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Full text of "The idea of progress"





Inge, W.R. 

The idea of progress 



67 



1920 
c. 1 
ROBA 



__ _.OMANES LECTURE 

19x0 

T 'be Idea of 
Progress 



BY 

W. R. INGE 

C.V.O., D.D., Hon. Fellow of Hertford College 

DELIVERED ' . " 

IN THE SHELDONIAN THEATRE 

27 MAY, 1920 




OXFORD 

AT THE CLARENDON PRESS 

1920 




OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

LONDON EDINBURGH GLASGOW NEW YORK 

TORONTO MELBOURNE CAPE TOWN BOMBAY 

! ' HUMPHREY MILFORD 

PUBLISHER TO THE UNIVERSITY 



( 3 ) 



The Idea of 'Progress 



THE belief in Progress, not as an ideal but as an 
indisputable fact, not as a task for humanity but as a 
law of Nature, has been the working faith of the West 
for about a hundred and fifty years. Some would have 
us believe that it is a long neglected part of the 
Christian revelation, others that it is a modern dis- 
covery. The ancient Pagans, we are told, put their\ 
golden age in the past ; we put ours in the future. The 
Greeks prided themselves on being the degenerate 
descendants of gods, we on being the very creditable 
descendants of monkeys. The Romans endeavoured - 
to preserve the wisdom and virtue of the past, we to 
anticipate the wisdom and virtue of the future. This, 
however, is an exaggeration. The theory of progress 
and the theory of decadence are equally natural, and s 
have in fact been held concurrently wherever men have 
speculated about their origin, their present condition, 
and their future prospects. Among the Jews the theory 
of decadence derived an inspired authority from Genesis, 
but the story of the Fall had very little influence upon 
the thought of that tenaciously optimistic race. Among 
the Greeks, who had the melancholy as well as the 
buoyancy of youth, it was authorized by Hesiod, whose 
scheme of retrogression, from the age of gold to the age 
of iron, was never forgotten in antiquity. Sophocles, in 
a well-known chorus imitated by Bacon, holds that the 
best fate for men is ' not to be born, or being born to 
die*. Aratus develops the pessimistic mythology of 

2379 A 2 



4 TH E I DE A 

Hesiod. In the golden age Dike or Astraea wandered 
about the earth freely; in the silver age her visits 
became fewer, and in the brazen age she set out for 
s* heaven and became the constellation Virgo. Perhaps 
Horace had read the lament of the goddess : ' What 
a race the golden sires have left worse than their 
fathers ; and your offspring will be baser still.' In the 
third century after Christ, when civilization was really 
crumbling, Pagans and Christians join in a chorus of 
woe. On the other side, the triumphs of man over 
nature are celebrated by the great tragedians, and the 
Introduction to the First Book of Thucydides sketches 
the past history of Greece in the spirit of the nineteenth 
century. Lucretius has delighted our anthropologists 
by his brilliant and by no means idealized description of 
savage life, and it is to him that we owe the blessed 
word Progress in its modern sense. 

1 Usus et impigrae simul experientia mentis 
paulatim docuit pedetemtim progredientes. 
sic unum quicquid paulatim protrahit aetas 
in medium, ratioque in luminis erigit oras/ 

liny believes that each age is better than the last. 
Seneca, in a treatise, parts of which were read in the 
Middle Ages, reminds us that ' not a thousand years 
have passed since Greece counted and named the stars, 
and it is only recently that we have learned why the 
moon is eclipsed. Posterity will be amazed that we did 
not know some things that will seem obvious to them/ 
' The world ', he adds, ' is a poor affair if it does not 
contain matter for investigation for men in every 
age. We imagine that we are initiated into the mysteries 
of Nature ; but we are still hanging about her outer 
courts.^ These last are memorable utterances, even if 
Seneca confines his optimism to the pleasure of explor- 




OFPROGRESS 5 

ing Nature's secrets. The difference between Rousseau, 
who admired the simple life, and Condorcet, who be- 
lieved in modern civilization, was no new one ; it was 
a common theme of discussion in antiquity, and the 
ancients were well aware that the same process may be 
called either progress or decline. As Freeman says, ' In 
history every step in advance has also been a step back- 
wards '. (The picture is a little difficult to visualize, but 
the meaning is plain.) The fruit of the tree of know- 
ledge always drives man from some paradise or other ; 
and even the paradise of fools is not an unpleasant 
abode while it is habitable. Few emblematic pictures 
are more striking than the Melencolia (as he spells it) 
of Durer, representing the Spirit of the race sitting 
mournfully among all her inventions : and this was at 
the beginning of the age of discovery! But the deepest 
thought o antiquity was neither optimistic nor pessi- 
mistic/Ot was that progress and retrogression are only 
the incoming and outgoing tide in an unchanging 
The pulse of the universe beats in an alternate expan- 
sion and contraction. f<fhe result is a series of cycles, 
in which history repeats itself. Plato contemplates a 
world-cycle of 36,000 solar years, during which the 
Creator guides the course of events ; after which he 
relaxes his hold of the machine, and a period of the 
same length follows, during which the world gradually 
degenerates^/ When this process is complete, the 
Creator restores again the original conditions, and a 
new cycle begins. Aristotle thinks that all the arts and 
sciences have been discovered and lost ' an infinite 
number of times'. Virgil in the Fourth Eclogue tries 
to please Augustus by predicting the near approach of 
a new golden age, which, he says, is now due. This 
doctrine of recurrence is not popular to-day; but 

A3 



6 THE IDEA 

whether we like it or not, no other view of the macro- 
cosm is even tenable. Even if those physicists are 
right who hold that the universe is running down like 
a clock, that belief postulates a moment in past time 
when the clock was wound up; and whatever power 
it up once may presumably wind it up again, 
doctrine of cycles was held by Goethe, who, in 
reply to Eckermann's remark that 'the progress of 
humanity seems to be a matter of thousands of years ', 
answered, ' Perhaps of millions. Men will become more 
clever and discerning, but not better or happier, except 
for limited periods. I see the time coming when God 
will take no more pleasure in our race, and must again 
proceed to a rejuvenated creation. I am sure that the 
time and hour in the distant future are already fixed for 
the beginning of this epoch. But we can still for 
thousands of years enjoy ourselves on this dear old 
playground of ours/ Nietzsche also maintained the 
law of recurrence, and so did the Danish philosophic 
theologian Kierkegaard. Shelley's fine poem, 'The 
world's great age begins anew ', is based upon it. Still, 
I must admit that on the whole the ancients did tend to 
regard time as the enemy : ' damnosa quid non imminuit 
dies ? J they would have thought the modern notion of 
human perfectibility at once absurd and impious. 

