science, that it has dispelled the dreams of other days as to a
primitive high civilisation. History catches man as he emerges, from
the patriarchal state: ethnology shows how he lived, grew, and
improved in that state. The conclusive arguments against the
imagined original civilisation are indeed plain to everyone. Nothing
is more intelligible than a moral deterioration of mankind--nothing
than an aesthetic degradation--nothing than a political degradation.
But you cannot imagine mankind giving up the plain utensils of
personal comfort, if they once knew them; still less can you imagine
them giving up good weapons--say bows and arrows--if they once knew
them. Yet if there were a primitive civilisation these things MUST
have been forgotten, for tribes can be found in every degree of
ignorance, and every grade of knowledge as to pottery, as to the
metals, as to the means of comfort, as to the instruments of war.
And what is more, these savages have not failed from stupidity; they
are, in various degrees of originality, inventive about these
matters. You cannot trace the roots of an old perfect system
variously maimed and variously dying; you cannot find it, as you
find the trace of the Latin language in the mediaeval dialects. On
the contrary, you find it beginning--as new scientific discoveries
and inventions now begin--here a little and there a little, the same
thing half-done in various half-ways, and so as no one who knew the
best way would ever have begun. An idea used to prevail that bows
and arrows were the 'primitive weapons'--the weapons of universal
savages; but modern science has made a table, [Footnote: See the
very careful table and admirable discussion in Sir John Lubbock's
Pre-Historic Times.] and some savages have them and some have not,
and some have substitutes of one sort and some have substitutes of
another--several of these substitutes being like the 'boomerang,' so
much more difficult to hit on or to use than the bow, as well as so
much less effectual. And not only may the miscellaneous races of the
world be justly described as being upon various edges of industrial
civilisation, approaching it by various sides, and falling short of
it in various particulars, but the moment they see the real thing
they know how to use it as well, or better, than civilised man. The
South American uses the horse which the European brought better than
the European. Many races use the rifle--the especial and very
complicated weapon of civilised man--better, upon an average, than
he can use it. The savage with simple tools--tools he appreciates--
is like a child, quick to learn, not like an old man, who has once
forgotten and who cannot acquire again. Again, if there had been an
excellent aboriginal civilisation in Australia and America, where,
botanists and zoologists, ask, are its vestiges? If these savages
did care to cultivate wheat, where is the wild wheat gone which
their abandoned culture must have left? if they did give up using
good domestic animals, what has become of the wild ones which would,
according to all natural laws, have sprung up out of them? This much
is certain, that the domestic animals of Europe have, since what may
be called the discovery of the WORLD during the last hundred years,
run up and down it. The English rat--not the pleasantest of our
domestic creatures--has gone everywhere; to Australia, to New
Zealand, to America: nothing but a complicated rat-miracle could
ever root him out. Nor could a common force expel the horse from
South America since the Spaniards took him thither; if we did not
know the contrary we should suppose him a principal aboriginal
animal. Where then, so to say, are the rats and horses of the
primitive civilisation? Not only can we not find them, but
zoological science tells us that they never existed, for the 'feebly
pronounced,' the ineffectual, marsupials of Australia and New
Zealand could never have survived a competition with better
creatures, such as that by which they are now perishing. We catch
then a first glimpse of patriarchal man, not with any industrial
relics of a primitive civilisation, but with some gradually learnt
knowledge of the simpler arts, with some tamed animals and some
little knowledge of the course of nature as far as it tells upon the
seasons and affects the condition of simple tribes. This is what,
according to ethnology, we should expect the first historic man to
be, and this is what we in fact find him. But what was his mind; how
are we to describe that?

I believe the general description in which Sir John Lubbock sums up
his estimate of the savage mind suits the patriarchal mind.
'Savages,' he says, 'unite the character of childhood with the
passions and strength of men.' And if we open the first record of
the pagan world--the poems of Homer--how much do we find that suits
this description better than any other. Civilisation has indeed
already gone forward ages beyond the time at which any such
description is complete. Man, in Homer, is as good at oratory, Mr.
Gladstone seems to say, as he has ever been, and, much as that
means, other and better things might be added to it. But after all,
how much of the 'splendid savage' there is in Achilles, and how much
of the 'spoiled child sulking in his tent.' Impressibility and
excitability are the main characteristics of the oldest Greek
history, and if we turn to the east, the 'simple and violent' world,
as Mr. Kinglake calls it, of the first times meets us every moment.

And this is precisely what we should expect. An 'inherited drill,'
science says, 'makes modern nations what they are; their born
structure bears the trace of the laws of their fathers;' but the
ancient nations came into no such inheritance; they were the
descendants of people who did what was right in their own eyes; they
were born to no tutored habits, no preservative bonds, and therefore
they were at the mercy of every impulse and blown by every passion.

The condition of the primitive man, if we conceive of him rightly,
is, in several respects, different from any we know. We
unconsciously assume around us the existence of a great
miscellaneous social machine working to our hands, and not only
supplying our wants, but even telling and deciding when those wants
shall come. No one can now without difficulty conceive how people
got on before there were clocks and watches; as Sir G. Lewis said,
'it takes a vigorous effort of the imagination' to realise a period
when it was a serious difficulty to know the hour of day. And much
more is it difficult to fancy the unstable minds of such men as
neither knew nature, which is the clock-work of material
civilisation, nor possessed a polity, which is a kind of clock-work
to moral civilisation. They never could have known what to expect;
the whole habit of steady but varied anticipation, which makes our
minds what they are, must have been wholly foreign to theirs.

Again, I at least cannot call up to myself the loose conceptions (as
they must have been) of morals which then existed. If we set aside
all the element derived from law and polity which runs through our
current moral notions, I hardly know what we shall have left. The
residuum was somehow, and in some vague way, intelligible to the
ante-political man, but it must have been uncertain, wavering, and
unfit to be depended upon. In the best cases it existed much as the
vague feeling of beauty now exists in minds sensitive but untaught;
a still small voice of uncertain meaning; an unknown something
modifying everything else, and higher than anything else, yet in
form so indistinct that when you looked for it, it was gone--or if
this be thought the delicate fiction of a later fancy, then morality
was at least to be found in the wild spasms of 'wild justice,' half
punishment, half outrage,--but anyhow, being unfixed by steady law,
it was intermittent, vague, and hard for us to imagine. Everybody
who has studied mathematics knows how many shadowy difficulties he
seemed to have before he understood the problem, and how impossible
it was when once the demonstration had flashed upon him, ever to
comprehend those indistinct difficulties again, or to call up the
mental confusion, that admitted them. So in these days, when we
cannot by any effort drive out of our minds the notion of law, we
cannot imagine the mind of one who had never known it, and who could
not. by any effort have conceived it.

Again, the primitive man could not have imagined what we mean by a
nation. We on the other hand cannot imagine those to whom it is a
difficulty; 'we know what it is when you do not ask us,' but we
cannot very quickly explain or define it. But so much as this is
plain, a nation means a LIKE body of men, because of that likeness
capable of acting together, and because of that likeness inclined to
obey similar rules; and even this Homer's Cyclops--used only to
sparse human beings--could not have conceived.

To sum up--LAW--rigid, definite, concise law--is the primary want of
early mankind; that which they need above anything else, that which
is requisite before they can gain anything else. But it is their
greatest difficulty, as well as their first requisite; the thing
most out of their reach, as well as that most beneficial to them if
they reach it. In later ages many races have gained much of this
discipline quickly, though painfully; a loose set of scattered clans
has been often and often forced to substantial settlement by a rigid
conqueror; the Romans did half the work for above half Europe. But
where could the first ages find Romans or a conqueror? Men conquer
by the power of government, and it was exactly government which then
was not. The first ascent of civilisation was at a steep gradient,
though when now we look down upon it, it seems almost nothing.


How the step from polity to no polity was made distinct, history
does not record,--on this point Sir Henry Maine has drawn a most
interesting conclusion from his peculiar studies:--

'It would be,' he tells us, 'a very simple explanation of the origin
of society if we could base a general conclusion on the hint
furnished us by the scriptural example already adverted to, and
could suppose that communities began to exist wherever a family held
together instead of separating at the death of its patriarchal
chieftain. In most of the Greek states and in Rome there long
remained the vestiges of an ascending series of groups out of which
the state was at first constituted. The family, house, and tribe of
the Romans may be taken as a type of them, and they are so described
to us that we can scarcely help conceiving them as a system of
concentric circles which have gradually expanded from the same
point. The elementary group is the family, connected by common
subjection to the highest male ascendant. The aggregation of
families forms the gens, or house. The aggregation of houses makes
the tribe. The aggregation of tribes constitutes the commonwealth.
Are we at liberty to follow these indications, and to lay down that
the commonwealth is a collection of persons united by common descent
from the progenitor of an original family? Of this we may at least
be certain, that all ancient societies regarded themselves as having
proceeded from one original stock, and even laboured under an
incapacity for comprehending any reason except this for their
holding together in political union. The history of political ideas
begins, in fact, with the assumption that kinship in blood is the
sole possible ground of community in political functions; nor is
there any of those subversions of feeling, which we term
emphatically revolutions, so startling and so complete as the change
which is accomplished when some other principle--such as that, for
instance, of LOCAL CONTIGUITY--establishes itself for the first time
as the basis of common political action.'

If this theory were true, the origin of politics would not seem a
great change, or, in early days, be really a great change. The
primacy of the elder brother, in tribes casually cohesive, would be
slight; it would be the beginning of much, but it would be nothing
in itself; it would be--to take an illustration from the opposite
end of the political series--it would be like the headship of a weak
parliamentary leader over adherents who may divide from him in a
moment; it was the germ of sovereignty,--it was hardly yet
sovereignty itself.

