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17. The Idolization of the Invincible Technician

A society cannot maintain its social cohesion unless a decisive majority of its members hold in common a number of guiding ideas and ideals. One of the necessary social ideals is a symbolic hero to embody, in a personal form, the recognized goal of the society’s endeavours. In Medieval and Early Modern Western Christendom the West’s symbolic ideal figure was the inspired saint (with the chivalrous knight as a secondary alternative). In the Late Modern Age the West has transferred its spiritual allegiance from the inspired saint to the invincible technician, and this change in Western Man’s personal ideal has produced changes in his spirit, outlook, and aims.

The technician, not ‘the natural philosopher’, whose theories the technician translates into practice, was the new hero whom the West adopted in the later decades of the seventeenth century. Francis Bacon pronounced that

The real and legitimate goal of the sciences is the endowment of human life with new inventions and riches.1

And Philosophy was defined by Thomas Hobbes as a means for attaining technological results:

By philosophy is understood the knowledge acquired by reasoning… to the end to be able to produce, as far as matter and humane force permit, such effects as human life requireth.2

Sprat, in The History of the Royal Society,3 points out that the Graeco-Roman philosophy never did anything for Technology, and he suggests that it was owing to its unpractical, esoteric outlook that this Graeco-Roman philosophy foundered in storms which a Graeco-Roman technology survived. He commends the fathers of the Royal Society for having broken away from this supercilious philosophical tradition:

By turning it [Philosophy] into one of the arts of life, of which men may see there is daily need, they [the Royal Society] have provided that it cannot hereafter be extinguish’d.4

Sprat’s advice to the natural philosopher is that he should take off his coat and apply his hands to the practical arts.

What greater privilege have men to boast of then this, that they have the pow’r of using, directing, changing, or advancing all the rest of the creatures? This is the dominion which God has given us over the Works of His hands.… It is impossible for us to administer this power aright unless we prefer the light of men of Knowledge to be a constant overseer and director of the industry and works of those that labour. The benefits are vast that will appear upon this conjunction.… By this the conceptions of men of knowledge, which are wont to soar too high, will be made to descend into the material world, and the flegmatick imaginations of men of trade, which use to grovell too much on the ground, will be exalted.

It was said of civil government by Plato that then the World will be best rul’d when either philosophers shall be chosen kings or kings shall have philosophical minds. And I will affirm the like of Philosophy. It will then attain to perfection when either the mechanic laborers shall have philosophical heads or the philosophers shall have mechanical hands.5

This late-seventeenth-century exaltation of Technology over Pure Science had been anticipated, like so much else in the seventeenth-century spiritual revolution, by the genius of Leonardo da Vinci.

Mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences, because, with mechanics, we reach the fruit that mathematics can be made to bear.6

Instrumental, alias mechanical, science is most noble and also most useful above all the other sciences, because this one is the means by which all living bodies that have the power of movement perform all their operations.7

At the same time Leonardo pointed out, with characteristic vision, that, if Technology were to divorce itself from Pure Science, it would become incapable of achieving its own aims.

Science is the captain and Practice the rank and file.… People who fall in love with Practice without Science are like the skipper who boards ship without rudder or compass and who consequently never knows where he is going.8

The penetrating point here made by Leonardo seems to have been either overlooked or deliberately ignored by his seventeenth-century successors; but, for the first 250 years after the seventeenth-century exaltation of Technology, the Human Spirit’s saving grace of disinterested curiosity prevented Western Man’s utilitarianism from blindly frustrating itself.

Long before Technology was thus openly exalted in the West by the leading spirits of the Western Society in the seventeenth century and by their forerunner Leonardo da Vinci, a practical cultivation of Technology had already borne fruit in many different provinces of Western life. The Western Civilization was both Christian and Hellenistic, and Hellenism and Christianity, though at variance in so many ways, were of one mind in setting no store by Technology. So long, therefore, as Western Man remained content to regulate his life by following authority, with these two authorities as the only alternatives within his cultural horizon, his native bent towards Technology was bound to be submerged and suppressed. The persistence of this bent for thirteen centuries in these adverse circumstances is impressive evidence of its strength; and this declared itself when Technology, after long probation in the servants’ quarters, was at last given a place of honour among Western Man’s activities that corresponded to his hitherto repressed passion for it. It is not surprising that, from the close of the seventeenth century onwards, Technology should have gained in the West a momentum that had no precedent in the history of any other civilization.

