Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/23

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19
OF PROGRESS

But something must be said. Hegel and Comte are often said to have been the chief advocates of the doctrine of progress among philosophers. Both of them give definitions of the word—a very necessary thing to do, and I have not yet attempted to do it. Hegel defines progress as spiritual freedom; Comte as true or positive social philosophy. The definitions are peculiar; and neither theory can be made to fit past history, though that of Comte, at any rate, falls to the ground if it does not fit past history. Hegel is perhaps more independent of facts; his predecessor Fichte professes to be entirely indifferent to them. 'The philosopher', he says, 'follows the a priori thread of the world-plan which is clear to him without any history; and if he makes use of history, it is not to prove anything, since his theses are already proved independently of all history.' Certainly, Hegel's dialectical process cannot easily be recognized in the course of European events; and, what is more fatal to the believers in a law of progress who appeal to him, he does not seem to have contemplated any further marked improvements upon the political system of Prussia in his own time, which he admired so much that his critics have accused him of teaching that the Absolute first attained full self-consciousness at Berlin in the nineteenth century. He undoubtedly believed that there has been progress in the past; but he does not, it appears, look forward to further changes; as a politician, at any rate, he gives us something like a closed system. Comte can only bring his famous 'three stages' into history by arguing that the Catholic monotheism of the Middle Ages was an advance upon pagan antiquity. A Catholic might defend such a thesis with success; but for Comte the chief advantage seems to be that the change left the