J.S. Mill on Civilization and Barbarism

By Michael Levin | Go to book overview

Chapter Four

Progress

FROM BARBARISM TO CIVILIZATION

A key question concerning Mill's theory of civilization as a process is how some peoples find their own means of advancement and others don't. It was clearly no small achievement to have ascended the ladder of development, for 'few nations have ever attained at all, and still fewer by their own independent development, a high state of social progress'. 1 How, then, did Britain advance to its current heights? Was it an autonomous process or through the benefit of foreign invasion? It seems plausible to accept that the Romans brought civilization to Britain, but they came and then, a few centuries later, went. Another civilizing influence would be that of the Normans, who came and stayed. It might have rather pleased Mill to think of Britain becoming civilized through the French. This raises the problem of infinite regress, however, for how then did the Normans rise from barbarism? Did they have their own Akbar and, if so, from which society did he come? Progress could not originally have been brought from the outside, so how did it start?

Before asking how a society develops, however, we must, in this instance, ponder how it is formed in the first place. For some theorists this is not an issue. For a tradition that probably commences with Aristotle and continues through to Burke, Marx and Durkheim, society came first. Mankind is naturally social. The group, whether in the form of family, clan, tribe or ethnie, is natural. In Durkheim's theory of development, for instance, the initial stage of mechanical solidarity was one where human similarity predominated. Each society started as a monochrome mass and gradually, through the increasing division of labour, became more differentiated. Increasing individuality, then, was the result of a protracted historical process; it was a social product. The contrast with Mill is quite striking. He was not a social contract theorist in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sense, but he inherited that liberal tradition which took individuality as primary in both an ethical and a historical sense. For him the individual came first. The pre-social individual had to be persuaded or coerced into society and only then,

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J.S. Mill on Civilization and Barbarism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Chronology x
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - Civilization 9
  • Chapter Three - Barbarism and the Imperial Remedy 31
  • Chapter Four - Progress 62
  • Chapter Five - Civilization Threatened 80
  • Chapter Six - Standstill: the Case of China 94
  • Chapter Seven - Aftermath 121
  • Bibliography 140
  • Index 149
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