Geographical Basis Of History, Part I

Philosophy Of History

Author:    Hegel, G.W.F.

Date:       1857    Translation: Sibree, J., M.A.

 

part two

 

     Contrasted with the universality of the moral Whole and with the unity of

that individuality which is its active principle, the natural connection that

helps to produce the Spirit of a People, appears an extrinsic element; but

inasmuch as we must regard it as the ground on which that Spirit plays its

part, it is an essential and necessary basis.  We began with the assertion

that, in the History of the World, the Idea of Spirit appears in its actual

embodiment as a series of external forms, each one of which declares itself as

an actually existing people.  This existence falls under the category of Time

as well as Space, in the way of natural existence; and the special principle,

which every world-historical people embodies, has this principle at the same

time as a natural characteristic.  Spirit, clothing itself in this form of

nature, suffers its particular phases to assume separate existence; for mutual

exclusion is the mode of existence proper to mere nature.  These natural

distinctions must be first of all regarded as special possibilities, from

which the Spirit of the people in question germinates, and among them is the

Geographical Basis.  It is not our concern to become acquainted with the land

occupied by nations as an external locale, but with the natural type of the

locality, as intimately connected with the type and character of the people

which is the offspring of such a soil.  This character is nothing more nor

less than the mode and form in which nations make their appearance in History,

and take place and position in it.  Nature should not be rated too high nor

too low: the mild Ionic sky certainly contributed much to the charm of the

Homeric poems, yet this alone can produce no Homers.  Nor in fact does it

continue to produce them; under Turkish government no bards have arisen.  We

must first take notice of those natural conditions which have to be excluded

once for all from the drama of the World's History.  In the Frigid and in the

Torrid zone the locality of World-historical peoples cannot be found.  For

awakening consciousness takes its rise surrounded by natural influences alone,

and every development of it is the reflection of Spirit back upon itself in

opposition to the immediate, unreflected character of mere nature.  Nature is

therefore one element in this antithetic abstracting process; Nature is the

first stand point from which man can gain freedom within himself, and this

liberation must not be rendered difficult by natural obstructions.  Nature, as

contrasted with Spirit, is a quantitative mass, whose power must not be so

great as to make its single force omnipotent.  In the extreme zones man cannot

come to free movement; cold and heat are here too powerful to allow Spirit to

build up a world for itself.  Aristotle said long ago, "When pressing needs

are satisfied, man turns to the general and more elevated." But in the extreme

zones such pressure may be said never to cease, never to be warded off; men

are constantly impelled to direct attention to nature, to the glowing rays of

the sun, and the icy frost.  The true theatre of History is therefore the

temperate zone; or rather, its northern half, because the earth there presents

itself in a continental form, and has a broad breast, and the Greeks say.  In

the south, on the contrary, it divides itself, and runs out into many points.

The same peculiarity shews itself in natural products.  The north has many

kinds of animals and plants with common characteristics; in the south, where

the land divides itself into points, natural forms also present individual

features contrasted with each other.

 

     The World is divided into Old and New; the name of New having originated

in the fact that America and Australia have only lately became known to us.

But these parts of the world are not only relatively new, but intrinsically so

in respect of their entire physical and psychical constitution.  Their

geological antiquity we have nothing to do with.  I will not deny the New

World the honour of having emerged from the sea at the world's formation

contemporaneously with the old: yet the Archipelago between South America and

Asia shews a physical immaturity.  The greater part of the islands are so

constituted, that they are, as it were, only a superficial deposit of earth

over rocks, which shoot up from the fathomless deep, and bear the character of

novel origination.  New Holland shews a not less immature geographical

character; for in penetrating from the settlements of the English farther into

the country, we discover immense streams, which have not yet developed

themselves to such a degree as to dig a channel for themselves, but lose

themselves in marshes.  Of America and its grade of civilization, especially

in Mexico and Peru, we have information, but it imports nothing more than that

this culture was an entirely national one, which must expire as soon as Spirit

approached it.  America has always shewn itself physically and psychically

powerless, and still shews itself so.  For the aborigines, after the landing

of the Europeans in America, gradually vanished at the breath of European

activity.  In the United States of North America all the citizens are of

European descent, with whom the old inhabitants could not amalgamate, but were

driven back.  The aborigines have certainly adopted some arts and usages from

the Europeans, among others that of brandy-drinking, which has operated with

deadly effect.  In the South the natives were treated with much greater

violence, and employed in hard labours to which their strength was by no means

competent.  A mild and passionless disposition, want of spirit, and a

crouching submissiveness towards a Creole, and still more towards a European,

are the chief characteristics of the native Americans; and it will be long

before the Europeans succeed in producing any independence of feeling in them.