The Western bent towards Technology had already declared itself in the western provinces of the Roman Empire in the Western Civilization’s pre-natal age. In Gaul after the Roman conquest the extension of agriculture in a thinly populated country had evoked the invention of a reaping-machine which, crude and clumsy though it may have been, was a unique achievement of its kind in Graeco-Roman history.9 The further depopulation of the western provinces as a result of the barbarian invasions in the third century of the Christian Era produced an acute and continuing local shortage of manpower, and in the fourth century this stimulated a writer, whose name is unknown, to publish a memorial De Rebus Bellicis in which he proposes a number of mechanical devices for economizing man-power in warfare.10 This was a voice crying in the wilderness, and the next century witnessed the collapse which the anonymous fourth-century reformer and inventor had foreseen and had sought, in vain, to avert. Yet the social and political breakdown of the Roman Empire in its western provinces, which left the central and eastern provinces unscathed, did not arrest the now politically derelict western provinces’ technological progress. The social nadir of West European life between the close of the fourth century and the close of the seventh saw the spread of the water-mill over the West, where flowing water was abundant, from its place of origin in the Levant, where flowing water was comparatively scarce.11 The number of water-mills in use in Western Christendom continued to increase all through the Middle Ages;12 and in the twelfth century, at the latest, the water-mill was supplemented in the West by the introduction of the windmill. This vigorous practical application, in Ultima Thule, of inventions that had been made in the Middle Eastern heart of Civilization’s domain in the Old World was followed up by one native Western invention after another.

The decisive invention, which opened the way for all the rest by producing a margin of wealth beyond what was required for bare subsistence, was the heavy plough with ‘a coulter to cut the sod, a mould-board to turn it over, and wheels which enabled a more even furrow to be cut and lightened the work of the ploughman by relieving him of the task of keeping the plough at the proper level.’13 This improved plough made it possible to cultivate potentially fertile soils whose stiffness had defied the rudimentary plough with which the Romans as well as their predecessors had been content; and the effective new implement had been invented, beyond the pale of the Roman Empire, in Northern Europe and had been introduced into the Empire’s former western provinces by their fifth-century northern barbarian conquerors. This one invention would have been enough to justify the anonymous fourth-century Roman inventor’s dictum that ‘the barbarian peoples… are by no means considered strangers to mechanical inventiveness, where Nature comes to their assistance’14 (‘barbarae nationes… minime… a rerum invenlione, naturâ opitulante, habentur alienae’).15

The next technological invention in the West after the heavy plough—next in productivity as well as in date—was the devising in the tenth century, and the subsequent improvement during the next 200 years, of a new harness for donkeys, horses, and mules that at last enabled these draught-animals to put their full power into traction. For not much less than 3,000 years before that, they had not been able to bring into play more than a third, at the most, of their potential traction-power because a harness that had been invented for oxen, and that effectively brought into play the full traction power of an animal of their physique, had been applied unimaginatively to all other animals that had subsequently been broken in. In a branch of Technology which was of such vital importance before the invention of mechanical traction-power, it was only in Western Christendom in its ‘Dark Age’ that the inertia of tradition was overcome by a conscious, deliberate, and sustained exercise of Reason. What the Western innovators now did was to modify the traditional ox-harness experimentally till they had adapted it to the quite un-ox-like structure of a horse’s, mule’s, or donkey’s body.16

This early Western application of Reason to the problem of traction had a contemporary parallel in the province of military equipment. In the eleventh century the West revolutionized a weapon that had been invented in the Later Palaeolithic Age by setting a windlass, instead of the muscles of the human arm, to draw a bow. This device overcame the limits to the stiffness, and hence also to the propulsive power, of the bow that had been set hitherto by the limits of the human arm’s muscular strength. The entry of the cross-bow into the field suddenly increased the range and the penetrative power of missile weapons to an unprecedented degree; and this, in its turn, started a race between missile weapons and body armour. The eleventh century, which saw the invention of the crossbow in the West, also saw the adoption there of the Sarmatian nomad heavy-armed lancer’s equipment.17 This now at last replaced the antiquated Graeco-Roman equipment that, in a cavalry age, had lingered on in the West for nearly six centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire there, though it had been designed originally for a foot-soldier and gave only a poor defence to a horseman.

