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The Future

( Originally Published 1913 )

THIS historical appreciation, which completes our brief examination of the Past, leads us to consider the present time as the epoch in which the grand philosophical renovation projected by Bacon and Descartes is to determine the spiritual reorganization of modern society, destined afterwards to preside over the political regeneration of mankind.

Guided by his logical principles of the general extension of the Positive Method to the rational study of social phenomena, Comte has gradually applied to the whole of the past his fundamental law of the evolution at once mental and social, consisting in the passage of Humanity through three successive states : the preparatory Theological state, the transitory Metaphysical state, and the final Positive state. By the aid of this single law he has explained all the great historical phases, considered as the principal consecutive phases of develop ment, so as rightly to appreciate the true character proper to each of them, with the natural emanation of one phase from the preceding, and its tendency towards the following phase : whence results the conception of a homogeneous and continuous connection in the whole series of anterior ages, from the first manifestation of sociality, to the most advanced condition of mankind.

A law which has sufficed to fulfil adequately these conditions is no mere philosophical fancy, but must contain an abstract expression of the reality. It can be employed with rational security in connecting the future with the past. Tie foremost portion of mankind, after having exhausted the successive phases of Theological life, and even the different degrees of metaphysical transition, is now approaching the completely positive state, the principal elements of which have already sufficiently received their partial elaboration, and now only await their general coordination to constitute a new social system.

This co-ordination must be first intellectual, then moral, and lastly, political. Every attempt rising from any other logical source would be utterly powerless against the present state of disorder which is essentially mental. As long as this disorder remains, no durable institution can be possible, for want of a solid basis ; and our social condition will admit of only provisionary political measures, destined for the most part to guarantee the maintenance of a degree of material Order against ambitions everywhere excited by the gradual diffusion and extension of spiritual anarchy. To fulfil this office, all governments, whatever be their form, will continue necessarily to count as they do upon nothing but a vast system of corruption, assisted, on occasions of necessity, by a repressive force.

Nothing of what is at present classed is capable of being directly incorporated in the final system, all the elements of which must previously undergo an entire intellectual and moral regeneration thus the future spiritual power, the first basis of a genuine reorganization, will reside in an entirely new class, having no analogy with any of those now existing, and originally composed of members issuing indifferently, according to their peculiar individual vocation, from all ranks of society ; the gradual arrival at this salutary incorporation will he also essentially spontaneous, since its social ascendancy can result only from the voluntary assents of all intelligences to the new doctrines successively worked out so ,that by its nature such au authority could neither be decreed nor interdicted.

As we have recognized in principle that the evolution of mankind is characterized by a perpetually increasing influence of the speculative over the active life, although the latter will always preserve the actual ascendancy, it would be contradictory to suppose that the contemplative part of man will remain for ever deprived of proper cultivation and distinct direction in a social state in which intelligence will have the most habitual exercise, even among the lowest classes.

At a time when all thinking minds admit the necessity of a permanent division between theory and practice, for the simultaneous perfecting of both, in the least important subjects to which our efforts are directed, can we hesitate to extend this healthy principle to the most difficult and most important operations, when such a progress has become sufficiently realizable ? Now, under the purely mental aspect, the separation of the two powers; spiritual and temporal, is in fact the mere exterior manifestation of the same distinction between science and art, transferred to social ideas, and made systematic. .

While spiritual reorganization is the most urgent, it is also, in spite of the great difficulties attending it, the best prepared amongst the most advanced minds. On one hand, existing governments renouncing the task of directing such an operation, tend thereby to confer this high office upon that philosophical system which shall prove worthy of presiding over it. On the other hand, the populations radically freed from metaphysical illusions by the teaching of half a century of decisive experiments, begin to understand that all the social progress compatible with current doctrines has been accomplished, and that no important political institution can now arise which is not based upon an entirely new philosophy.

