Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

Barbarism and Civilization


MY object in the sketch which I have been attempting, of the history of the Turks, has been to show the relation of this celebrated race to Europe and to Christendom. I have not been led to speak of them by any especial interest in them for their own sake, but by the circumstances of the present moment, which bring them often before us, oblige us to speak of them, and involve the necessity of entertaining some definite sentiments about them. With this view I have been considering their antecedents; whence they came, how they came, where they are, and what title they have to be there at all. When I now say, that I am proceeding to contemplate their future, do not suppose me to be so rash as to be hazarding any political prophecy; I do but mean to set down some characteristics in their existing state (if I have any right to fancy, that in any true measure we at the distance of some thousand miles know it), which naturally suggest to us to pursue their prospective history in one direction, not in another.

Now it seems safe to say, in the first place, that some time or other the Ottomans will come to an end. All human power has its termination sooner or later; states rise to fall; and, secure as they may be now, so one day they will be in peril and in course of overthrow. Nineveh, Tyre, Babylon, Persia, Egypt, and Greece, each has had its day; and this was so clear to mankind 2,000 years ago, that the conqueror of Carthage wept, as he gazed upon its flames, for he saw in them the conflagration of her rival, his own Rome. “Fuit Ilium.” The Saracens, the Moguls, have had their day; those European states, so great three centuries ago, Spain and Poland, Venice and Genoa, are now either extinct or in decrepitude. What is the lot of all states, is still more strikingly fulfilled in the case of empires; kingdoms indeed are of slow growth, but empires commonly are but sudden manifestations of power, which are as short-lived as they are sudden. Even the Roman empire, which is an exception, did not last beyond five hundred years; the Saracenic three hundred; the Spanish three hundred; the Russian has lasted about a hundred and fifty, that is, since the Czar Peter; the British not a hundred; the Ottoman has reached four or five. If there be an empire which does not at all feel the pressure of this natural law, but lasts continuously, repairs its losses, renews its vigour, and with every successive age emulates its antecedent fame, such a power must be more than human, and has no place in our present inquiry. We are concerned, not with any supernatural power, to which is promised perpetuity, but with the Ottoman empire, famous in history, vigorous in constitution, but, after all, human, and nothing more. There is, then, neither risk nor merit in prophesying the eventual fall of the Osmanlis, as of the Seljukians, as of the Gaznevides before them; the only wonder is that they actually have lasted as much as four hundred years.

Such will be the issue and the sum of their whole history; but, certain as this is, and confidently as it may be pronounced, nothing else can be prudently asserted about their future. Times and moments are in the decrees of the All-wise, and known to Him alone; and so are the occurrences to which they give birth. The only further point open to conjecture, as being not quite destitute of data for speculating upon it, is the particular course of events and quality of circumstances, which will precede the downfall of the Turkish power; for, granting that that downfall is to come, it is reasonable to think it will take place in that particular way, for which in their present state we see an existing preparation, if such can be discerned, or in a way which at least is not inconsistent with the peculiarities of that present state.


Hence, in speculating on this question, I shall take this as a reasonable assumption first of all, that the catastrophe of a state is according to its antecedents, and its destiny according to its nature; and therefore, that we cannot venture on any anticipation of the instruments or the conditions of its death, until we know something about the principle and the character of its life. Next I lay down, that, whereas a state is in its very idea a society, and a society is a collection of many individuals made one by their participation in some common possession, and to the extent of that common possession, the presence of that possession held in common constitutes the life, and the loss of it constitutes the dissolution, of a state. In like manner, whatever avails or tends to withdraw that common possession, is either fatal or prejudicial to the social union. As regards the Ottoman power, then, we have to inquire what its life consists in, and what are the dangers to which that life, from the nature of its constitution, is exposed.