The adoption of the Sarmatian ‘cataphract’ cavalryman’s body-armour18 was an effective reply to the invention of the cross-bow; but the rationally experimental Western mind was not content to take this superior equipment as it had found it. The Western converts to it immediately began to improve upon it by substituting for the traditional round target a kite-shaped shield which gave the human body the maximum cover with the greatest economy of surface and weight.19 This, however, was only the beginning of a race in the West between body-armour and missile weapons which gathered momentum from the eleventh century to the fifteenth. As the cross-bow was raised to a higher power and was then supplemented by the long-bow and by the arquebus,20 the hard-pressed Western armourer first rationalized the helm, as he had rationalized the shield, and then reinforced a suit of chain-mail, which he had stretched to cover limbs and head as well as trunk, by encasing it in plate that gradually followed the chain-mail in extending all over the body. The race then ended in a definitive victory of Western missile-weapons over Western body-armour; for the steel-cased fifteenth-century gendarme, hoisted on to the back of a steel-cased Flemish horse, had arrived at the same dead end as the armoured monsters of a pre-human Reptile Age of life on Earth. He had made himself immobile without having succeeded in making himself invulnerable; and in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries he reluctantly and dilatorily confessed his defeat by the practical gestures of first streamlining his body-armour and finally throwing the remnants of it away.21

The chef d’oeuvre of Medieval Western Man’s technological achievements was the fifteenth-century Western revolution in the build and rig of ships. This, too, was a triumph of the rational application of the findings of prolonged experiments in which elements derived from many quarters were assembled to create something that was new. The fifteenth-century Western shipwrights laid under contribution native builds and rigs of the Mediterranean seaboard and the Atlantic seaboard of Western Europe and equipped this composite vessel with a set of native Western square sails supplemented by lateen sails that had been invented in the Indian Ocean. The navigators furnished this new ship with an Arab astrolabe, a Chinese compass, and a fixed rudder that, in the West, had been substituted for a traditional steering oar as far back as the thirteenth century.22 This new ship was, as we have seen,23 the new instrument by which Western Man won for himself a temporary ascendancy over the rest of his fellow-men by gaining a mastery over the Ocean.

These medieval achievements of Western technology indicated what the West was capable of doing in this line if ever it were to give its mind to Technology and its approval to technicians, and these two requisite conditions were fulfilled at last in the seventeenth-century Western spiritual revolution. The authors of this revolution cannot claim credit for having given the Western Society a technological bent that had declared itself long before their day; but they did liberate and encourage this bent after it had persisted for thirteen centuries in adverse circumstances.

The seventeenth-century change of social climate in the West in Technology’s favour is illustrated in the contrast between the careers of two celebrated Western enthusiasts for Technology who were one another’s namesakes. Of the two Bacons, Roger was evidently more richly endowed than Francis was with the practical genius in which they both put their treasure; but Roger (vivebat A.D. 1214(?)—94) was frustrated by the social climate of his age. The suspicion and disapproval which his work aroused in the minds of the authorities of the Franciscan Order was not counterbalanced by the patronage of Pope Clement IV. Roger Bacon was hindered by disciplinary restraints from freely pursuing his researches; and, even if he had been left free, he would have found himself handicapped by a lack of apparatus and, still more seriously, by a dearth of congenial fellow workers in his field. By contrast, Francis Bacon (vivebat A.D. 1561–1626) won the applause of his own generation in the West and became an inspiration to succeeding generations by putting into words the dream of Technology that was floating before their minds too. Yet Francis Bacon did not show Roger Bacon’s practical ability, and consequently his words did not provide the blue-print for the acts which Western technicians were afterwards to perform at his instigation. If the two Bacons could have exchanged life-times, Francis might have fallen no farther short of practical achievement in the thirteenth century than he fell in the seventeenth, while Roger in the seventeenth century might have accomplished practical results that in the thirteenth were out of his reach. For, between Roger’s actual lifetime and Francis’s, the social, as well as the intellectual, climate of the Western World had changed decisively in the technician’s favour; and the honour that was paid to Francis Bacon, as a prophet of Technocracy’s future, rankled into an idolization of his successors when these had made his prophecy come true.

Bayle satirizes the accentuation of the cult of Our Lady in the Spain of his day in an amusing passage in which he imagines the Holy Trinity officially abdicating in her favour;24 and this seventeenth-century fantasy may serve a twentieth-century historian as an allegory of what Bayle himself and the other leading spirits in the West in his age were doing unconsciously and unintentionally. Without waiting for God to abdicate they were proclaiming His deposition; and in thus creating a spiritual interregnum they were opening the way for the enthronement of a goddess in God’s stead. This goddess whose fortune was made by the discredit and odium that had overtaken the ancestral god of Western Christendom was not Our Lady but was Technology; and this new divinity was effectively enthroned in Western hearts although the fathers of the seventeenth-century Western spiritual revolution had had no wish to replace the deposed god of Christianity by any alternative object of worship. Technology was deified, not by Western Man’s deliberate choice, but because Religion, like Nature, abhors a vacuum. Technology and the Technician thus became the Dea Roma and the Divus Caesar of a Late Modern Western World.

