Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/July 1875/Savagism and Civilization II

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 7 July 1875  (1875) 
Savagism and Civilization II
By Hubert Howe Bancroft
Last in series

THE obvious necessity of association as a primary condition of development leaves little to be said on that subject. To the manifestation of this soul of progress a body social is requisite, as, without an individual body, there can be no manifestation of an individual soul. This body social, like the body individual, is composed of numberless organs, each having its special functions to perform, each acting on the others, and all under the general government of the progressional idea. Civilization is not an individual attribute, and, though the atom, man, may be charged with stored energy, yet progress constitutes no part of individual nature; it is something that lies between men and not within them; it belongs to society and not to the individual; man, the molecule of society, isolate, is inert and forceless. The isolated man, as I have said, never can become cultivated, never can form a language, does not possess in its fullness the faculty of abstraction, nor can his mind enter the realm of higher thought. All those characteristics which distinguish mankind from animal-kind become almost inoperative. Without association, there is no speech, for speech is but the conductor of thought between two or more individuals; without words abstract thought cannot flow, for words, or some other form of expression, are the channels of thought, and with the absence of words the fountain of thought is, in a measure, sealed.

At the very threshold of progress social crystallization sets in; something there is in every man that draws him to other men. In the relationship of the sexes, this principle of human attraction reaches its height, where the husband and wife, as it were, coalesce, like the union of one drop of water with another, forming one globule. As unconsciously and as positively are men constrained to band together into societies as are particles forced to unite and form crystals. And herein is a law as palpable and as fixed as any law in Nature; a law which, if unfulfilled, would result in the extermination of the race. But the law of human attraction is not perfect, does not fulfill its purpose apart from the law of human repulsion, for, as we have seen, until war, and despotism, and superstition, and other dire evils come, there is no progress. Solitude is insupportable—even beasts will not live alone; and men are more dependent on each other than beasts. Solitude carries with it a sense of inferiority and insufficiency; the faculties are stinted, lacking completeness, whereas volume is added to every individual faculty by union.

But association, simply, is not enough; nothing materially great can be accomplished without union and coöperation. It is only when aggregations of families intermingle with other aggregations, each contributing its quota of original knowledge to the other; when the individual gives up some portion of his individual will and property for the better protection of other rights and property; when he intrusts society with the vindication of his rights; when he depends upon the banded arm of the nation, and not alone upon his own arm for redress of grievances, that progress is truly made. And with union and cooperation comes the division of labor by which means each, in some special department, is enabled to excel. By fixing the mind wholly upon one thing, by constant repetition and practice, the father hands down his art to the son, who likewise improves it for his descendants. It is only by doing a new thing, or by doing an old thing better than it has ever been done before, that progress is made. Under the régime of universal mediocrity the nation does not advance; it is to the great men, great in things great or small, that progress is due; it is to the few who think, to the few who dare to face the infinite universe of things, and step, if need be, outside an old-time boundary, that the world owes most.

Originally implanted is the germ of intelligence, at the first but little more than brute instinct. This germ in unfolding undergoes a double process: it throws off its own intuitions, and receives in return those of another. By an interchange of ideas, the experiences of one are made known for the benefit of another, the inventions of one are added to the inventions of another; without intercommunication of ideas the intellect must lie dormant. Thus it is with individuals, and with societies it is the same. Acquisitions are eminently reciprocal. In society, wealth, art, literature, polity, and religion, act and react on each other; in science, a fusion of antagonistic hypotheses is sure to result in important developments. Before much progress can be made, there must be established a commerce between nations for the interchange of aggregated human experiences, so that the arts and industries acquired by each may become the property of all the rest, and thus knowledge become scattered by exchange, in place of each having to work out every problem for himself. Thus viewed, civilization is a partnership entered into for mutual improvement; a joint-stock operation, in which the product of every brain contributes to a general fund for the benefit of all. No one can add to his own store of knowledge without adding to the general store; every invention and discovery, however insignificant, is a contribution to civilization.

In savagism, union and coöperation are imperfectly displayed. The warriors of one tribe unite against the warriors of another; a band will coöperate in pursuing a herd of buffalo; even one nation will sometimes unite with another nation against a third, but such combinations are temporary, and no sooner is the particular object accomplished than the confederation disbands, and every man is again his own master. The moment two or more persons unite for the accomplishment of some purpose which shall tend permanently to meliorate the condition of themselves and others, that moment progress begins. The wild beasts of the forest, acting in unison, were physically able to rise up and extirpate primitive man; but, could beasts in reality confederate and do this, such confederation of wild beasts could become civilized.