Now, states may be broadly divided into barbarous and civilized; their common possession, or life, is some object either of sense or of imagination; and their bane and destruction is either external or internal. And, to speak in general terms, without allowing for exceptions or limitations (for I am treating the subject scientifically only so far as is requisite for my particular inquiry), we may pronounce that barbarous states live in a common imagination, and are destroyed from without; whereas civilized states live in some common object of sense, and are destroyed from within.

By external enemies I mean foreign wars, foreign influence, insurrection of slaves or of subject races, famine, accidental enormities of individuals in power, and other instruments, analogous to what, in the case of an individual is called a violent death; by internal I mean civil contention, excessive changes, revolution, decay of public spirit, which may be considered analogous to natural death.

Again, by objects of imagination, I mean such as religion, true or false (for there are not only false imaginations but true), divine mission of a sovereign or of a dynasty, and historical fame; and by objects of sense, such as secular interests, country, home, protection of person and property.

I do not allude to the conservative power of habit when I speak of the social bond, because habit is rather the necessary result of possessing a common object, and protects all states equally, barbarous and civilized. Nor do I include moral degeneracy among the instruments of their destruction, because this too attaches to all states, civilized and barbarous, and is rather a disposition exposing them to the influence of what is their bane, than a direct cause of their ruin in itself.


But what is meant by the words barbarous and civilized, as applied to political bodies? this is a question which it will take more time to answer, even if I succeed in satisfying it at all. By “barbarism,” then, I suppose, in itself is meant a state of nature; and by “civilization,” a state of mental cultivation and discipline. In a state of nature man has reason, conscience, affections, and passions, and he uses these severally, or rather is influenced by them, according to circumstances; and whereas they do not one and all necessarily move in the same direction, he takes no great pains to make them agree together, but lets them severally take their course, and, if I may so speak, jostle into a sort of union, and get on together, as best they can. He does not improve his talents; he does not simplify and fix his motives; he does not put his impulses under the control of principle, or form his mind upon a rule. He grows up pretty much what he was when a child; capricious, wayward, unstable, idle, irritable, excitable; with not much more of habituation than that which experience of living unconsciously forces even on the brutes. Brutes act upon instinct, not on reason; they are ferocious when they are hungry; they fiercely indulge their appetite; they gorge themselves; they fall into torpor and inactivity. In a like, but a more human way, the savage is drawn by the object held up to him, as if he could not help following it; an excitement rushes on him, and he yields to it without a struggle; he acts according to the moment, without regard to consequences; he is energetic or slothful, tempestuous or calm, as the winds blow or the sun shines. He is one being to-day, another to-morrow, as if he were simply the sport of influences or circumstances. If he is raised somewhat above this extreme state of barbarism, just one idea or feeling occupies the narrow range of his thoughts, to the exclusion of others.

Moreover, brutes differ from men in this; that they cannot invent, cannot progress. They remain in the use of those faculties and methods, which nature gave them at their birth. They are endowed by the law of their being with certain weapons of defence, and they do not improve on them. They have food, raiment, and dwelling, ready at their command. They need no arrow or noose to catch their prey, nor kitchen to dress it; no garment to wrap round them, nor roof to shelter them. Their claws, their teeth, their viscera, are their butcher and their cook; and their fur is their wardrobe. The cave or the jungle is their home; or if it is their nature to exercise some architectural craft, they have not to learn it. But man comes into the world with the capabilities, rather than the means and appliances, of life. He begins with a small capital, but one which admits of indefinite improvement. He is, in his very idea, a creature of progress. He starts, the inferior of the brute animals, but he surpasses them in the long run; he subjects them to himself, and he goes forward on a career, which at least hitherto has not found its limit.