Divus Caesar was far from being the role for which the Late Modern Western technician was cast by his seventeenth-century patrons. We have seen25 that, when they were deliberately substituting Technology for Religion as the paramount interest and pursuit of the Western World, the characteristic merits that they found in the contemporary technician, by contrast with the contemporary politician and the contemporary theologian, were the technician’s apparent innocence and, better still, his apparent inability to make mischief even if the temptation were to seize him. In a technician, however, harmlessness is not enough to justify his existence. We have observed already in this chapter that the leading spirits in a seventeenth-century Western World exalted Technology above Pure Science because of the practical benefits that Technology promised to confer on Mankind. By the end of the Age of the Western Wars of Religion, Utilitarianism was in the air. Some Considerations touching the Usefulness of Experimental Philosophy was the title of a book of Robert Boyle’s which was written in the sixteen-fifties, was sent to press in 1660, 1661, and 1663, and was published in the last of these three years.26 In The History of the Royal Society, which was published in 1667, Sprat observes:27

I rather trust to the inclination of the age itself wherein I write; which (if I mistake not) is farr more prepar’d to be perswaded to promote such studies then any other time that has gone before us.

In another passage of the same work,28 Sprat avers that, since the Restoration, more Acts of Parliament directed to objects of practical public utility have been passed already, by the time of writing, than in the whole course of the previous history of England. Utility was being pursued as an end in itself; but utility is no sooner attained than it generates power, and power is no sooner attained than it invites idolization.

The Christian saint, whom the technician was replacing in the role of serving as Western Man’s symbolic hero, could not so easily be made into an object of idolatrous worship, because one of the hallmarks of a saint’s authenticity is that he should feel and should proclaim that his spiritual achievements are due, not to any spiritual prowess of his own, but to the grace of God working through him. When, however, God Himself had been deposed, there was no such spiritual impediment to the idolization of the technician. Indeed the Christian religion had inadvisedly cleared the ground for the deification of Technology and the technician in a post-Christian age, though, so long as it had been in the ascendant, it had been unpropitious to Technology in virtue of its counsel not to put one’s treasure in This World. Like its parent religion Judaism and its sister religion Islam, Christianity had taken the traditional divinity out of Non-Human Nature in its zeal for the faith that there was no god but God and that Nature was nothing but God’s creature. In consequence, when this almighty transcendent creator God—the god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—was deposed in Western Christendom towards the close of the seventeenth century of the Christian Era, Nature was no longer a competitor with Man in the West for the occupation of God’s vacant seat. Emptied, long ago, of her traditional divinity, Nature now lay passive and defenceless, waiting to fall a prey to whatever upstart Zeus was going to succeed in usurping the vacant throne of Cronos. Nature was the prize of seventeenth-century Man’s self-deification; his establishment of an effective dominion over Nature was the sign that he had exalted himself into a very god; and he gave this demonstration of his assumed divinity by proving himself a past master in Technology—a Greek word which signifies the sleight of hand that subjugates Nature to Man.

A deified creature could not, however, be substituted for a deposed creator as a compelling object of worship unless and until the new divinity could be invested with some appearance of the omnipotence with which God the Creator had formerly been credited; and, in the minds of the seventeenth-century Western advocates of Technology, the dream of a new age of human innocence was already being chevied by the incompatible dream of a new age of human power. ‘To endeavour to renew and enlarge the power and empire of Mankind in general over the Universe’29 was the programme laid down by Francis Bacon for himself, for his Western contemporaries, and for Mankind at large from his time onwards.

Only let Mankind regain their rights over Nature, assigned to them by the gift of God, and obtain that power, whose exercise will be governed by right reason and true religion.30

This vision of Bacon’s grew, in Descartes’ mind, to look like a practical possibility:

I perceived it to be possible to arrive at a knowledge highly useful in life; and, in place of the speculative philosophy usually taught in the schools, to discover a practical philosophy, by means of which—knowing the force and action of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various crafts of our artisans—we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which they are adapted, and thus make ourselves the lords and possessors of Nature.31

By the sixteen-sixties the Western votaries of Technology were looking forward to progressive conquests over Nature that would go on increasing Man’s power ad infinitum; and these audacious human hopes of scaling Olympus were frankly expressed, in that decade, by two clergymen of the Established Church of England.

