Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/13

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9
OF PROGRESS

measured by statistics'. We had only to thank our stars for placing us in such an environment, and to carry out energetically the course of development which Nature has prescribed for us, and to resist which would be at once impious and futile.

Thus the superstition of progress was firmly established. To become a popular religion, it is only necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy. The superstition of progress had the singular good fortune to enslave at least three philosophies—those of Hegel, Comte, and of Darwin. The strange thing is that none of these philosophies is really favourable to the belief which it was supposed to support. Leaving for the present the German and the French thinkers, we observe with astonishment that many leading men in Queen Victoria’s reign found it possible to use the great biological discovery of Darwin to tyrannize over the minds of their contemporaries, to give their blessing to the economic and social movements of their time, and to unite determinism with teleology in the highly edifying manner to which I have already referred. Scientific optimism was no doubt rampant before Darwin. For example, Herschel says: 'Man's progress towards a higher state need never fear a check, but must continue till the very last existence of history.' But Herbert Spencer asserts the perfectibility of man with an assurance makes us gasp. 'Progress is not an accident but a necessity. What we call evil and good must disappear. It is certain that man must become perfect.' 'The ultimate development of the ideal man is certain—as certain as any conclusion in the most implicit faith; for instance, that all men will die.' 'Always towards perfection is the mighty movement—towards a complete development and a more unmixed good.'