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Copyright © 2005 Ray Dickenson
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Henry Thomas Buckle

The first scientific analyzer of social evolution

'Hari Seldon'

Buckle was the "Hari Seldon" of his day, and much anger was directed at him by establishments who ruled superstitious and nationalist societies.

Even Darwin, called "the most dangerous man in England" by priests, didn't provoke the level of hatred aroused by Buckle.  That fear and hatred seems to persist even today in parts of the English establishment.

Several correspondents say Buckle is almost invisible on the Web.  This page will maybe try to correct that.

Favorite sayings from Buckle -

On churches & organized religion -

"A careful study of religious toleration will show that in every Christian country where it has been adopted, it has been forced upon the clergy by the authority of the secular classes."

"That the system of morals propounded in the New Testament contained no maxim which had not been previously enunciated, and that some of the most beautiful passages in the apostolic writings are quotations from Pagan authors, is well known to every scholar.... To assert that Christianity communicated to man moral truths previously unknown, argues on the part of the asserted either gross ignorance or wilful fraud."

"The clergy, with a few honorable exceptions, have in all modern countries been the avowed enemies of the diffusion of knowledge, the danger of which to their own profession they, by a certain instinct, seem always to have perceived."

On governments & rulers -

"No great political improvement, no great reform, either legislative or executive, has ever been originated in any country by its rulers, every great reform which has been effected has consisted, not in doing something new but in un-doing something old.  Law givers are nearly always the obstructors of society, instead of its helpers."

"Governments do not do good, at best they remove evils imposed by previous Governments."

"The history of every civilized country is the history of its intellectual development, which kings, statesmen, and legislators are more likely to retard than to hasten.  So far from being able to regulate the movements of the national mind, they themselves form the smallest part of it, and, in a general view of the progress of Man, are only to be regarded as the puppets who strut and fret their hour upon a little stage;  while, beyond them, and on every side of them, are forming opinions and principles which they can scarcely perceive, but by which alone the whole course of human affairs is ultimately governed."

On freedom of thought -

"The duty of a philosopher is clear.  He must take every pain to ascertain the truth; and, having arrived at a conclusion, he should noise it abroad far and wide, utterly regardless of what opinions he shocks."

On the altruist survivor -

"Acts of virtue must far outnumber acts of vice, or humanity would long ago have perished."


There are reasons why establishments of chauvinist English politicians and academics - see below - were afraid of Buckle's formulae becoming public knowledge.

Even now political elites attempt to deny, for example, that interest rates are an inverse indicator of the amount of "democracy" allowed within a group or nation, or that the "Laws of Wages, Profits and Rent" give an indication of the relative health (lack of privilege = survivability) of any group within society, or of a nation within world groupings.

Buckle developed these formulae, or researched buried ones, and they are still true - the evidence is around us in the newspapers and in recent (and future?) history.

An SF fan could say that he was the proto-type Hari Seldon - the scientific historian who can predict the future - within given parameters.

His complete independence of mind and ability for clear analysis can be seen in this short chapter: a critique of the `metaphysics' of the day.  That throw-away snippet is still valid and vital, still penetrating fashionable miasmas of hype - both `new age' and `establishment' - on the subjects of consciousness, psychiatry, psychology, psychological-analysis, philosophy and some of the 'logics'.


Buckle.  Henry Thomas

Born Lee (near London) . . . . . . . . . . 1821

Died Damascus . . . . . . . . 1862

From O.U.P. 1925 edition of Vol.1 of Buckle's work, titled "The History of Civilization in England".

Some biographers and commentators call it "The History of Civilization" - which is what it really is, although maybe (IMHO) it should be called "The First Scientific History of Civilization".

See details of Buckle's life

See also - "The Miscellaneous and Posthumous Works of Henry Thomas Buckle" - edited by Helen Taylor - London 1872

Buckle had planned an exhaustive three volume work; the first volume had been pre-titled "An Introduction to - - - "

When falling ill he decided that the "Introduction" would have to serve as Volume One, and used the remainder of his physical resources - we believe his mentality was undimmed - assembling his central thesis and references into one Book.

This has been reprinted at various times in one, two and three volumes.

Contemporary comments.

Editor J.M. Robertson gave an introduction to the one volume edition - "History of Civilization in England" (New York - E.P Dutton & Co., London - George Routledge & Sons Ltd.)

[A three volume London edition was published by Longmans, Green & Co 1885]

"It is thus, in the words of his sympathetic biographer Mr Huth, the fragment of a fragment".

"It is, however a fragment which only a man of genius could have wrought, and the total scheme was one which only an original and powerful mind could have framed" . . . . . . . . . . .

