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Science - The Three Reigning Doctrines

( Originally Published 1913 )

WE have seen in the course of our progress through the Preliminary Sciences a gradually increasing complexity of phenomena with a corresponding increase of difficulty in their scientific co-ordination ; hence we have seen the earlier sciences completely positive, freed from theological and metaphysical Methods. Bat at any rate, even in the sciences such as Biology and Psychology, wherein these Methods are still influential, we see a distinct recognition of their being sciences, and of their needing true scientific treatment. This is not the ease with Social Science. It has to be created—it has first to get itself recognized as a possible science. Instead of philosophic endeavours employed in its amelioration, Comte finds it necessary to create a new series of initial conceptions—to lay the basis for a future superstructure. Before him no one had ever schemed a Social Science. That the phenomena of society—of men aggregated in masses-were governed by laws as absolute and rigorous as those governing cosmical phenomena, was barely suspected ; and nothing had been done towards their systematic co-ordination. In the following pages a brief analysis of his attempts in this direction will be all I shall venture on.

Comte does not flatter himself that he will be able at once to raise this complementary branch of positive philosophy to the level of the preliminary sciences already constituted ; he wishes only to set forth the actual possibility of conceiving and cultivating Social Science in the same manner as the Positive Sciences; to define exactly the real philosophic character of such a Science, and to establish its principal basis. Before entering into the subject methodically, he shows the radical inanity of the principal attempts hitherto made, and the impotence of the various political systems which strive for the government of society.

From the nature of, modem civilization ORDER and PROGRESS constitute two equally imperious conditions, the close and indissoluble combination of which must in future form the basis Of every real political system. No real Order can ever be established, nor most certainly can it last, unless it be fully compatible with Progress ; no great Progress can be accomplished unless it tend to the consolidation of Order. The true solution of the political problem will be one in which these two elements, far from being antagonistic, will present themselves as the two necessarily inseparable aspects of one principle. The Order not being inertia or mere fixity, but involving Progress as one of its constituent elements; the Progress not being mere anarchy and restlessness, but involving Order as the vital condition of stability. `Society is thus conceived as an Organism, in which incessant movement accompanies constant stability of form.

The present state of the political world is still very distant from this final conciliation. During the half century in which the revolutionary crisis of modem societies has developed its true character, it is impossible to deny that an essentially retrograde spirit has constantly directed all great tentatives in favour of Order ; and on the other hand, the principal efforts made in the cause of Progress have always been governed by radically anarchical doctrines. Such is the vicious circle in which society so vainly and painfully struggles, and which can terminate only by the preponderance of a new doctrine which shall be equally progressive and hierarchical; that is to say, which shall admit Order and Progress as the two indispensable conditions of political life.

The present situation becomes intelligible only if we consider it as the continuation of the general struggle going on during the last three centuries for the gradual demolition of the ancient political system. All ideas of Order are borrowed solely from the doctrine which animated the religious and military system, considered especially in its Catholic and feudal constitution ; a doctrine which, from the positive point of view, represents the theological state of Social Science. In the same way, all ideas of Progress are exclusively deduced from that negative philosophy, offspring of protestantism, which assumed its specific development in the last century; these ideas represent the metaphysical state of Social Science. The various classes of society spontaneously adopt one or other of these opposite directions, according to their interests or their instincts. Rarely does either of these antagonistic doctrines present itself in its plenitude and with primitive homogeneity. They tend more and more to assume that exclusive existence in purely speculative minds only. The monstrous alliance which, in our day, men seek to establish between these incompatible principles, characterizes in their various degrees the different political shades which now exist.

Thus we have the party of Order (Tories), and the party of Progress (Radicals) ; but we have also the intermediate party of Whigs, which tries to unite the two, but does not, because it alternates between two systems instead of combining them ; and Whigs are not inaptly styled " Tories in opposition."

It would be useless, Comte says, to enter into a special discussion of the theological doctrine in order to prove the necessary insufficiency of a political system which has been unable to sustain itself before the natural progress of intelligence and society ! All efforts directed to the restoration of that system, even supposing their momentary success to be possible, far from restoring society to a normal condition, could only tend to replace it in the situation which compelled a revolutionary crisis, by forcing it to recommence with greater violence the destruction of a system which has long ceased to be compatible with the advancing state of opinion and civilization.

