Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/September 1873/The Study of Sociology XIV
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The Study of Sociology XIV
By Herbert Spencer
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XIV.—Preparation in Biology.
THE parable of the sower has its application to the progress of Science. Time after time new ideas are sown and do not germinate, or, having germinated, die for lack of fit environments, before they are at last sown under such conditions as to take root and flourish. Among other instances of this, one is supplied by the history of the truth here to be dwelt on—the dependence of Sociology on Biology. Even limiting the search to our own society, we may trace back this idea nearly three centuries. In the first book of Hooker's "Ecclesiastical Polity," it is enunciated as clearly as the state of knowledge in his age made possible—more clearly, indeed, than was to be expected in an age when science and scientific ways of thinking had advanced so little. Along with the general notion of natural law—along, too, with the admission that human actions, resulting as they do from desires guided by knowledge, also in a sense conform to law—here is a recognition of the fact that the formation of societies is determined by the attributes of individuals, and that the growth of a governmental organization follows from the natures of the men who have associated themselves the better to satisfy their needs. Entangled though this doctrine is with a theological doctrine, through the restraints of which it has to break, it is expressed with considerable clearness: there needs but better definition and further development to make it truly scientific.
Among reappearances of this thought in subsequent English writers, I will here name only one, which I happen to have observed in "An Essay on the History of Civil Society," published a century ago by Dr. Adam Ferguson. In it the first part treats "Of the General Characteristics of Human Nature." Section I., pointing out the universality of the gregarious tendency, the dependence of this on certain affections and antagonisms, and the influences of memory, foresight, language, and communicativeness, alleges that "these facts must be admitted as the foundation of all our reasoning relative to man." Though the way in which social phenomena arise out of the phenomena of individual human nature is seen in but a general and vague way, yet it is seen—there is a conception of causal relation.
Before this conception could assume a definite form, it was necessary both that scientific knowledge should become more comprehensive and precise, and that the scientific spirit should be strengthened. To M. Comte, living when these conditions were fulfilled, is due the credit of having set forth with comparative definiteness the connection between the Science of Life and the Science of Society. He saw clearly that the facts presented by masses of associated men are facts of the same order as those presented by groups of gregarious creatures of inferior kinds; and that in the one case, as in the other, the individuals must be studied before the assemblages can be understood. He therefore placed Biology before Sociology in his classification of the sciences. Biological preparation for sociological study he regarded as needful, not only for the reason that the phenomena of corporate life, arising out of the phenomena of individual life, can be rightly coördinated only after the phenomena of individual life have been rightly coördinated, but also for the reason that the methods of inquiry which Biology uses are methods to be used by Sociology. In various ways, which it would take too much space here to specify, he exhibits this dependence very satisfactorily. It may, indeed, be contended that certain of his other beliefs prevented him from seeing all the implications of this dependence. When, for instance, he speaks of "the intellectual anarchy which is the main source of our moral anarchy"—when he thus discloses the faith pervading his "Course of Positive Philosophy," that true theory would bring right practice—it becomes clear that the relation between the attributes of citizens and the phenomena of societies is incorrectly seen by him: the relation is far too deep a one to be changed by mere change of ideas. Again, denying, as he did, the indefinite modifiability of species, he almost ignored one of the cardinal truths which Biology yields to Sociology—a truth without which sociological interpretations must go wrong. Though he admits a certain modifiability of Man, both emotionally and intellectually, yet the dogma, of the fixity of species, to which he adhered, kept his conceptions of individual and social change within limits much too specific. Hence arose, among other erroneous preconceptions, this serious one, that the different forms of society, presented by savage and civilized races all over the globe, are but different stages in the evolution of one form: the truth being, rather, that social types, like types of individual organisms, do not form a series, but are classifiable only in divergent and redivergent groups. Nor did he arrive at that conception of the Social Science by which alone it becomes fully affiliated upon the simpler sciences—the conception of it as an account of the most complex forms of that continuous redistribution of matter and motion which is going on universally. Only when it is seen that the transformations passed through, during the growth, maturity, and decay of a society, conform to the same principles as do the transformations passed through by aggregates of all orders, inorganic and organic—only when it is seen that the process is in all cases similarly determined by forces, and is not scientifically interpreted until it is expressed in terms of those forces—only then is there reached the conception of Sociology as a science, in the complete meaning of the word.
Nevertheless, we must not overlook the greatness of the step made by M. Comte. His mode of contemplating the facts was truly philosophical. Containing, along with special views not to be admitted, many thoughts that are true as well as large and suggestive, the introductory chapters to his "Sociology" show a breadth and depth of conception beyond any previously reached. Apart from the tenability of his sociological doctrines, his way of conceiving social phenomena was much superior to all previous ways; and among other of its superiorities, was this recognition of the dependence of Sociology on Biology.
Here leaving the history of this idea, let us turn to the idea itself. There are two independent and equally-important ways in which these sciences are connected. In the first place, all social actions being determined by the actions of individuals, and all actions of individuals being vital actions that conform to the laws of life at large, a rational interpretation of all social actions implies knowledge of the laws of life. In the second place, a society as a whole, considered apart from its living units, presents phenomena of growth, structure, and function, like those of growth, structure, and function in an individual body; and these last are needful keys to the first. We will begin with this analogical connection.