The Dark Ages knew that they were dark, and we 
hear little talk about progress during those seven 
centuries which, as far as we can see, might have been 
cut out of history without any great loss to posterity. 
The Middle Ages (which we ought never to confuse 
with the Dark Ages), though they developed an interest- 
ing type of civilization, set their hopes mainly on another 
world. The Church has never encouraged the belief 
that this world is steadily improving ; the Middle Ages, 



OFPROGRESS 7 

like the early Christians, would have been quite content 
to see the earthly career of the race closed in their own 
time. Even Roger Bacon, who is claimed as the 
precursor of modern science, says, that all wise men 
believe that we are not far from the time of Antichrist, 
which was to be the herald of the end. The Renais- 
sance was a conscious recovery from the longest and 
dreariest set-back that humanity has ever experienced 
within the historical period a veritable glacial age of 
the spirit. At this time men were too full of admiration 
and reverence for the newly recovered treasures of 
antiquity to look forward to the future. In the seven- 
teenth century a doctrine of progress was already in the 
air, and a long literary battle was waged between the 
Ancients and the Moderns. But it was only in t 
eighteenth century that Western Europe began to 
dream of an approaching millennium without miracle, 
to be gradually ushered in under the auspices of a 
faculty which was called Reason. Unlike some of their 
successors, these optimists believed that perfection was 
to be attained by the self-determination of the human 
will ; they were not fatalists. In France, the chief home 
of this heady doctrine, the psychical temperature soon 
began to rise under its influence, till it culminated in the 
delirium of the Terror. The Goddess of Reason hardly 
survived Robespierre and his guillotine-fout the belief 
in progress, which might otherwise have subsided 
when the French resumed their traditional pursuits 
'rem militarem et argute loqui' was reinforced by 
the industrial revolution, which was to run a very 
different course from that indicated by the theatrical dis- 
turbances at Paris between 1789 and 1794, the impor- 
tance of which has perhaps been exaggerate^/ In 
England above all, the home of the new industry, 



8 T HE IDEA 

progress was regarded (in the words which Mr. Mallock 
puts into the mouth of a nineteenth-century scientist) 
as that kind of improvement which can be measured by 
statistics. This was quite s^v^usly the view of the last 
century generally, and tnere has never been, nor will 
there ever be again, such an opportunity for gloating 
over this kind of improvement. The mechanical inven- 
tions of Watt, Arkwright, Crompton, Stephenson, and 
others led to an unparalleled increase of population. 
Exports and imports also progressed, in a favourite 
phrase of the time, by leaps and bounds. Those who, 
like Malthus, sounded a note of warning, showing that 
population increases, unlike the supply of food, by geo- 
metrical progression, were answered that compound 
interest follows the same admirable law. It was obvious 
to many of our grandparents that a nation which travels 
sixty miles an hour must be five times as civilized as 
one which travels only twelve, and that, as Glanvill had 
already declared in the reign of Charles II, we owe 
more gratitude to the inventor of the mariner's compass 
' than to a thousand Alexanders and Caesars, or to ten 
times the number of Aristotles '. The historians of the 
time could not contain their glee in recording these 
triumphs. Only the language of religion seemed appro- 
priate in contemplating so magnificent a spectacle. If 
they had read Herder, they would have quoted with 
approval his prediction that 'the flower of humanity, 
captive still in its germ, will blossom out one day into 
the true form of man like unto God, in a state of which 
no man on earth can imagine the greatness and the 
majesty'. Determinism was much in vogue by this 
time; but why should determinism be a depressing 
creed ? The law which we cannot escape is the blessed 
law of progress ' that kind of improvement that can be 



OF PROGRESS 9 

measured by statistics'. We had only to thank our 
stars for placing us in such an environment, and to 
carry out energetically the course of development which 
Nature has prescribed for us, and to resist which would 
be at once impious and futile. 

Thus the superstition of progress " ;.- firmly estab- 
lished. To become a popular religion, it is only 
necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy. 
The superstition of progress had the singular good 
fortune to enslave at least three philosophies those of 
Hegel, of Comte, and of Darwin. The strange thing is 
that none of these philosophies is really favourable to 
the belief which it was supposed to support. Leaving 
for the present the German and the French thinkers, 
we observe with astonishment that many leading men 
in Queen Victoria's reign found it possible to use the 
great biological discovery of Darwin to tyrannize over 
the minds of their contemporaries, to give their blessing 
to the economic and social movements of their time, 
and to unite determinism with teleology in the highly 
edifying manner to which I have already referred. 
Scientific optimism was no doubt rampant before Darwin. 
For example, Herschel says : * Man's progress towards 
a higher state need never fear a check, but must 
continue till the very last existence of histor^>* But 
""Herbert Spencer asserts the perfectibility of man with 
I an assurance which makes us gasp. ' Progress is not 
an accident but a necessity. What we call evil and 
j immorality must disappear. It is certain that man 
1 must become perfect.' ' The ultimate development of 
the ideal man is certain as certain as any conclusion in 
1 which we place the most implicit faith ; for instance, 
Ithat all men will die.' ' Always towards perfection is 
jthe mighty movement towards a complete develop 
Tnent and a more unmixed good.' 







io T H E I D E A 

t 

It has been pointed out by Mr. Bradley that these 
apocalyptic prophecies have nothing whatever to do with 
Darwinism. If we take the so-called doctrine of evolu- 
tion in Nature as a metaphysics of existence, which 
Darwin never intended it to be, ' there is in the world 
nojjiing_like value, or good j or evil. Anything imply- 
ing evolution, in the ordinary sense of development or 
progress, is wholly rejected/ The survival of the fittest 
does not mean that the most virtuous or the most useful 
or the most beautiful or even the most complex survive ; 
there is no moral or aesthetic judgement pronounced on 
the process or any part of it. ' Darwinism ', Mr. Bradley 
goes on to say, ' often recommends itself because it is 
confused with a doctrine of evolution which is radically 
different. Humanity is taken in that doctrine as a real 
being, or even as the one real being ; and humanity (it 
is said) advances continuously. Its history is develop- 
ment and progress towards a goal, because the type and 
character in which its reality consists is gradually 
brought more and more into fact. That which is 
strongest on the whole must therefore be good, and the 
ideas which come to prevail must therefore be true. 
This doctrine, though I certainly cannot accept it, for 
good or evil more or less dominates or sways our minds 
to an extent of which most of us perhaps are danger- 
ously unaware. Any such view of course conflicts 
radically with Danvinism, w^kJLjanly teaches that the 
true idea is the idea which prevails. 



in the_end with no criterion at all/ It may further be 
suggested that Spencer's optimism depends on the trans- 
missibility of acquired characters; but this is too 
dangerous a subject for a layman in science to discuss. 