The inferiority of these individuals in all respects, even in regard to size,

is very manifest; only the quite southern races in Patagonia are more vigorous

natures, but still abiding in their natural condition of rudeness and

barbarism.  When the Jesuits and the Catholic clergy proposed to accustom the

Indians to European culture and manners (they have, as is well known, founded

a state in Paraguay and convents in Mexico and California), they commenced a

close intimacy with them, and prescribed for them the duties of the day,

which, slothful though their disposition was, they complied with under the

authority of the Friars.  These prescripts, (at midnight a bell had to remind

them even of their matrimonial duties,) were first, and very wisely, directed

to the creation of wants - the springs of human activity generally.  The

weakness of the American physique was a chief reason for bringing the negroes

to America, to employ their labour in the work that had to be done in the New

World; for the negroes are far more susceptible of European culture than the

Indians, and an English traveller has adduced instances of negroes having

become competent clergymen, medical men, &c. (a negro first discovered the use

of the Peruvian bark), while only a single native was known to him whose

intellect was sufficiently developed to enable him to study, but who had died

soon after beginning, through excessive brandy-drinking.  The weakness of the

human physique of America has been aggravated by a deficiency in the mere

tools and appliances of progress, - the want of horses and iron, the chief

instruments by which they were subdued.

 

     The original nation having vanished or nearly so, the effective

population comes for the most part from Europe; and what takes place in

America, is but an emanation from Europe.  Europe has sent its surplus

population to America in much the same way as from the old Imperial Cities,

where trade-guilds were dominant and trade was stereotyped, many persons

escaped to other towns which were not under such a yoke, and where the burden

of imposts was not so heavy.  Thus arose, by the side of Hamburg, Altona, - by

Frankfort, Offenbach, - by Nurnburg, Furth, - and Carouge by Geneva.  The

relation between North America and Europe is similar.  Many Englishmen have

settled there, where burdens and imposts do not exist, and where the

combination of European appliances and European ingenuity has availed to

realize some produce from the extensive and still virgin soil.  Indeed the

emigration in question offers many advantages.  The emigrants have got rid of

much that might be obstructive to their interests at home, while they take

with them the advantages of European independence of spirit, and acquired

skill; while for those who are willing to work vigorously, but who have not

found in Europe opportunities for doing so, a sphere of action is certainly

presented in America.

 

     America, as is well known, is divided into two parts, connected indeed by

an isthmus, but which has not been the means of establishing intercourse

between them.  Rather, these two divisions are most decidedly distinct from

each other.  North America shews us on approaching it, along its eastern shore

a wide border of level coast, behind which is stretched a chain of mountains -

the blue mountains or Apalachians; further north the Alleghanies. Streams

issuing from them water the country towards the coast, which affords

advantages of the most desirable kind to the United States, whose origin

belongs to this region.  Behind that mountain-chain the St. Lawrence river

flows, (in connection with huge lakes), from south to north, and on this river

lie the northern colonies of Canada.  Farther west we meet the basin of the

vast Mississippi, and the basins of the Missouri and Ohio, which it receives,

and then debouches into the bay of Mexico.  On the western side of this region

we have in like manner a long mountain chain, running through Mexico and the

Isthmus of Panama, and under the names of the Andes or Cordillera, cutting off

an edge of coast along the whole west side of South America.  The border

formed by this is narrower and offers fewer advantages than that of North

America.  There lie Peru and Chili.  On the east side flow eastwards the

monstrous streams of the Orinoco and Amazons; they form great valleys, not

adapted however for cultivation, since they are only wide desert steppes.

Towards the south flows the Rio de la Plata, whose tributaries have their

origin partly in the Cordilleras, partly in the northern chain of mountains

which separates the basin of the Amazons from its own.  To the district of the

Rio de la Plata belong Brazil, and the Spanish Republics. Columbia is the

northern coast-land of South America, at the west of which, flowing along the

Andes, the Magdalena debouches into the Caribbean Sea.

