Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/7

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The Idea of Progress

The belief in Progress, not as an ideal but as an indisputable fact, not a task for humanity but as a law of Nature, has been the working faith of the West for about a hundred and fifty years. Some would have us believe that it is a long neglected part of the Christian revelation, others that it is a modern discovery. The ancient Pagans, we are told, put their golden age in the past; we put ours in the future. The Greeks prided themselves on being the degenerate descendants of gods, we on being the very creditable descendants of monkeys. The Romans endeavoured to preserve the wisdom and virtue of the past, we to anticipate the wisdom and virtue of the future. This, however, is an exaggeration. The theory of progress and the theory of decadence are equally natural, and have in fact been held concurrently wherever men have speculated about their origin, their present condition, and their future prospects. Among the Jews the theory decadence derived an inspired authority from Genesis, but the story of the Fall had very little influence upon the thought of that tenaciously optimistic race. Among the Greeks, who had the melancholy as well as the buoyancy of youth, it was authorized by Hesiod, whose scheme of retrogression, from the age of gold to the age of iron, was never forgotten in antiquity. Sophocles, in a well-known chorus imitated by Bacon, holds that the best fate for men is 'not to be born, or being born to die'. Aratus develops the pessimistic mythology of

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