Auguste Comte and Positivism HTML version

ingenuity on inquiries and speculations of no value to mankind (among which he includes
many now in high estimation), and compel them to employ all their powers on the
investigations which may be judged, at the time, to be the most urgently important to the
general welfare. The temporal government which is to coexist with this spiritual
authority, consists of an aristocracy of capitalists, whose dignity and authority are to be in
the ratio of the degree of generality of their conceptions and operations - bankers at the
summit, merchants next, then manufacturers, and agriculturists at the bottom of the scale.
No representative system, or other popular organization, by way of counterpoise to this
governing power, is ever contemplated. The checks relied upon for preventing its abuse,
are the counsels and remonstrances of the Spiritual Power, and unlimited liberty of
discussion and comment by all classes of inferiors. Of the mode in which either set of
authorities should fulfil the office assigned to it, little is said in this treatise: but the
general idea is, while regulating as little as possible by law, to make the pressure of
opinion, directed by the Spiritual Power, so heavy on every individual, from the humblest
to the most powerful, as to render legal obligation, in as many cases as possible, needless.
Liberty and spontaneity on the part of individuals form no part of the scheme. M. Comte
looks on them with as great jealousy as any scholastic pedagogue, or ecclesiastical
director of consciences. Every particular of conduct, public or private, is to be open to the
public eye, and to be kept, by the power of opinion, in the course which the Spiritual
corporation shall judge to be the most right.
This is not a sufficiently tempting picture to have much chance of making converts
rapidly, and the objections to the scheme are too obvious to need stating. Indeed, it is
only thoughtful persons to whom it will be credible, that speculations leading to this
result can deserve the attention necessary for understanding them. We propose in the next
Essay to examine them as part of the elaborate and coherent system of doctrine, which M.
Comte afterwards put together for the reconstruction of society. Meanwhile the reader
will gather, from what has been said, that M. Comte has not, in our opinion, created
Sociology. Except his analysis of history, to which there is much to be added, but which
we do not think likely to be ever, in its general features, superseded, he has done nothing
in Sociology which does not require to be done over again, and better. Nevertheless, he
has greatly advanced the study. Besides the great stores of thought, of various and often
of eminent merit, with which he has enriched the subject, his conception of its method is
so much truer and more profound than that of any one who preceded him, as to constitute
an era in its cultivation. If it cannot be said of him that he has created a science, it may be
said truly that he has, for the first time, made the creation possible. This is a great
achievement, and, with the extraordinary merit of his historical analysis, and of his
philosophy of the physical sciences, is enough to immortalize his name. But his renown
with posterity would probably have been greater than it is now likely to be, if after
showing the way in which the social science should be formed, he had not flattered
himself that he had formed it, and that it was already sufficiently solid for attempting to
build upon its foundation the entire fabric of the Political Art.