Civics: as Applied Sociology/Part 2/A—Introduction: The Need of Civic Surveys

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To the previous discussion of this subject[2] the first portion of this present title, "Civics as Concrete Sociology," would have been more suitable than the second, (that of "Civics as Applied Sociology") actually used. For its aim was essentially to plead for the concrete survey and study of cities, their observation and interpretation on lines essentially similar to those of the natural sciences. Since Comte's demonstration of the necessity of the preliminary sciences to social studies, and Spencer's development of this, still more since the evolution theory has become generally recognised, no one disputes the applicability of biology to sociology. Many are, indeed, vigorously applying the conceptions of life in evolution, in geographical distribution and environment, in health and disease, to the interpretations of the problems of the times; while with the contemporary rise of eugenics to the first plane of interest, both social and scientific, these lines of thought, bio-social and bio-geographic, must needs be increasingly utilised and developed.

But Comte and Spencer, with most other biologically-minded sociologists have been more at home among biological generalisations and theories than among the facts they arise from, and hence it is ever needful to maintain and extend a first-hand contact with these. I seek, therefore, to press home the idea that just as the biologist must earn his generalisations through direct and first-hand acquaintance with nature, so now must the sociologist work for his generalisations through a period of kindred observation and analysis, both geographic and historical; his "general laws" thus appearing anew as the abstract of regional facts, after due comparison of these as between region and region.

May not much of the comparative sterility of post-Comtean (or at any rate post-Spencerian) sociology, which is so commonly reproached to us, and to which the difficult formation and slow growth of sociological societies and schools is largely due, be thus explained? Is it not the case that many able and persuasive writers, not only knowing the results, but logically using the generalisations of Comte or Spencer, as of old of Smith or now-a-days of List in the economic field, are yet comparatively sterile of fresh contributions to thought, and still more to action? In fact, must we not apply to much of the literature of recent sociology, just as to traditional economics, the criticism of Comte's well-known law of three states, and inquire if such writers, while apparently upon the plane of generalised science, are not really in large measure at least arrested upon Comte's "metaphysical stage," Mill's "abstractional" one?

Conversely, the revival of sociological interest in this country at present is obviously very largely derived from fresh and freshening work like that of Mr Francis Galton and of the Right Hon. Charles Booth especially. For here in Mr. Galton's biometrics and eugenics is a return to nature, a keen scrutiny of human beings, which is really an orderly fruition of that of the same author's "Art of Travel." Similarly, Mr. Booth's "Survey of London" is as truly a return to nature as was Darwin's Voyage, or his yet more far-reaching studies in his garden and farmyard at home. Is it not the main support of the subtle theorisings and far-stretched polemic of Prof. Weismann that he can plague his adversaries with the small but literal and concrete mice and hydroids and water fleas with which his theories began? And is it not for a certain lack of such concrete matter of observation that the vast systematisations of M. de Greef, or M. de Roberty, or the original and ingenious readings of Prof. Simon Patten leave us too often unconvinced, even if not sometimes without sufficiently definite understanding of their meaning? The simplest of naturalists must feel that Comte or Spencer, despite the frequently able use of the generalisations of biology, themselves somewhat lacked the first-hand observation of the city and community around them, and suffered thereby; this part of their work obviously not being on a level with the historic interpretations of the one or the psychological productivity of the other. And if, without warlike intent, I may yet strike a conspicuous shield or two within these friendly lists, is it not this one element of concrete observation and illustration which is sometimes lacking to give its full effect to the encyclopædic learning and the sympathetic insight of one of our recent papers, to the historic and poetic interpretations of another, or to the masterly logic of a third?

Before the polemics of our educationists, the voluminous argumentation and casuistic subtlety of our professors of economics and ethics, yet more before the profound speculations of the epistemologists, the mere naturalist observer can but feel abashed like the truant before his schoolmasters; yet he is also not without a certain deep inward conviction, born of experience, that his outdoor world is yet more real, more vast, and more instructive than is theirs. And this impression becomes strengthened, nay verified and established, when he sees that the initiative thinkers from whom these claim to descend, have had in each and every case no merely academic record, but also a first-hand experience, an impulse and message from life and nature. Hence the contributions of Locke, of Comenius, and of Rousseau. Hence the Physiocrats found economics in peasant life; and thus too Adam Smith renewed their science, with due academic logic, doubtless, but from his experience of Glasgow and Kirkcaldy manufactures and trade. Even the idealist Berkeley owed much of his theory to his iridescent tar-water; while surely the greater ethicists are those who have not only been dialecticians, but moral forces in the world of men.

In such ways, then, I would justify the thesis that civics is no abstract study, but fundamentally a matter of concrete and descriptive sociology—perhaps the greatest field of this. Next, that such orderly study is in line with the preliminary sciences, and with the general doctrine of evolution from simple to complex; and finally with the general inquiry into the influence of geographical conditions on social development. In short, the student of civics must be first of all an observer of cities; and, if so, of their origins and developments, from the small and simple beginnings of which the tiniest hamlet is but an arrested germ. The productive sociologist should thus be of all investigators a wandering student par excellence; in the first place, as far as possible, a literal tourist and traveller—and this although like the homely Gilbert White or the world voyaging Darwin, he may do his best work around his own home.