Even the savage of course in some measure exemplifies this law of human nature, and is lord of the brutes; and what he is and man is generally, compared with the inferior animals, such is man civilized compared with the barbarian. Civilization is that state to which man’s nature points and tends; it is the systematic use, improvement, and combination of those faculties which are his characteristic; and, viewed in its idea, it is the perfection, the happiness of our mortal state. It is the development of art out of nature, and of self-government out of passion, and of certainty out of opinion, and of faith out of reason. It is the due disposition of the various powers of the soul, each in its place, the subordination or subjection of the inferior, and the union of all into one whole. Aims, rules, views, habits, projects; prudence, foresight, observation, inquiry, invention, resource, resolution, perseverance, are its characteristics. Justice, benevolence, expedience, propriety, religion, are its recognized, its motive principles. Supernatural truth is its sovereign law. Such is it in its true idea, synonymous with Christianity; and, not only in idea, but in matter of fact also, is Christianity ever civilization, as far as its influence prevails; but, unhappily, in matter of fact, civilization is not necessarily Christianity. If we would view things as they really are, we must bear in mind that, true as it is, that only a supernatural grace can raise man towards the perfection of his nature, yet it is possible,—without the cultivation of its spiritual part, which contemplates objects subtle, distant, delicate of apprehension, and slow of operation, nay, even with an actual contempt of faith and devotion, in comparison of objects tangible and present,—possible it is, I say, to combine in some sort the other faculties of man into one, and to progress forward, with the substitution of natural religion for faith, and a refined expediency or propriety for true morality, just as with practice a man might manage to run without an arm or without sight, and as the defect of one organ is sometimes supplied to a certain extent by the preternatural action of another.

And this is, in fact, what is commonly understood by civilization, and it is the sense in which the word must be used here; not that perfection which nature aims at, and requires, and cannot of itself reach; but a second-rate perfection of nature, being what it is, and remaining what it is, without any supernatural principle, only with its powers of ratiocination, judgment, sagacity, and imagination fully exercised, and the affections and passions under sufficient control. Such was it, in its higher excellences, in heathen Greece and Rome, where the perception of moral principles, possessed by the cultivated and accomplished intellect, by the mind of Plato or Isocrates, of Cleanthes, Seneca, Epictetus, or Antoninus, rivalled in outward pretensions the inspired teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Such is it at the present day, not only in its reception of the elements of religion and morals (when Christianity is in the midst of it as an inexhaustible storehouse for natural reason to borrow from), but especially in a province peculiar to these times, viz., in science and art, in physics, in politics, in economics, and mechanics. And great as are its attainments at present, still, as I have said, we are far from being able to discern, even in the distance, the limit of its advancement and of its perfectibility.


It is evident from what has been said, that barbarism is a principle, not of society, but of isolation; he who will not submit even to himself, is not likely to volunteer a subjection to others; and this is more or less the price which, from the nature of the case, the members of society pay individually for the security of that which they hold in common. It follows, that no polity can be simply barbarous; barbarians may indeed combine in small bodies, as they have done in Gaul, Scythia, and America, from the gregariousness of our nature, from fellowship of blood, from accidental neighbourhood, or for self-preservation; but such societies are not bodies or polities; they are but the chance result of an occasion, and are destitute of a common life. Barbarism has no individuality, it has no history; quarrels between neighbouring tribes; grudges, blood-shedding, exhaustion, raids, success, defeat, the same thing over and over again, this is not the action of society, nor the subject-matter of narrative; it neither interests the curiosity, nor leaves any impression on the memory. “Labitur et labetur;” it forms and breaks again, like the billows of the sea, and is but a mockery of unity. When I speak of barbarian states, I mean such as consist of members not simply barbarous, but just so far removed from the extreme of savageness that they admit of having certain principles in common, and are able to submit themselves individually to the system which rises out of those principles; that they do recognize the ideas of government, property, and law, however imperfectly; though they still differ from civilized polities in those main points, which I have set down as analogous to the difference between brutes and the human species.

