Review: New York Times, 28 July 1861 —
“The relation which the second volume of the History of Civilization holds to the first is somewhat peculiar. It is a relation, not of continuity, but of Method. Having, in the first volume arrived, by induction, at certain generalizations regarding the laws of historical progress, he devotes the second volume to testing, by deduction, the truth of those generalizations. The inductive defence comprised a collection of historical and scientific facts which suggested and authorized certain conclusions as to the laws of civilization; the deductive defence consists of a verification of those conclusions by showing how they explain the history of different countries and their various fortunes. This second volume, accordingly, may be viewed as a series of pieces justificatives of the principles of the first installment. These principles, which Mr. BUCKLE regards as the basis of the history of civilization, are: First, 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 these laws is diffused. Second, that before such investigation can begin a spirit of scepticism must arise, which, at first aiding the investigation, is afterwards aided by it. Third, That the discoveries thus made increase the influence of intellectual truths, and diminish, relatively, not absolutely, the influence of moral truths. Fourth, that the great enemy of this movement, and consequently of civilization, is the Protective spirit; that is, the notion that society cannot prosper unless the affairs of life are watched over and protected at nearly every turn by the State and the Church — the State teaching men what they are to do, and the Church teaching them what they are to believe.
“It is in the history of Spain and of Scotland that he now seeks illustrations of these cardinal propositions. Spain and Scotland exemplify more palpably than any other modern peoples the baleful action of the protective spirit of Church and State; and the use to which he turns the history of those two countries is analogous to the value which the anatomist finds in morbid manifestations for the illustration of natural conditions. Spain is the country where the fundamental conditions of national improvement have been most flagrantly violated, and hence the country where the penalty paid for the violation has been most heavy, and where, therefore, it is most instructive to ascertain how far the prevalence of certain opinions causes the decay of the people among whom they predominate. If Spain illustrates the evil results of loyalty and superstition combined, Scotland exemplifies the evil results of superstition, but at the same time manifests how those evil results may be in part neutralized by the absence of the spirit of loyalty. It is to the elucidation of these considerations that Mr. BUCKLE has devoted the present volume, of which we shall, as a preliminary, try to give a running analysis:
“Of all countries in Europe, Spain might be looked upon as destined by the bounty of nature for signal and paramount prosperity. And yet, while possessing every natural advantage, Spain has, with the exception of a few brief interludes of temporary aggrandizement or success, continued to be as she now is, at the lowest point of the European scale of civilization and enlightenment — disorganized as regards her social and political order, bankrupt in finance — ignorance, idleness and superstition the most glaring characteristics of her people. What fatal obstacle is it that forever bars to Spain the way to that progress and amelioration for which, to do her justice, she has always sighed? With the poor, half-awakened Spaniard, the answer is ever at hand. It is bad government, he reflects with a sigh, to which the ruin and degradation of his beloved land is solely due. But Mr. BUCKLE, by the keener and more exhaustive process of philosophical analysis lays bare the hidden malady of which the evil Government of the Spanish race is but an external symptom. Too much efficacy, he reminds us, is popularly attributed to the power of a ruling body or individual. The greatest men exert but a transient and superficial influence upon countries and events, and no advance is real and permanent unless effected by the nation at large, and resting upon the general convictions and habits of the people. It is consequently in the condition of the community, in its combined physical and mental aspects, that we are to seek the causes that have retarded its growth and its well-being. Foremost among physical influences are those of climate and the external aspects of nature. In climate the Spanish peninsula is semi-tropical. Nature by the grandeur of her operations fills his mind with a sense of dependence, littleness, timidity and superstitious awe. The occurrence of earthquakes also, which have been so numerous and disastrous in the Peninsula, had an effect which the priests knew well how to use. Famines and epidemics, enhancing the uncertainty of life, lend their aid to the spread of superstition. The prevalence of a pastoral over the more settled habits of an agricultural life, tends to foster a changeful, wandering temper; and these nomad instincts were not a little strengthened during the long and arduous wars of the Spaniards with the Mohammedan invaders, by the constant surprises and forays of the enemy, which led them to prefer a subsistence that could be rapidly shifted from place to place. Thus nothing was settled, nothing practical. Thought and inquiry became impossible. Knowledge could not be accumulated, and the way was prepared for that deep-rooted and tenacious belief, and those superstitious habits, which have always formed a conspicuous feature in the history of the Spanish people.