Figures of speech, which very often mislead by conveying the notion of complete likeness where only distant analogy exists, occasionally mislead by making an actual correspondence seem a fancy. A metaphor, when used to express a real resemblance, raises a suspicion of mere imaginary resemblance, and so obscures the perception of intrinsic kinship. It is thus with the phrases "body politic," "political organization," and others, which tacitly liken a society to a living creature: they are assumed to be phrases having a certain convenience but expressing no fact—tending rather to foster a fiction. And yet metaphors are here more than metaphors in the ordinary sense. They are devices of speech hit upon to suggest a truth at first dimly perceived, but which grows clearer the more carefully the evidence is examined. That there is a real analogy between an individual organism and a social organism becomes undeniable, when certain necessities determining structure are seen to govern them in common.
Mutual dependence of parts is that which initiates and guides organization of every kind. So long as, in a mass of living matter, all parts are alike, and all pai'ts similarly live and grow without aid from one another, there is no organization: the undifferentiated aggregate of protoplasm thus characterized belongs to the lowest grade of living things. Without distinct faculties, and capable of but the feeblest movement, it cannot adjust itself to circumstances, and is at the mercy of environing destructive actions. The changes by which this structureless mass becomes a structured mass, having the characters and powers possessed by what we call an organism, are changes through which its parts lose their original likenesses, and do this while assuming the unlike kinds of activity for which their respective positions toward one another and surrounding things fit them. These differences of function, and consequent differences of structure, at first feebly marked, slight in degree, and few in kind, become, as organization progresses, definite and numerous; and in proportion as they do this the requirements are better met. Now, structural traits, expressible in the same language, distinguish lower and higher types of societies from one another; and distinguish the earlier stages of each society from the later. Primitive tribes show no established contrasts of parts. At first all men carry on the same kinds of activities, with no dependence on one another, or but occasional dependence. There is not even a settled chieftainship; and only in times of war is there a spontaneous and temporary subordination to those who show themselves the best leaders. From the small unformed social aggregates thus characterized, the progress is toward social aggregates of increased size, the parts of which acquire unlikenesses that become ever greater, more definite, and more multitudinous. The units of the society as it evolves fall into different orders of activities, determined by differences in their local conditions or their individual powers; and there slowly result permanent social structures, of which the primary ones become decided while they are being complicated by secondary ones, growing in their turns decided, and so on.
Even were this all, the analogy would be suggestive; but it is not all. These two metamorphoses have a cause in common. Beginning with an animal composed of like parts, severally living by and for themselves, on what condition only can there be established a change, such that one part comes to perform one kind of function, and another part another kind? Evidently each part can abandon that original state in which it fulfilled for itself all vital needs, and can assume a state in which it fulfils in excess some single vital need, only if its other vital needs are fulfilled for it by other parts that have meanwhile undertaken other special activities. One portion of a living aggregate cannot devote itself exclusively to the respiratory function, and cease to get nutriment for itself, unless other portions, that have become exclusively occupied in absorbing nutriment, give it a due supply. That is to say, there must be exchange of services. Organization in an individual creature is made possible only by dependence of each part on all, and of all on each. Now, this is obviously true also of social organization. A member of a primitive society cannot devote himself to an order of activity which satisfies one only of his personal wants, thus ceasing the activities required for satisfying his other personal wants, unless those, for whose benefit he carries on his special activity in excess, supply him with the benefits of their special activities. If he makes weapons instead of continuing a hunter, he must be supplied with the produce of the chase on condition that the hunters are supplied with his weapons. If he becomes a cultivator of the soil, no longer defending himself, then he must be defended by those who have become specialized defenders. That is to say, mutual dependence of parts is essential for the commencement and advance of social organization, as it is for the commencement and advance of individual organization.
Even were there no more to be pointed out, it would be clear enough that we are not here dealing with a figurative resemblance, but with a fundamental parallelism in principles of structure. We have but just begun to explore the analogy, however. The further we inquire, the closer we find it to be. For what, let us ask, is implied by mutual dependence—by exchange of services? There is implied some mode of communication between mutually-dependent parts. Parts that perform functions for one another's benefit must have appliances for conveying to one another the products of their respective functions, or for giving to one another the benefits (when these are not material products) which their respective functions achieve. And obviously, in proportion as the organization becomes high, the appliances for carrying on the intercourse must become involved. This we find to hold in both cases. In the lowest types of individual organisms, the exchange of services between the slightly-differentiated parts is effected in a slow, vague, inefficient way, by an irregular diffusion of the nutrient matters jointly elaborated, and by an irregular propagation of feeble stimuli, causing a rude coordination in the actions of the parts. It is thus, also, with small and simple social aggregates. No definite arrangements for interchanging services exist, but only indefinite ones. Barter of products—food, skins, weapons, or what not—takes place irregularly between individual producers and consumers throughout the whole social body: there is no trading or distributing system, as, in the rudimentary animal, there is no vascular system. So, too, the social organism of low type, like the individual organism of low type, has no appliances for combining the actions of its remoter parts. When coöperation of them against an enemy is called for, there is nothing but the spread of an alarm from man to man throughout the scattered population; just as, in an undeveloped kind of animal, there is merely a slow, undirected diffusion of stimulus from one point to all others. In either case, the evolution of a larger, more complex, more active organism, implies an increasingly-efficient set of agencies for conveying from part to part the material products of the respective parts, and an increasingly-efficient set of agencies for making the parts coöperate, so that the times and amounts of their activities may be kept in fit relations. And this is what we find. In the individual organism, as it advances to a high structure, no matter of what class, there arises an elaborate system of channels through which the common stock of nutritive matters (here added to by absorption, there changed by secretion, in this place purified by excretion, and in another modified by exchange of gases) is distributed throughout the body for the feeding of the various parts, severally occupied in their special actions; while in the social organism, as it advances to a high structure, no matter of what political type, there develops an extensive and complicated trading organization for the distribution of commodities, which, sending its heterogeneous currents through the kingdom by channels that end in retailers' shops, brings within reach of each citizen the necessaries and luxuries that have been produced by others, while he has been producing his commodity or small part of a commodity, or performing some other function or small part of a function, beneficial to the rest. Similarly, development of the individual organism, be its class what it may, is always accompanied by development of a nervous system which renders the combined actions of the parts prompt and duly proportioned, so making possible the adjustments required for meeting the varying contingencies; while along with development of the social organism there always goes development of directive centres, general and local, with established arrangements for interchanging information and instigation, serving to adjust the rates and kinds of activities going on in different parts.