The exclusively critical, and consequently purely revolutionary metaphysical doctrine, could alone irrevocably destroy a system which, after aiding the first development of the human mind and of society, after-wards tended, by its very nature, to perpetuate indefinitely their childhood. ,But by an inevitable exaggeration, revolutionary metaphysics, after fulfilling an in-dispensable preliminary office in the general development of human society, by the demolition of the feudal and theological system, tends in future radically to hinder the final institution of political order.

Taken as a whole, the revolutionary doctrine, by a direct and total subversion of the most fundamental political notions, represents government as the necessary enemy of society, against whom the latter must be in a continual state of suspicion and hostility, in order to leave it no real attributes beyond the mere functions of general police, without any essential participation in the supreme direction of the collective action and social development. Hence the turbulence of the revolutionary party; hence, also, the wild theories fostered by it.

If we consider the revolutionary doctrine from a more special point of view, it is evident that the absolute right of free inquiry, of which the dogma of unlimited liberty of conscience constitutes the fundamental principle, especially includes its immediate consequences, liberty of the press, liberty of education, or of every other mode whatever of communication among human beings. However salutary, and even indispensable, this great principle may have been hitherto, and may be still, on various grounds, it is nevertheless impossible to doubt, on examining it from a really philosophic point of view, that not only can it in no way constitute an organic principle, but that it even directly tends more and more to become a systematic obstacle to all true social re-organisation. Whatever development may be presupposed in the mass of men, is it not evident that social Order will always of necessity remain incompatible with the permanent liberty granted to every one, of daily troubling society by discussion of its fundamental principles ?

The same may be said of the dogma of equality, the next in importance to that of unlimited liberty, to which it stands moreover in natural relation, the most fundamental equality being that of intellect. Applied to the old system, this dogma has hitherto happily seconded the natural development of modern civilization, by pre-siding over the final dissolution of the old social classification. It was then a principle of progress ; applied to the new order of things, it assumes an essentially anarchical character. In fact, far from bringing us nearer to a chimerical equality, the progress of civilization tends on the contrary, by its very nature, to develope extreme intellectual and moral inequality, at the same time that it much lessens the importance of the material distinctions which so long kept them in abeyance.

Applying the same reasoning to the dogma of the sovereignty of the people, Comte shows from this point of view the indispensable though transitory office of that revolutionary dogma as applied to the demolition of the ancient system, and at the same time demonstrates the obstacle it now constitutes to all regular institution, by condemning, he says, all superiors to an arbitrary dependence on the multitude of inferiors, by a sort of transference of the Divine right, from "Kings" to " Peoples."

Finally, the general spirit of revolutionary meta-physics manifests itself in an analogous manner when considered in its international relations. By the political annulling of the ancient spiritual power, the fundamental principle of unlimited liberty of conscience at once determined the spontaneous dissolution of European Order, the maintenance of which formed one of the most natural functions of Papal authority. The conditions of independence and national isolation, and, consequently, of mutual non-intervention, which formed the chief features of this transitory situation, evidently constituted the necessary preparation to political regeneration, until the sufficient manifestation of the new social order should disclose under what law the various nations are to be finally reassociated. Until then, in-deed, all attempts at European coordination being inevitably directed by the ancient system, would tend only to overrule the political science of the most civilized peoples, by that of the least advanced. But by consecrating this spirit of exclusive nationality in an absolute manner, revolutionary metaphysics now tend directly in the present day to prevent the recognition of social reorganisation, thus deprived of one of its principal characteristics, universality.

In order to complete this estimate of the revolutionary doctrine, it only remains to demonstrate its radical inconsistency. If, from their revolutionary purpose, perfect cohesion among the various parts of metaphysical politics may be dispensed with, it is evident that at least the ensemble of the doctrine must never become directly opposed to the very progress it should assist, nor should it tend to maintain the essential basis of the political system which it is its aim to destroy. It is easy to prove that such is, in both respects, the present condition of revolutionary metaphysics. Let us first examine it in its highest possible state, when, during the most advanced phase of the French Revolution, and after receiving its entire systematic development, it momentarily obtained entire political preponderance. Now it is precisely when having no longer to struggle intellectually against the ancient system, that it likewise developes least equivocally its spirit radically hostile to all real social reorganization. That opposition had already manifested itself at the very time of the philosophie elaboration of that doctrine which is found throughout imbued by the strange metaphysical action of a pretended state of nature, the primordial and unvarying type of all social states. Can we wonder if, starting from such a principle, the revolutionary school has been led to conceive every political reform as destined to reestablish as completely as possible that supposed "primitive state ?" Is not that, in reality, systematically organizing universal retrogression under pretence of eminently progressive intentions ?