I do not myself believe that the suggestion of Sir Henry Maine--for
he does not, it will be seen, offer it as a confident theory--is an
adequate account of the true origin of politics. I shall in a
subsequent essay show that there are, as it seems to me, abundant
evidences of a time still older than that which he speaks of. But
the theory of Sir Henry Maine serves my present purpose well. It
describes, and truly describes, a kind of life antecedent to our
present politics, and the conclusion I have drawn from it will be
strengthened, not weakened, when we come to examine and deal with an
age yet older, and a social bond far more rudimentary.

But when once polities were began, there is no difficulty in
explaining why they lasted. Whatever may be said against the
principle of 'natural selection' in other departments, there is no
doubt of its predominance in early human history. The strongest
killed out the weakest, as they could. And I need not pause to prove
that any form of politics more efficient than none; that an
aggregate of families owning even a slippery allegiance to a single
head, would be sure to have the better of a set of families
acknowledging no obedience to anyone, but scattering loose about the
world and fighting where they stood. Homer's Cyclops would be
powerless against the feeblest band; so far from its being singular
that we find no other record of that state of man, so unstable and
sure to perish was it that we should rather wonder at even a single
vestige lasting down to the age when for picturesqueness it became
valuable in poetry.

But, though the origin of polity is dubious, we are upon the terra
firma of actual records when we speak of the preservation of
polities. Perhaps every young Englishman who comes now-a-days to
Aristotle or Plato is struck with their conservatism: fresh from the
liberal doctrines of the present age, he wonders at finding in those
recognised teachers so much contrary teaching. They both--unlike as
they are--hold with Xenophon--so unlike both--that man is the
'hardest of all animals to govern.' Of Plato it might indeed be
plausibly said that the adherents of an intuitive philosophy, being
'the tories of speculation,' have commonly been prone to
conservatism in government; but Aristotle, the founder of the
experience philosophy, ought, according to that doctrine, to have
been a liberal, if anyone ever was a liberal. In fact, both of these
men lived when men had not 'had time to forget' the difficulties of
government. We have forgotten them altogether. We reckon, as the
basis of our culture, upon an amount of order, of tacit obedience,
of prescriptive governability, which these philosophers hoped to get
as a principal result of their culture. We take without thought as a
datum, what they hunted as a quaesilum.

In early times the quantity of government is much more important
than its quality. What you want is a comprehensive rule binding men
together, making them do much the same things, telling them what to
expect of each other--fashioning them alike, and keeping them so.
What this rule is does not matter so much. A good rule is better
than a bad one, but any rule is better than none; while, for reasons
which a jurist will appreciate, none can be very good. But to gain
that rule, what may be called the impressive elements of a polity
are incomparably more important than its useful elements. How to get
the obedience of men is the hard problem; what you do with that
obedience is less critical.

To gain that obedience, the primary condition is the identity--not
the union, but the sameness--of what we now call Church and State.
Dr. Arnold, fresh from the study of Greek thought and Roman history,
used to preach that this identity was the great cure for the
misguided modern world. But he spoke to ears filled with other
sounds and minds filled with other thoughts, and they hardly knew
his meaning, much less heeded it. But though the teaching was wrong
for the modern age to which it was applied, it was excellent for the
old world from which it was learnt. What is there requisite is a
single government--call it Church or State, as you like--regulating
the whole of human life. No division of power is then endurable
without danger--probably without destruction; the priest must not
teach one thing and the king another; king must be priest, and
prophet king: the two must say the same, because they are the same.
The idea of difference between spiritual penalties and legal
penalties must never be awakened. Indeed, early Greek thought or
early Roman thought would never have comprehended it. There was a
kind of rough public opinion and there were rough, very rough, hands
which acted on it. We now talk of political penalties and
ecclesiastical prohibition, and the social censure, but they were
all one then. Nothing is very like those old communities now, but
perhaps a 'trade's union' is as near as most things; to work cheap
is thought to be a 'wicked' thing, and so some Broadhead puts it

The object of such organisations is to create what may be called a
cake of custom. All the actions of life are to be submitted to a
single rule for a single object; that gradually created the
'hereditary drill' which science teaches to be essential, and which
the early instinct of men saw to be essential too. That this regime
forbids free thought is not an evil; or rather, though an evil, it
is the necessary basis for the greatest good; it is necessary for
making the mould of civilisation, and hardening the soft fibre of
early man.

The first recorded history of the Aryan race shows everywhere a
king, a council, and, as the necessity of early conflicts required,
the king in much prominence and with much power. That there could be
in such ages anything like an oriental despotism, or a Caesarean
despotism, was impossible; the outside extra-political army which
maintains them could not exist when the tribe was the nation, and
when all the men in the tribe were warriors. Hence, in the time of
Homer, in the first times of Rome, in the first times of ancient
Germany, the king is the most visible part of the polity, because
for momentary welfare he is the most useful. The close oligarchy,
the patriciate, which alone could know the fixed law, alone could
apply the fixed law, which was recognised as the authorised
custodian of the fixed law, had then sole command over the primary
social want. It alone knew the code of drill; it alone was obeyed;
it alone could drill. Mr. Grote has admirably described the rise of
the primitive oligarchies upon the face of the first monarchy, but
perhaps because he so much loves historic Athens, he has not
sympathised with pre-historic Athens. He has not shown us the need
of a fixed life when all else was unfixed life.

It would be schoolboyish to explain at length how well the two great
republics, the two winning republics of the ancient world, embody
these conclusions. Rome and Sparta were drilling aristocracies, and
succeeded because they were such. Athens was indeed of another and
higher order; at least to us instructed moderns who know her and
have been taught by her. But to the 'Philistines' of those days
Athens was of a lower order. She was beaten; she lost the great
visible game which is all that short-sighted contemporaries know.
She was the great 'free failure' of the ancient world. She began,
she announced, the good things that were to come; but she was too
weak to display and enjoy them; she was trodden down by those of
coarser make and better trained frame.

How much these principles are confirmed by Jewish history is
obvious. There was doubtless much else in Jewish history--whole
elements with which I am not here concerned. But so much is plain.
The Jews were in the beginning the most unstable of nations; they
were submitted to their law, and they came out the most stable of
nations. Their polity was indeed defective in unity. After they
asked for a king the spiritual and the secular powers (as we should
speak) were never at peace, and never agreed. And the ten tribes who
lapsed from their law, melted away into the neighbouring nations.
Jeroboam has been called the 'first Liberal;' and, religion apart,
there is a meaning in the phrase. He began to break up the binding
polity which was what men wanted in that age, though eager and
inventive minds always dislike it. But the Jews who adhered to their
law became the Jews of the day, a nation of a firm set if ever there
was one.

It is connected with this fixity that jurists tell us that the title
'contract' is hardly to be discovered in the oldest law. In modern
days, in civilised days, men's choice determines nearly all they do.
But in early times that choice determined scarcely anything. The
guiding rule was the law of STATUS. Everybody was born to a place in
the community: in that place he had to stay: in that place he found
certain duties which he had to fulfil, and which were all he needed
to think of. The net of custom caught men in distinct spots, and
kept each where he stood.

What are called in European politics the principles of 1789, are
therefore inconsistent with the early world; they are fitted only to
the new world in which society has gone through its early task; when
the inherited organisation is already confirmed and fixed; when the
soft minds and strong passions of youthful nations are fixed and
guided by hard transmitted instincts. Till then not equality before
the law is necessary but inequality, for what is most wanted is an
elevated elite who know the law: not a good government seeking the
happiness of its subjects, but a dignified and overawing government
getting its subjects to obey: not a good law, but a comprehensive
law binding all life to one routine. Later are the ages of freedom;
first are the ages of servitude. In 1789, when the great men of the
Constituent Assembly looked on the long past, they hardly saw
anything in it which could be praised, or admired, or imitated: all
seemed a blunder--a complex error to be got rid of as soon as might
be. But that error had made themselves. On their very physical
organisation the hereditary mark of old times was fixed; their
brains were hardened and their nerves were steadied by the
transmitted results of tedious usages. The ages of monotony had
their use, for they trained men for ages when they need not be


But even yet we have not realised the full benefit of those early
polities and those early laws. They not only 'bound up' men in
groups, not only impressed on men a certain set of common usages,
but often, at least in an indirect way, suggested, if I may use the
expression, national character.

We cannot yet explain--I am sure, at least, I cannot attempt to
explain--all the singular phenomena of national character: how
completely and perfectly they seem to be at first framed; how
slowly, how gradually they can alone be altered, if they can be
altered at all. But there is one analogous fact which may help us to
see, at least dimly, how such phenomena are caused. There is a
character of ages, as well as of nations; and as we have full
histories of many such periods, we can examine exactly when and how
the mental peculiarity of each began, and also exactly when and how
that mental peculiarity passed away. We have an idea of Queen Anne's
time, for example, or of Queen Elizabeth's time, or George II.'s
time; or again of the age of Louis XIV., or Louis XV., or the French
Revolution; an idea more or less accurate in proportion as we study,
but probably even in the minds who know these ages best and most
minutely, more special, more simple, more unique than the truth was.
We throw aside too much, in making up our images of eras, that which
is common to all eras. The English character was much the same in
many great respects in Chaucer's time as it was in Elizabeth's time
or Anne's time, or as it is now; But some qualities were added to
this common element in one era and some in another; some qualities
seemed to overshadow and eclipse it in one era, and others in
another. We overlook and half forget the constant while we see and
watch the variable. But--for that is the present point--why is there
this variable? Everyone must, I think, have been puzzled about it.
Suddenly, in a quiet time--say, in Queen Anne's time--arises a
special literature, a marked variety of human expression, pervading
what is then written and peculiar to it: surely this is singular.