As instinct is perfect after its kind at first, and never advances, whereas the range of the intellect is ever growing, so barbarous states are pretty much the same from first to last, and this is their characteristic; and civilized states, on the other hand, though they have had a barbarian era, are ever advancing further and further from it, and thus their distinguishing badge is progress. So far my line of thought leads me to concur in the elaborate remarks on the subject put forth by the celebrated M. Guizot, in his “Lectures on European Civilization,” Civilized states are ever developing into a more perfect organization, and a more exact and more various operation; they are ever increasing their stock of thoughts and of knowledge: ever creating, comparing, disposing, and improving. Hence, while bodily strength is the token of barbarian power, mental ability is the honourable badge of civilized states. The one is like Ajax, the other like Ulysses; civilized nations are constructive, barbarous are destructive. Civilization spreads by the ways of peace, by moral suasion, by means of literature, the arts, commerce, diplomacy, institutions; and, though material power never can be superseded, it is subordinate to the influence of mind. Barbarians can provide themselves with swift and hardy horses, can sweep over a country, rush on with a shout, use the steel and firebrand, and frighten and overwhelm the weak or cowardly; but in the wars of civilized countries, even the implements of carnage are scientifically constructed, and are calculated to lessen or supersede it; and a campaign becomes co-ordinately a tour of savants, or a colonizing expedition, or a political demonstration. When Sesostris marched through Asia to the Euxine, he left upon his road monuments of himself, which have not utterly disappeared even at this day; and the memorials of the rule of the Pharaohs are still engraved on the rocks of Libya and Arabia. Alexander, again, in a later age, crossed from Macedonia to Asia with the disciples of Aristotle in his train. His march was the diffusion of the arts and commerce, and the acquisition of scientific knowledge; the countries he passed through were accurately described, as he proceeded, and the intervals between halt and halt regularly measured. His naval armaments explored nearly the whole distance from Attock on the Upper Indus to the Isthmus of Suez: his philosophers noted down the various productions and beasts of the unknown East; and his courtiers were the first to report to the western world the singular institutions of Hindostan.

Again, while Attila boasted that his horse’s hoof withered the grass it trod on, and Zingis could gallop over the site of the cities he had destroyed, Seleucus, or Ptolemy, or Trajan, covered the range of his conquests with broad capitals, marts of commerce, noble roads, and spacious harbours. Lucullus collected a magnificent library in the East, and Cæsar converted his northern expeditions into an antiquarian and historical research.

Nor is this an accident in Roman annals. She was a power pre-eminently military; yet what is her history but the most remarkable instance of a political development and progress? More than any power, she was able to accommodate and expand her institutions according to the circumstances of successive ages, extending her municipal privileges to the conquered cities, yielding herself to the literature of Greece, and admitting into her bosom the rites of Egypt and Phrygia. At length, by an effort of versatility unrivalled in history, she was able to reverse one main article of her policy, and, as she had already acknowledged the intellectual supremacy of Greece, so did she humble herself in a still more striking manner before a religion which she had persecuted.


If these remarks upon the difference between barbarism and civilization be in the main correct, they have prepared the way for answering the question which I have raised concerning the principle of life and the mode of dissolution proper or natural to barbarous and civilized powers respectively. Ratiocination and its kindred processes, which are the necessary instruments of political progress, are, taking things as we find them, hostile to imagination and auxiliary to sense. It is true that a St. Thomas can draw out a whole system of theology from principles impalpable and invisible, and fix upon the mind by pure reason a vast multitude of facts and truths which have no pretence to a bodily form. But, taking man as he is, we shall commonly find him dissatisfied with a demonstrative process from an undemonstrated premiss, and, when he has once begun to reason, he will seek to prove the point from which his reasoning starts, as well as that at which it arrives. Thus he will be forced back from immediate first principles to others more remote, nor will he be satisfied till he ultimately reaches those which are as much within his own handling and mastery as the reasoning apparatus itself. Hence it is that civilized states ever tend to substitute objects of sense for objects of imagination, as the basis of their existence. The Pope’s political power was greater when Europe was semi-barbarous; and the divine right of the successors of the English St. Edward received a death-blow in the philosophy of Bacon and Locke. At present, I suppose, our own political life, as a nation, lies in the supremacy of the law; and that again is resolvable into the internal peace, and protection of life and property, and freedom of the individual, which are its result; and these I call objects of sense.

