The Yale Review (review date 1896)
SOURCE: A review of The Law of Civilization and Decay, in The Yale Review, 1896, pp. 451-53.
[In the following excerpt, the reviewer finds Adams's The Law of Civilization and Decay a flawed yet valuable work in determining historical patterns. ]
Reference was made in a notice of Kidd's Social Evolution in the third volume of this Review, to the probability that we should have many attempts in the next few years to construct a philosophy of history on the basis of our existing knowledge. The present attempt is by the historian of the Emancipation of Massachusetts. Any one who thinks it possible for the present age to produce a final philosophy of history, would derive much instruction by reading this book and Mr. Kidd's together.
The term "science" of history rather than "philosophy" must be applied to the attempt, if we speak strictly. It opens—to give the order of the author's thought rather than of his statement—with three fundamental assumptions. First, actions of every kind are manifestations of material energy, and are controlled by its laws. Second, human history, as one of the "outlets through which solar energy is dissipated," is governed by fixed laws. Third, among human actions, thoughts or "intellectual phenomena," are those which determine the course of history. Starting with these propositions assumed, the science of history is developed in this way. The first controlling intellectual conception is fear. This leads to religious, military, and artistic types of civilization, and, in richly endowed races, to an accumulation of energy in the form of capital. As this accumulation takes place, the race passes into the second stage, and greed succeeds fear as the determining idea. This leads to economic organization in which capital tends to become supreme, to the decay of the earlier types of civilization, to the waste of energy through competition, and, as this can no longer be reproduced under a capitalistic organization, to the disintegration of society, from which there can be no return except through an infusion of fresh barbarian blood, that is, through a renewal of the earlier types of civilization.
(The entire section is 922 words.)