Although the main facts of cosmic evolution, and the 
main course of human history from Pithecanthropus 



OFPROGRESS n 

downwards, are well known to all my hearers, and to 
some of them much better than to myself, it may be 
worth while to recall to you, in bald and colourless 
language, what science really tells us about the nature 
and destiny of our species. It is so different from the 
gay colours of the rhapsodists whom I have just quoted, 
that we must be amazed that such doctrines should ever 
have passed for scientific. Astronomy gives us a picture 
of a wilderness of space, probably boundless, sparsely 
sown with aggregations of elemental particles in all 
stages of heat and cold. These heavenly bodies are in 
some cases growing hotter, in other cases growing 
colder ; but the fate of every globe must be, sooner or 
later, to become cold and dead, like the moon. Our 
sun, from which we derive the warmth which makes 
our life possible, is, I believe, an elderly star, which 
has long outlived the turbulent heats of youth, and is 
on its way to join the most senile class of luminiferous 
bodies, in which the star Antares is placed. When 
a star has once become cold, it must apparently remain 
dead until some chance collision sets the whole cycle 
going again. From time to time a great conflagration 
in the heavens, which occurred perhaps in the seven- 
teenth century, becomes visible from this earth; and 
we may imagine, if we will, that two great solar systems 
have been reduced in a moment to incandescent gas. 
But space is probably so empty that the most pugna- 
cious of astral knights-errant might wander for billions 
of years without meeting an opponent worthy of its 
bulk. .If timf* as wHI RS spa* is' infinity worlds must 

h^_hnrr^ an^ <Ji^ innnmprflhlft tim^-S however few and 

far between theiii_pp.rinHs nf ..artivity may he. Of pro- 
gress, in such a system tgken as a whole, thftrff ran not 
j>e_a u _tnice. Nor can there be any doubt about the fate 

2379 A 4 



12 T H E I D E A 

of our own planet. Man and all his achievements will 
one day be obliterated like a child's sand-castle when 
the next tide comes in. Lucretius, who gave us the 
word progress, has told us our ultimate fate in sonorous 
lines : 

' Quorum naturam triplicem, tria corpora, Memmi, 
tres species tarn dissimiles, tria talia texta, 
una dies dabit exitio, multosque per annos 
sustentata ruet moles et machina mundi '. 

The racial life of the species to which we happen to 
belong is a brief episode even in the brief life of the 
planet. And what we call civilization or culture, though 
much older than we used to suppose, is a brief episode 
in the life of our race. For tens of thousands of years 
the changes in our habits must have been very slight, 
and chiefly those which were forced upon our rude 
ancestors by changes of climate. Then in certain 
districts man began, as Samuel Butler says, to wish to 
live beyond his income. This was the beginning of the 
vast series of inventions which have made our life so 
complex. And, we used to be told, the 'law of all 
progress is the same, the evolution of the simple into 
the complex by successive differentiations '. This is the 
gospel according to Herbert Spencer. As a universal 
law of nature, it is ludicrously untrue. Some species 
have survived by becoming more complex, others, like 
the whole tribe of parasites, by becoming more simple. 
On the whole, perhaps the parasites have had the best 
of it. The progressive species have in many cases 
flourished for a while and then paid the supreme penalty. 
The living dreadnoughts of the Saurian age have left us 
their bones, but no progeny. But the microbes, one of 
which had the honour of killing Alexander the Great at 
the age of thirty-two, and so changing the whole course 




OF PROGRESS 13 

of history, survive and flourish. The microbe illustrates 
the wisdom of the maxim, XdOe /ifraxra?. It took thou- 
sands of years to find him out. Our own species, being 
rather poorly provided by nature for offence and defence, 
had to live by its wits, and so came to the top. It 
developed many new needs, and set itself many insoluble 
problems. Physiologists like Metchnikoff have shown 
how very ill-adapted our bodies are to the tasks which 
we impose upon them; and in spite of the Spencerian 
identification of complexity with progress, our surgeons 
try to simplify our structure by forcibly removing 
various organs which they assure us that we do not 
need. If we turn to history for a confirmation of the 
Spencerian doctrine, we find, on the contrary, that 
civilization is a disease which is almost invariably fatal, 
unless its course is checked in time. The Hindus and 
Chinese, after advancing to a certain point, were content 
to mark time ; and they survive. But the Greeks and 
Romans are gone; and aristocracies everywhere die 
out. Do we not see to-day the complex organization of 
the ecclesiastic and college don succumbing before the 
simple squeezing and sucking organs of the profiteer 
and trade-unionist ? If so-called civilized nations show 
any protracted vitality, it is because they are only 
civilized at the top. Ancient civilizations were destroyed 
by imported barbarians ; we breed our own. 

It is also an unproved assumption that the domination 
of the planet by our own species is a desirable thing, 
which must give satisfaction to its Creator. We have 
devastated the loveliness of the world ; we have exter- 
minated several species more beautiful and less vicious 
than ourselves ; we have enslaved the rest of the animal 
creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and 
feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able 

AS 



14 T H E I D E A 

to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in 
human form. If it is progress to turn the fields and 
woods of Essex into East and West Ham, we may be 
thankful that progress is a sporadic and transient 
phenomenon in history. It is a pity that our biologists, 
instead of singing paeans to Progress and thereby stulti- 
fying their own speculations, have not preached us 
sermons on the sin of racial self-idolatry, a topic which 
really does arise out of their studies. ' Uanthropolatrie, 
voila I'ennemi', is the real ethical motto of biological 
science, and a valuable contribution to morals. 

