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The Development Of English Thought: A Study In The Economic Interpretation Of History (1910)

The Development Of English Thought: A Study In The Economic Interpretation Of History (1910)

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From Preface: "The following pages attempt to present a theory of history through concrete illustrations. No endeavour is made, however, to relate in detail the events of any period. A knowledge of historical facts being assumed, certain salient features of each epoch will be thrown into relief, so that the main trend of events may be distinguished from the confusing maze into which the presentation of details often leads. English history has been chosen to illustrate this theory, because the conditions and circumstances isolating England for many centuries have made English thought more normal and more uniform than that of her continental neighbours. The advantages of England-s insular position are too well known to need restatement; only the effects of this isolation require emphasis. It would be difficult to find another nation whose thought was so little influenced by foreign civilization as that of England from the Reformation to the middle of the present century. During all this time England had a vigorous, or at least an active, foreign policy, which, while it kept her in touch with external events, was the interest chiefly of those in court circles, or, at most, of the small aristocratic class that controlled the State and directed its policy. Although it would take volumes to narrate the story of the struggles, successes, and failures of England-s foreign policy during this period, yet these events have no present interest because they affected but little the life and the thought of the people. The great mass of the people, unrepresented in Parliament, took slight interest in the topics it discussed, or the policies it pursued. Foreign wars, were brought home to the people only through the tax-gatherer and the press-gang. So long as the taxes were paid, the governing class was satisfied, while the people were content to pay their taxes in order to be let alone. Thus the gulf between the official class and the people has never been more complete. This state of affairs has rendered the life and thought of the English people peculiarly favourable for study. The growth, propagation, and decay of ideas and modes of thought were unaffected by governmental interference or by foreign influence. Each new crop of ideas sprang up in virgin soil, matured, decayed, and gave way to its. successor without any external interference to hinder its growth. If there are laws, therefore, governing the origin, growth, and modification of national thought, an examination of this period must be productive of results. The theory presented is scarcely open to question, though some of its corollaries may not be evident. Survival is determined and progress created by a struggle for the requisites of which the supply is insufficient. These requisites are the goods for which men strive or the means by which they may avert evils. A group of such definite objects upon which the life and happiness of each race depends, always exists. The environment formed by this group of economic objects surrounding and supporting a given race changes with the several objects in which the interests of the race are centred. With the new objects come new activities and new requisites for survival. To meet these new conditions, the motives, instincts, and habits of the race are modified; new modes of thought are formed; and thus by the modification of institutions, ideals, and customs all the characteristics of the civilization are reconstructed. These changes take place in a regular order; the series repeats itself in each environment. In its amplification and illustration lies the economic interpretation of history."