That all arts and professions are capable of maturer improvements, cannot be doubted by those who know the least of any. And that there is an America of secrets, and unknown Peru of Nature, whose discovery would richly advance them, is more than conjecture.32

An infinit variety of inventions, motions, and operations will succeed in the place of words. The beautiful bosom of Nature will be expos’d to our view: we shall enter into its garden and tast of its fruits, and satisfy ourselves with its plenty—instead of idle talking and wandring under its fruitless shadows, as the Peripatetics did in their first institution and their successors have done ever since.33

As the progress of Technology gathered momentum in the course of the Late Modern Age of Western history, these seventeenth-century hopes translated themselves into nineteenth-century achievements. Within some 200 years of Sprat’s and Glanvill’s day, Man’s power of making Non-Human Nature serve human purposes had fulfilled these prophets’ expectations by coming to seem limitless.

This appearance of omnipotence was common to the Late Modern Western technician and the Late Greek or Roman philosopher; but there was also a significant difference between the two conceptions of a human being’s godlike power. The Western technician’s omnipotence was conceived of as being active and aggressive: his role was to be an invincible conqueror of Non-Human Nature. The Greek or Roman philosopher’s omnipotence was conceived of as being passive and defensive: his role was to achieve a self-sufficiency that would make him invulnerable against the blows of Fate. This difference in the posture of the human idol reflected a difference in the experience of the two societies at the stages in their histories at which a symbolic human figure was deified. A Late Modern Western Society felt that it had shaken off ‘Religion and Barbarism’ and was making progress that was so substantial, so cumulative, so continuous, and so rapidly accelerating that it must assuredly be beyond all danger of being checked, arrested, or reversed. By contrast, a post-Periclean Greek Society had felt that it was sliding downhill farther and farther from the peak of a past golden age.

As a Late Modern Western Technology went from triumph to triumph faster and faster, and as the religious fanaticism that had held the West in its grip during the Early Modern Age died away progressively pari passu, the negative, sophisticated, cynical vein in the late-seventeenth-century Western feeling about Technology gave way more and more to the positive, naive, credulous vein. By the nineteenth century, this antithetical vein had gained a complete ascendancy. A Technology that had first won temperate approval in the West as a harmless hobby in which a criminal Human Nature might safely be encouraged to indulge was now fervidly admired as a magic key which was going to unlock the door into an Earthly Paradise by solving all the problems that, in pre-Newtonian ‘Days of Ignorance’, had either baffled Man or been ignored by him.

In the nineteenth century the West unreservedly recognized and gloried in the vast additions that the technician was making to human power by his continuing and accelerating discoveries. At this stage of Western history it was taken for granted that all additions to human power must be good, because it was assumed that, since the close of the seventeenth century, the wheels of Western Civilization had been set on lines running forward in an endless progress, and that the accelerating train could never come into danger of being derailed. In these supposed circumstances, to give more power to the locomotive could have no other effect than to make the train progress faster. The Wars of Religion were now far enough back in the past for their lesson to have been erased from the Western Society’s memory. Western statesmanship had ceased to reckon with the demonic element in Human Nature; for in public Western life—though not, of course, in private—this jinn had been kept battened-down for nearly 200 years by the date of the publication of The Origin of Species in A.D. 1859. The twentieth century, however, has seen the Western technician suffer a fall into adversity which has been sensational because it has been unexpected. Since 1945 the Western technician has begun to lose his popularity, his self-confidence, and the intellectual freedom that is an indispensable condition for success in his work.

Though this change of moral and intellectual climate, which has been conspicuous since A.D. 1945, was not foreseen, it can be traced back in retrospect to earlier dates and to more than one cause.

From the late seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, one of the safeguards of Late Modern Western experimental science had been the postulate that its field of investigation should be limited to Non-Human Nature. The founding fathers of the Royal Society, for example, had imposed this self-denying ordinance on themselves.

These two subjects, God and the Soul, being onely forborn, in all the rest they wander at their pleasure… and in bringing all these to the uses of human society.34

In the seventeenth century, Human Nature was out of bounds for Experimental Science, as being within the province of Theology. It was only on this condition that Experimental Science could obtain toleration from the then still formidable ecclesiastical authorities of the Western World; and it was a condition that the experimental scientists and technicians of the day were willing to accept. They had vast worlds still to conquer in the realm of Non-Human Nature; and, while they felt that the theologians’ way of dealing with Human Nature had been intellectually barren and morally and socially pernicious, the experimental scientists, at this early stage of their intellectual conquests, had no method of their own for dealing with Human Nature in their own style. In the nineteenth century, however, Western Science began to extend its conquests from the non-human to the human province of Nature. It began to discover how to deal with Human Nature by the methods that had proved successful in the investigation of Non-Human Nature. Human branches of Science now began to be added to the classical non-human branches: first Political Economy, using data provided by the Industrial Revolution; then Anthropology, using data provided by the West’s encounters with primitive societies; then Sociology, applying the standpoint and methods of Anthropology to the Western Society itself; and then, after A.D. 1914, Psychology, using data provided by cases of shell-shock in the First World War.