The true explanation is, I think, something like this. One
considerable writer gets a sort of start because what he writes is
somewhat more--only a little more very often, as I believe--
congenial to the minds around him than any other sort. This writer
is very often not the one whom posterity remembers--not the one who
carries the style of the age farthest towards its ideal type, and
gives it its charm and its perfection. It was not Addison who began
the essay-writing of Queen Anne's time, but Steele; it was the
vigorous forward man who struck out the rough notion, though it was
the wise and meditative man who improved upon it and elaborated it,
and whom posterity reads. Some strong writer, or group of writers,
thus seize on the public mind, and a curious process soon
assimilates other writers in appearance to them. To some extent, no
doubt, this assimilation is effected by a process most intelligible,
and not at all curious--the process of conscious imitation; A sees
that B's style of writing answers, and he imitates it. But
definitely aimed mimicry like this is always rare; original men who
like their own thoughts do not willingly clothe them in words they
feel they borrow. No man, indeed, can think to much purpose when he
is studying to write a style not his own. After all, very few men
are at all equal to the steady labour, the stupid and mistaken
labour mostly, of making a style. Most men catch the words that are
in the air, and the rhythm which comes to them they do not know from
whence; an unconscious imitation determines their words, and makes
them say what of themselves they would never have thought of saying.
Everyone who has written in more than one newspaper knows how
invariably his style catches the tone of each paper while he is
writing for it, and changes to the tone of another when in turn he
begins to write for that. He probably would rather write the
traditional style to which the readers of the journal are used, but
he does not set himself to copy it; he would have to force himself
in order NOT to write it if that was what he wanted. Exactly in this
way, just as a writer for a journal without a distinctly framed
purpose gives the readers of the journal the sort of words and the
sort of thoughts they are used to--so, on a larger scale, the
writers of an age, without thinking of it, give to the readers of
the age the sort of words and the sort of thoughts--the special
literature, in fact--which those readers like and prize. And not
only does the writer, without thinking, choose the sort of style and
meaning which are most in vogue, but the writer is himself chosen. A
writer does not begin to write in the traditional rhythm of an age
unless he feels, or fancies he feels, a sort of aptitude for writing
it, any more than a writer tries to write in a journal in which the
style is uncongenial or impossible to him. Indeed if he mistakes he
is soon weeded out; the editor rejects, the age will not read his
compositions. How painfully this traditional style cramps great
writers whom it happens not to suit, is curiously seen in
Wordsworth, who was bold enough to break through it, and, at the
risk of contemporary neglect, to frame a style of his own. But he
did so knowingly, and he did so with an effort. 'It is supposed,' he
says, 'that by the act of writing in verse an author makes a formal
engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of association;
that he not only then apprizes the reader that certain classes of
ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that others
will be carefully eschewed. The exponent or symbol held forth by
metrical language must, in different ages of literature, have
excited very different expectations; for example, in the age of
Catullus, Terence, or Lucretius, and that of Statius or Claudian;
and in our own country, in the age of Shakespeare and Beaumont and
Metcher, and that of Donne and Cowley, or Pope.' And then, in a kind
of vexed way, Wordsworth goes on to explain that he himself can't
and won't do what is expected from him, but that he will write his
own words, and only his own words. A strict, I was going to say a
Puritan, genius will act thus, but most men of genius are
susceptible and versatile, and fall into the style of their age. One
very unapt at the assimilating process, but on that account the more
curious about it, says:--

How we
Track a livelong day, great heaven, and watch our shadows!
What our shadows seem, forsooth, we will ourselves be.
Do I look like that? You think me that: then I AM that.

What writers are expected to write, they write; or else they do not
write at all; but, like the writer of these lines, stop discouraged,
live disheartened, and die leaving fragments which their friends
treasure, but which a rushing world never heeds. The Nonconformist
writers are neglected, the Conformist writers are encouraged, until
perhaps on a sudden the fashion shifts. And as with the writers, so
in a less degree with readers. Many men--most men--get to like or
think they like that which is ever before them, and which those
around them like, and which received opinion says they ought to
like; or if their minds are too marked and oddly made to get into
the mould, they give up reading altogether, or read old books and
foreign books, formed under another code and appealing to a
different taste. The principle of 'elimination,' the 'use and
disuse' of organs which naturalists speak of, works here. What is
used strengthens; what is disused weakens: 'to those who have, more
is given;' and so a sort of style settles upon an age, and
imprinting itself more than anything else in men's memories becomes
all that is thought of about it.

I believe that what we call national character arose in very much
the same way. At first a sort of 'chance predominance' made a model,
and then invincible attraction, the necessity which rules all but
the strongest men to imitate what is before their eyes, and to be
what they are expected to be, moulded men by that model. This is, I
think, the very process by which new national characters are being
made in our own time. In America and in Australia a new modification
of what we call Anglo-Saxonism is growing. A sort of type of
character arose from the difficulties of colonial life--the
difficulty of struggling with the wilderness; and this type has
given its shape to the mass of characters because the mass of
characters have unconsciously imitated it. Many of the American
characteristics are plainly useful in such a life, and consequent on
such a life. The eager restlessness, the highly-strung nervous
organisation are useful in continual struggle, and also are promoted
by it. These traits seem to be arising in Australia, too, and
wherever else the English race is placed in like circumstances. But
even in these useful particulars the innate tendency of the human
mind to become like what is around it, has effected much: a sluggish
Englishman will often catch the eager American look in a few years;
an Irishman or even a German will catch it, too, even in all English
particulars. And as to a hundred minor points--in so many that go to
mark the typical Yankee--usefulness has had no share either in their
origin or their propagation. The accident of some predominant person
possessing them set the fashion, and it has been imitated to this
day. Anybody who inquires will find even in England, and even in
these days of assimilation, parish peculiarities which arose, no
doubt, from some old accident, and have been heedfully preserved by
customary copying. A national character is but the successful parish
character; just as the national speech is but the successful parish
dialect, the dialect, that is, of the district which came to be
more--in many cases but a little more--influential than other
districts, and so set its yoke on books and on society. I could
enlarge much on this, for I believe this unconscious imitation to be
the principal force in the making of national characters; but I have
already said more about it than I need. Everybody who weighs even
half these arguments will admit that it is a great force in the
matter, a principal agency to be acknowledged and watched; and for
my present purpose I want no more. I have only to show the efficacy
of the tight early polity (so to speak) and the strict early law on
the creation of corporate characters. These settled the predominant
type, set up a sort of model, made a sort of idol; this was
worshipped, copied, and observed, from all manner of mingled
feelings, but most of all because it was the 'thing to do,' the then
accepted form of human action. When once the predominant type was
determined, the copying propensity of man did the rest. The
tradition ascribing Spartan legislation to Lycurgus was literally
untrue, but its spirit was quite true. In the origin of states
strong and eager individuals got hold of small knots of men, and
made for them a fashion which they were attached to and kept.

It is only after duly apprehending the silent manner in which
national characters thus form themselves, that we can rightly
appreciate the dislike which old Governments had to trade. There
must have been something peculiar about it, for the best
philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, shared it. They regarded commerce
as the source of corruption as naturally as a modern economist
considers it the spring of industry, and all the old Governments
acted in this respect upon the philosophers' maxims. 'Well,' said
Dr. Arnold, speaking ironically and in the spirit of modern times--
'Well, indeed, might the policy of the old priest-nobles of Egypt
and India endeavour to divert their people from becoming familiar
with the sea, and represent the occupation of a seaman as
incompatible with the purity of the highest castes. The sea deserved
to be hated by the old aristocracies, inasmuch as it has been the
mightiest instrument in the civilisation of mankind.' But the old
oligarchies had their own work, as we now know. They were imposing a
fashioning yoke; they were making the human nature which after times
employ. They were at their labours, we have entered into these
labours. And to the unconscious imitation which was their principal
tool, no impediment was so formidable as foreign intercourse. Men
imitate what is before their eyes, if it is before their eyes alone,
but they do not imitate it if it is only one among many present
things--one competitor among others, all of which are equal and some
of which seem better. 'Whoever speaks two languages is a rascal,'
says the saying, and it rightly represents the feeling of primitive
communities when the sudden impact of new thoughts and new examples
breaks down the compact despotism of the single consecrated code,
and leaves pliant and impressible man--such as he then is--to follow
his unpleasant will without distinct guidance by hereditary morality
and hereditary religion. The old oligarchies wanted to keep their
type perfect, and for that end they were right not to allow
foreigners to touch it. 'Distinctions of race,' says Arnold himself
elsewhere in a remarkable essay--for it was his last on Greek
history, his farewell words on a long favourite subject--'were not
of that odious and fantastic character which they have been in
modern times; they implied real differences of the most important
kind, religious and moral.' And after exemplifying this at length he
goes on, 'It is not then to be wondered at that Thucydides, when
speaking of a city founded jointly by Ionians and Dorians, should
have thought it right to add "that the prevailing institutions of
the two were Ionian," for according as they were derived from one or
the other the prevailing type would be different. And therefore the
mixture of persons of different race in the same commonwealth,
unless one race had a complete ascendancy, tended to confuse all the
relations of human life, and all men's notions of right and wrong;
or by compelling men to tolerate in so near a relation as that of
fellow-citizens differences upon the main points of human life, led
to a general carelessness and scepticism, and encouraged the notion
that right and wrong had no real existence, but were mere creatures
of human opinion.' But if this be so, the oligarchies were right.
Commerce brings this mingling of ideas, this breaking down of old
creeds, and brings it inevitably. It is now-a-days its greatest good
that it does so; the change is what we call 'enlargement of mind'.
But in early times Providence 'set apart the nations;' and it is not
till the frame of their morals is set by long ages of transmitted
discipline, that such enlargement can be borne. The ages of
isolation had their use, for they trained men for ages when they
were not to be isolated.



