Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
The Organization of Public Intellect
By John William Draper (1811–1882)
[Born at St. Helen’s, near Liverpool, England, 1811. Died at Hastings-on-Hudson, N. Y., 1882. History of the Intellectual Development of Europe.—Revised Edition. 1876.]

NATIONS, like individuals, are born, pass through a predestined growth, and die. One comes to its end at an early period and in an untimely way; another, not until it has gained maturity. One is cut off by feebleness in its infancy, another is destroyed by civil disease, another commits political suicide, another lingers in old age. But for every one there is an orderly way of progress to its final term, whatever that term may be.
  Now, when we look at the successive phases of individual life, what is it that we find to be their chief characteristic? Intellectual advancement. And we consider that maturity is reached when intellect is at its maximum. The earlier stages are preparatory; they are wholly subordinate to this.  2
  If the anatomist be asked how the human form advances to its highest perfection, he at once disregards all the inferior organs of which it is composed, and answers that it is through provisions in its nervous structure for intellectual improvement; that in succession it passes through stages analogous to those observed in other animals in the ascending scale, but in the end it leaves them far behind, reaching a point to which they never attain. The rise in organic development measures intellectual dignity.  3
  In like manner, the physiologist, considering the vast series of animals now inhabiting the earth with us, ranks them in the order of their intelligence. He shows that their nervous mechanism unfolds itself upon the same plan as that of man, and that, as its advancement in this uniform and predetermined direction is greater, so is the position attained to higher.  4
  The geologist declares that these conclusions hold good in the history of the earth, and that there has been an orderly improvement in intellectual power of the beings that have inhabited it successively. It is manifested by their nervous systems. He affirms that the cycle of transformation through which every man must pass is a miniature representation of the progress of life on the planet. The intention in both cases is the same.  5
  The sciences, therefore, join with history in affirming that the great aim of nature is intellectual improvement. They proclaim that the successive stages of every individual, from its earliest rudiment to maturity—the numberless organic beings now living contemporaneously with us, and constituting the animal series—the orderly appearance of that grand succession which, in the slow lapse of time, has emerged—all these three great lines of the manifestation of life furnish not only evidences, but also proofs, of the dominion of law. In all the general principle is to differentiate instinct from automatism, and then to differentiate intelligence from instinct. In man himself the three distinct modes of life occur in an epochal order through childhood to the most perfect state. And this holding good for the individual, since it is physiologically impossible to separate him from the race, what holds good for the one must also hold good for the other. Hence man is truly the archetype of society. His development is the model of social progress.  6
  What, then, is the conclusion inculcated by these doctrines as regards the social progress of great communities? It is that all political institutions—imperceptibly or visibly, spontaneously or purposely—should tend to the improvement and organization of national intellect.  7
  The expectation of life in a community, as in an individual, increases in proportion as the artificial condition or laws under which it is living agree with the natural tendency. Existence may be maintained under very adverse circumstances for a season; but, for stability and duration, and prosperity, there must be a correspondence between the artificial conditions and the natural tendency.  8
  Europe is now entering on its mature phase of life. Each of its nations will attempt its own intellectual organization, and will accomplish it more or less perfectly, as certainly as that bees build combs and fill them with honey. The excellence of the result will altogether turn on the suitability and perfection of the means.  9
  There are historical illustrations which throw light upon the working of these principles. Thus, centuries ago, China entered on her Age of Reason, and instinctively commenced the operation of mental organization. What is it that has given to her her wonderful longevity? What is it that insures the well-being, the prosperity of a population of three hundred and sixty millions—more than one-fourth of the human race—on a surface not by any means as large as Europe? Not geographical position; for, though the country may in former ages have been safe on the East by reason of the sea, it has been invaded and conquered from the West. Not a docility, want of spirit, or submissiveness of the people, for there have been bloody insurrections. The Chinese empire extends through twenty degrees of latitude; the mean annual temperature of its northern provinces differs from that of the southern by twenty-five Fahrenheit degrees. Hence, with a wonderful variety in its vegetation, there must be great differences in the types of men inhabiting it. But the principle that lies at the basis of its political system has confronted successfully all these human varieties, and has outlived all revolutions.  10
  The organization of the national intellect is that principle. A broad foundation is laid in universal education. It is intended that every Chinese shall know how to read and write. The special plan then adopted is that of competitive examinations. The way to public advancement is open to all. Merit, real or supposed, is the only passport to office. Its degree determines exclusively social rank. The government is organized on mental qualifications. The imperial constitution is imitated in those of the provinces. Once in three years public examinations are held in each district or county, with a view of ascertaining those who are fit for office. The bachelors, or those who are successful, are triennially sent for renewed examination in the provincial capital before two examiners deputed from the general board of public education. The licentiates thus sifted out now offer themselves for final examination before the imperial board at Pekin. Suitable candidates for vacant posts are thus selected. There is no one who is not liable to such an inquisition. When vacancies occur they are filled from the list of approved men, who are gradually elevated to the highest honors.  11
  It is not because the talented, who, when disappointed, constitute in other countries the most dangerous of all classes, are here provided for, that stability of institutions has been attained, but because the political system approaches to an agreement with that physiological condition which guides all social development. The intention is to give a dominating control to intellect.  12
  The method through which that result is aimed at is imperfect, and, consequently, an absolute coincidence between the system and the tendency is not attained, but the stability secured by their approximation is very striking. The method itself is the issue of political forms through which the nation for ages has been passing. Their insufficiency and imperfections are incorporated with and reappear in it.  13