But why does primitive man desire to abandon his original state and set out upon an arduous, never-ending journey? Why does he wish to change his mild, paternal government, to relinquish his title to lands as broad as his arm can defend, with all therein contained, the common property of his people? Why does he wish to give up his wild freedom, his native independence, and place upon his limbs the fetters of a social and political despotism? He does not. The savage hates civilization as he hates his deadliest foe; its choicest benefits he hates more than the direst ills of his own unfettered life. He is driven to it—driven to it by extraneous influences, without his knowledge and against his will; he is driven to it by this Soul of Progress. It is here that this progressional phenomenon again appears outside of man and in direct opposition to the will of man; it is here that the principle of evil again comes in and stirs men up to the accomplishment of a higher destiny. By it Adam, the first of recorded savages, was driven from Eden, where otherwise he would have remained forever, and remained uncivilized. By it our ancestors were impelled to abandon their simple state, and organize more heterogeneous complex forms of social life. And it is a problem, for each nation to work out for itself. Millions of money are vainly spent by benevolent people for proselyting purposes, when, if the first principles of civilization were understood, a far different course would be pursued.

Every civilization has its peculiarities, its idiosyncrasies. Two individuals attempting the same thing differ in the performance; so civilization evolving under incidental and extraneous causes takes an individuality in every instance. This is why civilizations will not coalesce; this is why the Spaniards could make the Aztecs accept their civilization only at the point of the sword. Development engendered by one set of phenomena will not suit the developments of other circumstances. The government, religion, and customs of one people will not fit another people any more than the coat of one person will suit the form of another. Thought runs in different channels; the happiness of one is not the happiness of another; development springs from inherent necessity, and one species cannot be engrafted on another.

Let us now examine the phenomena of government and religion in their application to the evolution of societies, and we shall better understand how the wheels of progress are first set in motion—and by religion I do not mean creed or credulity, but that natural cultus inherent in humanity, which is a very different thing. Government is early felt to be a need of society; the enforcement of laws which shall bring order out of social chaos; laws which shall restrain the vicious, protect the innocent, and punish the guilty; which shall act as a shield to inherent budding morality. But, before government, there must arise some influence which will band men together. An early evil to which civilization is indebted is war; the propensity of man—unhappily not yet entirely overcome—for killing his fellow-man.

The human race has not yet attained that state of homogeneous felicity which we sometimes imagine; upon the surface, we yet bear many of the relics of barbarism; under cover of manners, we hide still more. War is a barbarism which civilization only intensifies, as indeed civilization intensifies every barbarism which it does not eradicate or cover up. The right of every individual to act as his own avenger; trial by combat; justice dependent upon the passion or caprice of the judge or ruler, and not upon fixed law; hereditary feuds and migratory skirmishes; these and the like are that which moved our savage ancestors to like conduct, falls to, and, after a respectable civilized butchery of fifty or a hundred thousand men, ceases fighting, and returns, perhaps, to right and reason as a basis for the settlement of the difficulty. War, like other evils which have proved instruments of good, should by this time have had its day, should have served its purpose. Standing armies, whose formation was one of the first and most important steps in association and partition of labor, are but the manifestation of a lingering necessity for the use of brute force in place of moral force in the settlement of national disputes. Surely, rational beings who retain the most irrational practices concerning the simplest principles of social life cannot boast of a very high order of what we are pleased to call civilization. Morality, commerce, literature, and industry, all that tends toward elevation of intellect, is directly opposed to the warlike spirit. As intellectual activity increases, the taste for war decreases, for an appeal to war in the settlement of difficulties is an appeal from the intellectual to the physical, from reason to brute force.

Despotism is an evil, but despotism is as essential to progress as any good. In some form despotism is an inseparable adjunct of war. An individual or an idea may be the despot; but, without cohesion, without a strong central power, real or imaginary, there can be no unity, and without unity no protracted warfare. In the first stages of government, despotism is as essential as in the last it is noxious. It holds society together when nothing else would hold it, and at a time when its very existence depends upon its being so held. And not until a moral inherent strength arises sufficient to burst the fetters of despotism, is a people fit for a better or milder form of government; for not until this inherent power is manifest is there sufficient cohesive force in society to hold it together without being hooped by some such band as despotism. Besides thus cementing society, war generates many virtues, such as courage, discipline, obedience, chivalrous bearing, noble thought; and the virtues of war, as well as its vices, help to mould national character.