'The difference between progression and stationary inaction,' says
one of our greatest living writers, 'is one of the great secrets
which science has yet to penetrate.' I am sure I do not pretend that
I can completely penetrate it; but it undoubtedly seems to me that
the problem is on the verge of solution, and that scientific
successes in kindred fields by analogy suggest some principles--
which wholly remove many of its difficulties, and indicate the sort
of way in which those which remain may hereafter be removed too.

But what is the problem? Common English, I might perhaps say common
civilised thought, ignores it. Our habitual instructors, our
ordinary conversation, our inevitable and ineradicable prejudices
tend to make us think that 'Progress' is the normal fact in human
society, the fact which we should expect to see, the fact which we
should be surprised if we did not see. But history refutes this. The
ancients had no conception of progress; they did not so much as
reject the idea; they did not even entertain the idea. Oriental
nations are just the same now. Since history began they have always
been what they are. Savages, again, do not improve; they hardly seem
to have the basis on which to build, much less the material to put
up anything worth having. Only a few nations, and those of European
origin, advance; and yet these think--seem irresistibly compelled to
think--such advance to be inevitable, natural, and eternal. Why then
is this great contrast? Before we can answer, we must investigate
more accurately. No doubt history shows that most nations are
stationary now; but it affords reason to think that all nations once
advanced. Their progress was arrested at various points; but
nowhere, probably not even in the hill tribes of India, not even in
the Andaman Islanders, not even in the savages of Terra del Fuego,
do we find men who have not got some way. They have made their
little progress in a hundred different ways; they have framed with
infinite assiduity a hundred curious habits; they have, so to say,
screwed themselves into the uncomfortable corners of a complex life,
which is odd and dreary, but yet is possible. And the corners are
never the same in any two parts of the world. Our record begins with
a thousand unchanging edifices, but it shows traces of previous
building. In historic times there has been little progress; in
prehistoric times there must have been much. In solving, or trying
to solve, the question, we must take notice of this remarkable
difference, and explain it, too, or else we may be sure our
principles are utterly incomplete, and perhaps altogether unsound.
But what then is that solution, or what are the principles which
tend towards it? Three laws, or approximate laws, may, I think, be
laid down, with only one of which I can deal in this paper, but all
three of which it will be best to state, that it may be seen what I
am aiming at.

First. In every particular state of the world, those nations which
are strongest tend to prevail over the others; and in certain marked
peculiarities the strongest tend to be the best. Secondly. Within
every particular nation the type or types of character then and
there most attractive tend to prevail; and, the most attractive,
though with exceptions, is what we call the best character. Thirdly.
Neither of these competitions is in most historic conditions
intensified by extrinsic forces, but in some conditions, such as
those now prevailing in the most influential part of the world, both
are so intensified.

These are the sort of doctrines with which, under the name of
'natural selection' in physical science, we have become familiar;
and as every great scientific conception tends to advance its
boundaries and to be of use in solving problems not thought of when
it was started, so here, what was put forward for mere animal
history may, with a change of form, but an identical essence, be
applied to human history. At first some objection was raised to the
principle of 'natural selection' in physical science upon religious
grounds; it was to be expected that so active an idea and so large a
shifting of thought would seem to imperil much which men valued. But
in this, as in other cases, the objection is, I think, passing away;
the new principle is more and more seen to be fatal to mere outworks
of religion, not to religion itself. At all events, to the sort of
application here made of it, which only amounts to searching out and
following up an analogy suggested by it, there is plainly no
objection. Everyone now admits that human history is guided by
certain laws, and all that is here aimed at is to indicate, in a
more or less distinct way, an infinitesimally small portion of such
laws. The discussion of these three principles cannot be kept quite
apart except by pedantry; but it is almost exclusively with the
first--that of the competition between nation and nation, or tribe
and tribe (for I must use these words in their largest sense, and so
as to include every cohering aggregate of human beings)--that I can
deal now; and even as to that I can but set down a few principal
considerations. The progress of the military art is the most
conspicuous, I was about to say the most SHOWY, fact in human
history. Ancient civilisation may be compared with modern in many
respects, and plausible arguments constructed to show that it is
better; but you cannot compare the two in military power. Napoleon
could indisputably have conquered Alexander; our Indian army would
not think much of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand. And I suppose the
improvement has been continuous: I have not the slightest pretence
to special knowledge; but, looking at the mere surface of the facts,
it seems likely that the aggregate battle array, so to say, of
mankind, the fighting force of the human race, has constantly and
invariably grown. It is true that the ancient civilisation long
resisted the 'barbarians,' and was then destroyed by the barbarians.
But the barbarians had improved. 'By degrees,' says a most
accomplished writer, [Footnote: Mr. Bruce] 'barbarian mercenaries
came to form the largest, or at least the most effective, part of
the Roman armies. The body-guard of Augustus had been so composed;
the praetorians were generally selected from the bravest frontier
troops, most of them Germans.' 'Thus,' he continues, 'in many ways
was the old antagonism broken down, Romans admitting barbarians to
rank and office; barbarians catching something of the manners and
culture of their neighbours. And thus, when the final movement came,
the Teutonic tribes slowly established themselves through the
provinces, knowing something of the system to which they came, and
not unwilling to be considered its members.' Taking friend and foe
together, it may be doubted whether the fighting capacity of the two
armies was not as great at last, when the Empire fell, as ever it
was in the long period while the Empire prevailed. During the Middle
Ages the combining power of men often failed; in a divided time you
cannot collect as many soldiers as in a concentrated time. But this
difficulty is political, not military. If you added up the many
little hosts of any century of separation, they would perhaps be
found equal or greater than the single host, or the fewer hosts, of
previous centuries which were more united. Taken as a whole, and
allowing for possible exceptions, the aggregate fighting power of
mankind has grown immensely, and has been growing continuously since
we knew anything about it.

Again, this force has tended to concentrate itself more and more in
certain groups which we call 'civilised nations.' The literati of
the last century were for ever in fear of a new conquest of the
barbarians, but only because their imagination was overshadowed and
frightened by the old conquests. A very little consideration would
have shown them that, since the monopoly of military inventions by
cultivated states, real and effective military power tends to
confine itself to those states. The barbarians are no longer so much
as vanquished competitors; they have ceased to compete at all. The
military vices, too, of civilisation seem to decline just as its
military strength augments. Somehow or other civilisation does not
make men effeminate or unwarlike now as it once did. There is an
improvement in our fibre--moral, if not physical. In ancient times
city people could not be got to fight--seemingly could not fight;
they lost their mental courage, perhaps their bodily nerve. But now-
a-days in all countries the great cities could pour out multitudes
wanting nothing but practice to make good soldiers, and abounding in
bravery and vigour. This was so in America; it was so in Prussia;
and it would be so in England too. The breed of ancient times was
impaired for war by trade and luxury, but the modern breed is not so

A curious fact indicates the same thing probably, if not certainly.
Savages waste away before modern civilisation; they seem to have
held their ground before the ancient. There is no lament in any
classical writer for the barbarians. The New Zealanders say that the
land will depart from their children; the Australians are vanishing;
the Tasmanians have vanished. If anything like this had happened in
antiquity, the classical moralists would have been sure to muse over
it; for it is just the large solemn kind of fact that suited them.
On the contrary, in Gaul, in Spain, in Sicily--everywhere that we
know of--the barbarian endured the contact of the Roman, and the
Roman allied himself to the barbarian. Modern science explains the
wasting away of savage men; it says that we have diseases which we
can bear, though they cannot, and that they die away before them as
our fatted and protected cattle died out before the rinderpest,
which is innocuous, in comparison, to the hardy cattle of the
Steppes. Savages in the first year of the Christian era were pretty
much what they were in the 1800th; and if they stood the contact of
ancient civilised men, and cannot stand ours, it follows that our
race is presumably tougher than the ancient; for we have to bear,
and do bear, the seeds of greater diseases than those the ancients
carried with them. We may use, perhaps, the unvarying savage as a
metre to gauge the vigour of the constitutions to whose contact he
is exposed.

Particular consequences may be dubious, but as to the main fact
there is no doubt: the military strength of man has been growing
from the earliest time known to our history, straight on till now.
And we must not look at times known by written records only; we must
travel back to older ages, known to us only by what lawyers call
REAL evidence--the evidence of things. Before history began, there
was at least as much progress in the military art as there has been
since. The Roman legionaries or Homeric Greeks were about as
superior to the men of the shell mounds and the flint implements as
we are superior to them. There has been a constant acquisition of
military strength by man since we know anything of him, either by
the documents he has composed or the indications he has left.

The cause of this military growth is very plain. The strongest
nation has always been conquering the weaker; sometimes even
subduing it, but always prevailing over it. Every intellectual gain,
so to speak, that a nation possessed was in the earliest times made
use of--was INVESTED and taken out--in war; all else perished. Each
nation tried constantly to be the stronger, and so made or copied
the best weapons; by conscious and unconscious imitation each nation
formed a type of character suitable to war and conquest. Conquest
improved mankind by the intermixture of strengths; the armed truce,
which was then called peace, improved them by the competition of
training and the consequent creation of new power. Since the long-
headed men first drove the short-headed men out of the best land in
Europe, all European history has been the history of the
superposition of the more military races over the less military of
the efforts, sometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessful, of each
race to get more military; and so the art of war has constantly
improved. But why is one nation stronger than another? In the answer
to that, I believe, lies the key to the principal progress of early
civilisation, and to some of the progress of all civilisation. The
answer is that there are very many advantages--some small and some
great--every one of which tends to make the nation which has it
superior to the nation which has it not; that many of these
advantages can be imparted to subjugated races, or imitated by
competing races; and that, though some of these advantages may be
perishable or inimitable, yet, on the whole, the energy of
civilisation grows by the coalescence of strengths and by the
competition of strengths.