"And even in those closing sections he was making an intellectual impact on the national life which no other man had had the courage to attempt, and of which the effect is not yet spent"

Also from Robertson :-

"Of the charges of error brought by them [his critics] against him, as it happens, the great majority are sheer misconceptions of his plainest teaching.  The last of the many instances I have met with is the statement of Professor Jevons that "Buckle referred the character of a nation to the climate and the soil of its abode".  [Letters and Journal of Stanley Jevons, 1886, p.454]

"This is a repetition of a statement made by several other writers of high standing; and the reader who will attentively peruse the second chapter of this book will see that it completely misrepresents him.  What he taught was that climate and soil in early civilizations determined (a) the food supply, and so (b) the degree of population, and (c) their economic condition; besides further affecting them as regards the regularity or intermittence of their industry.  For the rest, no one ever laid more stress on the operation of the "intellectual laws," which in Europe he declared to countervail the physical".

Robertson again, writing personally:-

"It is said concerning Buckle, by one who talked with him, that "a book that would not descend to posterity was evidently one for which he had but scant respect"

"Only Darwin and Strauss among his contemporaries, perhaps gave a more serious shock to standing opinions: and in his case the vivacity of the attack elicited a proportional resentment.  For a generation, most notices of his book in his own country were hostile."
* note below

Today's reasons

Rational analysis of any nation, or indeed world (and its bureaucracies) will offend those whose loyalties or prejudices are committed.

So we might get some abuse - hardly qualifying as 'criticism' - presumably from people personally committed to some English establishment institution(note below)

Re-presenting Buckle, because, coincidentally a new "evolutionary theory" had formed itself quite naturally from a synthesis of Buckle and Margulis, encouraged by Elaine Morgan's work and others.

Also from Robertson :-

Buckle's words - blue; his quotes of Adam Smith - green

quoting Buckle, writing here of the two mutually conflicting theses of Adam Smith - describing Smith however as "that most profound and original thinker." :-

"In the Theory of Moral Sentiments, he ascribes our actions to sympathy; in his Wealth of Nations, he ascribes them to selfishness.  A short view of these two works will prove the existence of this fundamental difference, and to perceive that each is supplementary to the other; so that, in order to understand either, it is necessary to study both ...

"By proceeding from these premisses, a vast number of social phenomena may be explained.  We naturally sympathize with joy more than with sorrow.  Hence, that admiration for prosperous and successful persons, which is quite independent of any benefit we expect from them; and hence, too, the existence of different ranks and of social distinctions, all of which emanate from the same source.  Hence, also, the feeling of loyalty, which is a product, not of reason, nor of fear, nor of a sense of public convenience, but rather of sympathy with those above us, begetting an extraordinary compassion for even their ordinary sufferings ...  Sympathy, then, is the mainspring of human conduct.  It arises, not so much from witnessing the passions of other persons, as from witnessing the situation which excites those passions.  To this single process we are indebted, not only for the highest principles, but also for the deepest emotions.  For, the greatest affection of which we are capable, is merely sympathy fixed into habit; and the love which exists between the nearest relations, is not inherent, but is derived from this mighty and controlling principle, which governs the whole course of affairs

"At the beginning of the Wealth of Nations, he lays down two propositions:

that all wealth is derived, not from land, but from labour;
and 2d, that the amount of wealth depends, partly on the skill with which the labour is conducted, and partly on the proportion between the number of those who labour and the number of those who do not labour.

In applying them, he everywhere assumes, that the great moving power of all men, all interests, and all classes, in all ages, and in all countries, is selfishness"

See - Adam Smith's own Maxims - from "Wealth of Nations"


Buckle writing, at close of his own work, of the un-reality of all "ism's" and dogmas:-

"That child-like and unhesitating faith , with which the doctrine of interposition was once received, is succeeded by a cold and lifeless assent, very different from the enthusiasm of former times.

Soon, too, this will vanish, and men will cease to be terrified by phantoms which their own ignorance has reared.  This age, haply, may not witness the emancipation; but, so surely as the human mind advances, so surely will that emancipation come.

It may come quicker than any one expects.  For, we are stepping on far and fast.  The signs of the time are all around, and they who list may read.

The handwriting is on the wall; the fiat has gone forth; that ancient empire shall be subverted; the dominion of superstition, already decaying, shall break away, and crumble into dust; and new life being breathed into the confused and chaotic mass, it shall be clearly seen, that, from the beginning, there has been no discrepancy, no incongruity, no disorder, no interruption, no interference; but that all the events which surround us, even to the furthest limits of the material creation, are but different parts of a single scheme, which is permeated by one glorious principle of universal and undeviating regularity."

As Buckle implied (above) the natural human trait of Sympathy - raised to Loyalty, and in some cases to Love - for institutions can make people sensitive to statements, seen as criticism even though strictly factual.


Assessment of Fuchs on Buckle (Review of Geschichtschreibung und Positivismus in England und Deutschland.)

Buckle - on America

Buckle - on Crime

Buckle's Discourse on Metaphysics

Quick Bio for Henry Thomas Buckle

Buckle on `fake History'

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