It was impossible that such shallow optimism as that 
of Herbert Spencer should not arouse protests from 
other scientific thinkers. Hartmann had already shown 
how a system of pessimism, resembling that of 
Schopenhauer, may be built upon the foundation of 
evolutionary science. And in this place we are not 
likely to forget the second Romanes Lecture, when 
Professor Huxley astonished his friends and opponents 
alike .by throwing down the gauntlet in the face of 
Nature, and bidding mankind to find salvation by accept- 
ing for itself the position which the early Christian 
writer Hippolytus gives as a definition of the Devil- 
'he who resists the cosmic process' (6 avriraTTtov rols 
Koo-ftiKois.) The revolt was not in reality so sudden as 
some of Huxley's hearers supposed. He had already 
realized that l so far from gradual progress forming any 
necessary part of the Darwinian creed, it appears to us 
that it is perfectly consistent with indefinite persistence 
in one state, or with a gradual retrogression. Suppose, 
e. g., a return of the glacial period or a spread of polar 
climatical conditions over the whole globe/ The 
alliance between determinism and optimism was thus 
dissolved ; and as time went on, Huxley began to see in 



OFPROGRESS 15 

the cosmic process something like a power of evil. The 
natural process, he told us in this place, has no tendency 
to bring about the good of mankind. Cosmic nature is 
no school of virtue, but the head-quarters of the enemy 
of ethical nature. Nature is the realm of tiger-rights ; 
it has no morals and no ought-to-be; its only rights are 
brutal powers. Morality exists only in the 'artificial' 
moral world: man is a glorious rebel, a Prometheus 
defying Zeus. This strange rebound into Manicheism 
sounded like a blasphemy against all the gods whom the 
lecturer was believed to worship, and half-scandalized 
even the clerics in his audience. It was bound to raise 
the question whether this titanic revolt against the 
cosmic process has any chance of success. One recent 
thinker, who accepts Huxley's view that the nature of 
things is cruel and immoral, is willing to face the 
probability that we cannot resist it with any prospect of 
victory. Mr. Bertrand Russell, in his arresting essay, 
'A Free Man's Worship', shows us Prometheus again, 
but Prometheus chained to the rock and still hurling 
defiance against God. He proclaims the moral bank- 
ruptcy of naturalism, which he yet holds to be forced 
upon us. ' That man is the product of causes which 
had no prevision of the end they were achieving ; that 
his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and 
his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations 
of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of 
thought and feeling, can preserve an individual beyond 
the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the 
devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness 
of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast 
death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of 
man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath 
the debris of a universe in ruins all these things, if not 



i6 THE IDEA 

quite beyond dispute^ are yet so nearly certain, that no 
philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. 
Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the 
firm .foundation, of unyielding despair, can the soul's 
habitation henceforth be safely built. ' Man belongs to 
1 ah alien and inhuman world ', alone amid ' hostile 
forces '. What is man to do ? The God who exists is 
evil ; the God whom we can worship is the creation of 
our own conscience, and has no existence outside it. 
The ' free man ' will worship the latter ; and, like John 
Stuart Mill, ' to hell he will go '. 

If I wished to criticize this defiant pronouncement, 
which is not without a touch of bravado, I should say 
that so complete a separation of the real from the ideal 
is impossible, and that the choice which the writer 
offers us, of worshipping a Devil who exists or a God 
who does not, is no real choice, since we cannot worship 
either. But my object in quoting from this essay is to 
show how completely naturalism has severed its alliance 
with optimism and belief in progress. Professor Huxley 
and Mr. Russell have sung their palinode and smashed 
the old gods of their creed. No more proof is needed, 
Jl think, that the alleged law of progress has no scientific 
basis whatever. 

Jut the superstition has also invaded and vitiated our 
history, our political science, our philosophy, and our 
religion. 

The historian is a natural snob ; he sides with the 
gods against Cato, and approves the winning side. He 
lectures the vanquished for their wilfulness and want of 
foresight, sometimes rather prematurely, as when Seeley, 
looking about for an example of perverse refusal to 
recognize facts, exclaims, 'Sedet, aeternumque sedebit 
unhappy Poland!' The nineteenth-century historian 



OF PROGRESS 17 

was so loath to admit retrogression that he liked to 
fancy the river of progress flowing underground all 
through the Dark Ages, and endowed the German 
barbarians who overthrew Mediterranean civilization 
with all the manly virtues. If a nation^ or a religion, 
or a schoo] of art dies, the historian explains whyjtjaras 
not worthyJoJiye. * 

In political science the corruption of the scientific 
spirit by the superstition of progress has been flagrant. 
It enables the disputant to overbear questions of right 
and wrong by confident prediction, a method which has 
the double advantage of being peculiarly irritating and 
incapable of refutation. Qn the theory ...of J3j[ggiess r 
what is 'coming* must be right. Forms of government 
and modes of thought which for the time being are not 
in favour are assumed to have been permanently left 
behind. A student of history who believed in cyclical 
changes and long swings of the pendulum would take 
a very different and probably much sounder view of 
contemporary affairs. The votaries of progress mistake 
the flowing tide for the river of eternity, and when the 
tide turns they are likely to be left stranded like the 
corks and scraps of seaweed which mark the high-water 
line. This has already happened, though few realize it. 
The praises of Liberty are mainly left to Conservatives, 
who couple it with Property as something to be 
defended, and to conscientious objectors, who dissociate 
it from their country, which is not to be defended. 
Democracy the magic ballot-boxhas few worshippers 
any longer except in America, where men will still 
shout for about two hours and indeed much longer 
that she is 'great'. But our pundits will be slow to 
surrender the useful words ' progressive' and ' reaction- 
ary '. The classification is, however, a little awkward. 



18 T H E I D E A 

If a reactionary is any one who will not float with the 
stream, and a progressive any one who has the flowing 
tide with him, we must classify the Christian Fathers 
and the French Encyclopaedists as belonging to the 
same type, the progressive; while the Roman Stoics 
under the Empire and the Russian bureaucrats under 
Nicholas II will be placed together under the opposite 
title, as reactionaries. Or is the progressive not the 
supporter of the winning cause for the time being, but 
the man who thinks, with a distinguished Head of a 
College who, as I remember, affirmed his principles in 
Convocation, that t any leap in the dark is better than 
standing still ' ; and is the reactionary the man whose 
constitutional timidity would deter him from performing 
this act of faith when caught by a mist on the Matter- 
horn ? Machiavelli recognizes fixed types of human 
character, such as the cautious Fabius and the im- 
petuous Julius II, and observes that these qualities lead 
sometimes to success and sometimes to failure. If a 
reactionary only means an adherent of political opinions 
which we happen to dislike, there is no reason why 
a bureaucrat should not call a republican a reactionary, 
as Maecenas may have applied the name to Brutus and 
Cassius. Such examples of evolution as that which 
turned the Roman Republic into a principate and then 
into an empire of the Asiatic type, are inconvenient for 
those who say ' It is coming J , and think that they have 
vindicated the superiority of their own theories of 
government. 

We have next to consider the influence of the super- 
stition of progress on the philosophy of the last century. 
To attempt such a task in this place is a little rash, and 
to prove the charge in a few minutes would be impos- 
sible even for one much better equipped than I am. 