By far the greatest advantage is that on which I observed before--
that to which I drew all the attention I was able by making the
first of these essays an essay on the Preliminary Age. The first
thing to acquire is if I may so express it, the LEGAL FIBRE; a
polity first--what sort of polity is immaterial; a law first--what
kind of law is secondary; a person or set of persons to pay
deference to--though who he is, or they are, by comparison scarcely
signifies. 'There is,' it has been said, 'hardly any exaggerating
the difference between civilised and uncivilised men; it is greater
than the difference between a tame and a wild animal,' because man
can improve more. But the difference at first was gained in much the
same way. The taming of animals as it now goes on among savage
nations, and as travellers who have seen it describe it, is a kind
of selection. The most wild are killed when food is wanted, and the
most tame and easy to manage kept, because they are more agreeable
to human indolence, and so the keeper likes them best. Captain
Galton, who has often seen strange scenes of savage and of animal
life, had better describe the process:--'The irreclaimably wild
members of every flock would escape and be utterly lost; the wilder
of those that remained would assuredly be selected for slaughter--
whenever it was necessary that one of the flock should be killed.
The tamest cattle--those which seldom ran away, that kept the flocks
together, and those which led them homeward--would be preserved
alive longer than any of the others. It is, therefore, these that
chiefly become the parents of stock and bequeath their domestic
aptitudes to the future herd. I have constantly witnessed this
process of selection among the pastoral savages of South Africa. I
believe it to be a very important one on account of its rigour and
its regularity. It must have existed from the earliest times, and
have been, in continuous operation, generation after generation,
down to the present day.' [Footnote: Ethnological Society's
Transactions, vol. iii. p. 137.]

Man, being the strongest of all animals, differs from the rest; he
was obliged to be his own domesticator; he had to tame himself. And
the way in which it happened was, that the most obedient, the tamest
tribes are, at the first stage in the real struggle of life, the
strongest and the conquerors. All are very wild then; the animal
vigour, the savage virtue of the race has died out in none, and all
have enough of it. But what makes one tribe--one incipient tribe,
one bit of a tribe--to differ from another is their relative faculty
of coherence. The slightest symptom of legal development, the least
indication of a military bond, is then enough to turn the scale. The
compact tribes win, and the compact tribes are the tamest.
Civilisation begins, because the beginning of civilisation is a
military advantage. Probably if we had historic records of the ante-
historic ages--if some superhuman power had set down the thoughts
and actions of men ages before they could set them down for
themselves--we should know that this first step in civilisation was
the hardest step. But when we come to history as it is, we are more
struck with the difficulty of the next step. All the absolutely
incoherent men--all the 'Cyclopes'--have been cleared away long
before there was an authentic account of them. And the least
coherent only remain in the 'protected' parts of the world, as we
may call them. Ordinary civilisation begins near the Mediterranean
Sea; the best, doubtless, of the ante-historic civilisations were
not far off. From this centre the conquering SWARM--for such it is--
has grown and grown; has widened its subject territories steadily,
though not equably, age by age. But geography long defied it. An
Atlantic Ocean, a Pacific Ocean, an Australian Ocean, an
unapproachable interior Africa, an inaccessible and undesirable hill
India, were beyond its range. In such remote places there was no
real competition, and on them inferior, half-combined men continued
to exist. But in the regions of rivalry--the regions where the
better man pressed upon the worse man--such half-made associations
could not last. They died out and history did not begin till after
they were gone. The great difficulty which history records is not
that of the first step, but that of the second step. What is most
evident is not the difficulty of getting a fixed law, but getting
out of a fixed law; not of cementing (as upon a former occasion I
phrased it) a cake of custom, but of breaking the cake of custom;
not of making the first preservative habit, but of breaking through
it, and reaching something better.

This is the precise case with the whole family of arrested
civilisations. A large part, a very large part, of the world seems
to be ready to advance to something good--to have prepared all the
means to advance to something good,--and then to have stopped, and
not advanced. India, Japan, China, almost every sort of Oriental
civilisation, though differing in nearly all other things, are in
this alike. They look as if they had paused when there was no reason
for pausing--when a mere observer from without would say they were
likely not to pause.

The reason is, that only those nations can progress which preserve
and use the fundamental peculiarity which was given by nature to
man's organism as to all other organisms. By a law of which we know
no reason, but which, is among the first by which Providence guides
and governs the world, there is a tendency in descendants to be like
their progenitors, and yet a tendency also in descendants to DIFFER
from their progenitors. The work of nature in making generations is
a patchwork--part resemblance, part contrast. In certain respects
each born generation is not like the last born; and in certain other
respects it is like the last. But the peculiarity of arrested
civilisation is to kill out varieties at birth almost; that is, in
early childhood, and before they can develop. The fixed custom which
public opinion alone tolerates is imposed on all minds, whether it
suits them or not. In that case the community feel that this custom
is the only shelter from bare tyranny, and the only security for
they value. Most Oriental communities live on land which in theory
is the property of a despotic sovereign, and neither they nor their
families could have the elements of decent existence unless they
held the land upon some sort of fixed terms. Land in that state of
society is (for all but a petty skilled minority) a necessary of
life, and all the unincreasable land being occupied, a man who is
turned out of his holding is turned out of this world, and must die.
And our notion of written leases is as out of place in a world
without writing and without reading as a House of Commons among
Andaman Islanders. Only one check, one sole shield for life and
good, is then possible;--usage. And it is but too plain how in such
places and periods men cling to customs because customs alone stand
between them and starvation.

A still more powerful cause co-operated, if a cause more powerful
can be imagined. Dryden had a dream of an early age, 'when wild in
woods the noble savage ran;' but 'when lone in woods the cringing
savage crept' would have been more like all we know of that early,
bare, painful period. Not only had they no comfort, no convenience,
not the very beginnings of an epicurean life, but their mind within
was as painful to them as the world without. It was full of fear. So
far as the vestiges inform us, they were afraid of everything; they
were afraid of animals, of certain attacks by near tribes, and of
possible inroads from far tribes. But, above all things, they were
frightened of 'the world;' the spectacle of nature filled them with
awe and dread. They fancied there were powers behind it which must
be pleased, soothed, flattered, and this very often in a number of
hideous ways. We have too many such religions, even among races of
great cultivation. Men change their religions more slowly than they
change anything else; and accordingly we have religions 'of the
ages'--(it is Mr. Jowett who so calls them)--of the 'ages before
morality;' of ages of which the civil life, the common maxims, and
all the secular thoughts have long been dead. 'Every reader of the
classics,' said Dr. Johnson, 'finds their mythology tedious.' In
that old world, which is so like our modern world in so many things,
so much more like than many far more recent, or some that live
beside us, there is a part in which we seem to have no kindred,
which we stare at, of which we cannot think how it could be
credible, or how it came to be thought of. This is the archaic part
of that very world which we look at as so ancient; an 'antiquity'
which descended to them, hardly altered, perhaps, from times long
antecedent, which were as unintelligible to them as to us, or more
so. How this terrible religion--for such it was in all living
detail, though we make, and the ancients then made, an artistic use
of the more attractive bits of it--weighed on man, the great poem of
Lucretius, the most of a nineteenth-century poem of any in
antiquity, brings before us with a feeling so vivid as to be almost
a feeling of our own. Yet the classical religion is a mild and
tender specimen of the preserved religions. To get at the worst, you
should look where the destroying competition has been least--at
America, where sectional civilisation was rare, and a pervading
coercive civilisation did not exist; at such religions as those of
the Aztecs.

At first sight it seems impossible to imagine what conceivable
function such awful religions can perform in the economy of the
world. And no one can fully explain them. But one use they assuredly
had: they fixed the yoke of custom thoroughly on mankind. They were
the prime agents of the era. They put upon a fixed law a sanction so
fearful that no one could dream of not conforming to it. No one will
ever comprehend the arrested civilisations unless he sees the strict
dilemma of early society. Either men had no law at all, and lived in
confused tribes, hardly hanging together, or they had to obtain a
fixed law by processes of incredible difficulty. Those who
surmounted that difficulty soon destroyed all those that lay in
their way who did not. And then they a themselves were caught in
their own yoke. The customary discipline, which could only be
imposed on any early men by terrible sanctions, continued with those
sanctions, and killed out of the whole society the propensities to
variation which are the principle--of progress. Experience shows how
incredibly difficult it is to get men really to encourage the
principle of originality. They will admit it in theory, but in
practice the old error--the error which arrested a hundred
civilisations--returns again. Men are too fond of their own life,
too credulous of the completeness of their own ideas, too angry at
the pain of new thoughts, to be able to bear easily with a changing
existence; or else, having new ideas, they want to enforce them on
mankind--to make them heard, and admitted, and obeyed before, in
simple competition with other ideas, they would ever be so
naturally. At this very moment there are the most rigid Comtists
teaching that we ought to be governed by a hierarchy--a combination
of savans orthodox in science. Yet who can doubt that Comte would
have been hanged by his own hierarchy; that his essor materiel,
which was in fact troubled by the 'theologians and metaphysicians'
of the Polytechnic School, would have been more impeded by the
government he wanted to make? And then the secular Comtists, Mr.
Harrison and Mr. Beesly, who want to 'Frenchify the English
institutions'--that is, to introduce here an imitation of the
Napoleonic system, a dictatorship founded on the proletariat--who
can doubt that if both these clever writers had been real Frenchmen
they would have been irascible anti-Bonapartists, and have been sent
to Cayenne long ere now? The wish of these writers is very natural.
They want to 'organise society,' to erect a despot who will do what
they like, and work out their ideas; but any despot will do what he
himself likes, and will root out new ideas ninety-nine times for
once that he introduces them. Again, side by side with these
Comtists, and warring with them--at least with one of them--is Mr.
Arnold, whose poems we know by heart, and who has, as much as any
living Englishman, the genuine literary impulse; and yet even he
wants to put a yoke upon us--and, worse than a political yoke, an
academic yoke, a yoke upon our minds and our styles. He, too, asks
us to imitate France; and what else can we say than what the two
most thorough Frenchmen of the last age did say?--'Dans les corps a
talent, nulle distinction ne fait ombrage, si ce n'est pas celle du
talent. Un due et pair honore l'Academie Francaise, qui ne veut
point de Boileau, refuse la Bruyere, fait attendre Voltaire, mais
recoit tout d'abord Chapelain et Conrart. De meme nous voyons a
l'Academie Grecque le vicomte invite, Corai repousse, lorsque
Jormard y entre comme dans un moulin.' Thus speaks Paul-Louis
Courier in his own brief inimitable prose. And a still greater
writer--a real Frenchman, if ever there was one, and (what many
critics would have denied to be possible) a great poet by reason of
his most French characteristics--Beranger, tells us in verse:--

