1902 Encyclopedia > History > History of Institutions

(Part 17)

History of Institutions

The history of institutions has received much attention in recent times, and promises to be one of the most fruitful veins of inquiry yet opened, and this is reference both to primitive institutions, which are rather prehistorical than historical, and the constitutions of states which have reached adult political life. The old Aryan tenure of land and village communities, and ancient law, whether in old Rome or modern Bengal, have been the subjects of elaborate investigation, embodied in works which mark a new departure in knowledge. The institutional history of political states is at the present moment perhaps the subject which attracts the most lively attention of scholars. It is not confined to the constitutional history of England, though England, as the mother of parliaments, has a fair claim to priority of interest. But the subject is narrowed and degraded by contemplating it from the point of view of modern politics, and chiefly in reference to the popular freedom or national wellbeing produced. The earnest historical inquirer is as impartial as the pathologist who studies disease equally with health. The institutions of despotism have their raison d’être and normal evolution as well as those of free governments, and the scientific historian will neglect the one as little as the other. In any case the history of the institutions of Europe from the times of the Frankish empire to the end of the French monarchy offers the widest field for courageous historical research. It has absorbed and transcended all those inquiries which used to be included under the somewhat jejune title of the history of civilization. Institutions the secular order, an religions in the spiritual order, are now seen to be the most massive and permanent factors in human life, capable indeed of evolution and change, but little susceptible to the immediate action of man’s intelligence and will, and yielding only to the new modifications brought about by time and the gradual transformation of ideas and moral conceptions, the result of increased knowledge.

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