“With these predisposing causes was combined the growing ascendency of the priestly element. The long religious contest between the Arian Visigoths and the orthodox Franks, threw into the hands of the spiritual classes a greater influence than ever existed elsewhere in Europe. Ecclesiastical tribunals claimed the right of overruling the decisions of the temporal courts, and even in civil matters the bishop held sway over the magistrate. Jews and heretics were persecuted with unrelenting vigor. Another momentous event added to the supremacy of the church. In 711 the Mohammedans invaded Spain from Africa, and rapidly overran the whole Peninsula. There now began a struggle between the Christians and the usurping infidels, and during the entire struggle, which lasted for nearly eight centuries, the spirit of the nation was absorbed as in a religious crusade. Jealousy for the creed and worship of the Church was the one supreme and ruling impulse. Miracles and portents seemed, to their fervid imagination, to betoken the direct intervention of Heaven, and the clerical order emerged from the long and trying ordeal supreme in the affections and belief of a pauperized and blindly adoring people. The result is summed up thus: The Mohammedan invasion made the Christians poor; poverty caused ignorance; ignorance caused credulity; and credulity, depriving men both of the power and of the desire to investigate for themselves, encouraged a reverential spirit, and confirmed, those submissive habits and that blind obedience to the Church, which form the leading and most unfortunate peculiarity of Spanish History. Loyalty and superstition are thus the two-fold key to the mind and spirit of Spain. As the effect of the union of these qualities, during the sixteenth century, great foreign conquests were made and a great military spirit was developed. But this sort of progress, depending too much on individuals, is necessarily unstable, and hence the grandeur of the country which was raised up by the able princes of the sixteenth century, was as quickly pulled down by the work princes of the seventeenth.Meanwhile, the power of the clergy was constantly increasing, and with it came the decline of manufactures and of population, and the increase of poverty. Spain, numbed into a death-like torpor, spell-bound and entranced by the accursed superstition which preyed, on her strength, presented to Europe the solitary instance of constant decay. All the improvements which enlightened monarchs attempted to introduce were of no avail; their efforts were fruitless — all these a meliorations being opposed to the habits of the national character. In our own century, political reformers have again endeavored to improve Spain, but have always failed, a these efforts have never reached the real root of the evil. Whether, in that unhappy country, the right path will ever be taken, is impossible for any one to say. But if it is not taken, no amelioration which can possibly be effected will penetrate below the surface. The sole mode is to weaken the superstition of the people; and this can only be done by that march if physical science which, familiarizing men with inceptions of order and regularity, gradually encroaches on the old notions of prodigy and of miracle, and by this means accustoms the mind to explain the vicissitudes of affairs by natural considerations, instead of by those which are purely supernatural.
“While Spanish history furnishes a memorable warning of the consequences which must ensue, when a people, giving themselves up to the passions of superstition and loyalty, degrade themselves into passive instruments to serve the will of the Church and the throne; from the history of Scotland we may gather a lesson of a different, and yet of a similar kind. The curses of the Spaniards have been loyalty and superstition. With the first of these vices the Scotch have never been burdened, having always been a rebellious and recalcitrant race. While, however, in regard to loyalty, the opposition between Scotland and Spain is complete, there is, strange to say, the most striking similarity between these two countries in regard to superstition. Both nations have allowed their clergy to exercise immense sway, and both have submitted their actions as well as their consciences to the authority of the Church. As a natural consequence intolerance has been, and still is, a crying evil; and in matters of religion, a bigotry is habitually displayed, discreditable indeed to Spain, but far more discreditable to Scotland, which has produced many philosophers of the highest eminence, who would willingly have taught the people better things, but who have vainly endeavored to remove from the National mind that serious blemish which mars its beauty, and tends to neutralize its many other admirable qualities. Herein lies the apparent paradox, and the real difficulty of Scotch history. That knowledge should not have produced the effects which have elsewhere followed it; that a bold and inquisitive literature should be found in a grossly superstitious country, without diminishing its superstition; that the people should constantly withstand their kings, and as constantly succumb to their clergy; that while they are liberal in politics, they should be illiberal in religion; and that as a natural consequence, men who, in the visible and external department of facts and of practical life, display a shrewdness and a boldness rarely equaled, should nevertheless, in matters of theory, tremble like sheep before their pastors, and yield assent to every absurdity they hear, provided their Church has sanctioned it — that these discrepancies should coexist seems a strange contradiction, and it is to indicate the causes of this anomaly and tracing the results to which it has led, that Mr. BUCKLE consecrates the major section of the present volume …”