Attempts To Create A Doctrine
( Originally Published 1913 )
THE foregoing analysis of the systems which at present rule political discussions, has demonstrated their inability to direct social reorganization. It now only remains for us to point out the principal social dangers which result from the prolongation of such an intellectual condition, and which, from their very nature, grow worse day by day.
The most universal consequence of this situation, its most direct and most hurtful result, the first source of all other disorders, consists in the increasing ex-tension of intellectual anarchy. The evil has already gone so far that all political opinions, although uniformly drawn, from the triple general basis indicated in the last section, take an individual character, owing to the innumerable shades of opinion possible through the mixture of the three systems. It grows more and more impossible to make even a few adhere to an explicit profession of political faith, except in the vagueness and ambiguity of an artificial language which seeks to produce the appearance of a co-operation which cannot exist. Such is the eminently complex nature of social questions, that even without any sophistical intentions the pro or con. may be pleaded in an extremely plausible manner upon almost all points. In the melancholy daily course of our political struggles, the most honest men are naturally led to tax one another with folly or depravity, on account of the opposition of their social principles. On the other hand, on every grave occurrence, the most opposite political maxims are habitually maintained by partisans equally worthy of admiration. How could the continual influence of a spectacle so essentially incompatible with any profound conviction, leave any real political morality either among those who participate in it, or those who witness it? Its dissolving action makes itself felt with increasing intensity, in questions of domestic, and even personal morality, that necessary foundation of all others. It is clear that the elements of all sociability are compromised by discussions which, not being subjected to real and universally recognised principles, only tend to perplex and discredit the ordinary ideas of morality, by bringing them into question when no solution is practicable.
As a necessary consequence of such disorder follows the second characteristic of our situation, " systematic corruption organized into an indispensable means of government." Not only does intellectual disorder permit the development of political corruption, the all extensive practice of which would be impossible if there were sincere and universal convictions, but necessarily compels it as the sole practicable means of determining a certain effective convergence, which social Order cannot completely do without. So that, by an evident harmony,. corruption on a large scale will cease to be possible, as soon as society is able to bear better discipline. Until then, one may reckon on the inevitable increase of that wretched expedient, as is testified by all people who have long been under what is now called the " constitutional," or representative system, and have thus been forced to organise a certain material discipline out of profound intellectual and consequently moral disorder.
The third essential symptom of our social situation consists in the increasing preponderance of the material and temporary view taken of political questions.
After confessing that the fundamental crisis of actual society proceeds from intellectual anarchy, it is impossible too strongly to deplore that irrational unanimity of the political world, which, by proscribing speculative researches, directly tends to interdict the only issue out of such a situation !
This summary examination of the chief features of our social situation has confirmed our analysis of its various constituent elements; the effects have shown themselves in perfect harmony with the causes. Theological and metaphysical theology having hitherto undertaken to bring about the political reorganisation of modern society, and shown their incompetence, it evidently follows, either that the problem is not really capable of solution (which would be absurd), or that nothing remains but recourse to Positive Philosophy, since the human mind has vainly exhausted in fruitless endeavours all other intellectual methods. It has been proved that in its gradual evolution, more especially during the last three centuries, this Positive Philosophy has successively brought about the total reorganization of various anterior conceptions, to the unanimous satisfaction of the intellectual world. Now, how should a philosophy which is certainly neither anarchical nor retrograde with regard to astronomical, physical, chemical, and even biological notions, become so with regard to social ideas alone? Why should this last category of ideas be excepted from an application which has gradually embraced less complicated categories, including that which resembles it most? The Positive Philosophy, properly completed, is therefore alone able to preside over the final reorganization of modern society.
It has been demonstrated that the radical deficiency of actual society is in its nature eminently theoretical, and that consequently intellectual and moral reorganization must necessarily precede and direct political re-organization. Nevertheless, before proceeding to this philosophical operation, it is needful to consider the principal philosophical efforts hitherto made to form social science ; of which a general appreciation must tend to characterise the nature and spirit of this last branch of positive philosophy.
The human mind has hitherto been unable to found social science on a really positive basis. In other sciences, in consequence of the immutable perpetuity of phenomena, rational observations were only difficult from the deficiency of well-trained observers. But by an exception belonging to social science alone, and which must have specially tended to prolong its infancy, it is clear that the phenomena themselves long wanted the fulness and variety of development indispensable to their scientific examination, irrespectively of the conditions to be fulfilled by the observers. The conditions relative to the very succession of the phenomena, allow us, with no great uncertainty, to fix the present century as the necessary epoch for the definitive formation of social sciences, hitherto essentially impossible. Until now, indeed, the fundamental tendencies of man could never be sufficiently marked to become the subject of scientific valuation. All idea of social progress was naturally impossible to the philosophers of antiquity, for want of sufficiently complete and mature political observations. Thus, not even the most eminent and judicious among them was able to resist the universal tendency to consider the contemporary social state as radically inferior to that of anterior periods.
Montesquieu, by his Esprit des Lois, is the first philosopher who can justly be said to have laid any basis for social science. That which characterizes the chief force of this memorable work, and shows the superiority of its illustrious author over all contemporary philosophers, is the preponderating tendency to conceive political phenomena as necessarily controlled by invariably natural laws.
At a period when the greatest minds, occupied with vain metaphysical utopias, still believed in the absolute and indefinite power of legislators, armed with sufficient authority, to modify the social condition, how much before his age must a man have been who dared to conceive the various political phenomena as, on the contrary, always ruled by natural laws, the exact know-ledge of which must serve as a rational basis to any wise social speculation in guiding the practical combinations of statesmen !
Unfortunately the very causes which settle so distinctly Montesquieu's unquestionable political pre-eminence over all his contemporaries, also prove the impossibility of any real success in an undertaking so premature in its principal object, and of which most essential preliminary conditions, whether scientific or political, were then far from sufficient realization.
Since Montesquieu, the only important step towards the fundamental conception of Sociology is due to the illustrious and unfortunate Condorcet, in his memorable work L'Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain. Here, although the great philosophical scheme planned by Montesquieu may in reality have been equally abortive, it nevertheless remains as an incontestable fact that for the first time the primordial scientific notion of a social progression of Humanity was clearly introduced, which was certainly not the case in Montesquieu. The general nature of the scheme was clearly indicated, although the whole undertaking still remains to be accomplished.
Comte closes this inquiry by some philosophical reflections on political economy. The economists, he says, have persuaded themselves, in good faith, that they have succeeded in submitting what they call economic science to the positive spirit ; and they daily propose their method as the type according to which all social theories must be definitively regenerated.
One consideration, if it could be fully felt, would suffice clearly to characterise the necessary inanity of the scientific pretensions of economists, who, having mostly emerged from the ranks of legists and literary men, have certainly been unable to learn that habitual spirit of positive rationality which they think they have carried into their researches.
When we leave the world of entities for real speculations we perceive how the economic and industrial analysis of society cannot be positively accomplished apart from its intellectual, moral, and political analysis. The predilection which the human mind seems to manifest in our days for what is called political economy, must be considered in reality a symptom of the want felt of at last submitting social studies to really positive methods.
Another indication of this tendency manifests it-self by the increasing disposition towards historical studies, and the progress these have made within the last two centuries. Nevertheless, notwithstanding its progress, so happily destined to prepare its final regeneration, history has not yet lost its essentially literary descriptive character.