For the very same reason, objects of this nature will not constitute the life of a barbarian community; prudence, foresight, calculation of consequences do not enter into its range of mental operations; it has no talent for analysis; it cannot understand expediency; it is impressed and affected by what is direct and absolute. Religion, superstition, belief in persons and families, objects, not proveable, but vivid and imposing, will be the bond which keeps its members together. I have already alluded to the divinity which in the imagination of the Huns encircled the hideous form of Attila. Zingis claimed for himself or his ancestry a miraculous conception, and received from a prophet, who ascended to heaven, the dominion of the earth. He called himself the son of God; and when the missionary friars came to his immediate successor from the Pope, that successor made answer to them, that it was the Pope’s duty to do him homage, as being earthly lord of all by divine right. It was a similar pretension, I need hardly say, which was the life of the Mahometan conquests, when the wild Saracen first issued from the Arabian desert. So, too, in the other hemisphere, the Caziques of aboriginal America were considered to be brothers of the Sun, and received religious homage as his representatives. They spoke as the oracles of the divinity, and claimed the power of regulating the seasons and the weather at their will. This was especially the case in Peru; “the whole system of policy,” says Robertson, “was founded on religion. The Incas appeared, not only as a legislator, but as the messenger of heaven.” Elsewhere, the divine virtue has been considered to rest, not on the monarch, but on the code of laws, which accordingly is the social principle of the nation. The Celts ascribed their legislation to Mercury; as Lycurgus and Numa in Sparta and Rome appealed to a divine sanction in behalf of their respective institutions.

This being the case, imperfect as is the condition of barbarous states, still what is there to overthrow them? They have a principle of union congenial to the state of their intellect, and they have not the ratiocinative habit to scrutinize and invalidate it. Since they admit of no mental progress, what serves as a bond to-day will be equally serviceable to-morrow; so that apparently their dissolution cannot come from themselves. It is true, a barbarous people, possessed of a beautiful country, may be relaxed in luxury and effeminacy; but such degeneracy has no obvious tendency to weaken their faith in the objects in which their political unity consists, though it may render them defenceless against external attacks. And here indeed lies their real peril at all times; they are ever vulnerable from without. Thus Sparta, formed deliberately on a barbarian pattern, remained faithful to it, without change, without decay, while its intellectual rival was the victim of successive revolutions. At length its power was broken externally by the Theban Epaminondas; and by the restoration of Messenia, the insurrection of the Laconians, and the emancipation of the Helots. Agesilaus, at the time of its fall, was as good a Spartan as any of his predecessors. Again, the ancient Empire of the Huns in Asia is said to have lasted 1,500 years; at length its wanton tyranny was put an end to by the Chinese King plunging into the Tartar desert, and thus breaking their power. Thrace, again, a barbarous country, lasted many centuries, with kings of great vigour, with much external prosperity, and then succumbed, not to internal revolution, but to the permanent ascendancy of Rome. Similar too is the instance of Pontus, and again of Numidia and Mauritania; they may have had great or accomplished sovereigns, but they have no history, except in the wars of their conquerors. Great leaders are necessary for the prosperity, as great enemies for the destruction, of barbarians; they thrive, as they come to nought, by means of agents external to themselves. So again Malek Shah died, and his empire fell to pieces. Hence, too, the unexpected and utter catastrophes which befall barbarous people, analogous to a violent death, which I have alluded to in speaking of the sudden rise and fall of Tartar dynasties; for no one can anticipate results, which, instead of being the slow evolution of political principles, proceed from the accident of external quarrels and of the relative condition of rival powers.