Ever since the fundamental aberrations induced by the momentary triumph of revolutionary metaphysics began to bring it into discredit, its characteristic inconsistency has especially manifested itself in another no less decisive form, namely,—the critical doctrine has been invariably led to proclaim the preservation of the general bases of the old political system, of which it had for ever destroyed the principal conditions of existence !

Hence we have seen Christianity (so "indispensable to Order !") assuming a new and simpler shape, and finally reduced to that vague and impotent theism which, by a monstrous perversion of terms, metaphysicians have called natural religion, as if all religion were not necessarily supernatural ! In pretending to conduct social reorganisation in accordance with this strange conception, the metaphysical school, notwithstanding its purely revolutionary tendency, has therefore implicitly adhered, and often, at the present day, has done so explicitly, to the most fundamental principles of the old political doctrine, that which represents social order as necessarily resting on a theological basis ! Armed with such a concession, the school of Bossuet and De Maistre will always have an incontestable logical superiority over the irrational detractors of Catholicism, who, whilst proclaiming the necessity of a religious organisation, deny to it all the elements indispensable to its social realization.

This character of general inconsistency, which, whilst destroying the ancient system, yet pretends to maintain its essential bases, is no less marked in the temporal application than in the spiritual development of revolutionary metaphysics. In the former, it manifests itself more especially by an evident tendency to the preservation, if not of the, feudal spirit properly so called, at least of the military spirit which was its real origin.

This twofold examination of theological politics and of metaphysical politics will suffice clearly to characterise the necessary insufficiency of each to obtain its own special end, by showing that the latter does not in reality better fulfil the principal conditions of Progress, than the former does those of Order. It is easy to see that in spite of their radical opposition, the retrograde and the revolutionary schools tend by an irresistible necessity mutually to keep up their political life, by virtue of their reciprocal neutralization. Fearing the absolute ascendancy of either, though from different causes, society, for want of a more rational and more efficacious doctrine, employs each doctrine in turn, to withstand the encroachments of the other. This miserable, oscillating constitution of our social existence will of necessity pro-long itself until a real and complete doctrine, organic and progressive, permits mankind to renounce this perilous and insufficient alternative by satisfying, directly and simultaneously, the two essential aspects of the great political problem. Until then, the chief practical use of each being to prevent the triumph of the other, they must constitute two inseparable elements of the political movement. Lastly, it is necessary to remark that each of these opposite doctrines forms an element in our strange political situation by assisting in the general position of the social problem, represented by one under the organic, by the other under the progressive point of view.

The influence of the revolutionary philosophy in compelling social conceptions to assume a more progressive character, has become so evident, that it needs no further discussion. There is but one way of superseding it, which is, by carrying out its own objects better than it has itself been able to do. In any other way, all declamations against the revolutionary philosophy will fall to the ground before the invincible and instinctive attachment of society to principles which during the last three centuries have directed all its political progress, and which it justly considers as alone in the present day containing the general conditions indispensable to its ulterior development. It is in vain to deplore in the name of social order the destructive energy of the spirit of analysis and inquiry. That spirit is eminently salutary, and by its restless activity will end in producing a doctrine capable of satisfying all demands and sustaining all discussion.

Such is the vicious circle within which the human intellect is now limited with regard to social ideas, compelled as it is, in order to maintain even imperfectly the really integral position of the political problem, to employ simultaneously two incompatible doctrines which cannot lead to any real solution, and each of which, though provisionally indispensable, must be held in check by the antagonism of the other !

A third and essentially stationary opinion, the organ of these oscillations, and formed out of the remains of both, has gradually sprung up between the retrograde and the revolutionary doctrines. The stationary school professes to maintain the principles of the old system, whilst radically obstructing its conditions of existence. In the same way, after giving a solemn adhesion to those principles of the revolutionary philosophy which constitute its sole logical force against the retrograde doctrine, it prevents their development, by suggesting far-fetched obstacles to their daily application. In a word, this policy, so proudly disdainful of utopias, proposes the most chimerical of utopias, seeking to fix society in a contradictory situation between retrogression and regeneration, by an antagonism of the instinct of Order with that of Progress. Such a theory is useful as a provisional organ for lessening the danger of the preponderance of one or other philosophy, and helps to prepare the final social regeneration. But it is clear that the final re-organization of modern society can be in no way guided by such a theory ; a theory which in its temporary utility has but the purely negative and imperfectly fulfilled object of preventing kings from retrogression, and peoples from revolutions !

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