Now, if there exists this fundamental kinship, there can be no rational apprehension of the truths of Sociology until there has been reached a rational apprehension of the truths of Biology. The services of the two sciences are, indeed, reciprocal. We have but to glance back at its progress, to see that Biology owes the cardinal idea, on which we have been dwelling, to Sociology; and that, having derived from Sociology this explanation of development, it gives it back to Sociology greatly increased in definiteness, enriched by multitudinous illustrations, and fit for extension in new directions. The luminous conception first enunciated by one whom we may claim as our countryman by blood, though French by birth, M. Milne-Edwards—the conception of "the physiological division of labor"—obviously originates from the generalization previously reached in Political Economy. Recognition of the advantages gained by a society when different groups of its members devote themselves to different industries, for which they acquire special aptitudes and surround themselves with special facilities, led to recognition of the advantages which an individual organism gains when parts of it, originally alike and having like activities, divide these activities among them; so that each, taking a special kind of activity, acquires a special fitness for it. But now note that, when carried from Sociology to Biology, this conception was forth-with greatly expanded. Instead of being limited to the functions included in nutrition, it was found applicable to all functions whatever. It turned out that the arrangements of the entire organism, and not of the viscera alone, conform to this fundamental principle—even the differences arising among the limbs, originally alike, were soon to be interpretable by it. And then mark that the idea, thus developed into an all-embracing truth in Biology, comes back to Sociology ready to be for it, too, an all-embracing truth. For it now becomes manifest that not to industrial arrangements only does the principle of the division of labor apply, but to social arrangements in general. The progress of organization, from that first step by which there arose a controlling chief, partially distinguished by his actions from those controlled, has been everywhere the same. Be it in the growth of a regulative class more or less marked off from classes regulated—be it in the partings of this regulative class into political, ecclesiastical, etc.—be it in those distinctions of duties within each class which are signified by gradations of rank—we may trace everywhere that fundamental law shown us by industrial organization. And, when we have once adequately grasped this truth which Biology borrows from Sociology and returns with vast interest, the aggregate of phenomena which a society at any moment presents, as well as the series of developmental changes through which it has risen to them, become suddenly illuminated, and the rationale comparatively clear.
After a recognition of this fundamental kinship there can be no difficulty in seeing how important, as an introduction to the study of social life, is a familiarization with the truths of individual life. For individual life, while showing us this division of labor, this exchange of services, in many and varied ways, shows it in ways easily traced; because the structures and functions are presented in directly-perceivable forms. And only when multitudinous biological examples have stamped on the mind the conception of a growing interdependence that goes along with a growing specialization, and have thus induced a habit of thought, will its sociological applications be duly appreciated.
Turn we now from the indirect influence which Biology exerts on Sociology, by supplying it with rational conceptions of social development and organization, to the direct influences it exerts by furnishing an adequate theory of the social unit—Man. For, while Biology is mediately connected with Sociology by a certain parallelism between the groups of phenomena they deal with, it is immediately connected with Sociology by having within its limits this creature whose properties originate social evolution. The human being is at once the terminal problem of Biology and the initial factor of Sociology.
If Man were uniform and unchangeable, so that those attributes of him which lead to social phenomena could be learned and dealt with as constant, it would not much concern the sociologist to make himself master of other biological truths than those cardinal ones above dwelt upon. But, since, in common with every other creature, Man is modifiable—since his modifications, like those of every other creature, are ultimately determined by surrounding conditions—and since surrounding conditions are in part constituted by social arrangements—it becomes requisite that the sociologist should acquaint himself with the laws of modification to which organized beings in general conform. Unless he does this he must continually err, both in thought and deed. As thinker, he will fail to understand the continual action and reaction of institutions and character, each slowly modifying the other through successive generations. As actor, his furtherance of this or that public policy, being unguided by a true theory of the effects wrought on citizens, will probably be mischievous rather than beneficial; since there are more ways of going wrong than of going right. How needful is enlightenment on this point will be seen, on remembering that scarcely anywhere is attention given to the modifications which a new agency, political or other, will produce in men's natures. Immediate influence on actions is alone contemplated, and the immeasurably more important influence on the bodies and minds of future generations is wholly ignored.