Slavery to the present day has its defenders, and from the first it has been a preventive of a worse evil—slaughter. Savages make slaves of their prisoners of war, and if they do not preserve them for slaves they kill them. The origin of the word, servus, from servare, to preserve, denotes humane thought rather than cruelty. Discipline is always necessary to development, and slavery is another form of savage discipline. Then, by systems of slavery, great works were accomplished, which, in the absence of arts and inventions, would not have been possible without slavery. And again, in early societies where leisure is so necessary to mental cultivation and so difficult to obtain, slavery, by promoting leisure, aids elevation and refinement. Slaves constitute a distinct class, devoted wholly to labor, thereby enabling another class to live without labor, or to labor with the intellect rather than with the hands.

Primordially, society was an aggregation of nomadic families, every head of a family having equal rights, and every individual such power and influence as he could acquire and maintain. In all the ordinary avocations of savage life this was sufficient; there was room for all, and the widest liberty was possessed by each. And in this happy state does mankind ever remain until forced out of it. In unity and coöperation alone can great things be accomplished; but men will not unite until forced to it. Now, in times of war—and with savages war is the rule and not the exception—some closer union is necessary to avoid extinction; for, other things being equal, the people who are most firmly united and most strongly ruled are sure to prevail in war. The idea of unity in order to be effectual must be embodied in a unit; some one must be made chief, and the others must obey, as in a band of wild beasts that follow the one most conspicuous for its prowess and cunning. But the military principle alone would never lay the foundation of a strong government, for with every cessation from hostilities there would be a corresponding relaxation of government.

Another necessity for government here arises, but which likewise is not the cause of government, for government springs from force and not from utility. These men do not want government, they do not want culture; how, then, is an arm to be found sufficiently strong to bridle their wild passions? In reason they are children, in passion, men; to restrain the strong passions of strong, non-reasoning men requires a power; whence is this power to come? It is in the earlier stage of government that despotism assumes its most intense forms. The more passionate, and lawless, and cruel the people, the more completely do they submit to a passionate, lawless, and cruel prince; the more ungovernable their nature, the more slavish are they in their submission to government; the stronger the element to be governed, the stronger must be the government.

The primitive man, whoever or whatever that maybe, lives in harmony with Nature; that is, he lives as other animals live, drawing his supplies immediately from the general storehouse of Nature. His food he plucks from a sheltering tree, or draws from a sparkling stream, or captures from a prolific forest. The remnants of his capture, unfit for food, supply his other wants; with the skin he clothes himself, and with the bones makes implements and points his weapons. In this there are no antagonisms, no opposing principles of good and evil; animals are killed not with a view of extermination, but through necessity, as animals kill animals in order to supply actual wants. But no sooner does the leaven of progress begin to work than war is declared between man and Nature. To make room for denser populations and increasing comforts, forests must be hewn down, their primeval inhabitants extirpated or domesticated, and the soil laid under more direct contribution. Union and coöperation spring up for purposes of protection and aggression, for the accomplishment of purposes beyond the capacity of the individual. Gradually manufactures and commerce increase; the products of one body of laborers are exchanged for the products of another, and thus the aggregate comforts produced are doubled to each. Absolute power is taken from the hands of the many and placed in the hands of one, who becomes the representative power of all. Men are no longer dependent upon the chase for a daily supply of food; even agriculture no longer is a necessity which each must follow for himself, for the intellectual products of one person or people may be exchanged for the agricultural products of another. With these changes of occupation new institutions spring up, new ideas originate, and new habits are formed. Human life ceases to be a purely material existence; another element finds exercise, the other part of man is permitted to grow. The energies of society now assume a different shape; hitherto the daily struggle was for daily necessities, now the accumulation of wealth constitutes the chief incentive to labor. Wealth becomes a power and absorbs all other powers. The possessor of unlimited wealth commands the products of every other man's labor.

But, in time, and to a certain extent, a class arises already possessed of wealth sufficient to satisfy even the demands of avarice, and something still bettor, some greater good is yet sought for. Money-getting gives way before intellectual cravings. The self-denials and labor necessary to the acquisition of wealth are abandoned for the enjoyment of wealth already acquired and the acquisition of a yet higher good. Sensual pleasure yields, in a measure, to intellectual pleasure, the acquisition of money to the acquisition of learning.

Where brute intelligence is the order of the day, man requires no more governing than brutes, but when lands are divided, and the soil cultivated, when wealth begins to accumulate and commerce and industry to flourish, then protection and lawful punishment become necessary. Like the wild-horse, leave him free, and he will take care of himself; but catch him and curb him, and the wilder and stronger he is the stronger must be the curb until he is subdued and trained, and then he is guided by a light rein. The kind of government makes little difference, so that it be strong enough.


