Early in the nineteenth century, there began in the Near East a change from one system of social thought to another. The old system started from the idea that there is some principle which stands above the state and society, guiding and judging the life of society and the actions of governments; it found this principle in the teachings of a revealed religion, Islam. The new system also believed that a principle existed, but it thought it could be found by human reason. From this idea it derived a program of action which could, in some circumstances, be one of revolution: if the institutions of society are not what reason says they should be, men are not obliged to obey them; rather, they should replace them by others more rational and remake the social world in the light of their image of perfection.
This is the obvious way of describing the change, but in fact it has gone deeper. In the Near East as elsewhere, men's minds have moved not only from the idea that the principles of social action are religious to the idea that they are rational, but also from the idea that there are such principles, standing above society, to the idea that society is its own judge and master, that the principles by which it should live are generated within itself, change as it changes, that its own interest is the supreme principle.
To put it crudely, the first change-the formation of the idea that there are eternal truths about society to be discovered by reason-was the work of the eighteenth century. The second was the work of the nineteenth, and was the product of many factors: the desire of thinkers to "close the revolutionary age," to find a principle which would justify necessary change without establishing the tyranny of abstract ideas; the philosophy of Hegel and the great sciences and half-sciences which sprang from it- historiography, mythology, anthropology, sociology; the exploration of the world, revealing the
Loading, please wait...