This eventual invasion of the province of Human Nature by Western experimental science produced several changes in the Late Modern attitude towards Human Nature. It redirected upon Human Nature an attention and interest that had been concentrated on Non-Human Nature since the close of the seventeenth century. Though the ecclesiastical ban upon the free investigation of Human Nature had long since become a dead letter, the rise of the doctrine of Progress had headed Western ‘minds off from this now open field of inquiry by creating the illusion that Human Nature presented no serious problems. It was assumed that, in human affairs, progress was taking place and would continue to take place automatically; and the uncritical acceptance of this unverified doctrine about Human Nature left little or nothing here to discuss. But, when Science began to deal with the spiritual as well as with the non-spiritual universe, the prestige that Science now enjoyed redirected the public’s interest and attention to each successive allotment in the Spiritual Universe that Science chose to stake out for itself. And so, under the patronage of Science, one portion of the Spiritual Universe after another began to loom up again in the Western Weltanschauung side by side with the Non-Spiritual Universe.

As soon as the Spiritual Universe thus came to be displayed through Science’s lens instead of Theology’s, Western minds showed themselves ready to take on trust from Science the existence and importance of spiritual problems. Minds that were closed to the conviction of Sin were open to the investigation of psychic complexes, lesions, traumas. But, while the positive discoveries of Science in the human field were as impressive as any of those in the non-human field, the negative discovery of the depth of human ignorance about Human Nature was more impressive still—above all in the field of Psychology. Thus Western science, at this stage in its Odyssey, began to re-instil into Western minds and hearts some of that sense of the mysteriousness of the Universe which it had done so much to banish at the earlier stage at which it had stepped into the place that Theology had previously occupied. This was the background to the discovery and application, in the Second World War, of a technique for releasing and discharging atomic energy.

The release of atomic energy by Western technology in A.D. 1945 has had three effects on the Western technician’s position. After having been undeservedly idolized, for a quarter of a millennium, as the good genius of Mankind, he has now suddenly found himself undeservedly execrated as an evil genius who has released from his bottle a jinn that may perhaps destroy human life on Earth. This arbitrary change in the technician’s outward fortunes is a severe ordeal, but his loss of popularity has not hit him so hard as his loss of confidence in himself. Till 1945 he believed, without a doubt, that the results of his work were wholly beneficent. Since 1945 he has begun to wonder whether his professional success may not have been a social and a moral disaster. He has realized that the power that he has been capturing from Nature, and bestowing on Mankind, is, in itself, a neutral force, which can be used at will for evil as well as for good. He now sees his latest invention being used to give an impetus to morally evil actions by putting into them an unprecedentedly powerful charge of material energy. He finds himself wondering whether he may now have placed in human hands the power to destroy the Human Race.

At the same moment the technician has lost the intellectual freedom which he enjoyed for the 250 years ending in the year 1945. The intellectual atmosphere in which a Late Modern Western technology won its sensational successes was one of complete freedom for scientific discussion by private investigators, without any ecclesiastical or political censorship, control, or veto. This freedom was lost in an instant when Western technology entered the field of atomic physics; for this new departure enslaved the technician in several different ways at once. The material apparatus now required was so costly that it was beyond the means of private individuals or institutions; it could be financed only by governments; and these governments insisted on concealing the resulting discoveries behind the iron curtain which, from time immemorial, every government has always pulled down over the ‘knavish tricks’35 that governments play on one another. The governments claimed this right because the discoveries had been made with their resources, and could not have been made without them; they exercised the right because the military power generated by these new discoveries was so enormous that they could not bring themselves to share it with potential enemies. Every government looks upon all other governments as being its potential enemies, not excluding those that, at the moment, are its allies against others; and the power in the new discoveries would have become the common property of all governments if these discoveries had been publicly discussed in accordance with the principle of the freedom of scientific inquiry that had been in vogue in the Western World since the close of the seventeenth century.

