Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/342

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writer of his period, had constantly before him the characteristic fact of his age, namely, that the meaning of the individual had come to be in some way accepted as transcending all theories of the State and all theories of his obligations to the State. The position was, therefore, very remarkable. Spencer has been for long accepted by the general mind as the modern writer who more than any other has brought into use the term “social organism,” and who has applied the doctrine of evolution to the theory of its life. Yet here we see him involved in the apparent self-stultification of describing the social organism to us as that impossible thing, an organism “whose corporate life must be subservient to the lives of the parts instead of the lives of the parts being subservient to the corporate life.” It was obvious that some profound confusion existed. The science of society was evidently destined to carry us much farther than this. If natural selection was to be taken as operating on society, and therefore as tending to produce the highest efficiency out of the materials that comprise it, it must be effecting the subordination of the interests of the units to the higher corporate efficiency of society. But one of only two conclusions could therefore result from Spencer's position. If we were to regard the “social organism” as an organism in which the corporate life must be subservient to the lives of the parts, instead of the lives of the parts being subservient to the corporate life, it would be necessary to hold that the individual had succeeded in arresting the characteristic effects of natural selection on society. But for the evolutionist, whose great triumph it had been to reveal to us the principles of natural selection in universal operation throughout life elsewhere, to have to regard them as suspended in human society would be an absurd anti-climax. Such being scarcely conceivable as a final position, it remained only to infer that natural selection must still be subordinating individual interests to some larger social meaning in the evolutionary process. But in this case, society must be subject to principles which reach farther than those Spencer conceived: it must be organic in some different and wider sense than he imagined, and the analogy of the “social organism” as confined within the consciousness of ascendant interests in the political State must be considered to be a false one.

We had, in short, reached a capital position in the history of sociology from which an entirely new horizon was about to A New Horizon in Sociology. become visible. The principles of society organic in a wider sense than had hitherto been conceived were about to be brought into the discussion. All the phenomena of the creeds and ethical systems of humanity, of the great systems of religion and philosophy, with the problems of which the human mind had struggled over immense stretches of time as the subordinating process had unfolded itself in history, were about to be brought into sociology. And not now as if these represented some detached and functionless development with which the science of society was not directly concerned, but as themselves the central feature of the evolutionary process in human society. The stage in the history of sociology characterized by the confusion of the principles governing the social organism with those governing the State, the stage which had lasted from the time of the Greeks to Spencer, and which had witnessed towards its close Sidgwick's statement that the science of sociology was in effect coincident with the science of politics, was thus bound to be definitely terminated by the application to the science of society of the doctrine of evolution. Yet Spencer, despite his popular association with the doctrine of evolution, is thus not to be reckoned as the first of the philosophers of this new stage. His place is really with the last great names of the preceding period. For his conception of society was that of Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick. His Principles of Sociology as a contribution to modern evolutionary science is necessarily rendered to a large extent futile by the sterilizing conception of a social organism “in which the corporate life must be subservient to the lives of the parts.” It is indeed in the reversal of this conception that the whole significance of the application of the doctrine of evolution to the science of society consists. Henceforward we shall have to regard the social process in evolution as a process with its own interests, its own psychology, its own consciousness and its own laws, all quite distinct from the political consciousness of the modern State, though indirectly controlling and governing the consciousness of the State so thoroughly that there can be no true science of the latter without a science of the former.

The new situation created in sociology as the doctrine of evolution began to be applied to the science had features of great The First Darwinians in Sociology. interest. The advance had been made to a central position along two entirely distinct lines. The army of workers was, in consequence, divided into two more or less isolated camps, each largely in ignorance of the relation of its own work to that in the other section. It is often said as a reproach to sociology in the period through which we are passing that it attracts the kind of recruits who are not best equipped for its work, while it repels the kind of mind of philosophical training and wide outlook which it ought to enlist in its service and for which it has most urgent need, the loss to sociology both in credit and efficiency being immense. This is the result of a peculiar situation. Those who are best qualified to understand the nature and scope of the problems with which sociology has to deal cannot fail to have the conviction strongly developed in them that the Darwinian principles of evolution which reveal to us what may be described as the dynamics of the universal life process have very important relations to the dynamics of the social process. The situation which has arisen in sociology, however, is a very curious one, although it is one easy to understand when the causes are explained. When the endeavour is made to follow Darwin and the early Darwinians through the facts and researches which led to the formulation of the law of natural selection it may be observed how their preoccupation was almost exclusively with the details of the struggle for existence not in societies, but as it was waged between individuals. This was so as a matter of course, from the character of the facts which wild nature supplied, reinforced as they were, by observations on domestic animals and the practices of breeders.

Darwin made no systematic study of society; and outside human society the struggle through which natural selection has operated has been mainly between individuals. It is, of course, sometimes remarked that the social life exists among animals and that the laws of the social life and of the herd are to be observed there, but as a matter of fact there is nothing whatever elsewhere in life to compare with what we see taking place in human society, namely, the gradual integration—still under all the stress of natural selection expressing its effects in the person of the individual—of an organic social process resting ultimately on mind. The laws of this process are necessarily quite different from the laws of the other and simpler process in operation lower down in life. If we regard the classes from which sociology as a science should be able to draw its most efficient recruits we see that at the present day they fall mainly into two camps. There are in the one camp the exponents of biological principles, often trained in one or more of the departments of biological science, who are attempting the application to human society of the principles with which they have become familiar elsewhere in life. There are in the second camp the exponents of various aspects of social philosophy. When the exponent of Darwinian principles advances to the study of society he is naturally strong in the conviction that he has in his hands a most potent instrument of knowledge which ought to carry him far in the organization of the social sciences and towards the unification of the leading principles underlying the facts with which they deal. But what we soon begin to see is that his training has been, and that his preoccupation still continues to be, with the facts and principles of the struggle for existence between individuals as displayed elsewhere in life. He does not easily realize, if he has not been trained in social philosophy, how infinitely more complex all the problems of natural selection have become in the social integration resting on mind which is taking place in human affairs; or how the social efficiency with which he has become now concerned is something quite distinct from the individual