Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/142

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

witnessed this process of selection among the pastoral savages of South Africa. I believe it to be a very important one on account of its rigor and its regularity. It must have existed from the earliest times, and have been in continuous operation, generation after generation, down to the present day."[1]

Man, being the strongest of all animals, differs from the rest; he was obliged to be his own domesticator; he had to tame himself. And the way in which it happened was, that the most obedient, the tamest tribes are, at the first stage in the real struggle of life, the strongest and the conquerors. All are very wild then; the animal vigor, the savage virtue of the race has died out in none, and all have enough of it. But what makes one tribe—one incipient tribe, one bit of a tribe—to differ from another is their relative faculty of coherence. The slightest symptom of legal development, the least indication of a military bond, is then enough to turn the scale. The compact tribes win, and the compact tribes are the tamest. Civilization begins, because the beginning of civilization is a military advantage.

Probably if we had historic records of the ante-historic ages—if some superhuman power had set down the thoughts and actions of men ages before they could set them down for themselves—we should know that this first step in civilization was the hardest step. But, when we come to history as it is, we are more struck with the difficulty of the next step. All the absolutely incoherent men—all the "Cyclopes"—have been cleared away long before there was an authentic account of them. And the least coherent only remain in the "protected" parts of the world, as we may call them. Ordinary civilization begins near the Mediterranean Sea; the best, doubtless, of the ante-historic civilizations were not far off. From this centre the conquering swarm—for such it is—has grown and grown; has widened its subject territories steadily, though not equably, age by age. But geography long defied it. An Atlantic Ocean, a Pacific Ocean, an Australian Ocean, an unapproachable interior Africa, an inaccessible and undesirable hill India, were beyond its range. In such remote places there was no real competition, and on them inferior, half-combined men continued to exist. But in the regions of rivalry—the regions where the better man pressed upon the worse man—such half-made associations could not last. They died out, and history did not begin till after they were gone. The great difficulty which history records is not that of the first step, but that of the second step. What is most evident is not the difficulty of getting a fixed law, but getting out of a fixed law; not of cementing (as upon a former occasion I phrased it) a cake of custom, but of breaking the cake of custom; not of making the first preservative habit, but of breaking through it, and reaching something better.

This is the precise case with the whole family of arrested civiliza-

  1. "Ethnological Society's Transactions," vol. iii., p. 137.