Yet the biological truths which should check this random political speculation and rash political action are conspicuous, and might, one would have thought, have been recognized by every one, even without special preparation in Biology. That faculties and powers of all orders, while they grow by exercise, dwindle when not used, and that alterations of nature descend to posterity, are facts continually thrust on men's attention, and more or less admitted by all. Though the evidence of heredity, when looked at in detail, seems obscure, because of the multitudinous differences of parents and of ancestors, which all take their varying shares in each new product, yet, when looked at in the mass, the evidence is overwhelming. Not to dwell on the countless proofs furnished by domesticated animals of many kinds as modified by breeders, the proofs furnished by the human races themselves are amply sufficient. That each variety of man goes on so reproducing itself that adjacent generations are nearly alike, however appreciable may sometimes be the divergence in a long series of generations, is undeniable. Chinese are recognizable as Chinese in whatever part of the globe we see them; every one assumes a black ancestry for any negro he meets; and no one doubts that the less-marked racial varieties have great degrees of persistence. On the other hand, it is unquestionable that the likenesses which the members of one human stock preserve, generation after generation, where the conditions of life remain constant, give place to unlikenesses that slowly increase in the course of centuries and thousands of years, if the members of that stock, spreading into different habitats, fall under different sets of conditions. If we assume the original unity of the human race, we have no alternative but to admit such divergences consequent on such causes; and, even if we do not assume this original unity, we have still, among the races classed by the community of their languages as Aryan, abundant proofs that the subjection to different modes of life produces, in course of ages, permanent bodily and mental differences: the Hindoo and the Englishman, the Greek and the Dutchman, have acquired undeniable contrasts of nature, physical and psychical, which can be ascribed to nothing but the continuous effects of circumstances, material, moral, social, on the activities, and therefore on the constitution. So that, as above said, one might have expected that biological training would scarcely be needed to impress men with these cardinal truths, all-important as elements in sociological conclusions.
As it is, however, we see that a deliberate study of Biology cannot be dispensed with. It is requisite that these scattered evidences, which but few citizens put together and think about, should be set before them in an orderly way; and that they should recognize in them the universal truths which living things at large exhibit. There requires a multiplicity of illustrations, many in their kinds, often repeated and dwelt upon. Only thus can there be produced an adequately-strong conviction that all organic beings are modifiable, that modifications are inheritable, and that therefore the remote issues of any new influence brought to bear on the members of a community must be serious.
To give a more definite and effective shape to this general inference, let me here comment on certain courses pursued by philanthropists and legislators, eager for immediate good results, but pursued without regard of these biological truths which, if borne in mind, would make them hesitate, if not desist.
Every species of creature goes on multiplying till it reaches the limit at which its mortality from all causes balances its fertility. Diminish its mortality, by removing or mitigating any one of these causes, and inevitably its numbers increase until mortality and fertility are again in equilibrium. However many injurious influences are taken away, the same thing holds, for the reason that the remaining injurious influences grow more intense. Either the pressure on the means of subsistence becomes greater; or some enemy of the species, multiplying in proportion to the abundance of its prey, becomes more destructive; or some disease, encouraged by greater proximity, becomes more prevalent. This general truth, everywhere exemplified among inferior races of beings, holds of the human race. True, it is in this case variously traversed and obscured. By emigration, the limits against which population continually presses are partially evaded; by improvements in production, they are continually removed further away; and, along with increase of knowledge, there comes an avoidance of detrimental agencies. Still, these are but qualifications of an inevitable action and reaction.
Let us here glance at the relation between this general truth and the legislative measures adopted to ward off certain causes of death. Every individual eventually dies from inability to withstand some environing action. It may be a mechanical force that cannot be resisted by the strengths of his bodily structures; it may be a deleterious gas which, absorbed into his blood, so deranges the processes throughout his body as finally to overthrow their balance; or it may be, and most frequently is, an absorption of his bodily heat by surrounding things that is too great for his enfeebled functions to meet. In all cases, however, it is one, or some, of the many forces to which he is exposed, and in presence of which his vital activities have to be carried on. He may succumb early or late, according to the goodness of his structure and the incidents of his career. But, in the natural working of things, those having imperfect structures succumb before they have offspring, leaving those with fitter structures to produce the next generation. And, obviously, the working of this process is such that as many will continue to live and to reproduce as can do so under the conditions then existing: if the assemblage of influences becomes more difficult to withstand, a larger number of the feebler disappear early; if the assemblage of influences is made more favorable, by the removal of, or mitigation of, some unfavorable influence, there is an increase in the number of the feebler who survive and leave posterity. Hence two proximate results, conspiring to the same ultimate result. First, population increases at a greater rate than it would otherwise have done: so subjecting all persons to certain other destroying agencies in more intense forms. Second, by intermarriage of the feebler who now survive, with the stronger who would otherwise have alone survived, the general constitution is brought down to the level of strength required to meet these more favorable conditions. That is to say, there by-and-by arises a state of things under which a general decrease in the power of withstanding this mitigated destroying cause, and a general increase in the activity of other destroying causes, consequent on greater numbers, bring mortality and fertility into the same relation as before—there is a somewhat larger number of a somewhat weaker race.
There are further ways in which this process necessarily works a like general effect, however far it is carried. For, as fast as more and more detrimental agencies are removed or mitigated, and as fast as there goes on an increasing survival and propagation of those having delicately-balanced constitutions, there arise new destructive agencies. Let the average vitality be diminished by more effectually guarding the weak against adverse conditions, and inevitably there come fresh diseases. A general constitution, previously able to bear without derangement certain variations in atmospheric conditions, and certain degrees of other unfavorable actions, if lowered in tone, will become subject to new kinds of perturbation, and new causes of death. In illustration I need but refer to the many diseases from which civilized races suffer, but which were not known to the uncivilized. Nor is it only by such new causes of death that the rate of mortality, when decreased in one direction, increases in another. The very precautions against death are themselves, in some measure, new causes of death. Every further appliance for meeting an evil, every additional expenditure of effort, every extra tax to meet the cost of supervision, becomes a fresh obstacle to living. For, always in a society where population is pressing on the means of subsistence, and where the efforts required to fulfil vital needs are so great that they here and there cause premature death, the powers of producers cannot be further strained by calling on them to support a new class of non- producers, without, in some cases, increasing the wear and tear to a fatal extent. And, in proportion as this policy is carried further—in proportion as the enfeeblement of constitution is made greater, the required precautions multiplied, and the cost of maintaining these precautions augmented—it must happen that the increasing physiological expenditure thrown on these enfeebled constitutions must make them succumb so much the earlier: the mortality evaded in one shape must come round in another.