 

     With the exception of Brazil, republics have come to occupy South as well

as North America.  In comparing South America (reckoning Mexico as part of it)

with North America, we observe an astonishing contrast.

 

     In North America we witness a prosperous state of things, an increase of

industry and population, civil order and firm freedom; the whole federation

constitutes but a single state, and has its political centres. In South

America, on the contrary, the republics depend only on military force; their

whole history is a continued revolution; federated states become disunited;

others previously separated become united; and all these changes originate in

military revolutions.  The more special differences between the two parts of

America shew us two opposite directions, the one in political respects, the

other in regard to religion.  South America, where the Spaniards settled and

asserted supremacy, is Catholic; North America, although a land of sects of

every name, is yet fundamentally, Protestant. A wider distinction is presented

in the fact, that South America was conquered, but North America colonised.

The Spaniards took possession of South America to govern it, and to become

rich through occupying political offices, and by exactions.  Depending on a

very distant mother-country, their desires found a larger scope, and by force

address and confidence they gained a great predominance over the Indians.  The

North American States were, on the other hand, entirely colonised, by

Europeans.  Since in England Puritans, Episcopalians, and Catholics were

engaged in perpetual conflict, and now one party, now the other had the upper

hand, many emigrated to seek religious freedom on a foreign shore.  These were

industrious Europeans, who betook themselves to agriculture, tobacco and

cotton planting, &c.  Soon the whole attention of the inhabitants was given to

labour, and the basis of their existence as a united body lay in the

necessities that bind man to man, the desire of repose, the establishment of

civil rights, security and freedom, and a community arising from the

aggregation of individuals as atomic constituents; so that the state was

merely something external for the protection of property.  From the Protestant

religion sprang the principle of the mutual confidence of individuals, - trust

in the honourable dispositions of other men; for in the Protestant Church the

entire life - its activity generally - is the field for what it deems

religious works.  Among Catholics, on the contrary, the basis of such a

confidence cannot exist; for in secular matters only force and voluntary

subservience are the principles of action; and the forms which are called

Constitutions are in this case only a resort of necessity, and are no

protection against mistrust.

 