\l 



OFPROGRESS 19 

But something must be said. Hegel and Comte are 
often said to have been the chief advocates of the 
doctrine of progress among philosophers. Both of 
them give definitions of the word a very necessary 
thing to do, and I have not yet attempted to do it. 
Hegel defines progress as spiritual freedom ; Corate as 
true or positive social philosophy. The definitions are 
peculiar; and neither theory can be made to fit past 
history, though that of Comte, at any rate, falls to the 
ground if it does not fit past history. Hegel is perhaps 
more independent of facts; his predecessor Fichte 
professes to be entirely indifferent to them. 'The 
philosopher', he says, 'follows the a priori thread of 
the world-plan which is clear to him without any history ; 
and if he makes use of history, it is not to prove any- 
thing, since his theses are already proved independently 
of all history.' Certainly, Hegel's dialectical process 
cannot easily be recognized in the course of European 
events ; and, what is more fatal to the believers in a law 
of progress who appeal to him, he does not seem to 
have contemplated any further marked improvements 
upon the political system of Prussia in his own time, 
which he admired so much that his critics have accused 
him of teaching that the Absolute first attained full 
self-consciousness at Berlin in the nineteenth century. 
He undoubtedly believed that there has been progress 
in the past ; but he does not, it appears, look forward to 
further changes ; as a politician, at any rate, he gives us 
something like a closed system. Comte can only bring 
his famous ' three stages ' into history by arguing that 
the Catholic monotheism of the Middle Ages was an 
advance upon pagan antiquity. A Catholic might de- 
fend such a thesis with success; but for Comte the 
chief advantage seems to be that the change left the 



20 T H E I D E A 

Olympians with only one neck, for Positive Philosophy 
to cut off. But Comte himself is what his system 
requires us to call a reactionary; he is back in the 
' theological stage ' ; he would like a theocracy, if he 
could have one without a God. The State is to be 
subordinate to the Positive Church, and he will allow 
' no unlimited freedom of thought '. The connexion of 
this philosophy with the doctrine of progress seems 
very slender. It is not so easy to answer the question 
in the case of Hegel, because his contentment with the 
Prussian government may be set down to idiosyncrasy 
or prudence ; but it is significant that some of his ablest 
disciples have discarded the belief. To say that 'the 
world is as it ought to be' does not imply that it goes 
on getting better, though some would think it was not 
good if it was not getting better. It is hard to believe 
that a great thinker really supposed that. the universe 
as a whole is progressing, a notion which Mr. Bradley has 
stigmatized as 'nonsense, unmeaning or blasphemous*. 
Mr. Bradley may perhaps be interpreting Hegel rightly 
when he says that for a philosopher ' progress can 
never have any temporal sense', and explains that a 
perfect philosopher would see the whole world of 
appearance as a 'progress', by which he seems to 
mean only a rearrangement in terms of ascending and 
descending value and reality. But it might be objected 
that to use ' progress ' in this sense is to lay a trap for 
the unwary. Mathematicians undoubtedly talk of pro- 
gress, or rather of progression, without any implication 
of temporal sequence ; but outside this science to speak 
of ' progress without any temporal sense ' is to use 
a phrase which some would call self-contradictory. Be 
that as it may, popularized Hegelianism has laid hold of 
the idea of a self-improving universe, of perpetual and 



OFPROGRESS 21 

universal progress, in a strictly temporal sense. The 
notion of an evolving and progressing cosmos, with 
a Creator who is either improving himself (though we 
do not put it quite so crudely) or who is gradually 
coming into his own, has taken strong hold of the 
popular imagination. The latter notion leads straight 
to ethical dualism of the Manichean type. The theory 
of a single purpose in the universe seems to me un- 
tenable. Such a purpose, being infinite, could never 
have been conceived, and if conceived, could never be 
accomplished. The theory condemns both God and 
man to the doom of Tantalus. Mr. Bradley is quite 
right in finding this belief incompatible with Christianity. 
It would not be possible, without transgressing the 
limits set for lecturers on this foundation, to show how 
the belief in a law of progress has prejudicially affected 
the religious beliefs of our time. I need only recall to 
you the discussions whether the perfect man could have 
lived in the first, and not in the nineteenth or twentieth 
century although one would have thought that the 
ancient Greeks, to take one nation only, have produced 
many examples of hitherto unsurpassed genius ; the 
secularization of religion by throwing its ideals into the 
near future a new apocalyptism which is doing mis- 
chief enough in politics without the help of the clergy ; 
and the unauthorized belief in future probation, which 
rests on tiie queer assumption that, if a man is given 
time enough, he must necessarily become perfect. In 
fact, the superstition which is the subject of this lecture 
has distorted Christianity almost beyond recognition. 
Only one great Church, old in worldly wisdom, knows 
that human nature does not change, and acts on the 
knowledge. Accordingly, the papal syllabus of 1864 
declares : ' Si quis dixerit : Romanus pontifex potest ac 



22 T H E I D E A 

debet cum progressu, cum liberalismo, et cum recenti 
civilitate sese reconciliare et componere, anathema sit! 

Our optimists have not made it clear to themselves or 
others what they mean by progress, and we may suspect 
that the vagueness of the idea is one of its attractions. 
There has been no physical progress in our species for 
many thousands of years. The Cro-Magnon race, which 
lived perhaps twenty thousand years ago, was at least 
equal to any modern people in size and strength ; the 
ancient Greeks were, I suppose, handsomer and better 
formed than we are; and some unprogressive races, 
such as the Zulus, Samoans, and Tahitians, are envied 
by Europeans either for strength or beauty. Although 
it seems not to be true that the sight and hearing of 
civilized peoples are inferior to those of savages, we 

A 

have certainly lost our natural weapons, which from one 
point of view is a mark of degeneracy. Mentally, we 
are now told that the men of the Old Stone Age, ugly 
as most of them must have been, had as large brains as 
ours ; and he would be a bold man who should claim 
that we are intellectually equal to the Athenians or 
superior to the Romans. The question of moral im- 
provement is much more difficult. yUntil tne Great War 
few would have disputed that civilized man had become 
much more humane, much more sensitive to the suffer- 
ings of others, and so more just, more self-controlled, and 
less brutal in his pleasures and in his resentments. The 
habitual honesty of the Western European might also 
* have been contrasted with the rascality of inferior races 
in the past and present. It was often forgotten that, if 
progress means the improvement of human nature itself, 
the question to be asked is whether the modern civilized 
man behaves better in the same circumstances than his 
ancestor would have done. Absence of temptation may 



