CHAPTER XII. THE REASONS WHY THE CONSERVATIVE INFLUENCES OF PAGAN CIVILIZATION DID NOT ARREST THE RUIN OF THE ROMAN WORLD.
[Nothing conservative in mere human creation.]
It is a most interesting inquiry why art, literature, science, philosophy, and political organizations, and other trophies of the unaided reason of man, did not prevent so mournful an eclipse of human glory as took place upon the fall of the majestic empire of the Romans. There can be no question that civilization achieved most splendid triumphs, even under the influence of pagan institutions. But it was not paganism which achieved these victories; it was the will and the reason of a noble race, in spite of its withering effects. It was the proud reason of man which soared to such lofty heights, and attempted to secure happiness and prosperity. These great ends were measurably attained, and a self-sufficient philosopher might have pointed to these victories as both glorious and permanent. When the eyes of contemporaries rested on the beautiful and cultivated face of nature, on commerce and ships, on military successes and triumphs, on the glories of heroes and generals, on a subdued world, on a complicated mechanism of social life, on the blazing wonders of art, on the sculptures and pictures, the temples and monuments which ornamented every part of the empire, when they reflected on the bright theories which philosophy proposed, on the truths which were incorporated with the system of jurisprudence, on the wondrous constitution which the experience of ages had framed, on the genius of poets and historians, on the whole system of social life, adorned with polished manners and the graces of genial intercourse - when they saw that all these triumphs had been won over barbarism, and had been constantly progressing with succeeding generations, it seemed that the reign of peace and prosperity would be perpetual. It is nothing to the point whether the civilization of which all people boasted, and in which they trusted, was superior or inferior to that which has subsequently been achieved by the Gothic races. The question is, Did these arts and sciences produce an influence sufficiently strong to conserve society? That they polished and adorned individuals cannot be questioned. Did they infuse life into the decaying mass? Did they prolong political existence? Did they produce valor and moral force among the masses? Did they raise a bulwark capable of resisting human degeneracy or barbaric violence? Did they lead to self- restraint? Did they create a lofty public sentiment which scorned baseness and lies? Did they so raise the moral tone of society that people were induced to make sacrifices and noble efforts to preserve blessings which had already been secured.
[Civilisation can only rise to a certain height by unabled reason.]