Je croyais voir le president
Fairs bailler--en repondant
Que l'on vient de perdre un grand homme;
Que moi je le vaux, Dieu sait comme.
Mais ce president sans facon [Footnote: Desaugiers.]
Ne perore ici qu'en chanson:
Toujours trop tot sa harangue est finie.
Non, non, ce n'est point comme a l'Academia;
Ce n'est point comme a l'Academie.

Admis enfin, aurai-jo alors,
Pour tout esprit, l'esprit de corps?
Il rend le bon sens, quoi qu'on dise,
Solidaire de la sottise;
Mais, dans votes societe,
L'esprit de corps, c'est la gaite.
Cet esprit la regne sans tyrannie.
Non, non, ce n'est point comme a l'Academie;
Ce n'est point comme a l'Acadenie.

Asylums of common-place, he hints, academies must ever be. But that
sentence is too harsh; the true one is--the academies are asylums of
the ideas and the tastes of the last age. 'By the time,' I have
heard a most eminent man of science observe. 'by the time a man of
science attains eminence on any subject, he becomes a nuisance upon
it, because he is sure to retain errors which were in vogue when he
was young, but which the new race have refuted.' These are the sort
of ideas which find their home in academies, and out of their
dignified windows pooh-pooh new things. I may seem to have wandered
far from early society, but I have not wandered. The true scientific
method is to explain the past by the present--what we see by what we
do not see. We can only comprehend why so many nations have not
varied, when we see how hateful variation is; how everybody turns
against it; how not only the conservatives of speculation try to
root it out, but the very innovators invent most rigid machines for
crushing the 'monstrosities and anomalies'--the new forms, out of
which, by competition and trial, the best is to be selected for the
future. The point I am bringing out is simple:--one most important
pre-requisite of a prevailing nation is that it should have passed
out of the first stage of civilisation into the second stage--out of
the stage where permanence is most wanted into that where
variability is most wanted; and you cannot comprehend why progress
is so slow till you see how hard the most obstinate tendencies of
human nature make that step to mankind.

Of course the nation we are supposing must keep the virtues of its
first stage as it passes into the after stage, else it will be
trodden out; it will have lost the savage virtues in getting the
beginning of the civilised virtues; and the savage virtues which
tend to war are the daily bread of human nature. Carlyle said, in
his graphic way, 'The ultimate question between every two human
beings is, "Can I kill thee, or canst thou kill me?"' History is
strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little
progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and
have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the
movements of the world gave a chance for it. But these nations have
come out of the 'pre-economic stage' too soon; they have been put to
learn while yet only too apt to unlearn. Such cases do not vitiate,
they confirm, the principle--that a nation which has just gained
variability without losing legality has a singular likelihood to be
a prevalent nation.

No nation admits of an abstract definition; all nations are beings
of many qualities and many sides; no historical event exactly
illustrates any one principle; every cause is intertwined and
surrounded with a hundred others. The best history is but like the
art of Rembrandt; it casts a vivid light on certain selected causes,
on those which were best and greatest; it leaves all the rest in
shadow and unseen. To make a single nation illustrate a principle,
you must exaggerate much and you must omit much. But, not forgetting
this caution, did not Rome--the prevalent nation in the ancient
world--gain her predominance by the principle on which I have dwelt?
In the thick crust of her legality there was hidden a little seed of
adaptiveness. Even in her law itself no one can fail to see that,
binding as was the habit of obedience, coercive as use and wont at
first seem, a hidden impulse of extrication DID manage, in some
queer way, to change the substance while conforming to the
accidents--to do what was wanted for the new time while seeming to
do only what was directed by the old time. And the moral of their
whole history is the same each Roman generation, so far as we know,
differs a little-and in the best times often but a VERY little--from
its predecessors. And therefore the history is so continuous as it
goes, though its two ends are so unlike. The history of many nations
is like the stage of the English drama: one scene is succeeded on a
sudden by a scene quite different,--a cottage by a palace, and a
windmill by a fortress. But the history of Rome changes as a good
diorama changes; while you look, you hardly see it alter; each
moment is hardly different from the last moment; yet at the close
the metamorphosis is complete, and scarcely anything is as it began.
Just so in the history of the great prevailing city: you begin with
a town and you end with an empire, and this by unmarked stages?--So
shrouded, so shielded, in the coarse fibre of other qualities--was
the delicate principle of progress, that it never failed, and it was
never broken.

One standing instance, no doubt, shows that the union of
progressiveness and legality does not secure supremacy in war. The
Jewish nation has its type of progress in the prophets, side by side
with its type of permanence in the law and Levites, more distinct
than any other ancient people. Nowhere in common history do we see
the two forces--both so necessary and both so dangerous--so apart
and so intense: Judaea changed in inward thought, just as Borne
changed in exterior power. Each change was continuous, gradual and
good. In early times every sort of advantage tends to become a
military advantage; such is the best way, then, to keep it alive.
But the Jewish advantage never did so; beginning in religion,
contrary to a thousand analogies, it remained religious. For that we
care for them; from that have issued endless consequences. But I
cannot deal with such matters here, nor are they to my purpose. As
respects this essay, Judaea is an example of combined variability
and legality not investing itself in warlike power, and so perishing
at last, but bequeathing nevertheless a legacy of the combination in
imperishable mental effects.

It may be objected that this principle is like saying that men walk
when they do walk, and sit when they do sit. The problem, is, why do
men progress? And the answer suggested seems to be, that they
progress when they have a certain sufficient amount of variability
in their nature. This seems to be the old style of explanation by
occult qualities. It seems like saying that opium sends men to sleep
because it has a soporific virtue, and bread feeds because it has an
alimentary quality. But the explanation is not so absurd. It says:
'The beginning of civilisation is marked by an intense legality;
that legality is the very condition of its existence, the bond which
ties it together; but that legality--that tendency to impose a
settled customary yoke upon all men and all actions if it goes on,
kills out the variability implanted by nature, and makes different
men and different ages facsimiles of other men and other ages, as we
see them so often. Progress is only possible in those happy cases
where the force of legality has gone far enough to bind the nation
together, but not far enough to kill out all varieties and destroy
nature's perpetual tendency to change.' The point of the solution is
not the invention of an imaginary agency, but an assignment of
comparative magnitude to two known agencies.


This advantage is One of the greatest in early civilisation--one of
the facts which give a decisive turn to the battle of nations; but
there are many others. A little perfection in POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS
may do it. Travellers have noticed that among savage tribes those
seemed to answer best in which the monarchical power was most
predominant, and those worst in which the 'rule of many' was in its
vigour. So long as war is the main business of nations, temporary
despotism--despotism during the campaign--is indispensable. Macaulay
justly said that many an army has prospered under a bad commander,
but no army has ever prospered under a 'debating society;' that
many-headed monster is then fatal. Despotism grows in the first
societies, just as democracy grows in more modern societies; it is
the government answering the primary need, and congenial to the
whole spirit of the time. But despotism is unfavourable to the
principle of variability, as all history shows. It tends to keep men
in the customary stage of civilisation; its very fitness for that
age unfits it for the next. It prevents men from passing into the
first age of progress--the VERY slow and VERY gradually improving
age. Some 'standing system' of semi-free discussion is as necessary
to break the thick crust of custom and begin progress as it is in
later ages to carry on progress when begun; probably it is even more
necessary. And in the most progressive races we find it. I have
spoken already of the Jewish prophets, the life of that nation, and
the principle of all its growth. But a still more progressive race--
that by which secular civilisation was once created, by which it is
now mainly administered--had a still better instrument of
progression. 'In the very earliest glimpses,' says Mr. Freeman, 'of
Teutonic political life, we find the monarchic, the aristocratic,
and the democratic elements already clearly marked. There are
leaders with or without the royal title; there are men of noble
birth, whose noble birth (in whatever the original nobility may have
consisted) entitles them to a pre-eminence in every way; but beyond
these there is a free and armed people, in whom it is clear that the
ultimate sovereignty resides. Small matters are decided by the
chiefs alone; great matters are submitted by the chiefs to the
assembled nation. Such a system is far more than Teutonic; it is a
common Aryan possession; it is the constitution of the Homeric
Achaians on earth and of the Homeric gods on Olympus.' Perhaps, and
indeed probably, this constitution may be that of the primitive
tribe which Romans left to go one way, and Greeks to go another, and
Teutons to go a third. The tribe took it with them, as the English
take the common law with them, because it was the one kind of polity
which they could conceive and act upon; or it may be that the
emigrants from the primitive Aryan stock only took with them a good
aptitude--an excellent political nature, which similar circumstances
in distant countries were afterwards to develop into like forms. But
anyhow it is impossible not to trace the supremacy of Teutons,
Greeks, and Romans in part to their common form of government. The
contests of the assembly cherished the principle of change; the
influence of the elders insured sedateness and preserved the mould
of thought; and, in the best cases, military discipline was not
impaired by freedom, though military intelligence was enhanced with
the general intelligence. A Roman army was a free body, at its own
choice governed by a peremptory despotism.

