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Rise Of The Industrial Order

( Originally Published 1913 )

THE monotheistic system peculiar to the Middle Ages is represented by Comte as invested with a twofold destination, temporary indeed, but indispensable to the evolution of Humanity; he has given a notion of the general development of its political conse quences destined to effect the gradual disorganization of the military and theological system. We have now to pursue, with regard to this same preliminary period, which has hitherto appeared purely revolutionary, the analysis of its social elements, forming as they do the basis of an organization conformable with modern civilization. It is only after this second appreciation that we can adequately terminate the historical survey.

The opening of the fourteenth century represents the true epoch at which the organic working of existing societies began to be sufficiently characteristic in the quadruple series—Industrial, AEsthetic, Scientific, and Philosophical.

Let us proceed to the examination of each of these four evolutions, beginning with the Industrial, as the principal basis of the great movement of recomposition which has hitherto characterized modern society. This transformation, the most fundamental which mankind has yet undergone, has been everywhere realized by the substitution of serfdom for slavery. The cultivator, thus fixed to the ground he tilled, began immediately, however miserable and precarious may have been his existence, to acquire real social rights, at any rate the most elementary of all,—that of creating for himself a family. Such an amelioration is the necessary basis of all the ulterior phases of civil emancipation.

From the very beginning of serfdom it is clear that Catholicism not only established everywhere a permanent sanction for the rights of the serfs, and imposed upon them corresponding obligations, by admitting them to a participation in the same religion as their superiors, and consequently in the common degree of education, moral at least, which necessarily resulted therefrom ; but also that it also proclaimed, in a more or less explicit manner, voluntary enfranchisement to be the duty of a Christian, as soon as the population should at once manifest its tendency to, and fitness for, liberty.

The scattered agricultural populations, and the nature of their daily labour, tended evidently to retard both the tendency and fitness for entire personal emancipation, and the power of acquiring it. It was principally by the great reaction emanating continually from towns when the establishment of communes admitted industrial development, that during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the cultivators of land found themselves gradually acquiring freedom in all important parts of Western Europe.

The feudal organization, by its eminently dispersive nature, would lend itself readily to the admission of the industrial communities among the numerous elements of which its hierarchy was composed, without dreading any dangerous social or political rivalry from these nascent forces, in which, on the contrary, the two principal temporal powers sought useful auxiliaries in their quarrels.

Considering successively the different elementary aspects of social life, it becomes evident that this great transformation constitutes the most important temporal evolution that human nature could experience, since it tended to change the mode of existence, hitherto eminently warlike, and henceforward becoming more and more peaceful, among an increasing majority of civilized nations. Twelve centuries previous, if this universal abolition of slavery, and this common voluntary subjection of free men to what was then called servile labour, had been announced to the Greek philosophers, the boldest and most enlightened among them would have unhesitatingly proclaimed the absurdity of an Utopia for which nothing at that time could indicate any foundation : not having yet had the opportunity of recognizing the fact that, in the natural course of social development, gradual and spontaneous changes end by outstripping completely the most audacious speculations of primitive times.

As to the influence exercised by this great transformation upon domestic relations, it was immense, inasmuch as all the sweet emotions of family life were thus accessible to the most numerous class, in common with their masters. It is here, then, that we find the beginning of that manifestation of the final destination of almost all civilized men to a principally domestic life, which on the contrary among the ancients was interdicted to slaves, and little enjoyed even by the free classes, habitually more attracted by the turbulent emotions of public life.

Considered abstractedly, with reference to its purely social properties, it is evident that this industrial evolution tended necessarily to complete among the modems the irrevocable abolition of castes, by pitting against the ancient ascendancy of Birth the progressive rivalry of wealth acquired by Labour. The Catholic organization had worthily commenced this change in the Middle Ages, if only by the abolition of an hereditary priesthood and the foundation of a spiritual hierarchy on the principle of Capacity. The industrial movement followed in its steps, to realize after its own manner, in the most insignificant social functions, a transformation equivalent to the one thus already effected in the most eminent.

Lastly, if we consider the effect of the industrial evolution in modifying the most extensive social relations, it is assuredly unnecessary to insist here upon its tendency, already so marked in the Middle Ages, to connect different populations in spite of the various causes, religious and others, of national antipathies.

To complete this historical estimate of the. principal motive-power of modern society, we have now only to characterize its universal development during the memorable period of the five centuries following its origin. This great preparatory epoch is divided into three consecutive phases, according with the more or less advanced state of political decomposition : the end of the fifteenth century serving to separate the time in which the spiritual and temporal dissolution was chiefly spontaneous from that in which it gradually became systematic; and for the last age, the middle of the 17th century dividing the reign of the negative philosophy into the epoch of preliminary protestant criticism, and that of deistical criticism. Thus we have three pretty nearly equal periods, comprising, the first about six generations, the second five, and the last four; at least if we consider this to end at the beginning of the French Revolution. It was principally during these two latter centuries that Industry really began to establish its irrevocable ascendancy, so as to manifest distinctly the true practical character of modern civilization.