The clearest conception of the state brought about will be gained, by supposing the society thus produced to consist of old people. Age differs from maturity and youth in being less able to withstand influences that tend to derange the functions, as well as less able to bear the efforts needed to get the food, clothing, and shelter, by which resistance to these influences may be carried on; and, where no aid is received from the younger, this decreased strength and increased liability to derangement by incident forces make the life of age difficult and wearisome. Those who, though young, have weak constitutions, are much in the same position: their liabilities to derangement are similarly multiplied, and, where they have to support themselves, they are similarly overtaxed by the effort, relatively great to them and made greater by the maintaining of precautions. A society of enfeebled people, then, must lead a life like that led by a society of people who had outlived the vigor of maturity, and yet had none to help them; and their life must also be like, in lacking that overflowing energy which, while it makes labors easy, makes enjoyments keen. In proportion as vigor declines, not only do the causes of pain multiply, while the tax on the energies becomes more trying, but the possibilities of pleasure decrease; many delights demanding, or accompanying, exertion are shut out; and others fail to raise the flagging spirits. So that, to sum up, lowering the average type of constitution to a level of strength below that which meets without difficulty the ordinary strains, and perturbations, and dangers, while it fails eventually to diminish the rate of mortality, makes life more a burden and less a gratification.
I am aware that this reasoning may be met by the criticism that, carried out rigorously, it would negative social ameliorations in general. Some, perhaps, will say that even those measures by which order is maintained might be opposed for the reason that there results from them a kind of men less capable of self-protection than would otherwise exist. And there will doubtless be suggested the corollary that no influences detrimental to health ought to be removed. I am not concerned to meet such criticisms, for the reason that I do not mean the conclusions above indicated to be taken without qualification. It is obvious enough that, up to a certain point, the removal of destructive causes --leaves a balance of benefit. The simple fact, that, with a largely-augmented population, longevity is greater now than heretofore, goes far toward showing that, up to the time lived through by those who die in our day, there had been a decrease of the causes of mortality in some directions, greater than their increase in other directions. Though a considerable drawback may be suspected—though, on observing how few thoroughly-strong people we meet, and how prevalent are chronic ailments notwithstanding the care taken of health it may be inferred that bodily life now is lower in quality than it was, though greater in quantity—yet there has probably been gained a surplus of advantage. All I wish to show is, that there are limits to the good gained by a such a policy. It is supposed in the Legislature, and by the public at large, that, if, by measures taken, a certain number of deaths by disease have been prevented, so much pure benefit has been secured. But it is not so. In any case, there is a set-off from the benefit; and, if such measures are greatly multiplied, the deductions may eat up the benefit entirely, and leave an injury in its place. Where such measures ought to stop, is a question that may be left open. Here my purpose is simply to point out the way in which a far-reaching biological truth underlies rational conclusions in Sociology, and also to point out that formidable evils may arise from ignoring it.
Other evils, no less serious, are entailed by legislative actions and by actions of individuals, single and combined, which overlook or disregard a kindred biological truth. Besides an habitual neglect of the fact that the quality of a society is physically lowered by the artificial preservation of its feeblest members, there is an habitual neglect of the fact that the quality of a society is lowered morally and intellectually, by the artificial preservation of those who are least able to take care of themselves.
If any one denies that children bear likenesses to their progenitors in character and capacity—if he holds that men whose parents and grandparents were habitual criminals have tendencies as good as those of men whose parents and grandparents were industrious and upright—he may consistently hold that it matters not from what families in a society the successive generations descend. He may think it just as well if the most active, and capable, and prudent, and conscientious people die without issue, while many children are left by the reckless and dishonest. But, whoever does not espouse so insane a proposition, must admit that social arrangements which retard the multiplication of the mentally-best, and facilitate the multiplication of the mentally- worst, must be extremely injurious.
For, if the unworthy are helped to increase by shielding them from that mortality which their unworthiness would naturally entail, the effect is to produce, generation after generation, a greater unworthiness. From decreased use of self-conserving faculties already deficient, there must result, in posterity, the smaller amounts of self-conserving faculties. The general law which we traced above, in its bodily applications, may be traced here in its mental applications. Removal of certain difficulties and dangers, which have to be met by intelligence and activity, is followed by a diminished ability to meet difficulties and dangers. Among children born to the more capable who marry with the less capable, thus artificially preserved, there is not simply a lower average power of self-preservation than would else have existed, but the incapacity reaches in some a greater extreme. Smaller difficulties and dangers become fatal in proportion as greater ones are warded off. Nor is this the whole mischief. For such members of a population as do not take care of themselves, but are taken care of by the rest, inevitably bring on the rest extra exertion, either in supplying them with the necessaries of life, or in maintaining over them the required supervision, or in both. That is to say, in addition to self-conservation and the conservation of their own offspring, the best, having: to undertake the conservation of the worst, and of their offspring, are subject to an overdraw upon their energies. In some cases this stops them from marrying; in other cases it diminishes the numbers of their children; in other cases it causes inadequate feeding of their children; in other cases it brings their children to orphanhood—in every way tending to arrest the increase of the best, to deteriorate their constitutions, and to pull them down toward the level of the worst.