The general principle which determines the separation between the respective attributes of spiritual and temporal power consists in considering the spiritual authority as decisive in all that concerns education, whether special or general, and merely deliberative in all that concerns action, whether private or public, its habitual interference being only to recall in every case the rules of conduct previously established. The temporal authority, on the contrary, entirely absolute as far as regards action, to the extent of being able, under responsibility as to results, to follow a line of conduct opposed to the corresponding authority, cannot exercise more than a simple deliberative influence over education, being limited to solicit the revision or partial modification of the precepts apparently condemned by practice.

It is principally as a general basis to such a system that the Positive Philosophy must be previously coordinated and established, destined as it is to furnish henceforward to the human mind a resting-place, by means of a homogeneous and hierarchical series of positive ideas, at once logical and scientific, upon all orders of phenomena, from the lowest to the most eminent moral and social phenomena.

Positive education will be principally characterized by the final systematization of human ethics, which, freed from all theological conceptions, will rest on positive philosophy. The indefinite dispersion of religious creeds left to individuals will prevent anything being established on such insecure foundations. What philosophical inconsistency can be compared to that of our deists, whose dream is now the consecration of morality, by a religion without a revelation, without a worship, and without a clergy ?

Humanity must be looked upon as still in a state of infancy, as long as its principal rules of conduct, instead of being drawn from a just appreciation of its own nature, shall continue to rest upon extraneous fictions. Such is the general aim, nature, and character of the spiritual reorganization which must necessarily commence and direct the entire regeneration, towards which we have seen the permanent course of all the different social movements, since the middle ages, more or less directly converge.

As to the temporal reorganization, we will confine-ourselves to the general principle of the elementary co-ordination of modern society.

In proceeding to do this, we must set aside the distinction between the two sorts of functions, public and private. In every truly constituted social body, each member may, and ought to be, considered as a public functionary, inasmuch as his particular activity concurs with the general economy.

The dignity which still animates the most obscure soldier in the exercise of his humblest duties, is certainly not peculiar to the military order; it belongs equally to, everything that is systematic ; it will, one day ennoble the simplest profession, when Positive Education, causing-a just general notion of modern sociality to prevail everywhere, shall have made it sufficiently understood by all, that each partial activity has a continuous participation in the common economy. Thus the general cessation of the division now existing between private and public professions, depends necessarily upon the universal regeneration of modern ideas and manners.

Although this final elevation of private professions to the dignity of public functions will certainly make no essential change in the existing mode of exercising them, it will entirely transform their general spirit, and probably have a considerable effect upon their usual conditions. Whilst on the one hand such a normal appreciation will develope in all classes a noble personal feeling of their social value, it will on the other hand make evident the permanent necessity of a certain systematic discipline, tending to guarantee the preliminary and continuous obligations proper to every career. In one word, this simple change will constitute spontaneously an universal symptom of regeneration.

In every society, whatever be its nature and destination, each different partial activity becomes classed according to the degree of generality which distinguishes its habitual character. Consequently the real philosophical difficulty in this matter consists in the true appreciation of the different degrees of generality inherent in the different functions of the positive organism.

Now this has already been almost entirely accomplished, although with another intention. Social progress, in fact, first presented itself to us as a sort of necessary prolongation of the animal series, in which beings are the more elevated the nearer they approach to the human type ; whilst, on the other hand, the human evolution is especially characterized by its constant tendency to make those essential attributes pre-dominant which distinguish man from the animal. Such is the first basis which positive philosophy will naturally furnish to social classification.

The first application of this hierarchical theory to the new social economy leads us to conceive the speculative class as superior to the active class, since the first affords a wider field for the exercise of the faculties of generalization and abstraction which form the great distinction of human nature. For this purpose, however, it is first necessary that the members of this speculative class should be sufficiently freed from that speciality in their studies and ideas, which we have seen to be a decided obstacle to the elaboration of a Philosophy, although originally indispensable as a division of labour.