The MIXTURE OF RACES was often an advantage, too. Much as the old
world believed in pure blood, it had very little of it. Most
historic nations conquered prehistoric nations, and though they
massacred many, they did not massacre all. They enslaved the subject
men, and they married the subject women. No doubt the whole bond of
early society was the bond of descent; no doubt it was essential to
the notions of a new nation that it should have had common
ancestors; the modern idea that vicinity of habitation is the
natural cement of civil union would have been repelled as an impiety
if it could have been conceived as an idea. But by one of those
legal fictions which Sir Henry Maine describes so well, primitive
nations contrived to do what they found convenient, as well as to
adhere to what they fancied to be right. When they did not beget
they ADOPTED; they solemnly made believe that new persons were
descended from the old stock, though everybody knew that in flesh
and blood they were not. They made an artificial unity in default of
a real unity; and what it is not easy to understand now, the sacred
sentiment requiring unity of race was somehow satisfied: what was
made did as well as what was born. Nations with these sort of maxims
are not likely to have unity of race in the modern sense, and as a
physiologist understands it. What sorts of unions improve the breed,
and which are worse than both the father-race and the mother, it is
not very easy to say. The subject was reviewed by M. Quatrefages in
an elaborate report upon the occasion of the French Exhibition, of
all things in the world. M. Quatrefages quotes from another writer
the phrase that South America is a great laboratory of experiments
in the mixture of races, and reviews the different results which
different cases have shown. In South Carolina the Mulatto race is
not very prolific, whereas in Louisiana and Florida it decidedly is
so. In Jamaica and in Java the Mulatto cannot reproduce itself after
the third generation; but on the continent of America, as everybody
knows, the mixed race is now most numerous, and spreads generation
after generation without impediment. Equally various likewise in
various cases has been the fate of the mixed race between the white
man and the native American; sometimes it prospers, sometimes it
fails. And M. Quatrefages concludes his description thus: 'En
acceptant comme vraies toutes les observations qui tendent a faire
admettre qu'il en sera autrement dans les localites dont j'ai parle
plus haut, quelle est la conclusion a tirer de faits aussi peu
semblables? Evidemment, on est oblige de reconnaitre que le
developpement de la race mulatre est favorise, retarde, ou empeche
par des circonstances locales; en d'autres termes, qu'il depend des
influences exercees par l'ensemble des conditions d'existence, par
le MILIEU.' By which I understand him to mean that the mixture of
race sometimes brings out a form of character better suited than
either parent form to the place and time; that in such cases, by a
kind of natural selection, it dominates over both parents, and
perhaps supplants both, whereas in other cases the mixed race is not
as good then and there as other parent forms, and then it passes
away soon and of itself.

Early in history the continual mixtures by conquest were just so
many experiments in mixing races as are going on in South America
now. New races wandered into new districts, and half killed, half
mixed with the old races. And the result was doubtless as various
and as difficult to account for then as now; sometimes the crossing
answered, sometimes it failed. But when the mixture was at its best,
it must have excelled both parents in that of which so much has been
said; that is, variability, and consequently progressiveness. There
is more life in mixed nations. France, for instance, is justly said
to be the mean term between the Latin and the German races. A
Norman, as you may see by looking at him, is of the north; a
Provencal is of the south, of all that there is most southern. You
have in France Latin, Celtic, German, compounded in an infinite
number of proportions: one as she is in feeling, she is various not
only in the past history of her various provinces, but in their
present temperaments. Like the Irish element and the Scotch element
in the English House of Commons, the variety of French races
contributes to the play of the polity; it gives a chance for fitting
new things which otherwise there would not be. And early races must
have wanted mixing more than modern races. It is said, in answer to
the Jewish boast that 'their race still prospers, though it is
scattered and breeds in-and-in,' 'You prosper BECAUSE you are so
scattered; by acclimatisation in various regions your nation has
acquired singular elements of variety; it contains within itself the
principle of variability which other nations must seek by
intermarriage.' In the beginning of things there was certainly no
cosmopolitan race like the Jews; each race was a sort of 'parish
race,' narrow in thought and bounded in range, and it wanted mixing

But the mixture of races has a singular danger as well as a singular
advantage in the early world. We know now the Anglo-Indian suspicion
or contempt for 'half-castes.' The union of the Englishman and the
Hindoo produces something not only between races, but BETWEEN
MORALITIES. They have no inherited creed or plain place in the
world; they have none of the fixed traditional sentiments which are
the stays of human nature. In the early world many mixtures must
have wrought many ruins; they must have destroyed what they could
not replace--an inbred principle of discipline and of order. But if
these unions of races did not work thus; if, for example, the two
races were so near akin that their morals united as well as their
breeds, if one race by its great numbers and prepotent organisation
so presided over the other as to take it up and assimilate it, and
leave no separate remains of it, THEN the admixture was invaluable.
It added to the probability of variability, and therefore of
improvement; and if that improvement even in part took the military
line, it might give the mixed and ameliorated state a steady
advantage in the battle of nations, and a greater chance of lasting
in the world.

Another mode in which one state acquires a superiority over
competing states is by PROVISIONAL institutions, if I may so call
them. The most important of these--slavery--arises out of the same
early conquest as the mixture of races. A slave is an unassimilated,
an undigested atom; something which is in the body politic, but yet
is hardly part of it. Slavery, too, has a bad name in the later
world, and very justly. We connect it with gangs in chains, with
laws which keep men ignorant, with laws that hinder families. But
the evils which we have endured from slavery in recent ages must not
blind us to, or make us forget, the great services that slavery
rendered in early ages. There is a wonderful presumption in its
favour; it is one of the institutions which, at a certain stage of
growth, all nations in all countries choose and cleave to.
'Slavery,' says Aristotle, 'exists by the law of nature,' meaning
that it was everywhere to be found--was a rudimentary universal
point of polity. 'There are very many English colonies,' said Edward
Gibbon Wakefield, as late as 1848, 'who would keep slaves at once if
we would let them,' and he was speaking not only of old colonies
trained in slavery, and raised upon the products of it, but likewise
of new colonies started by freemen, and which ought, one would
think, to wish to contain freemen only. But Wakefield knew what he
was saying; he was a careful observer of rough societies, and he had
watched the minds of men in them. He had seen that LEISURE is the
great need of early societies, and slaves only can give men leisure.
All freemen in new countries must be pretty equal; every one has
labour, and every one has land; capital, at least in agricultural
countries (for pastoral countries are very different), is of little
use; it cannot hire labour; the labourers go and work for
themselves. There is a story often told of a great English
capitalist who went out to Australia with a shipload of labourers
and a carriage; his plan was that the labourers should build a house
for him, and that he would keep his carriage, just as in England.
But (so the story goes) he had to try to live in his carriage, for
his labourers left him, and went away to work for themselves. In
such countries there can be few gentlemen and no ladies. Refinement
is only possible when leisure is possible; and slavery first makes
it possible. It creates a set of persons born to work that others
may not work, and not to think in order that others may think. The
sort of originality which slavery gives is of the first practical
advantage in early communities; and the repose it gives is a great
artistic advantage when they come to be described in history. The
patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could not have had the steady
calm which marks them, if they had themselves been teased and
hurried about their flocks and herds. Refinement of feeling and
repose of appearance have indeed no market value in the early
bidding of nations; they do not tend to secure themselves a long
future or any future. But originality in war does, and slave-owning
nations, having time to think, are likely to be more shrewd in
policy, and more crafty in strategy.

No doubt this momentary gain is bought at a ruinous after-cost. When
other sources of leisure become possible, the one use of slavery is
past. But all its evils remain, and even grow worse. 'Retail'
slavery--the slavery in which a master owns a few slaves, whom he
well knows and daily sees--is not at all an intolerable state; the
slaves of Abraham had no doubt a fair life, as things went in that
day. But wholesale slavery, where men are but one of the investments
of large capital, and where a great owner, so far from knowing each
slave, can hardly tell how many gangs of them he works, is an
abominable state. This is the slavery which has made the name
revolting to the best minds, and has nearly rooted the thing out of
the best of the world. There is no out-of-the-way marvel in this.
The whole history of civilisation, is strewn with creeds and
institutions which were invaluable at first, and deadly afterwards.
Progress would not have been the rarity it is if the early food had
not been the late poison. A full examination of these provisional
institutions would need half a volume, and would be out of place and
useless here. Venerable oligarchy, august monarchy, are two that
would alone need large chapters. But the sole point here necessary
is to say that such preliminary forms and feelings at first often
bring many graces and many refinements, and often tend to secure
them by the preservative military virtue. There are cases in which
some step in INTELLECTUAL progress gives an early society some gain
in war; more obvious cases are when some kind of MORAL quality gives
some such gain. War both needs and generates certain virtues; not
the highest, but what may be called the preliminary virtues, as
valour, veracity, the spirit of obedience, the habit of discipline.
Any of these, and of others like them, when possessed by a nation,
and no matter how generated, will give them a military advantage,
and make them more likely to stay in the race of nations. The Romans
probably had as much of these efficacious virtues as any race of the
ancient world,--perhaps as much as any race in the modern world too.
And the success of the nations which possess these martial virtues
has been the great means by which their continuance has been secured
in the world, and the destruction of the opposite vices insured
also. Conquest is the missionary of valour, and the hard impact of
military virtues beats meanness out of the world.