What are going to be the ulterior effects of this sudden reversal in the Western Technician’s fortunes? In A.D. 1956 several possibilities suggested themselves. It looked as if the restriction of freedom for scientific discussion in the atomic field, in the interests of military security, might slow the advance of atomic science down. It was to be hoped that the use of atomic energy might be gradually diverted from destructive to constructive purposes. But, whatever might be the future application of atomic science, it looked as if Experimental Science and Technology in general might now become less attractive pursuits than they had been recently for the ablest minds and the most conscientious spirits. Scientists and technicians would now find themselves hampered professionally by political controls which would not be quickly relaxed, even if the international situation improved; and, besides, they might come to feel that the production of fresh, and still more potent, lethal weapons for employment by governments against Mankind was an anti-social activity, even if the governments assured them that these weapons were unlikely to be used. This second consideration might influence not only the technicians but their fellow human beings. Indeed, among the public in a Westernizing World in the later decades of the twentieth century, there might be a revulsion of feeling against Science and Technology like the revulsion against Religion in the later decades of the seventeenth century. Once again, a mental activity by which the public had been continuously obsessed over a period of many generations might be repudiated by its former devotees because it had become known, by its fruits, to be a shocking vent for Original Sin and a serious threat to Man’s welfare and perhaps even to his existence. If Voltaire were to cast himself for an avatar in the twentieth century, perhaps his war-cry, this time, would be: ‘La technique, voilà l’ennemi! Écrasez l’infâme!

If the World is going to withdraw its treasure from Technology and from the Experimental Science that is Technology’s life-blood, in what field is this liquid spiritual capital going to be reinvested? Perhaps the recent opening-up of the human sciences may give us a clue. If the non-human sciences now lose their temporary freedom of investigation and consequently fall again under an eclipse, perhaps there will be a concentration of interest and energy on the human sciences. And then, when Man’s mind has reached the limits of the scientific study of human affairs, perhaps this chastening intellectual experience may re-open an avenue leading to Religion along a new line of approach which, if humbler, will be spiritually more promising.

  • 1.

    Bacon, Francis, Novum Organum Partis Secundae Summa, Aphorismus lxxxi: ‘Meta… scientiarum vera et legitima non alia est quam ut dotetur vita humana novis inventis et copiis.’

  • 2.

    Leviathan, Part IV, chap. 46.

  • 3.

    Pp. 117–18.

  • 4.

    Sprat, op. cit., p. 119.

  • 5.

    Ibid., pp. 395–7.

  • 6.

    ‘La meccanica è il paradiso delle sciētie matematiche, perchè cō quella si viene al frutto matematico’—Leonardo da Vinci, in The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, compiled and edited from the original MSS. by J. P. Richter, 2nd ed. (Oxford 1939, University Press, 2 vols.), vol. ii, p. 241, No. 1155.

  • 7.

    ‘La scientia strumentale over machinale è nobilissima e sopra tutte l’altre utilissima, cōciosiachè mediante quella tutti li corpi animati, che ànno moto, fanno tutte loro operationi’—ibid., p. 241, No. 1154.

  • 8.

    ‘La sciētia è il capitano, e la pratica sono i soldati.… Quelli che s’inamorā di pratica saza sciētia sō come’l nocchiere che ētra navilio sanza timone e bussola, che mai à certezza dove si vada’’ ibid., p. 241, Nos. 1160 and 1161.

  • 9.

    See Plinius Secundus, C, Historia Naturalis, Book XVIII, § 296; Palladius, Agricultura, Book VII. chap. ii, § 2. A reconstruction of this machine, by Nachtweh, is reproduced in A Roman Reformer and Inventor (see the following footnote), fig. XIII.

  • 10.

    A Roman Reformer and Inventor, being a new text of the treatise De Rebus Bellicis with a translation and introduction by E. A. Thompson (Oxford 1952, Clarendon Press).

  • 11.

    Thompson, op. cit., pp. 47–8. The watermill had been in use, but not yet in common use, in Italy in the first century of the Christian Era (see Plinius Secundus, C., Historia Naturalis, Book XVIII, § 97).

  • 12.

    Lilley, S., Men, Machines, and History (London 1948, Cobbett Press), pp. 37–8.

  • 13.

    Ibid., p. 42.

  • 14.

    E. A. Thompson’s translation in Thompson, op. cit., p. 107.

  • 15.

    In op. cit., pp. 46–7, Thompson points out that this passage in De Rebus Bellicis is not the only testimony to the inventiveness of the barbarians in the age in which these were successfully invading the Roman Empire. Procopius mentions the Sabirian Huns’ invention of a better battering-ram (The Wars of Justinian, VIII, xi, 27); Zosimus (Historiae, VIII, xxi, 3) mentions, as an example, the Goth war-lord Gainas’s improvisation of rafts for crossing the Bosphorus.

  • 16.

    See Lilley, op. cit., pp. 16 and 39. A fuller account will be found in Lefebvre des Noëttes, ct, L’Attelage, le Cheval de Selle, à trovers les Âges (Paris 1931, Picard, 2 vols., text and illustrations). See especially the text, pp. 3–5, 9–20, 121–35.

  • 17.

    For this, see A Study of History, vol. iv, pp. 439–45.