Among the numerous institutions which at this epoch bear witness to the rising preponderance of the industrial over the military life, we will confine ourselves to the special mention of one, which certainly was the most decisive of all—the establishment of standing armies, temporary at the commencement of this phase, but everywhere permanent towards its end. It is an unequivocal manifestation of the increasing antipathy felt by the new populations towards military habits, hence-forward concentrated in a special minority, the proportion of which has not ceased to decrease in spite of the numerical aggrandizement of modern armies.

We find also in this important phase the spirit of modern civilization deeply impressed, even to the technological character of the great inventions which then influenced the destinies of mankind. Modern progress is essentially distinguished from ancient by the increasing tendency to substitute various exterior agencies to the physical action of man. This important difference results from the personal emancipation which has rendered the human agent so precious in modern times, whereas ancient slavery, allowing of the muscular activity of man being prodigally used, prevented any large application of natural powers.

The latter centuries of the Middle Ages had already been illustrated in this respect by three capital inventions, the origin of which has been hitherto irrationally attributed to purely accidental causes ; while on the contrary it appears to us that no industrial development was ever better prepared by contemporaneous influences. We allude to the Compass, the invention of Fire-arms, and lastly that of Printing.

The origin of the Compass is to be looked for in the new situation of society, which pressed on with continuous energy to the extension and amelioration of European navigation. The influence of the same situation impelled men also in an equally powerful and direct manner to the perfecting of warlike processes, in order that the peaceable industrial populace might at last make a real stand against the attempts at oppression by the military caste. The invention of Printing was even more a necessary result of the altered position of modern society ; the immense extension of a powerful European clergy naturally gave an impulse to reading ; the rise of Scholasticism after the ascension of political Catholicism ; the immense concourse of eager hearers flowing by thousands into the principal universities of Europe ; lastly, the entire abolition of serfdom, and simultaneous development of industrial authority, must have excited a strong desire to render the copying of manuscripts more economical and more rapid.

Such, then, is the historical explanation of the three important inventions which best characterize the first age of real industrial development. We can only here hint at the chain of causes which were to make the two immortal expeditions of Columbus and Vasco de Gama a spontaneous result of the entire movement belonging to this epoch.

In the second general phase of modern evolution, that is to say during the development of Protestantism, from the commencement of the sixteenth century till towards the middle of the seventeenth, we may perceive, under various but equivalent forms, a new and increasing tendency to the regularization of the industrial movement. In the sixteenth century, and even the seventeenth, war had not yet ceased to be regarded as the principal object of governments ; but they had definitively recognized the necessity of favouring the industrial development as an indispensable basis of military power, which was assuredly the only progress realizable in the opinions of the statesmen of those days.

The tendency to the political systematization of industry must have exacted at first the sacrifice of the ancient independence of industrial cities, which, necessary to their rise, became in later days a dangerous obstacle to the formation of those great national unities so important to ulterior progress. Accordingly, this preliminary absorption, destined to incorporate every industrial centre in a more general organization, took place almost without opposition at the beginning of this epoch.

At the end of our second phase the temporal dictatorship had shown its true character, in France, by the system which has so justly immortalized the admirable administration of the great Colbert, tending with such splendid efficacy to develope at once the three essential elements of modern civilization by a judicious mixture of direction and encouragement.

Let us now consider the third phase of modern society, from the expulsion of the Calvinists to the beginning of the French Revolution. Here begins the last military series, that of commercial wars, in which, by a tendency at first spontaneous and afterwards systematic, the martial spirit, in order to preserve any active permanent destination, was forced to make itself more and more subordinate to the spirit of commerce, formerly so subaltern, and endeavoured to incorporate itself intimately with the new social economy by manifesting its peculiar aptitude either to conquer for each people useful places of establishment, or to destroy for their profit any dangerous foreign competition. Industrial activity was thus proclaimed as at once the principle and the object of modern civilization, in the temporal polity.

By a necessary consequence of its progress, modern Industry begins at this time to display directly its great philosophical character ; it tends henceforward to pre-sent itself more and more as immediately destined to realize the systematic action of man upon the exterior world by a competent knowledge of the laws of nature. Two important inventions, viz., that of the Steam-engine at the beginning of this third epoch, and that of the Air-balloon towards its end, must be noticed as having especially concurred in the universal propagation of such a conception ; the one by its potent actual results, the other by the bold but legitimate hopes it was calculated everywhere to awaken.

The industrial movement became at last the permanent object of European policy, which everywhere placed the military at its service. Its social rise becoming more and more preponderant, was thus unable to advance otherwise than by the final accession of a corresponding political system.

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