Granted that it is absolutely essential to the first step toward culture that society should be strongly governed, how is the first government to be accomplished; how is one member of a passionate, unbridled heterogeneous community to obtain dominion absolute over all the others? Here comes in another evil to the assistance of the former evils, all for future good—superstition. Never could physical force alone compress and hold the necessary power with which to burst the shell of savagism. The government is but a reflex of the governed. Not until one man is physically or intellectually stronger than ten thousand, will an independent people submit to a tyrannical government, or a humane people submit to a cruel government, or a people accustomed to free discussion to an intolerant priesthood.

At the outset, if man is to be governed at all, there must be no division of governmental force. The cause for fear arising from both the physical and the supernatural must be united in one individual. In the absence of the moral sentiment, the fear of legal and that of spiritual punishments are identical, for the spiritual is feared only as it works temporal or corporal evil. Freedom of thought at this stage is incompatible with progress, for thought without experience is dangerous, tending toward anarchy. Before men can govern themselves they must be subjected to the sternest discipline of government; and whether this government be just, or humane, or pleasant, is of small consequence, so that it be only strong enough. As with polity, so with morality and religion: conjointly with despotism there must be an arbitrary central church government, or moral anarchy is the inevitable consequence. At the outset it is not for man to rule, but to obey; it is not for savages, who are children in intellect, to think and reason, but to believe.

And thus we see how wonderfully man is provided with the essentials of growth. This tender germ of progress is preserved in hard shells and prickly coverings, which, when they have served their purpose, are thrown aside, as not only useless but detrimental to further development. We know not what will come hereafter, but up to the present time a state of bondage appears to be the normal state of humanity—bondage, at first severe and irrational, then ever loosening, and expanding into a broader freedom. As mankind progresses, moral anarchy no more follows freedom of thought than does political anarchy follow freedom of action. In Germany, in England, and in America, wherever secular power has in any measure cut loose from ecclesiastical power and thrown religion back upon public sentiment for support, a moral as well as an intellectual advance has always followed. What the mild and persuasive teachings and lax discipline of the present epoch would have been to the Christians of the fourteenth century, the free and lax government of republican America would have been to republican Rome. Therefore, let us learn to look charitably upon the past, and not forget how much we owe to evils which we now so justly hate; while we rejoice at our release from the bigotry and fanaticism of mediæval times, let us not forget the debt which civilization owes to the tyrannies of Church and state.

Christianity, by its exalted unutilitarian morality and philanthropy, has greatly aided civilization. Indeed, so marked has been the effect in Europe, so great the contrast between Christianity and Islamism and the polytheistic creeds in general, that Churchmen claim civilization as the offspring of their religion. But religion and morality must not be confounded with civilization. All these and many other activities act and react on each other as proximate principles in the social organism, but they do not, any or all of them, constitute the life of the organism. Long before morality is religion, and long after morality, religion sends the pious debauchee to his knees. Religious culture is a great assistant to moral culture, as intellectual training promotes the industrial arts, but morality is no more religion than is industry intellect. When Christianity, as in Spain during the fourteenth century, joins itself to blind bigotry and stands up in deadly antagonism to liberty, then Christianity is a drag upon civilization: and therefore we may conclude that in so far as Christianity grafts on its code of pure morality the principle of intellectual freedom, in so far is civilization promoted by Christianity; but, when Christianity engenders superstition and persecution, civilization is retarded thereby.

Then Protestantism sets up a claim to the authorship of civilization, points to Spain and then to England, compares Italy and Switzerland, Catholic America and Puritan America, declares that the intellect can never attain superiority while under the dominion of the Church of Rome; in other words, that civilization is Protestantism. It is true that protestation against irrational dogmas, or any other action that tends toward the emancipation of the intellect, is a great step in advance; but religious belief has nothing whatever to do with intellectual culture. Religion, from its very nature, is beyond the limits of reason; it is emotional rather than intellectual, an instinct and not an acquisition. Between reason and religion lies a domain of common ground upon which both may meet and join hands, but beyond the boundaries of which neither may pass. The moment the intellect attempts to penetrate the domain of the supernatural, all intellectuality vanishes, and emotion and imagination till its place. There can be no real conflict between the two, for neither, by any possibility, can pass this neutral ground. Before the mind can receive Christianity, Mohammedanism, or any other creed, it must be ready to accept dogmas in the analysis of which human reason is powerless. Among the most brilliant intellects are found Protestants, Romanists, Unitarians, deists, and atheists; judging from the experiences of mankind in ages past, creeds and formulas, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, have no inherent power to advance or retard the intellect. Some claim, indeed, that strong doctrinal bias stifles thought, fosters superstition, and fetters the intellect; still, religious thought, in some form, is inseparable from the human mind, and it would be very difficult to prove that belief is more debasing than non-belief.

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  1. From vol. ii., "Native Races of the Pacific States.