The speculative class separates itself into two distinct parts, according to the two very different directions taken by the contemplative spirit, sometimes philosophical or scientific, sometimes aesthetic or poetical. Whatever the social importance of the Fine Arts, it is unquestionable that the aesthetic point of view is less abstract and less general than the philosophical or esthetic. The latter has immediate relation to the fundamental conceptions destined to direct the universal exercise of human reason, whereas the other merely relates to the faculty of expression, which can never occupy the first rank in our mental system.

The active or practical class, which necessarily em-braces an immense majority in its more distinct and complete development, has already made its essential divisions appreciable : so that with respect to them the hierarchical theory has only to systematize the distinctions hitherto consecrated by use. To this end we must consider first the principal division of industrial activity into production, properly so called, and the transmission of products. The second is evidently superior to the first, as regards the abstract nature of its operations, and the generality of its relations.

After dividing the active or practical class into two principal categories, one of which confines itself to production, while the other employs itself in the trans-mission of products, Comte again subdivides each of these into two, according as the production is that of simple materials, or their direct employment, and as the transmission refers to the products themselves or merely to their representative signs. It is plain that of these two divisions the last has a more general and abstract character than the preceding one, conformably to our established rule of classification. These two divisions constitute the real industrial hierarchy : placing in the highest rank the Bankers, by reason of the superior generality and abstract nature of their operations ; next the Merchants, then the Manufacturers, and lastly the Agriculturists, whose labours are necessarily more concrete, and whose relations are more restricted than those of the other three practical classes.

By an easy combination of the preceding indications every one may form a conception of the positive economy. The normal classification resulting from it will be naturally consolidated by its homogeneity since in this hierarchy no class can refuse to recognize the superior dignity of the preceding one, except by immediately altering his own position towards the one following, the uniformity of the principle of coordination being constant. The same hierarchical principle extended to domestic life, comprises the true law of the subordination of the sexes.

By imposing moral obligations, more extensive and more strict in proportion as social influences become more general, the fundamental education will directly tend also to the abuses inherent in these necessary inequalities. It is clear, too, that these different elementary tendencies of the new economy cannot obtain their social efficacy until a system of universal education shall have sufficiently developed the attributes and manners which must distinguish these different classes, and of which we can form no idea in the present confused state of things.

Considered with regard to the degrees of material preponderance, henceforward measurable principally by wealth, our statical series presents necessarily opposite results according as we examine the speculative or the active class : for in the former the preponderance diminishes, while in the latter it augments, as we ascend in the hierarchy. If, for example, the first cooperation, even in a purely industrial point of view, of the grand astronomical discoveries which have brought material arts to their present perfection, could be duly appreciated in every expedition, it is evident that no existing fortune could give any idea of the monstrous accumulation of riches which would thus have been realized by the temporal heirs of a Kepler, a Newton, &c., even if their partial remuneration were fixed at the lowest rate. Nothing can serve better than, such hypotheses to demonstrate the absurdity of the pretended principle relative to an uniformly pecuniary remuneration for all real services ; proving as they do that the most extensive usefulness, inasmuch as it is too distant and too much diffused in consequence of its superior generality, can never find its just recompense except in the higher social consideration it enjoys.

From these remarks it is clear that the principal pecuniary ascendancy will reside in about the middle of the entire hierarchy, in the class of bankers, naturally placed at the head of the industrial movement, and whose ordinary operations have precisely the degree of generality most proper for the accumulation of capital. Here it is that we shall find the principal ultimate seat of temporal power, properly so called. We must remark also, on this subject, that this class will always be by its nature the least numerous of the industrial classes ; for in general the positive hierarchy will necessarily present an increasing numerical extension in proportion as its labours becoming more special and more urgent, admit and require at once more multifarious agents.