     If we compare North America further with Europe, we shall find in the

former the permanent example of a republican constitution.  A subjective unity

presents itself; for there is a President at the head of the State, who, for

the sake of security against any monarchical ambition, is chosen only for four

years.  Universal protection for property, and a something approaching entire

immunity from public burdens, are facts which are constantly held up to

commendation.  We have in these facts the fundamental character of the

community, - the endeavour of the individual after acquisition, commercial

profit, and gain; the preponderance of private interest, devoting itself to

that of the community only for its own advantage.  We find, certainly, legal

relations - a formal code of laws; but respect for law exists apart from

genuine probity, and the American merchants commonly lie under the imputation

of dishonest dealings under legal protection.  If, on the one side, the

Protestant Church develops the essential principle of confidence, as already

stated, it thereby involves on the other hand the recognition of the validity

of the element of feeling to such a degree as gives encouragement to unseemly

varieties of caprice.  Those who adopt this stand-point maintain, that, as

every one may have his peculiar way of viewing things generally, so he may

have also a religion peculiar to himself.  Thence the splitting up into so

many sects, which reach the very acme of absurdity; many of which have a form

of worship consisting in convulsive movements, and sometimes in the most

sensuous extravagances.  This complete freedom of worship is developed to such

a degree, that the various congregations choose ministers and dismiss them

according to their absolute pleasure; for the Church is no independent

existence, - having a substantial spiritual being, and correspondingly

permanent external arrangement, - but the affairs of religion are regulated by

the good pleasure for the time being of the members of the community.  In

North America the most unbounded licence of imagination in religious matters

prevails, and that religious unity is wanting which has been maintained in

European States, where deviations are limited to a few confessions.  As to the

political condition of North America, the general object of the existence of

this State is not yet fixed and determined, and the necessity for a firm

combination does not yet exist; for a real State and a real Government arise

only after a distinction of classes has arisen, when wealth and poverty become

extreme, and when such a condition of things presents itself that a large

portion of the people can no longer satisfy its necessities in the way in

which it has been accustomed so to do.  But America is hitherto exempt from

this pressure, for it has the outlet of colonization constantly and widely

open, and multitudes are continually streaming into the plains of the

Mississippi.  By this means the chief source of discontent is removed, and the

continuation of the existing civil condition is guaranteed.  A comparison of

the United States of North America with European lands is therefore

impossible; for in Europe, such a natural outlet for population,

notwithstanding all the emigrations that take place, does not exist.  Had the

woods of Germany been in existence, the French Revolution would not have

occurred.  North America will be comparable with Europe only after the

immeasurable space which that country presents to its inhabitants shall have

been occupied, and the members of the political body shall have begun to be

pressed back on each other.  North America is still in the condition of having

land to begin to cultivate.  Only when, as in Europe, the direct increase of

agriculturists is checked, will the inhabitants, instead of pressing outwards

to occupy the fields, press inwards upon each other, - pursuing town

occupations, and trading with their fellow citizens; and so form a compact

system of civil society, and require an organized state.  The North American

Federation have no neighbouring State, (towards which they occupy a relation

similar to that of European States to each other), one which they regard with

mistrust, and against which they must keep up a standing army.  Canada and

Mexico are not objects of fear, and England has had fifty years experience,

that free America is more profitable to her than it was in a state of

dependence.  The militia of the North American Republic proved themselves

quite as brave in the War of Independence, as the Dutch under Philip II.; but

generally, where Independence is not at stake, less power is displayed, and in

the year 1814 the militia held out but indifferently against the English.

 

     America is therefore the land of the future, where, in the ages that lie

before us, the burden of the World's History shall reveal itself, - perhaps in

a contest between North and South America.  It is a land of desire for all

those who are weary of the historical lumber-room of old Europe.  Napoleon is

reported to have said, "Cette vieille Europe m'ennuie." It is for America to

abandon the ground on which hitherto the History of the World has developed

itself.  What has taken place in the New World up to the present time is only

an echo of the Old World, - the expression of a foreign Life; and as a Land of

the Future, it has no interest for us here, for, as regards History, our

concern must be with that which has been and that which is.  In regard to

Philosophy, on the other hand, we have to do with that which (strictly

speaking) is neither past nor future, but with that which is, which has an

eternal existence - with Reason; and this is quite sufficient to occupy us.

 

     Dismissing, then, the New World, and the dreams to which it may give

rise, we pass over to the Old World - the scene of the World's History; and

must first direct attention to the natural elements and conditions of

existence which it presents.  America is divided into two parts, which are

indeed connected by an Isthmus, but which forms only an external, material

bond of union.  The Old World, on the contrary, which lies opposite to

America, and is separated from it by the Atlantic Ocean, has its continuity

interrupted by a deep inlet - the Mediterranean Sea.  The three Continents

that compose it have an essential relation to each other, and constitute a

totality.  Their peculiar feature is that they lie round this Sea, and

therefore have an easy means of communication; for rivers and seas are not to

be regarded as disjoining, but as uniting.  England and Brittany, Norway and

Denmark, Sweden and Livonia, have been united.  For the three quarters of the

globe the Mediterranean Sea is similarly the uniting element, and the centre

of World-History.  Greece lies here, the focus of light in History. Then in

Syria we have Jerusalem, the centre of Judaism and of Christianity; south-east

of it lie Mecca and Medina, the cradle of the Mussulman faith; towards the

west Delphi and Athens; farther west still, Rome: on the Mediterranean Sea we

have also Alexandria and Carthage.  The Mediterranean is thus the heart of the

Old World, for it is that which conditioned and vitalized it.  Without it the

History of the World could not be conceived: it would be like ancient Rome or

Athens without the forum, where all the life of the city came together.  The

extensive tract of eastern Asia is severed from the process of general

historical development, and has no share in it; so also Northern Europe, which

took part in the World's History only at a later date, and had no part in it

while the Old World lasted; for this was exclusively limited to the countries

lying round the Mediterranean Sea. Julius Caesar's crossing the Alps - the

conquest of Gaul and the relation into which the Germans thereby entered with

the Roman Empire - makes consequently an epoch in History; for in virtue of

this it begins to extend its boundaries beyond the Alps.  Eastern Asia and

that trans-Alpine country are the extremes of this agitated focus of human

life around the Mediterranean, - the beginning and end of History, - its rise

and decline.

 

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