Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/34

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30
THE IDEA

But this question, which the blind Puritan asceticism resolutely thrust on one side, has begun to press for an answer. It had begun to press for an answer before the great cataclysm, which shattered the material symbols of the cult which for a century and a half had absorbed the chief energies of mankind. Whether our widespread discontent is mainly caused, as I sometimes think, by the unnatural conditions of life in large towns, or by the decay of the ideal itself, it is not easy to say. In any case, the gods of Queen Victoria’s reign are no longer worshipped. And I believe that the dissatisfaction with things as they are is caused not only by the failure of nineteen-century civilization, but partly also by its success. We no longer wish to progress on those lines if we could. Our apocalyptic dream is vanishing into thin air. It may be that the industrial revolution which began in the reign of George the Third has produced most of its fruits, and has had its day. We may have to look forward to such a change as is imagined by Anatole France at the end of his Isle of the Penguins, when, after an orgy of revolution and destruction, we shall slide back into the quiet rural life of the early modern period. If so, the authors of the revolution will have cut their own throats, for there can be no great manufacturing towns in such a society. Their disappearance will be no great loss. The race will have tried a great experiment, and will have rejected it as unsatisfying. We shall have added something to our experience. Fontenelle exclaimed, 'How many foolish things we should say now, if the ancients had not said them all before us!' Fools are not so afraid of plagiarism as this Frenchman supposed; but it is true that 'Eventu rerum stolidi didicere magistro'.

There is much to support the belief that there is