The Science of History and the Hope of Mankind/Chapter 7

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WE have thus seen that the social and physical surroundings of man leave their stamp on the character and extent of the state as well as the spirit and form of government. The same influence of the environment is to be noticed on the other manifestations and aspects of human life as well. Just as the lower organisms assume different shapes and characteristics under the varying conditions of the physical world and preserve their identity and continuity under different forms adapted to these conditions, so also human life undergoes a variety of transformations according to the divergence of the influences and circumstances in the physical and social worlds.

A new religion was preached by Mahomet in the seventh century. The world at the time of his advent was divided into innumerable principalities, the Roman and the Persian Empires being mere bundles or confederacies of independent Consulships and Vizierships. But the unity of godhead preached by the Arabian prophet became a cementing bond to the diverse tribes and nationalities, and forthwith began the process of the overthrow of old and the rise of new kingdoms. In this way the formative principle of one of the most powerful Empires of the world was supplied by the birth of a religion.

So also the teachings of Christ, which were at first practised and developed by a small coterie of religious-minded men, acquired, under the conditions of the world, such secular and political influence, that about the time of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the Church organisations of the Christian society alone were the real political authorities, and discharged all the important functions of the secular states. The new Teuton conquerors of the old Roman provinces had to place themselves under the tutelage and guardianship of the Church dignitaries in all matters, secular as well as theological, educational as well as economic. The Frankish Empire of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire of Otto the Great were the handiworks of such "theological politicians" and "political theologians." And gradually a time came when the Popes were the dictators of European politics, and controlled not only the religious but the political and financial affairs of the Empire and the kingdoms. Such secular presumptions and political aggrandisement of the religious Empire are the root-causes of the interminable international conflicts and civil wars of the Middle Ages, and intensified the disruptive forces of the feudal regime.

Christianity and Islam thus prospered, not solely because of the needs of moral regeneration and spiritual advancement; but the real cause of their rapid progress and development is to be sought in that unifying force of religion as a principle of association which, under the existing conditions of the world, supplied some of the real needs of humanity. It is the absence or degeneration of all other institutions and organisations for the furtherance of the social, political, educational, and industrial interests of man, that necessitated the transformation of these religious associations into secular and military states. The origin of such a theocratic state out of a merely spiritual community has been exemplified in Indian history in the case of the Sikhs, who, rising as a peaceful sect for the discovery of the means of spiritual emancipation and transcendental freedom from bondage, were compelled by the force of circumstances to seek deliverance from temporal thraldom and organise independent secular kingdoms and military states like Misls and Khalsas.

Manifestations of life change according to variations in the environment, and the state and religion alone are not the sole aspects of man. Human life consequently manifests itself sometimes in arts and literature, at other times in political conflicts and religious movements. It is this need of adaptation to circumstances, again, that explains the varieties in the type of philosophical and social systems of the different ages, and accounts for the divergences between Manu, Aristotle, and Bacon as teachers of humanity and pioneers of progress. Movements and revolutions as well as the truths established by them assume different shapes according to the different factors of human society.

It is because of this diversity of manifestations of the vital principle that national life is not necessarily extinguished with the mere decay and extinction of political existence. The life of a people may under the force of circumstances have to cease to express itself in the field of economic activity and reveal itself in religious propagandism, or ceasing to seek realisation and development in industrial movements, may manifest itself in literature and art, or at times display its fulness and strength in martial or educational enthusiasm.

This influence of the pressure of circumstances on the form of life's activity is to be seen also in the various aspects that the same ideal assumes in different departments of human enterprise. Thus what is extremism in general thought and philosophy is idealism in art and literature; is transcendentalism and mysticism in religion; assumes the form of Socialism, a desire for equality and creation of opportunities for the fullest development of all in socio-economic matters; and lastly, becomes in politics the principle of democratic recognition of the rights of every individual. Thus the Rights of the Individual, established by the French Revolution in the field of political action, have led to the declaration of the privileges of the proletariat and the lower classes of society, have made literature and art spiritual and romantic, have established religion on the solid ground of social service and philanthropy, and by giving an impetus to bold, independent thinking have succeeded in revolutionising the Sciences.