Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/21

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17
OF PROGRESS

was so loath to admit retrogression that he liked to fancy the river of progress flowing underground all through the Dark Ages, and endowed the German barbarians who overthrew Mediterranean civilization with all its manly virtues. If a nation, or a religion, or a school of art dies, the historian explains why it was not worthy to live.

In political science the corruption of the scientific spirit by the superstition of progress has been flagrant. It enables the disputant to overbear questions of right and wrong by confident prediction, a method which has the double advantage of being peculiarly irritating and incapable of refutation. On the theory of progress, what is 'coming' must be right. Forms of government and modes of thought which for the time being are not in favour are assumed to have been permanently left behind. A student of history who believed in cyclical changes and long swings of the pendulum would take a very different and probably much sounder view of contemporary affairs. The votaries of progress mistake the flowing tide for the river of eternity, and when the tide turns they are likely to be left stranded like the corks and scraps of seaweed which mark the high-water line. This has already happened, though few realize it. The praises of Liberty are mainly left to Conservatives, who couple it with Property as something to be defended, and to conscientious objectors, who dissociate it from their country, which is not to be defended. Democracy—the magic ballot-box—has few worshippers any longer except in America, where men will still shout for about two hours—and indeed much longer—that she is 'great'. But our pundits will be slow to surrender the useful words 'progressive' and 'reactionary'. The classification is, however, a little awkward.