Fostering the good-for-nothing at the expense of the good is an extreme cruelty. It is a deliberate storing-up of miseries for future generations. There is no greater curse to posterity than that of bequeathing them an increasing population of imbeciles and idlers and criminals. To aid the bad in multiplying, is, in effect, the same as maliciously providing for our descendants a multitude of enemies. It may be doubted whether the maudlin philanthropy which, looking only at immediate mitigations, persistently ignores remote results, does not inflict a greater total of misery than the extremest selfishness inflicts. Refusing to consider the remote influences of his incontinent generosity, the thoughtless giver stands but a degree above the drunkard who thinks only of to-day's pleasure and ignores to-morrow's pain, or the spendthrift who seeks immediate delights at the cost of ultimate poverty. In one respect, indeed, he is worse; since, while getting the present pleasure produced in giving pleasure, he leaves the future miseries to be borne by others—escaping them himself. And calling for still stronger reprobation is that scattering of money prompted by misinterpretation of the saying that "charity covers a multitude of sins." For, in the many whom this misinterpretation leads to believe that by large donations they can compound for evil deeds, we may trace an element of positive baseness—an effort to get a good place in another world, no matter at what injury to fellow-creatures.
How far the mentally-superior may, with a balance of benefit to society, shield the mentally-inferior from the evil results of their inferiority, is a question too involved to be here discussed at length. Doubtless it is in the order of things that parental affection, the regard of relatives, and the spontaneous sympathy of friends and even of strangers, should mitigate the pains which incapacity has to bear, and the penalties which unfit impulses bring round. Doubtless, in many cases the reactive influence of this sympathetic care which the better take of the worse, is morally beneficial, and in a degree compensates by good in one direction for evil in another. It may be fully admitted that individual altruism, left to itself, will work advantageously—wherever, at least, it does not go to the extent of helping the unworthy to multiply. But an unquestionable mischief is done by agencies which undertake in a wholesale way the preservation of good-for-nothings: putting a stop to that natural process of elimination by which otherwise society continually purifies itself For not only by such agencies is this conservation of the worst and destruction of the best carried further than it would else be, but there is scarcely any of that compensating advantage which individual altruism implies. A mechanically-working State-apparatus, distributing money drawn from grumbling rate-payers, produces little or no moralizing effect on the capables to make up for multiplication of the incapables. Here, however, it is needless to dwell on the perplexing questions hence arising. My purpose is simply to show that a rational policy must recognize certain general truths of Biology, and to insist that only when study of these general truths, as illustrated throughout the living world, has woven them into the conceptions of things, is there gained an adequately-strong conviction that enormous mischief must result from ignoring them.
Biological truths and their corollaries, presented under these special forms as bases for sociological conclusions, are introductory to a more general biological truth including them—a general biological truth which underlies all rational legislation. I refer to the truth that every species of organism, including the human, is always adapting itself, both directly and indirectly, to its conditions of existence.
The actions which have produced every variety of man—the actions which have established in the Negro and the Hindoo constitutions that thrive in climates fatal to Europeans, and in the Fuegian a constitution enabling him to bear without clothing an inclemency almost too great for other races well clothed—the actions which have developed in the Tartar races nomadic habits that are almost insurmountable, while they have given to North-American Indians desires and aptitudes which, fitting them for a hunting-life, make a civilized life intolerable—the actions doing this, are also ever at work moulding citizens into correspondence with their circumstances. While the bodily natures of citizens are being fitted to the physical influences and industrial activities of their locality, their mental natures are being fitted to the structure of the society they live in. Though, as we have seen, there is always an approximate fitness of the social unit to its social aggregate, yet the fitness can never be more than approximate, and readjustment is always going on. Could a society remain unchanged, something like a permanent equilibrium between the nature of the individual and the nature of the society would presently be reached. But the type of each society is continually being modified by two causes—by growth, and by the actions, warlike or other, of adjacent societies. Increase in the bulk of a society inevitably leads to change of structure; as also does any alteration in the ratio of the predatory to the industrial activities. Hence continual social metamorphosis, involving continual alteration of the conditions under which the citizen lives, produces in him an adaptation of character which, tending toward completeness, is ever made incomplete by further social metamorphosis.
While, however, each society, and each successive phase of each society, presents conditions more or less special, to which the natures of citizens adapt themselves, there are certain general conditions which, in every society, must be fulfilled to a considerable extent before it can hold together; and which must be fulfilled completely before social life can be complete. Each citizen has to carry on his activities in such ways as not to impede other citizens in the carrying on of their activities more than he is impeded by them. That any citizen may so behave as not to deduct from the aggregate welfare, it is needful that he shall perform such function, or share of function, as is of value equivalent at least to what he consumes; and it is further needful that, both in discharging his function and in pursuing his pleasure, he shall leave others similarly free to discharge their functions and to pursue their pleasures. Obviously, a society formed of units who cannot live, without mutual hindrance, is one in which the happiness is of smaller amount than it is in a society formed of units who can live without mutual hindrance. And obviously the sum of happiness in such a society is still less than that in a society of which the units voluntarily aid one another.
