The Growth of Criticism
SOCIAL criticism, in one form or another, has had a place in most human societies. Even in the earliest societies, even in the simplest tribal societies of modern times, there were probably occasions when the manner of organizing a hunt or a feast, a religious ceremony or a marriage, provoked criticism by some individual or social group. But in societies of this kind the scope of criticism is necessarily limited. The force of custom and tradition is very great, life is altogether precarious and difficult, and the established ways of behaving are not to be lightly altered or upset for fear of total disaster. It is only in societies which have become literate, possess economic reserves, have developed an urban life and in some measure a professional intellectual class, that any sustained criticism of the working of society is possible. In the West we like to think of classical Greece, and above all Athens in the fifth century B.C., as the shining example of a society in which, for the first time, free inquiry and criticism really flourished and became an accepted part of ordinary social life. There is some truth in this view, although it needs to be qualified in several respects. There have been other civilizations in which scientific inquiry and social criticism had an early flowering, and notably those of India and China. And on the other side, criticism in Athens was confmed within a fairly small group of people, the subjects with which it dealt were restricted, and when the limits were exceeded it was punished. The condemnation of Socrates for corrupting the morals of the young (that is to say,
for questioning very fundamental traditional ideas) is the most notorious instance. The example of Athens, in an idealized version, had its greatest effect in the later history of European thought.