Vices Can be Reformed by Institutions and Morals

Updated: Feb 9

COCHIN, Augustin, and Frédéric LE PLAY Pierre Guillaume. La Réforme Sociale En France, résumé Critique De Louvrage De M. Le Play. . Paris, 1865.

Another widespread prejudice helping to discourage the spirit of reform is the view that would subordinate the destiny of a nation to the physical organization of the race. Like the other errors, it can be disproved by observation. I do not absolutely deny that the diverse human races take their leading characteristics from certain traditional habits of the conditions of their soil and climate. Yet the spirit of system has singularly abused this theory, which each father of a family can refute from his own experience. The most palpable proof is the extreme diversity of characters and aptitudes of children issued from the same marriage. Among the different members of the same family we find the calm tastes that lead one to seek the joys of the paternal hearth and the ardor that pushes another to faraway enterprises; the sweetness that disposes one to obey and the firmness that makes another desire to command; the moderation that makes virtue easy to one, and the passions that lead another to vice or crime; in one, the insufficiency of mind that allows success to be found only in a common profession, and in another the eminent aptitudes which make it possible to fill the highest social functions. The regular generation of these contrasts and of the two sexes is a providential law that everywhere preserves harmony in the family and society. It always dominates and frequently effaces the characteristics that are claimed for this or that race.

A second refutation of the theory of races is found in the preponderant influence that education exerts on the destinies of individual, family, and nation. To change the direction children will take it suffices to modify the ideas and customs given by the head of the family. Our history presents many variations of the nature. It is manifest, for example, that the similarity frequently claimed between the Gauls and Frenchmen of our day disappears before the transformations that the national character has seen during the brief intervals that separate the eras of the Catholic League and Henry IV, Descartes and Voltaire, Luis XVI and the Directory.

Since the middle of the seventeenth century, medical science has frequently propagated this error by exaggerating the influence of physical organization upon man. Yet here a more correct direction to minds I given by the precepts and practice of the art. It has been known for a long time that ht surgical operations of the civil and military hospitals in England succeed in a greater proportion than in France, and the discussions of this subject tend to confirm that this result is due not to the superiority of the English surgeons but to the greater quietness of spirit of the patients. On the other hand, when one analyzes the causes that make men peaceful in the face of death he finds them in inferior peoples in the animal propensities that smother the love of neighbor and the idea of a future life, in religious peoples in the institutions and beliefs that give to the death tall guarantee of the actual well-being of those they love and of the coming reunion in a better life. This opinion has been advanced by the surgeons who have operated amidst the population which the moral sentiments are but little developed. I have found it myself in the German and French surgeons establish in Russia and Siberia, who attribute the comparative success of their operations to the serenity maintained, notwithstanding the imminence of death or the attacks of sorrow, by firm beliefs and the organization of the patriarchal family. I have been assured that of our leading surgeons believes the success of certain risky operations to the assured by first making an appeal to religion and assuring the invalid about the future of his wife and children. If moral forces can play such a great role in the gravest delusions of the human organism they must eventually triumph over egotistical passions and base appetites.

Let us then reject this deadly doctrine that would have us accept error and vice as the fatal consequences of our physical organization. Let us understand that the grandeur of humanity consists precisely in the subordination of material forces to moral ones dominated by our will, and that consequently each nation can find in itself the resources necessary to raise itself as high as its rivals. Assuredly the influences that we wrongly seek in the physical order can be exerted in the moral order. Yet progress and decadence have their source in the practice or neglect of these principles and not in the race itself. We suffer cruelly today from the faults of our fathers, yet we remain the arbiters of the destinies of our children. This destiny will be great, if we are able to again take up the good principles of our elders and transmit them to our descendants.

History, moreover, confirms these inductions based upon the daily observation of acts. It refutes the allegation of the inferiority of the French to the Anglo-Saxons, and it proves that the ascendancy of the two races has followed the same changes as the development of their moral forces. It was long ago that our ancient Celtic races, mixed with those from the North and Germany, and under the influence of their old traditions made fruitful by Christianity, acquired all the virtues that distinguish great nations. Already in the seventeenth century, the French were classed in the first rank by the unanimous opinion of the peoples. Arrested in her growth by the sovereigns to who they gave unreserved devotion, France has been able to preserve herself from the abasement to which the other races have fallen. She resisted the religious persecution that in 1685 exiled to our rivals that industrious part of the nation which, following the example of the first Christians before the pagan persecution, did not fear to sacrifice their temporal interests to their religious convictions. Notwithstanding the corruption propagated by three successive reigns and the dangerous remedies that our fathers sought in the Revolution, she has preserved amidst hard trials the love of justice and patriotism. She has raised herself from unprecedented reverses, the fatal conclusion of the greatest military successes of the modern era. Having broken a regime discredited by the corruption of its ancient ruling classes, she sought with a determined will a new regime that would not involve a return to the abuses from which she had so much suffered. To arrive at the end of the reforms begun in 1789 she resigned herself to calamities, and above all to an instability that would have already led a weaker nation to absolute decadence. Finally, in spite of the critical situation created by her revolutions, in spite of the national antipathies raised by the wars of the First Empire, it suffices to our race to find peace and security again in order to take up a part of her ancient leadership.

To what height will France be called the day on which she frees herself by a generous effort from the vices and errors that have hindered her march for so long, when to the desire for progress and the sentiment of justice and love of humanity so happily preserved amidst the corruption of the Old Regime, she joins anew the respect for good traditions, the source of her ancient grandeur, and the principal cause of the present growth of her rivals!

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