In the last century it would have sounded strange to speak, as I am
going to speak, of the military advantage of RELIGION. Such an idea
would have been opposed to ruling prejudices, and would hardly have
escaped philosophical ridicule. But the notion is but a commonplace
in our day, for a man of genius has made it his own. Mr. Carlyle's
books are deformed by phrases like 'infinities' and 'verities' and
altogether are full of faults, which attract the very young, and
deter all that are older. In spite of his great genius, after a long
life of writing, it is a question still whether even a single work
of his can take a lasting place in high literature. There is a want
of sanity in their manner which throws a suspicion on their
substance (though it is often profound); and he brandishes one or
two fallacies, of which he has himself a high notion, but which
plain people will always detect and deride. But whatever may be the
fate of his fame, Mr. Carlyle has taught the present generation many
lessons, and one of these is that 'God-fearing' armies are the best
armies. Before his time people laughed at Cromwell's saying, 'Trust
in God, and keep your powder dry.' But we now know that the trust
was of as much use as the powder, if not of more. That high
concentration of steady feeling makes men dare everything and do

This subject would run to an infinite extent if any one were
competent to handle it. Those kinds of morals and that kind of
religion which tend to make the firmest and most effectual character
are sure to prevail, all else being the same; and creeds or systems
that conduce to a soft limp mind tend to perish, except some hard
extrinsic force keep them alive. Thus Epicureanism never prospered
at Rome, but Stoicism did; the stiff, serious character of the great
prevailing nation was attracted by what seemed a confirming creed,
and deterred by what looked like a relaxing creed. The inspiriting
doctrines fell upon the ardent character, and so confirmed its
energy. Strong beliefs win strong men, and then make them stronger.
Such is no doubt one cause why Monotheism tends to prevail over
Polytheism; it produces a higher, steadier character, calmed and
concentrated by a great single object; it is not confused by
competing rites, or distracted by miscellaneous deities. Polytheism
is religion IN COMMISSION, and it is weak accordingly. But it will
be said the Jews, who were monotheist, were conquered by the Romans,
who were polytheist. Yes, it must be answered, because the Romans
had other gifts; they had a capacity for politics, a habit of
discipline, and of these the Jews had not the least. The religious
advantage WAS an advantage, but it was counter-weighed.

No one should be surprised at the prominence given to war. We are
dealing with early ages; nation-MAKING is the occupation of man in
these ages, and it is war that makes nations. Nation-CHANGING comes
afterwards, and is mostly effected by peaceful revolution, though
even then war, too, plays its part. The idea of an indestructible
nation is a modern idea; in early ages all nations were
destructible, and the further we go back, the more incessant was the
work of destruction. The internal decoration of nations is a sort of
secondary process, which succeeds when the main forces that create
nations have principally done their work. We have here been
concerned with the political scaffolding; it will be the task of
other papers to trace the process of political finishing and
building. The nicer play of finer forces may then require more
pleasing thoughts than the fierce fights of early ages can ever
suggest. It belongs to the idea of progress that beginnings can
never seem attractive to those who live far on; the price of
improvement is, that the unimproved will always look degraded.

But how far are the strongest nations really the best nations? how
far is excellence in war a criterion of other excellence? I cannot
answer this now fully, but three or four considerations are very
plain. War, as I have said, nourishes the 'preliminary' virtues, and
this is almost as much as to say that there are virtues which it
does not nourish. All which may be called 'grace' as well as virtue
it does not nourish; humanity, charity, a nice sense of the rights
of others, it certainly does not foster. The insensibility to human
suffering, which is so striking a fact in the world as it stood when
history first reveals it, is doubtless due to the warlike origin of
the old civilisation. Bred in war, and nursed in war, it could not
revolt from the things of war, and one of the principal of these is
human pain. Since war has ceased to be the moving force in the
world, men have become more tender one to another, and shrink from
what they used to inflict without caring; and this not so much
because men are improved (which may or may not be in various cases),
but because they have no longer the daily habit of war--have no
longer formed their notions upon war, and therefore are guided by
thoughts and feelings which soldiers as such--soldiers educated
simply by their trade--are too hard to understand.

Very like this is the contempt for physical weakness and for women
which marks early society too. The non-combatant population is sure
to fare ill during the ages of combat. But these defects, too, are
cured or lessened; women have now marvellous means of winning their
way in the world; and mind without muscle has far greater force than
muscle without mind. These are some of the after-changes in the
interior of nations, of which the causes must be scrutinised, and I
now mention them only to bring out how many softer growths have now
half-hidden the old and harsh civilisation which war made. But it is
very dubious whether the spirit of war does not still colour our
morality far too much. Metaphors from law and metaphors from war
make most of our current moral phrases, and a nice examination would
easily explain that both rather vitiate what both often illustrate.
The military habit makes man think far too much of definite action,
and far too little of brooding meditation. Life is not a set
campaign, but an irregular work, and the main forces in it are not
overt resolutions, but latent and half-involuntary promptings. The
mistake of military ethics is to exaggerate the conception of
discipline, and so to present the moral force of the will in a barer
form than it ever ought to take. Military morals can direct the axe
to cut down the tree, but it knows nothing of the quiet force by
which the forest grows. What has been said is enough, I hope, to
bring out that there are many qualities and many institutions of the
most various sort which give nations an advantage in military
competition; that most of these and most warlike qualities tend
principally to good; that the constant winning of these favoured
competitors is the particular mode by which the best qualities
wanted in elementary civilisation are propagated and preserved.



In the last essay I endeavoured to show that in the early age of
man--the 'fighting age' I called it--there was a considerable,
though not certain, tendency towards progress. The best nations
conquered the worst; by the possession of one advantage or another
the best competitor overcame the inferior competitor. So long as
there was continual fighting there was a likelihood of improvement
in martial virtues, and in early times many virtues are really
'martial'--that is, tend to success in war--which in later times we
do not think of so calling, because the original usefulness is hid
by their later usefulness. We judge of them by the present effects,
not by their first. The love of law, for example, is a virtue which
no one now would call martial, yet in early times it disciplined
nations, and the disciplined nations won. The gift of 'conservative
innovation'--the gift of MATCHING new institutions to old--is not
nowadays a warlike virtue, yet the Romans owed much of their success
to it. Alone among ancient nations they had the deference to usage
which, combines nations, and the partial permission of selected
change which improves nations; and therefore they succeeded. Just so
in most cases, all through the earliest times, martial merit is a
token of real merit: the nation that wins is the nation that ought
to win. The simple virtues of such ages mostly make a man a soldier
if they make him anything. No doubt the brute force of number may be
too potent even then (as so often it is afterwards): civilisation
may be thrown back by the conquest of many very rude men over a few
less rude men. But the first elements of civilisation are great
military advantages, and, roughly, it is a rule of the first times
that you can infer merit from conquest, and that progress is
promoted by the competitive examination of constant war.

This principle explains at once why the 'protected' regions of the
world--the interior of continents like Africa, outlying islands like
Australia or New Zealand--are of necessity backward. They are still
in the preparatory school; they have not been taken on class by
class, as No. II., being a little better, routed effaced No. I.; and
as No. III., being a little better still, routed and effaced No. II.
And it explains why Western Europe was early in advance of other
countries, because there the contest of races was exceedingly
severe. Unlike most regions, it was a tempting part of the world,
and yet not a corrupting part; those who did not possess it wanted
it, and those who had it, not being enervated, could struggle hard
to keep it. The conflict of nations is at first a main force in the
improvement of nations.

But what ARE nations? What are these groups which are so familiar to
us, and yet, if we stop to think, so strange; which are as old as
history; which Herodotus found in almost as great numbers and with
quite as marked distinctions as we see them now? What breaks the
human race up into fragments so unlike one another, and yet each in
its interior so monotonous? The question is most puzzling, though
the fact is so familiar, and I would not venture to say that I can
answer it completely, though I can advance some considerations
which, as it seems to me, go a certain way towards answering it.
Perhaps these same considerations throw some light, too, on the
further and still more interesting question why some few nations
progress, and why the greater part do not.

Of course at first all such distinctions of nation and nation were
explained by original diversity of race. They ARE dissimilar, it was
said, because they were created dissimilar. But in most cases this
easy supposition will not do its work. You cannot (consistently with
plain facts) imagine enough original races to make it tenable. Some
half-dozen or more great families of men may or may not have been
descended from separate first stocks, but sub-varieties have
certainly not so descended. You may argue, rightly or wrongly, that
all Aryan nations are of a single or peculiar origin, just as it was
long believed that all Greek-speaking nations were of one such
stock. But you will not be listened to if you say that there were
one Adam and Eve for Sparta, and another Adam and Eve for Athens.
All Greeks are evidently of one origin, but within the limits of the
Greek family, as of all other families, there is some contrast-
making force which causes city to be unlike city, and tribe unlike

Certainly, too, nations did not originate by simple natural
selection, as wild varieties of animals (I do not speak now of
species) no doubt arise in nature. Natural selection means the
preservation of those individuals which struggle best with the
forces that oppose their race. But you could not show that the
natural obstacles opposing human life much differed between Sparta
and Athens, or indeed between Rome and Athens; and yet Spartans,
Athenians, and Romans differ essentially. Old writers fancied (and
it was a very natural idea) that the direct effect of climate, or
rather of land, sea, and air, and the sum total of physical
conditions varied man from man, and changed race to race. But
experience refutes this. The English immigrant lives in the same
climate as the Australian or Tasmanian, but he has not become like
those races; nor will a thousand years, in most respects, make him
like them. The Papuan and the Malay, as Mr. Wallace finds, live now,
and have lived for ages, side by side in the same tropical regions,
with every sort of diversity. Even in animals his researches show,
as by an object-lesson, that the direct efficacy of physical


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