Far otherwise is the history of those states, in which the intellect, not prescription, is recognized as the ultimate authority, and where the course of time is necessarily accompanied by a corresponding course of change. Such polities are ever in progress; at first from worse to better, and then from better to worse. In all human things there is a maximum of advance, and that maximum is not an established state of things, but a point in a career. The cultivation of reason and the spread of knowledge for a time develop and at length dissipate the elements of political greatness; acting first as the invaluable ally of public spirit, and then as its insidious enemy. Barbarian minds remain in the circle of ideas which sufficed their forefathers; the opinions, principles, and habits which they inherited, they transmit. They have the prestige of antiquity and the strength of conservatism; but where thought is encouraged, too many will think, and will think too much. The sentiment of sacredness in institutions fades away, and the measure of truth or expediency is the private judgment of the individual. An endless variety of opinion is the certain though slow result; no overpowering majority of judgments is found to decide what is good and what is bad; political measures become acts of compromise; and at length the common bond of unity in the state consists in nothing really common, but simply in the unanimous wish of each member of it to secure his own interests. Thus the veterans of Sylla, comfortably settled in their farms, refused to rally round Pompey in his war with Caesar. Thus the municipal cities in the provinces refused to unite together in a later age for the defence of the Empire, then evidently on the way to dissolution. Selfishness takes the place of loyalty, patriotism, and faith; parties grow and strengthen themselves; classes and ranks withdraw from each other more and more; the national energy becomes but a self-consuming fever, and but enables the constituent parts to be their own mutual destruction; and at length such union as is necessary for political life is found to be impossible. Meanwhile corruption of morals, which is common to all prosperous countries, completes the internal ruin, and, whether an external enemy appears or not, the nation can hardly be considered any more a state. It is but like some old arch, which, when its supports are crumbled away, stands by the force of cohesion, no one knows how. It dies a natural death, even though some Alaric or Genseric happens to be at hand to take possession of the corpse. And centuries before the end comes, patriots may see it coming, though they cannot tell its hour; and that hour creates surprise, not because it at length is come, but because it has been so long delayed.

I have been referring to the decline, as I before spoke of the progress, of the Romans: the career of that people through twelve centuries is a drama of sustained interest and equable and majestic evolution; it has given scope for the most ingenious researches into its internal history. There one age is the parent of another; the elements and principles of its political system are brought out into a variety of powers with mutual relations; external events act and react with domestic affairs; manners and views change; excess of prosperity becomes the omen of misfortune to come; till in the words of the poet, “Suis et ipsa Roma viribus ruit.” For how many philosophical histories has Greece afforded opportunity! while the constitutional history of England, as far as it has hitherto gone, is a recognized subject-matter of scientific and professional teaching. The case is the same with the history of the medieval Italian cities, of the medieval Church, and of the Saracenic empire. As regards the last of these instances, I am not alluding merely to the civil contentions and wars which took place in it, for such may equally happen to a barbarian state. Cupidity and ambition are inherent in the nature of man; the Gauls and British, the tribes of Scythia, the Seljukian Turks, consisted each of a number of mutually hostile communities or kingdoms. What is relevant to my purpose in the history of the Saracens is, that their quarrels often had an intellectual basis, and arose out of their religion. The white, the green, and the black factions, who severally reigned at Cordova, Cairo, and Bagdad, excommunicated each other, and claimed severally to be the successors of Mahomet. Then came the fanatical innovation of the Carmathians, who pretended to a divine mission to complete the religion of Mahomet, as Mahomet had completed Christianity. They relaxed the duties of ablution, fasting, and pilgrimage; admitted the use of wine, and protested against the worldly pomp of the Caliphs. They spread their tents along the coast of the Persian Gulf, and in no long time were able to bring an army of 100,000 men into the field. Ultimately they took up their residence on the borders of Assyria, Syria, and Egypt As time went on, and the power of the Caliphs was still further reduced, religious contention broke out in Bagdad itself, between the rigid and the lax parties, and the followers of the Abbassides and of Ali.