OF PROGRESS 23 

produce an appearance of improvement; but this is 
hardly what we mean by progress, and there is an old 
saying that the Devil has a clever trick of pretending to 
be dead. It seems to me very doubtful whether when 
we are exposed to the same temptations we are more 
humane or more sympathetic or juster or less brutal 
than the ancients. [Even before this war, the examples 
of the Congo and Putumayo, and American lynchings, 
proved that contact with barbarians reduces many white 
men to the moral condition of savages ; and the outrages 
committed on the Chinese after the Boxer rebellion 
showed that even a civilized nation cannot rely on 
being decently treated by Europeans if its civilization is 
different from their own) During the Great War, even if 
some atrocities were magnified with the amiable object 
of rousing a good-natured people to violent hatred, it 
was the well-considered opinion of Lord Bryce's com- 
mission that no such cruelties had been committed for 
three hundred years as those which the Germans 
practised in Belgium and France. It was startling to 
observe how easily the blood-lust was excited in young 
men straight from the fields, the factory, and the counter, 
many of whom had never before killed anything larger 
than a wasp, and that in self-defence. As for the Turks, 
we must go back to Genghis Khan to find any parallel 
to their massacres in Armenia ; and the Russian terror- 
ists have reintroduced torture into Europe, with the 
help of Chinese experts in the art. With these examples 
before our eyes, it is difficult to feel any confidence that 
either the lapse of time or civilization has made the bete 
humaine less ferocious. On biological grounds there is 
no reason to expect it. No selection in favour of 
superior types is now going on ; on the contrary, civil- 
ization tends now, as always, to an Ausrottung der 



24 T H E I D E A 

Besten a weeding-out of the best ; and the new practice 
of subsidizing the unsuccessful by taxes extorted from 
the industrious is cacogenics erected into P. principle. 
The best hope of stopping this progressive degeneration 
is in the science of eugenics. But this science is still 
too tentative to be made the basis of legislation, and we 
are not yet agreed what we should breed for. The two 
ideals, that of the perfect man and that of the perfectly 
organized State, would lead to very different principles 
of selection. Do we want a nation of beautiful and 
moderately efficient Greek gods, or do we want human 
mastiffs for policemen, human greyhounds for postmen, 
and so on? However, the opposition which eugenics 
has now to face is based on less respectable grounds, 
such as pure hedonism ('would the superman be any 
happier? ') ; indifference to the future welfare of the race 
(' posterity has done nothing for me ; why should I do 
anything for posterity? 1 ) ; and, in politics, the reflection 
that the unborn have no votes. 

We have, then, been driven to the conclusion that 
neither science nor history gives us any warrant for 
believing that humanity has advanced, except by 
accumulating knowledge and experience and the instru- 
ments of living. The value of these accumulations is 
not beyond dispute. Attacks upon civilization have 
been frequent, from Crates, Pherecrates, Antisthenes, 
and Lucretius in antiquity to Rousseau, Walt Whitman, 
Thoreau, Ruskin, Morris, and Edward Carpenter in 
modern times. I cannot myself agree with these ex- 
tremists. I believe that the accumulated experience of 
mankind, and his wonderful discoveries, are of great 
value. I only point out that they do not constitute real 
-progress in human nature itself, and that in the absence 
of any real progress these gains are external, precarious, 



OFPROGRESS 25 

and liable to be turned to our own destruction, as new 
discoveries in chemistry may easily be. 

But it is possible to approach the whole question of 
progress from another side, and from this side the 
results will not be quite the same, and may be more 
encouraging. We have said that there can be no 
progress in the macrocosm, and no single purpose in 
a universe which has neither beginning nor end in time. 
But there may be an infinite number of finite purposes, 
some much greater and others much smaller than the 
span of an individual life ; and within each of these 
some Divine-. thought mayJae-woFking itsd~out, bring- 
ing someJife_.Qr series ._o. lives, .'jgrflf natior> nr.jace or 
species, to that perfection., which is natural io_it what 
the Greeks__calld-Jl^JLDatiire '. The Greeks saw n* 
contradiction between this belief and the theory *f 
cosmic cycles, and I do not think that there is any con- 
tradiction. It mavbe,-that there is an immanent-ldejL: 

i&t "' "**" ' 

logy which is shaping theJife-of-the ^human-race. towards 

whirh \\px not yet be^n 



reached. To advocate such a theory seems like going 
back from Darwin tcj^XailiarcE^ but * vitalism ', if it 
be a heresy, is a very vigorous and ._.obstiiHtg-Qn p ; w_e 
can Jiardly^ dismiss it as-JLiDsdmtific. The possibility 
that such a development is going on is not disproved by 
the slowness of the change within the historical period. 
Progress in the re.rent millennia segms^JiLJJ^lQ.-h^ ve 
been externa^ precarious. ancLdjsappointing. But let 
Eislast adjective give us pause. By what standard do 
we_pronounce it disappointing-and who gave us thisL 
standard? This disappointment has been a constant 
phenomenon, with a very few exceptions. What does 
it mean? Have those who-reject the law of progress.. 
taken it into account ? The philosophy of naturalism 



26 T H E I D E A 

always makes thejnistake of leaving human nature 
The climbing instinct of humanity, and^our discontent 
with things as^ they are, are facts which have to be 
accounted for no less than the stable instincts of nearly 
all other species. We all desire to make progress, and 
our ambitions are not limited to our own lives or our 
lifetimes. It is partpf our nature to aspire and hope ; 
even on biological grounds this instinct must be 
assumed to serve some function. The first Christian 
poet, Prudentius, quite in the spirit of Robert Browning, 
names Hope as the distinguishing characteristic of 
mankind. 

' Nonne hominum et pecudum distantia separat una?" 
quod bona quadrupedum ante oculossitasunt,ego contra 
spero.' 



We rrjust consider sprimisly what this instinct of hope 
means and implies in the scheme of things, t- 

It is of course possible to dismiss it as a fraud. Per- 
haps this was the view most commonly held in antiquity. 