After this sociological summary it would surely be superfluous to add any direct explanation of the necessarily mobile composition of the various classes making up the positive hierarchy. Universal education is eminently fitted in this respect, without exciting any disturbing ambitions, to place every one in the situation most suitable to his principal aptitudes, in whatever rank he may have been born. This happy influence, far more dependent by its nature upon public opinion than upon political institutions, demands two opposite conditions both equally indispensable, the fulfilment of which will in no wise assail the essential basis of the general economy. On the one hand it is necessary that the access to every social career should remain constantly open to just individual pretensions, and that nevertheless,. on the other hand, the exclusion of the unworthy should be always practicable according to the common appreciation of the normal guarantees, both intellectual and moral, which the fundamental education will have prescribed for every important case.

Doubtless after the present existing confusion shall have terminated in some primary regular classification, such changes, although always possible, will become essentially exceptional, being considerably neutralized by the natural tendency to hereditary professions : for the greater number of men have in reality no special vocation, and at the same time the greater number of the social functions require none ; which will naturally leave a great habitual efficacy to imitation, except in the very rare cases of a real predisposition.

It would besides be evidently chimerical to dread the ultimate transformation of classes into castes, in an economy entirely free from the theological principle : for it is clear that castes could never have any solid existence without a religious consecration. Puerile terror on this score must not be made the occasion or pretext for an indefinite opposition to every true social classification, when the preponderance of the positive spirit, always in its nature accessible to a wide discussion, will be able to dissipate the anxieties raised by the vague and absolute character of theologico-metaphysical conceptions.

Let us now consider the great spiritual reorganization of modern society, pointing out its intimate connection with the just social reclamations of the lower classes. Every spiritual power should be essentially popular, since its most extended sphere of duty relates to the constant protection of the most numerous classes, habitually the most exposed to oppression, and with which the education common to all leads it into daily contact. In the final state the spiritual class will be connected with the popular mass by common sympathies, consequent upon a certain similitude of situation, and parallel habits of material improvidence, as well as by analogous interests with regard to the temporal chiefs, necessarily possessors of the principal wealth.

But we must especially remark the extreme popular efficacy of speculative authority, whether by reason of its office of universal education, or because of the regular interference which, according to our previous indications, it will always exercise in the different conflicts of society : thereby developing suitably the mediatory influence habitually attendant on the elevation of its views, and the generosity of its inclinations. Narrow views and malignant passions will in vain attempt to institute legally laborious hindrances against the accumulation of capital, at the risk of paralyzing directly all real social activity. It is clear that these tyrannical proceedings will have much less real efficacy than the universal reprobation applied by the positive ethics to any utterly selfish use of the wealth possessed.

When the new speculative class shall have arisen, the great practical collisions continually becoming more numerous in the total absence of any industrial systematization, will doubtless constitute the principal occasions of its social development, by making apparent to all classes the increasing utility of its active moral intervention, alone capable of sufficiently tempering material antagonism, and of habitually modifying the opposing sentiments of envy and disdain inspired on either hand. The classes most disposed at present to recognize the real ascendancy which wealth enjoys, will then be led by decisive and probably melancholy experience to implore the necessary protection of that very spiritual power which they now look upon as essentially chimerical.

It is in this manner that a power which by its nature can rest on no other foundation than that of its universal free recognition, will be gradually established on the ground of the services rendered by it. The popular point of view is henceforward the only one which can spontaneously offer at once sufficient grandeur and distinctness to be able to place the minds of men in a truly organic direction.

The unavailing changes of individuals, ministerial or even royal, which appear of so much importance to the various present factions, will naturally become quite in-different to the people, whose own social interests can in no wise be affected thereby.

The assurance of education and work to every one will always constitute the sole essential object of popular policy properly so called: now this great end, perfectly separated from constitutional discussions and ..combinations, can never be adequately attained but by a real reorganization.; first and foremost spiritual ; afterwards necessarily temporal.

Such is the connection which the entire situation of modern society institutes between popular necessities and philosophical tendencies, and according to which the true social point of view will gradually prevail in proportion as the active intervention of the People, speaking in their name, begins to characterize more and more the grand political problem.

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