History of Civilization in England

By HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE. Vol. II, From the Second London Edition. To which is added an Alphabetical Index, New York : D. Appleton & Co. 8vo.
THE present volume of Mr. Buckle’s history consists of a deductive application to the history of Spain and Scotland of certain leading propositions, which, in his previous volume, he claims to have inductively established. These are four: “ 1st, That the progress of mankind depends on the success with which the laws of phenomena are investigated, and on the extent to which a knowledge of those laws is diffused ; 2d, That, before investigation can begin, a spirit of skepticism must arise, which, at first aiding the investigation, is afterwards aided by it; 3d, That the discoveries thus made increase the influence of intellectual truths, and diminish, relatively, not absolutely, the influence of moral truths,— moral truths being more stationary than intellectual truths, and receiving fewer additions ; 4th, That the great enemy of this movement, and therefore the great enemy of civilization, is the protective spirit,” or the notion that the good of society depends on its concerns being watched over and protected by a State that teaches men what to do, and a Church which teaches them what to believe.”
Mr. Buckle, with great abundance of learning and fulness of thought, attempts to prove that the history of Spain and Scotland verifies these propositions. The general causes which, according to him, have sunk Spain so low in the scale of civilization are loyalty and superstition. The Church and State have been supreme, and the consequence has been that the people are profoundly ignorant. Under able rulers, like Ferdinand, Charles V., and Philip II., the loyal nation attained a great height of power and glory; under their incompetent successors, the loyal nation, obedient to crowned sloth and stupidity as to crowned energy and genius, descended with frightful rapidity from its high estate, thus proving that the progress which depends on the character of individual monarchs or statesmen is necessarily unstable. Circumstances similar to those which made Spain loyal made it superstitious ; and loyalty and superstition early formed an alliance by which all independent energy of conduct and thought was suppressed. According to Mr. Buckle, the prosperity of nations, in modern times, “depends on principles to which the clergy, as a body, are invariably opposed.” This proposition is, to him, true of Protestant as well as Catholic clergymen ; and a nation like Spain, looking to the Government for what it should do, and to the Church for what it should believe, has necessarily become inefficient and ignorant.
Spain has few friends among English readers, and Mr. Buckle’s contemptuous opinion of its civilization may not, therefore, rouse much opposition that he will be compelled to heed. But it is not so in respect to Scotland, a caustic survey of whose civilization occupies three-quarters of the present volume. The position is taken, that Scotland, of all the countries of Protestant Europe, has been and is the most superstitious and priest-ridden. The only thing that saved the people from the fate of Spain was the fact, that their insubordination to temporal authority was as marked as their slavery to spiritual authority. They had the good fortune to he rebels as well as fanatics ; but the reforming clergy having, after 1580, allied themselves heartily with the people against the king and nobles, increased as patriots the influence they exerted as priests. The love of country being thus associated with love of the Church, the people were enslaved by the very religious leaders who aided them in the fight against those form of arbitrary power they mutually detested. The tyranny of the Presbyterian minister was lovingly accepted by the same population by which the tyranny of bishop and king was abhorred.
Mr. Buckle, with the malicious delight which only a philosopher in search of facts to fit his theory can know, has delved in a stratum of theological literature now covered from the common eye by more important deposits, in order to prove that in the seventeenth century the people of Scotland were ruled by a set of petty theological tyrants, as ignorant and as inhuman as ever disgraced a civilized society, and that their ignorance and inhumanity were all the more influential from being called by the name and acting by the authority of religion.
The author then proceeds to consider the philosophical and scientific reaction against this ecclesiastical despotism, which occurred in the eighteenth century. Why did it not emancipate the Scottish intellect ?
Because, says Mr. Buckle, the method of the philosophers, like the method of the theologians, was deductive, and not inductive; and this, he thinks, characterizes the operation of the intellect of Scotland in all departments. Now the deductive method, or reasoning from principles to facts, does not strike the senses with the force of the inductive, or reasoning from facts to principles, and it is accordingly less accessible to the average understanding. The result was, that the writings of Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and Hume had little effect on the popular intellect of Scotland, and its people are now the most bigoted and intolerant of those of any country in Europe, except Spain. This portion of Mr. Buckle’s volume, containing an analytical estimate, not only of Hutcheson, Hume, and Adam Smith, but of Black, Leslie, Hutton, Cullen, and John Hunter, is full of original thought and valuable information, however questionable may be some of its statements.
Whatever may be thought of the general ideas which Mr. Buckle enforces, few will be inclined to dispute the extent of his learning, the breadth of his understanding, the suggestiveness of his generalizations, the earnestness of his purpose, the menial honesty with which he seeks truth, the mental hardihood with which he assails what he considers error. He lias not only no intellectual timidity, but no intellectual reserve, and is indifferent to the opprobrium which may proceed from the collision of his speculations with the strongest of prejudices and the most immovable of convictions. But this intrepid sincerity is not without the alloy of arrogance. He belongs to that school of able, but dogmatic positivists, who are apt to consider their minds the measure of the human mind, who are intolerant of those human sentiments and qualities in which they are deficient, and who, occupying the serene heights of a purely scientific wisdom, look down with pitying contempt on all intellects, however powerful, which are not emancipated from the dominion of theological ideas. Individually, he lacks both the sympathy and the imaginative insight by which a man pierces to the heart of a nation, and appreciates its life as distinguished from its opinions. All readers of those portions of the literature of Spain and Scotland in which genius exhibits the vital manners and representative character of those nations will feed how partial and inadequate is Mr. Buckle’s historic sketch. The fundamental idea of his system, that human progress depends on the success with which the laws of phenomena are investigated and the extent to which a knowledge of them is diffused, overlooks the essential element of movement, which is not abstract knowledge, but vital force. Men and nations move in virtue of their passionate, moral, and spiritual forces, and these determine the character of their intellectual development and expression. A nation which knew all the laws of phenomena, but which was utterly lacking in moral force, would not only not be civilized, but would hardly be alive. Mr. Buckle insists that moral truths being relatively stationary, while intellectual truths are constantly advancing and multiplying, civilization cannot depend upon them. But even admitting that moral truths are stationary, still moral life, the conversion of these truths into character, is capable of indefinite advancement. There are moral truths more universal than any scientific truths, and it is owing to the fact that these truths have so imperfectly passed from abstractions into conduct, that civilization is yet so imperfect, and the achievements of the intellect still so limited. Out of the heart, and not out of the head, are the issues of life; and how a mere knowledge of “ the laws of phenomena” can regenerate men from selfishness, ferocity, and malignity, can purify and invigorate the will, can even of itself stimulate the intellect to a further investigation of those laws, Mr. Buckle has not shown. Even the theological abuses of which he gives so exaggerated a representation are expressions of the passions and character of the people to which the theology was accommodated, and not of the sense and spirit of the New Testament, which the theology violated, so far as it was false in its ideas or inhuman in its teachings.