  • 18.

    We may perhaps hazard the guess that, in eleventh-century France, this was still in use in places whose name Sermaises, alias Sermaize, alias Salmaise, testifies that their inhabitants were descended from the fifth-century Alan Sarmatian settlers in Gaul.

  • 19.

    The kite shape is the rational shape for a shield designed to protect a pear-shaped human body. The round shape would be rational only if the human body were apple-shaped, which it is not. If the whole length of the body, from shoulders to ankles, is to be covered by a round shield, the shield will have to be prohibitively large and heavy, and about half its surface will be superfluous, as it will project far beyond the body on either side. On the other hand, a small light round target, in the style of the original shield in the Sarmatian cataphract’s equipment, will protect, at most, the breast and the face.

  • 20.

    The simultaneous adoption, in a fourteenth-century Western Christendom, of the long-bow from Wales and of fire-arms from China has a parallel in the simultaneous invention of the clipper ship and the steamship in the nineteenth-century Western World. The gun, like the steamship, was a wholly new departure; the long-bow, like the clipper ship, was an attempt to obtain the increased efficiency, which the new departure promised to yield, by the alternative method of perfecting an instrument that was ancient and familiar.

  • 21.

    A psychologist might perhaps bring to light a psychological connexion between the abandonment of body-armour in the West in the later decades of the seventeenth century and the simultaneous abandonment of religious intolerance there. Western Man seems to have realized that breastplates were no protection against bullets at the same moment at which he realized that dogmas were no protection against empirically established facts. In Late Modern Western armies, fifteenth-century plate-armour continued, however, to be worn in the trenches by the sappers and miners as late as the time of the Napoleonic Wars. In some Western armies a little crescent-shaped plate, representing a gorget and hung round the neck by an elegant chain, continued until after the First World War to be worn as part of the insignia of an officer.

  • 22.

    See Lilley, op. cit., pp. 40–1.

  • 23.

    In Chapter 11, pp. 144–5, above.

  • 24.

    ‘It is surprising that Spain should not yet have produced writers confidently claiming to know, by revelation, that God the Father, having become aware, through long experience, of the infiniteness of the Virgin Mary’s ability and the excellence of the use that she had made of the power with which He had invested her, had resolved to abdicate the Empire of the Universe, and that God the Son, believing that He could not find a better example to follow, had concurred in this resolution—with the result that, after the Holy Spirit, who always conforms to the wills of the two persons from whom He proceeds, had given His approval to this admirable proposal, the whole Trinity had delivered the government of the World into the hands of the Virgin Mary, and that the two ceremonies of abdication and of the translation of the Empire had been performed with all due solemnity in the presence of all the Angels; furthermore, that an accurate and authentic minute of the proceedings had been drawn up; that, from that day onwards, God had no longer interfered in anything, but had relied, for everything, upon Mary’s vigilance; that orders had been despatched to several angels to notify on Earth this change of government, in order that Mankind might know to whom and in what style they were to address themselves in future in their acts of invocation; and that they were no longer to address themselves to God, since He had declared Himself, by His own act, to be emeritus and rude donatus, and were not to address themselves to the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a mediatrix or of a subordinate queen, but were to address themselves to her as the sovereign and absolute empress of all things. It is surprising, I say, that this extravaganza should still be in the womb of the Future.’—Bayle, P., Dictionaire, 3rd ed., i. 98 a and b, s.v. Agreda.

  • 25.

    In Chapter 14, pp. 184–7, above.

  • 26.

    See the Author’s advertisement. The place of publication was Oxford; the publisher was Hall.

  • 27.

    On p. 5. Cp. pp. 152–3.

  • 28.

    On p. 78.

  • 29.

    Bacon, Francis, Novum Organum, Partis Secundae Summa, Aphorismus cxxix, quoted in Chapter 14, p. 187, above.

  • 30.

    Bacon, Francis, Novum Organum, Partis Secundae Summa, Aphorismus cxxix: ‘Recuperet modo Genus Humanum ius suum in Naturam quod ei ex dotatione divinâ competit, et detur ei copia: usum vero recta ratio et sana religio gubernabit.’

  • 31.

    Descartes, Rene, Discours de la Méthode, Part vi.

  • 32.

    Glanvill, J., The Vanity of Dogmatising (London 1661, Eversden), p. 178.

  • 33.

    Sprat, Tho., The History of the Royal Society for the Improving of Natural Knowledge (London 1667, Martyn), p. 327.

  • 34.

    Sprat, Tho., The History of the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge (London 1667, Martyn), p. 83.

  • 35.

    These plain-spoken words will be found in the British National Anthem.