Now, under one of its leading aspects, civilization is a process of developing in citizens a nature capable of fulfilling these all-essential conditions; and, neglecting their superfluities, laws and the appliances for enforcing them are expressions and embodiments of these all-essential conditions. On the one hand, those severe systems of slavery, and serfdom, and punishment for vagabondage, which characterized the less-developed social types, stand for the necessity that the social unit shall be self-supporting. On the other hand, the punishments for murder, assault, theft, etc., and the penalties on breach of contract, stand for the necessity that, in the course of the activities by which he supports himself, the citizen shall neither directly injure other citizens, nor shall injure them indirectly, by taking or intercepting the returns their activities bring. And it needs no detail to show that a fundamental trait in social progress is an increase of industrial energy, leading citizens to support themselves without being coerced in the harsh ways once general; that another fundamental trait is the progressive establishment of such a nature in citizens that, while pursuing their respective ends, they injure and impede one another in smaller degrees; and that a concomitant trait is the growth of governmental restraints which more effectually check the remaining aggressiveness. That is to say, while the course of civilization shows us a clearer recognition and better enforcement of these essential conditions, it also shows us a gradual moulding of humanity into correspondence with them.
Along with the proofs thus furnished that the biological law of adaptation, holding of all other species, holds of the human species, and that the change of nature undergone by the human species since societies began to develop, has been an adaptation of it to the conditions implied by harmonious social life, we receive the lesson, that the one thing needful is a rigorous maintenance of these conditions. While all see that the immediate function of our chief social institutions is the securing of an orderly social life by maintaining these conditions, very few see that their further function, and in one sense more important function, is that of fitting men to fulfil these conditions spontaneously. The two functions are inseparable. From the biological laws we have been contemplating, it is, on the one hand, an inevitable corollary that, if these conditions are maintained, human nature will gradually adapt itself to them; while, on the other hand, it is an inevitable corollary that, by no other discipline than subjection to these conditions, can fitness to the social state be produced. Enforce these conditions, and adaptation to them will continue. Relax these conditions, and by so much there will be a cessation of the adaptive changes. Abolish these conditions, and, after the consequent social dissolution, there will commence (unless they are reestablished) an adaptation to the conditions then resulting—those of savage life. These are conclusions from which there is no escape, if man is subject to the laws of life in common with living things in general.
It may, indeed, be rightly contended that, if those who are but little fitted to the social state are rigorously subjected to these conditions, evil will result; intolerable restraint, if it does not deform or destroy life, will be followed by violent reaction. We are taught by analogy, that greatly-changed conditions from which there is no escape fail to produce adaptation because they produce death. Men having constitutions fitted for one climate, cannot be fitted to an extremely-different climate by persistently living in it, because they do not survive, generation after generation. Such changes can be brought about only by slow spreadings of the race through intermediate regions having intermediate climates, to which successive generations are accustomed little by little. And doubtless the like holds mentally. The intellectual and emotional natures required for high civilization are not to be obtained by forcing on the completely-uncivilized the needful activities and restraints in unqualified forms: gradual decay and death, rather than adaptation, would result. But so long as a society's institutions are indigenous, no danger is to be apprehended from a too-strict maintenance of the conditions to the ideally-best social life; since there can exist neither the required appreciation of them nor the required appliances for enforcing them. Only in those abnormal cases where a race of one type is subject to a race of much-superior type, is this qualification pertinent. In our own case, as in the cases of all societies having populations approximately homogeneous in character, and having institutions evolved by that character, there may rightly be aimed at the greatest rigor possible. The merciful policy, no less than the just policy, is that of insisting that these all-essential requirements of self-support and non-aggression shall be conformed to—the just policy, because failing to protect the better or more-adapted natures against the worse or less-adapted; the merciful policy, because the pains accompanying the process of adaptation to the social state must be gone through, and it is better that they should be gone through once than gone through twice, as they have to be when any relaxation of these conditions permits retrogression.
Thus, that which sundry precepts of the current religion embody—that which ethical systems, intuitive or utilitarian, equally urge, is also that which Biology, generalizing the laws of life at large, dictates. All further requirements are unimportant compared with this primary requirement, that each shall so live as neither to burden others nor to injure others. And all further appliances for influencing the actions and natures of men are unimportant compared with those serving to maintain and increase the conformity to this primary requirement. But, unhappily, legislators and philanthropists, busy with schemes which, instead of aiding adaptation, indirectly hinder it, give little attention to the enforcing and improving of those arrangements by which adaptation is effected.