If we consult ancient history, the case is the same; the Jews, a people of progress, were ruined, as appears on the face of Scripture, by internal causes; they split into sects, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes, as soon as the Divine Hand retired from the direct government of their polity; and they were fighting together in Jerusalem when the Romans were beleaguering its walls. Nay, even the disunion, which was a special and divine punishment for their sins, was fulfilled according to this natural law which I am illustrating; it was the splendid reign of Solomon, the era of literature, commerce, opulence, and general prosperity, which was the antecedent of fatal revolutions. If we turn to civilized nations of an even earlier date, the case is the same; we are accustomed indeed to associate Chinese and Egyptians with ideas of perpetual untroubled stability; but a philosophical historian, whom I shall presently cite, speaks far otherwise of those times when the intellect was prominently active. China was for many centuries the seat of a number of petty principalities, which were limited, not despotic; about 200 years before our era it became one absolute monarchy. Till then idolatry was unknown, and the doctrines of Confucius were in honour: the first Emperor ordered a general burning of books, burning at the same time between 400 and 500 of the followers of Confucius, and persecuting the men of letters. A rationalist philosophy succeeded, and this again gave way to the introduction of the religion of Buddha or Fo, just about the time of our Lord’s Crucifixion. At later periods, in the fifth and in the thirteenth centuries, the country was divided into two distinct kingdoms, north and south; and such was its state when Marco Polo visited it. It has been several times conquered by the Tartars, and it is a remarkable proof of its civilization, that it has ever obliged them to adopt its manners, laws, and even language. China, then, has a distinct and peculiar internal history, and has paid to the full the penalty which, in the course of centuries, goes along with the blessings of civilization. “The whole history of China, from beginning to end,” says Frederic Schlegel, “displays one continued series of seditions, usurpations, anarchy, changes of dynasty, and other violent revolutions and catastrophes.”

The history of Egypt tells the same tale; “Civil discord,” he says, “existed there under various forms. The country itself was often divided into several kingdoms; and, even when united, we observe a great conflict of interests between the agricultural province of Upper Egypt, and the commercial and manufacturing province of the Lower: as, indeed, a similar clashing of interests is often to be noticed in modern states. In the period immediately preceding the Persian conquest, the caste of warriors, or the whole class of nobility, were decidedly opposed to the monarchs, because they imagined them to promote too much the power of the priesthood;”—in other words, their national downfall was not owing directly to an external cause, but to an internal collision of parties and interests;—“in the same way,” continues the author I am quoting, “as the history of India presents a similar rivalry or political hostility between the Brahmins and the caste of the Cshatriyas. In the reign of Psammatichus, the disaffection of the native nobility obliged this prince to take Greek soldiers into his pay; and thus at length was the defence of Egypt entrusted to an army of foreign mercenaries.” He adds, which is apposite to my purpose, for I suppose he is speaking of civilized nations, “In general, states and kingdoms, before they succumb to a foreign conqueror, are, if not outwardly and visibly, yet secretly and internally, undermined.”

So much on the connexion between the civilization of a state and its overthrow from internal causes, or, what may be called, its succumbing to a natural death. I will only add, that I am but attempting to set down general rules, to which there may be exceptions, explicable or not. For instance, Venice is one of the most civilized states of the middle age; but, by a system of jealous and odious tyranny, it continued to maintain its ground without revolution, when revolutions were frequent in the other Italian cities; yet the very necessity of so severe a despotism shows us what would have happened there, if natural causes had been left to work unimpeded.


I feel I owe you, Gentlemen, an apology for the time I have consumed in an abstract discussion; it is drawing to an end, but it still requires the notice of two questions, on which, however, I have not much to say, even if I would. First, can a civilized state become barbarian in course of years? and secondly, can a barbarian state ever become civilized?

As to the former of these questions, considering the human race did start with society, and did not start with barbarism, and barbarism exists, we might be inclined at first sight to answer it in the affirmative; again, since Christianity implies civilization, and is the recovery of the whole race of Adam, we might answer the second in the affirmative also; but such resolutions of the inquiry are scarcely to the point Doubtless the human race may degenerate, doubtless it may make progress; doubtless men, viewed as individuals or as members of races or tribes, or as inhabitants of certain countries, may change their state from better to worse, or from worse to better: this, however, is not the question; but whether a given state, which has a certain political unity, can change the principle of that unity, and, without breaking up into its component parts, become barbarian instead of civilized, and civilized instead of barbarian.

