The Study of Nations. — The study of the chief nations of the world, with respect to their history, government, institutions or people, forms the basis of most of the humanitarian, as opposed to the natural, sciences. Yet in many respects the general attitude adopted in the interpretation of national development has not changed with the advances made in the scientific understanding of the earth in its relation to life. Fifty years ago, for example, the belief was prevalent that the earth was made for man's convenience. Since then the students of the natural sciences have adopted the conception that life is the product of evolution, in which physical conditions are at all times important factors. The study of nations, on the contrary, is still largely carried on from the old point of view, with little or no open recognition of the significance of evolutionary factors.
National Evolution. — For the nation, also, as well as for the individuals of which it is composed, physical conditions are at all times important influences. This principle of evolution, therefore, may be applied to the different stages through which human groups pass in their rise from primitive tribes to modern nations, in the same way as it is applied to the human individual in the evolution of man to his present high estate in the animal kingdom. Thus as the course of human progress replaces the isolated, self-dependent savage by the tribe, or any primitive group, the qualities and motives of the group reflect the needs which arise from the surroundings and also the opportunities at hand for satisfying these needs. The organized hunting tribes of forest dwellers, the pastoral nomads of open grassy plains, the fishing folk of barren coast lands, represent great advances beyond the first savage individuals, yet each of these groups is none the less the combined result of human needs and natural opportunities to gratify needs. Physical conditions are for these groups the most important factors in determining both the character of, and the opportunities for satisfying, human needs.
Each of the above groups represents a stage of progress toward national existence, but no one of them, as they stand, possesses the physical conditions necessary to lift the tribe to the higher plane where it might be said to have true national qualities. Before any primitive group can develop into a nation, it must be given an where-