And here, on behalf of the few who uphold this policy of natural discipline, let me emphatically repudiate the name of laissez-faire as applied to it, and emphatically condemn the counter-policy as involving a laissez-faire of the most vicious kind. While holding that, when the State leaves each citizen to get what good for himself he can, and to suffer what evil he brings on himself, such a let-alone policy is eventually beneficial, I contend that, when the State leaves him to bear the evils inflicted by other citizens, and can be induced to defend him only at a ruinous cost, such a let-alone policy is both immediately and remotely injurious. When a Legislature takes from the worthy the things they have labored for, that it may give to the unworthy the things they have not earned—when cause and consequence, joined in the order of Nature, are thus divorced by statesmen—then may properly come the suggestion, "Cease your interference." But when, in any way, direct or indirect, the unworthy deprive the worthy of their dues, or impede them in the quiet pursuit of their ends, then may properly come the demand, "Interfere promptly and effectually, and be in fact the protectors which you are in name." Our politicians and philanthropists, impatient with a salutary laissez-faire, tolerate and even defend a laissez-faire that is in the highest degree mischievous. Without hesitation, this regulative agency we call the Government takes from us some £100,000 a year to pay for art-teaching and to establish art-museums; while, in guarding us against robbers and murderers, it makes convictions difficult by demurring to the cost of necessary evidence: even the outlay for a plan, admitted by the tax-master, being refused by the Treasury! Is not this a disastrous laissez-faire? While millions are voted without a murmur for an expedition to rescue a meddling consul from a half-savage king, our Executive resists the spending of a few extra thousands to pay more judges: the result being not simply vast arrears and long delays, but immense injustices of other kinds—costs being run up in cases which lawyers know will never be heard, and which, when brought into court, the over-burdened judges get rid of by appointing junior counsel as referees: an arrangement under which the suitors have not simply to pay over again all their agents, at extra rates, but have also to pay their judges. Is not that, too, a flagitious laissez-faire? Though, in our solicitude for Negroes, we have been spending £50,000 a year to stop the East-African slave-trade, and failing to do it, yet only now are we providing protection for our own sailors against unscrupulous ship-owners—only now have sailors, betrayed into bad ships, got something more than the option of risking death by drowning or going to prison for breach of contract! Shall we not call that, also, a laissez-faire that is almost wicked in its indifference? At the same time that the imperativeness of teaching all children to write, and to spell, and to parse, and to know where Timbuctoo lies, is being agreed to with acclamation, and vast sums raised that these urgent needs may be met, it is not thought needful that citizens should be enabled to learn the laws they have to obey; and though these laws are so many commands which, on any rational theory, the Government issuing them ought to enforce, yet in a great mass of cases it does nothing when told that they have been broken, but leaves the injured to try and enforce them at their own risk, if they please. Is not that, again, a demoralizing laissez-faire—an encouragement to wrong-doing by a half-promise of impunity? Once more, what shall we say of the laissez-faire which cries out because the civil administration of justice costs us £800,000 a year—because to protect men's rights we annually spend half as much again as would build an iron-clad!—because to prevent fraud and enforce contracts we lay out each year two-thirds of the sum our largest distiller pays in spirit-duty!—what, I ask, shall we say of the laissez-faire which thus thinks it an extravagance that one-hundredth part of our national revenue should go in maintaining the vital condition to national well-beings? Is not that a laissez-faire which we might be tempted to call insane, did not most sane people agree in it? And thus it is through out. The policy of quiescence is adopted where active interference is all-essential; while time, and energy, and money, are absorbed in interfering: with things that should be left to themselves. Those who condemn the let-alone policy in respect to matters which, to say the least, are not of vital importance, advocate or tolerate the let-alone policy in respect to vitally-important matters. Contemplated from the biological point of view, their course is doubly mischievous. They impede adaptation of human nature to the social state, both by what they do and by what they leave undone.
Neither the limits of this chapter, nor its purpose, permit exposition of the various other truths which Biology yields as data for Sociology. Enough has been said in proof of that which was to be shown—the need for biological study as a preparation for grasping sociological truths.
The effect to be looked for from it is, that of giving strength and clearness to convictions otherwise feeble and vague. Sundry of the doctrines I have presented under their biological aspects are doctrines admitted in considerable degrees. Such acquaintance with the laws of life as they have gathered incidentally, lead many to suspect that appliances for preserving the physically-feeble bring results that are not wholly good. Others there are who occasionally get glimpses of evils caused by fostering the reckless and the stupid. But their suspicions and qualms fail to determine their conduct, because the inevitableness of the bad consequences has not been made adequately clear by the study of Biology at large. When countless illustrations have shown them that all strength, all faculty, all fitness, presented by every living thing, has arisen partly by a growth of each power consequent on exercise of it, and partly by the more frequent survival and greater multiplication of the better-endowed individuals, entailing gradual disappearance of the worse-endowed—when it is seen that all perfection, bodily and mental, has been achieved through this process, and that suspension of it must cause cessation of progress, while reversal of it would bring universal decay—when it is seen that the mischiefs entailed by disregard of these truths, though they may be slow, are certain—there comes a conviction that social policy must be conformed to them, and that to ignore them is madness.
Did not experience prepare one to find everywhere a degree of irrationality remarkable in beings who distinguish themselves as rational, one might have assumed that, before devising modes of dealing with citizens in their corporate relations, special attention would be given to the natures of these citizens individually considered, and by implication to the natures of living things at large. Put a carpenter into a blacksmith's shop, and set him to forge, to weld, to harden, to anneal, etc., and he will not need the blacksmith's jeers, to show him how foolish is the attempt to make and mend tools before he has learned the properties of iron. Let the carpenter challenge the blacksmith, who knows little about wood in general and nothing about particular kinds of wood, to do his work, and, unless the blacksmith declines to make himself a laughing-stock, he is pretty certain to saw askew, to choke up his plane, and presently to break his tools or cut his fingers. But, while every one sees the folly of supposing that wood or iron can be shaped and fitted, without an apprenticeship during which their ways of behaving are made familiar, no one sees any folly in undertaking to devise institutions, and to shape human nature in this way or that way, without a preliminary study of Man, and of Life in general as explaining Man's life. For simple functions we insist on elaborate special preparations extending through years; while for the most complex function, to be adequately discharged not even by the wisest, we require no preparation!
How absurd are the prevailing conceptions about these matters, we shall see still more clearly on turning to consider that more special discipline which should precede the study of Sociology; namely, the study of Mental Science.
- Probably most readers will conclude that in this, and in the preceding Section, I am simply carrying out the views of Mr. Darwin in their applications to the human race. Under the circumstances, perhaps, I shall be excused for pointing out that the same beliefs, otherwise expressed, are contained in Chapters XXV. and XXVIII. of "Social Statics," published in December, 1850.
- And even then there are often ruinous delays. A barrister tells me that in a case in which he was himself the referee they had but six meetings in two years.