(1.) Now as to the latter of these questions, it still must be answered in the affirmative under circumstances: that is, all civilized states have started with barbarism, and have gradually in the course of ages developed into civilization, unless there be any political community in the world, as China has by some been considered, representative of Noe; and unless we consider the case of colonies, as Constantinople or Venice, fairly to form an exception. But the question is very much altered, when we contemplate a change in one or two generations from barbarism to civilization. The substitution of one form of political life for another, when it occurs, is the sort of process by which fossils take the place of animal substances, or strata are formed, or carbon is crystallized, or boys grow into men. Christianity itself has never, I think, suddenly civilized a race; national habits and opinions cannot be cast off at will without miracle. Hence the extreme jealousy and irritation of the members of a state with innovators, who would tamper with what the Greeks called νόμιμα, or constitutional and vital usages. Hence the fury of Pentheus against the Mænades, and of the Scythians against their King Scylas, and the agitation created at Athens by the destruction of the Mercuries. Hence the obstinacy of the Roman statesmen of old, and of the British constituency now, against the Catholic Church; and the feeling is so far justified, that projected innovations often turn out, if not simply nugatory, nothing short of destructive; and though there is a great notion just now that the British Constitution admits of being fitted upon every people under heaven, from the Blacks to the Italians, I do not know what has occurred to give plausibility to the anticipation. England herself once attempted the costume of republicanism, but she found that monarchy was part of her political essence.

(2.) Still less can the possibility be admitted of a civilized polity really relapsing into barbarism; though a state of things may be superinduced, which in many of its features may be thought to resemble it. In truth, I have not yet traced out the ultimate result of those internal revolutions which I have assigned as the incidental but certain evils, in the long run, attendant on civilization. That result is various: sometimes the over-civilized and degenerate people is swept from the face of the earth, as the Roman populations in Africa by the Vandals; sometimes it is reduced to servitude, as the Egyptians by the Ptolemies, or the Greeks by the Turks; sometimes it is absorbed or included in new political combinations, as the northern Italians by the Lombards and Franks; sometimes it remains unmolested on its own territory, and lives by the momentum, or the repute, or the habit, or the tradition of its former civilization. This last of course is the only case which bears upon the question I am considering; and I grant that a state of things does then ensue, which in some of its phenomena is like barbarism; China is an example in point. No one can deny its civilization; its diligent care of the soil, its cultivation of silk and of the tea-tree, its populousness, its canals, its literature, its court ceremonial, its refinement of manners, its power of persevering so loyally in its old institutions through so many ages, abundantly vindicate it from the reproach of barbarism. But at the same time there are tokens of degeneracy, which are all the stronger for being also tokens, still more striking than those I have hitherto mentioned, of its high civilization in times past. It has had for ages the knowledge of the more recent discoveries and institutions of the West, which have done so much for Europe, yet it has been unable to use them, the magnetic needle, gunpowder, and printing. The littleness of the national character, its self-conceit, and its formality, are further instances of an effete civilization. They remind the observer vividly of the picture which history presents to us of the Byzantine Court before the taking of Constantinople; or, again, of that material retention of Christian doctrine (to use the theological word), of which Protestantism in its more orthodox exhibitions, and still more, of which the Greek schism affords the specimen. Either a state of deadness and mechanical action, or a restless ebb and flow of opinion and sentiment, is the symptom of that intellectual exhaustion and decrepitude, whether in politics or religion, which, if old age be a second childhood, may in some sense be called barbarism, and of which, at present, we are respectively reminded in China on the one hand, and in some southern states of Europe on the other.

These are the principles, whatever modifications they may require, which, however rudely adumbrated, I trust will suffice to enable me to contemplate the future of the Ottoman Empire.

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