UlusJQnjwhirh 



action ; but in the last resort an ignis fatuus. A 
Greek could write for his tombstone : 

' I've entered port. Fortune and Hope, adieu ! 
Make game of others, for I've done with you/ 

And Lord Brougham chose this epigram to adorn his 
villa at Cannes. So for Schopenhauer hope is the bak 
by which Nature gets her hook in our nose, and induces 
us to serve her purposes, which are not our own. This 
is ^pessimism, which,- like optimism, is a mood*.. .not 
^philosophy. Neither of them needs refutation, except 
for the adherent of the opposite mood ; and these will 
never convince each other, for the same arguments are 



OFPROGRESS 27 

fatal to both. If our desires are clearly contrary to the 
nature of things, of which we are a part, it is our wisdom 
and our duty to correct our ambitions, and, like the 
Bostonian Margaret Fuller, to decide to 'accept the 
universe '. ' Gad ! she'd better/ was Carlyle's comment 
on this declaration. The true inference from Nature's 
law of vicarious sacrifice is not that life is a fraud, but 
that selfishness is unnatural. The pessimist can only 
condemn the world by a standard which he finds some- 
where, if only in his own heart ; in passing sentence 
upon it he affirms an optimism which he will not sur- 
render to any appearances. 

; butthey-distrusled 



Hope. I will not follow those who say that they 
succumbed to the barbarians because they looked back 
instead of forward ; I do not think it is true. If the 
Greeks and Romans had studied chemistry and metal- 
lurgy instead of art, rhetoric, and law, they might have 
discovered gunpowder and poison gas and kept the 
Germans north of the Alps. BjjlJSiJPjJiLs ..deliberate 
v^rdict-^H-pagan~-SjQciety, that _fc / had no hope *, cannot 
be lightlY_t_aside. No ..... othgr. religion, before f.hris- 

-hope into a moral virtue. 



by hope ', waS-^L-Qew-doctrine when it was pro* 
nounced. The later Neoplatonists borrowed St. Paul's 
triad, Faith, Hope, and Love, adding Truth as a fourth. 
Hopefulness may have been partly a legacyfrom 
Jhldaism ; _butjt^was muchjnore a part of the intense 
spiritual vitality jwhich was 



faith. In an isolated but extremely interesting passage 
St. Paul extends his hope of 'redemption into the 
glorious liberty of the children of God ' to the ' whole 
creation ' generally. In the absence of any explanation 
or parallel passages it is difficult to say what vision of 



28 T H E I D E A 

cosmic deliverance was in his mind. Students of early 

jr " 

Christian thought must_be, struck b}r th 



in the minds of men, combined with great fluidity in the 
forms or moulds into which it ran. After much fluctua- 
tion, it tended to harden as belief in a supramundane 
future, a compromise between Jewish and Platonic 
eschatology, since the Jews set their hopes on a terres- 
trial future, the Platonists on a supramundane present. 
Christian philosophers inclined to the Platonic faith, 
while popular belief retained the apocalyptic Jewish 
idea under the form of Millenarianism. Religion has 
oscillated between these two types of belief ever since, 
and both have suffered considerably by being vulgarized. 
In times of disorder and decadence, the Platonic ideal 
world, materialized into a supraterrestrial physics and 
geography, has tended to prevail : in times of crass 
prosperity and intellectual confidence the Jewish dream 
of a kingdom of the saints on earth has been coarsened 
into promises of 'a good time coming'. At the time 
when we were inditing the paeans to Progress which I 
quoted near the beginning of my lecture, we were 
evolving a Deuteronomic religion for ourselves even 
more flattering than the combination of determinism 
with optimism which science was offering at the same 
period. We almost persuaded ourselves that the words 
' the meek-spirited shall possess the earth ' were a pro- 
phecy of the expansion of England. Our new privileged 
class, organized Labour, is now weaving similar dreams 
for itself. 

It is easy to criticiza_the^forms which Hope_ has 
assumed. But the Hope which has generated them is 
a solid fact, and we have to recognize its indomitable 
tenacity and power of taking new shapes. The belief 
in a law of progress, which I have criticized so un- 



OFPROGRESS 29 

mercifully, is one of these forms.< and if I am not 
mistaken, it is nearly worn out. "Disraeli in his detached 
way said, * The European talks of progress because by 
the aid of a few scientific discoveries he has established 
a society which has mistaken comfort for civilization \ 
It would not be easy to sum up better/the achievements 
of the nineteenth century, which will be always re- 
membered as the century of accumulation and expansion. 
It was jme_nf the great ages of the world ; and its great- 
ness was bound up with 



which, in the crude forms which it usually assumed, we 
have seen to be an illusion. It was a strenuous, not 
a self-indulgent age. The profits of industry were not 
squandered, but turned into new capital, providing new 
markets and employment for more labour. The nation, 
as an aggregate, increased in wealth, numbers, and 
power every day; and public opinion approved this 
increase, and the sacrifices which it involved. It was 
a great century ; there were giants in the earth in those 
days ; I have no patience with the pygmies who gird at 
themT) But, as its greatest and most representative poet 
said : ' God fulfils himself in many ways, Lest one good 
custom should corrupt the world/ The mould in which 
the Victorian age cast its hopes is broken. TJierejs jnp 
law-joiLprogress ; and the gains of that age now seem 
to some of us to have been purchased too high, or even 
to be themselves of doubtful value. In dough's fine 
poem, beginning, ' Hope evermore and believe, O man ', 
a poem in which the ethics of Puritanism find their 
perfect expression, the poet exhorts us : 

'Go! say not in thine heart, And what then, were 

it accomplished, 

Were the wild impulse allayed, what were the use 
and the good?' 



30 T H E I D E A 

But this question, which the blind Puritan asceticism 
resolutely thrust on one side, has begun to press for an 
answer. It had begun to press for an answer before the 
great cataclysm, which shattered the material symbols 
of the cult which for a century and a half had absorbed 
the chief energies of mankind. Whether our wide- 
spread discontent is mainly caused, as I sometimes 
think, by the unnatural conditions of life in large towns, 
or by the decay of the ideal itself, it is not easy to say. 
In any case, the gods of Queen Victoria's reign are no 
longer worshipped. And I believe thatthe dissatis- 
faction with things as they are is caused not only by 
the failure of nineteenth-century civilization, but partly 
also by its success J We no longer wish to progress on 
those lines if we could. Our^ apocalyptic dream is 
vanishing into thin air. It may be that the industrial 
revolution which began in the reign of George the Third 
has produced most of its fruits, and has had its day. 
We may have to look forward to such a change as is 
imagined by Anatole France at the end of his Isle of 
the Penguins, when, after_an_orgy of revolutiqn_and 
destruction, we shall slideback into the quiet rural life 
of the early modern period. If so r the authors of the 
revolution will have cut theirjxwn throats, for there can 
be no great manufacturing towns insuch a society. 
Their disappearance will be no great loss. The race 
will have tried a great experiment, and will have rejected 
it as unsatisfying. We shall have added something to 
our experience. Fontenelle exclaimed, ' How many 
foolish things we should say now, if the ancients had 
not said them all before us ! J Fools are not so much 
afraid of plagiarism as this Frenchman supposed ; but it 
is true that ' Eventu rerum stolidi didicere magistro '. 
There is much to support the belief that there is 