  To the practical eye of Europe a political system thus founded on a literary basis appears to be an absurdity. But we must look with respect on anything that one-fourth of mankind have concluded it best to do, especially since they have consistently adhered to their determination for several thousand years. Forgetting that herein they satisfy an instinct of humanity which every nation, if it lives long enough, must feel, Europe often asserts that it is the competitive system which has brought the Chinese to their present state, and made them a people without any sense of patriotism or honor, without any faith or vigor. These are the results, not of their system, but of old age. There are octogenarians among us as morose, selfish, and conceited as China.  14
  The want of a clear understanding of our relative position vitiates all our dealings with that ancient empire. The Chinese has heard of our discordant opinions, of our intolerance toward those who differ in ideas from us, of our worship of wealth, and the honor we pay to birth; he has heard that we sometimes commit political power to men who are so little above the animals that they can neither read nor write; that we hold military success in esteem, and regard the profession of arms as the only suitable occupation for a gentleman. It is so long since his ancestors thought and acted in that manner that he justifies himself in regarding us as having scarcely yet emerged from the barbarian stage. On our side, we cherish the delusion that we shall, by precept or by force, convert him to our modes of thought, religious or political, and that we can infuse into his stagnating veins a portion of our enterprise.  15
  A trustworthy account of the present condition of China would be a valuable gift to philosophy, and also to statesmanship. On a former page I have remarked … that it demands the highest policy to govern populations living in great differences of latitude. Yet China has not only controlled her climatic strands of people; she has even made them, if not homogeneous, yet so fitted to each other that they all think and labor alike. Europe is inevitably hastening to become what China is. In her we may see what we shall be like when we are old.  16
  A great community, aiming to govern itself by intellect rather than by coercion, is a spectacle worthy of admiration, even though the mode by which it endeavors to accomplish its object is plainly inadequate. Brute force holds communities together as an iron nail binds pieces of wood by the compression it makes—a compression depending on the force with which it has been hammered in. It also holds more tenaciously if a little rusted with age. But intelligence binds like a screw. The things it has to unite must be carefully adjusted to its thread. It must be gently turned, not driven, and so it retains the consenting parts firmly together.  17
  Notwithstanding the imperfections of a system founded on such a faulty basis, that great community has accomplished what many consider to be the object of statesmanship. They think that it should be permanence in Institutions. But permanence is only, in an apparent sense, the object of good statesmanship; progression, in accordance with the natural tendency, is the real one. The successive steps of such a progression follow one another so imperceptibly that there is a delusive appearance of permanence. Man is so constituted that he is never aware of continuous motion. Abrupt variations alone impress his attention.  18
  Forms of government, therefore, are of moment, though not in the manner commonly supposed. Their value increases in proportion as they permit or encourage the natural tendency for development to be satisfied.  19
  While Asia has thus furnished an example of the effects of a national organization of intellect, Europe, on a smaller scale, has presented an illustration of the same kind. The papal system opened, in its special circumstances, a way for talent. It maintained an intellectual organization for those who were within its pale, irrespective of wealth or birth. It was no objection that the greatest churchman frequently came from the lowest walks of life. And that organization sustained it in spite of the opposition of external circumstances for several centuries after its supernatural and ostensible basis had completely decayed away.  20
  Whatever may be the facts under which, in the different countries of Europe, such an organization takes place, or the political forms guiding it, the basis it must rest upon is universal, and, if necessary, compulsory education. In the more enlightened places the movement has already nearly reached that point. Already it is an accepted doctrine that the state, as well as the parent, has rights in a child, and that it may insist on education; conversely, also, that every child has a claim upon the government for good instruction. After providing in the most liberal manner for that, free countries have but one thing more to do for the accomplishment of the rest.  21
  That one thing is to secure intellectual freedom as completely as the rights of property and personal liberty have been already secured. Philosophical opinions and scientific discoveries are entitled to be judged of by their truth, not by their relation to existing interests. The motion of the earth round the sun, the antiquity of the globe, the origin of species, are doctrines which have had to force their way in the manner described in this book, not against philosophical opposition, but opposition of a totally different nature. And yet the interests which resisted them so strenuously have received no damage from their establishment beyond that consequent on the discredit of having so resisted them.  22
  There is no literary crime greater than that of exciting a social, and especially a theological, odium against ideas that are purely scientific, none against which the disapproval of every educated man ought to be more strongly expressed. The republic of letters owes it to its own dignity to tolerate no longer offences of that kind.  23
  To such an organization of their national intellect, and to giving it a political control, the countries of Europe are thus rapidly advancing. They are hastening to satisfy their instinctive tendency. The special form in which they will embody their intentions must, of course, depend to a great degree on the political forms under which they have passed their lives, modified by that approach to homogeneousness which arises from increased intercommunication. The canal system, so wonderfully developed in China, exerted no little influence in that respect—an influence, however, not to be compared with that which must be the result of the railway system of Europe.  24
  In an all-important particular the prospect of Europe is bright. China is passing through the last stage of civil life in the cheerlessness of Buddhism; Europe approaches it through Christianity. Universal benevolence cannot fail to yield a better fruit than unsocial pride. There is a fairer hope for nations animated by a sincere religious sentiment, who, whatever their political history may have been, have always agreed in this, that they were devout, than for a people who dedicate themselves to a selfish pursuit of material advantages, who have lost all belief in a future, and are living without any God.  25

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.