OF PROGRESS 31 

far existence among^jdeas, and that those 
tend Jta_4ii^aiL3likli-C^^ 

It doe^LJioLnecessarily 



th e ideas which pre^aiLajxJietteiLmorally f or eyen^truer 
to thejaws of Nature, than those which fail. Life is 
so chaotic, and development so sporadic and one-sided, 
that a brief and brilliant success may carry with it the 
seeds of its own early ruin. The great triumphs of human- 
ity have not come all at once. Architecture reached its 
climax in an age otherwise barbarous ; Roman Law was 
perfected in a dismal age of decline ; and the nineteenth 
century, with its marvels of applied science, has pro- 
duced the ugliest of all civilizations. There have been 
notable flowering times of the Spirit of Man Ages of 
Pericles, Augustan Ages, Renaissances. 



npknnwn. They 



may depend on undistinguished periods when force is 
being stored up. So in individual greatness, the wind 
bloweth where it listeth. 



have died unknown f ' carent quia vate sacro '. Emerson 
indeed tells us that l One 'accent of the Holy Ghost The 
careless world has never lost'. But I should like to 
know how Emerson obtained this information. The 
world has not always been ' careless ' about its inspired 
prophets ; it has often, a Faust remarks, burnt or 
crucified them, before they have delivered all their 
message. The activities of the Race-Spirit have been 
quite unaccountable. It has stumbled along blindly, 
falling into every possible pitfall. 

The laws of Nature neither promise progress nor ,/ 
forbid it. We could do much to determine. ..our own * 
future ; but there has been no consistency about our 
aspirations, ^H w^ have frpgnpntly followed falsejights, 
andjDeen __djsLllusigned as^much by success as by failure. 



32 T H E I D E A 

The well-known law that all institutions carry with them 

the seeds of their own dissolution is not so much an 

illustration of the law of cyclical revolution, as a proof 

that we have been carried to and fro by every wind of 

doctrine. What we need i$ a fixed and absolute stan- 

f dard-Df values, that^we may know wha.jaza_want tn 

-c' and where we wanLloero. ltjs_jao-aaswer to 

s^ ^ 

alljvalues are relative and ought to change. 
values jirejiDt relatiye_but absolute. Spiritual progress 
must be within the sphere of a reality which is not itself 
progressing, or for which, in Milton's grand words* 
' progresses the dateless and irrevoluble circle of its own 
perfection, joining inseparable hands with joy and bliss 
in over-measure for ever'. Assuredly there must j)e_ 

jarjvanre in_nnr apprahgn^inn of the ideal, which .can 
never be fully-realiz_d because it belongs-lo the eternal 
world. We count not ourselves to have apprehended 
in aspiration any more than in practice. As Nicolas of 
Cusa says : ' To be able to know-ever more 
withouLend, this is our.. likeness to the eternal 

1 Man always desires to know better what he knows, and 
to love more what he loves ; and the whole world is not 
sufficient for him, because it does not satisfy his craving 
for knowledge/ But since our object is to enter within 
the realm of unchanging perfection, finite and relative 
progress cannot be our ultimate aim, and such progress, 
like everything else most worth having, must not be 
aimed at too directly. Qur_ultunate aim is fo live in the. 
knowledge and enjoyment of t^p absolute values. Truth, 
Goodness, andJBeauly. If the-EIatonists are right, we 
.^hal] [shape JMIT surrpnn Hinge; more effectively 
kind_oX...i deal ism than by-adopting 




methods of secularism. I have suggested that our 
disappointments have been very largely due to the 



OFPROGRESS 



33 



unworthiness of our ideals, and to the confused manner 
in which we have set them before our minds. The best 
men and women do not seem to be subject to this con- 
fusion. So_farj.s_they can make their environment^ it 
is a society immensely in advance of anything which 
has-been 

If any social amelioration is to be hoped for, and I can 
see few favourable signs at present, its main character- 
istic will probably be sunplifkation-Jaih^ 
complexity. This, however, is not a question which can 
be handled at the end of a lecture. 

Plato says of his ideal State that it does not much 

. matter whether jt is ever realized on earth or not. Xh<e 

type is laid up mjif:a.ve.n, and ^approximations to it_ will 

be made from time to time^since all living creatures. are, 

JJrami npwaHg towards ttl p .^"rrp Of their heing It 

does not matter very much, if he was right in believing 
as we too believe in_human immortality. ^nd_yet_ 
it does matter; for unless our communing with the 
eternal TfJpa.s.-endQW.&_iis with somje, . creatiyg__virtue y 
whjch makes itsellfelt upon our immediate^ 
, i f ran not: he that we have made those Ideas 
own There is no alchemy by which 



we jnay , get. golden rominrt nnt of leaden instincts so 
Herbert Spencer ^^ 11Ci very truly: but if our ideals 
are of gold, there is an alchemy which will transmute 
our external activities, so that our contributions to the 
spiritual temple may be no longer ( wood, hay, and 
stubble ', to be destroyed in the next conflagration, but 
precious and durable material. 

For individuals, then, the path of progress is always 
open ; but, as Hesiod told us long before the Sermon 
on the Mount, it is a narrow path, steep and difficult, 
especially at first. There will never be a crowd 



34 THE IDEA OF PROGRESS 

gathered round this gate ; ' few there be that find it J . 
For this reason, we must cut down our hopes for our 
nation, for Europe, and for humanity at large, to a very 
modest and humble aspiration. We have no millennium 
to look forward to ; but neither need we fear any pro- 
tracted or widespread retrogression. There will be 
new types of achievement which will enrich the experi- 
ence of the race ; and from time to time, in the long 
vista which science seems to promise us, there will be new 
flowering-times of genius and virtue, not less glorious 
than the age of Sophocles or the age of Shakespeare. 

/They will, not merely repeat the triumphs of the past, 
but will add new varieties to the achievements of the 

human mind. 

Whether the human type itself is capable of further 
physical, intellectual, or moral improvement, we do not 
know. It is safe to predict that we shall go on hoping, 
though our recent hopes have ended in disappointment. 
Our lower ambitions partly succeed and partly fail, and 
never wholly satisfy us ; of 



our race^we may perhaps cherish the faitlrthat no pure 
hope_an_.>zer with 
of its roots. 



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