Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/345

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
329
SOCIOLOGY

historical method scientifically applied, to present the intervening process in history—including the whole modern movement towards liberty and enfranchisement, and towards equality of conditions, of rights and of economic opportunities—not as a process of the increasing emancipation of the individual from the claims of society, but as a process of progress towards a more organic stage of social subordination than has prevailed in the world before.

When society is considered as an organism developing under the influence of natural selection along the line of the causes which contribute to its highest potential efficiency, and therefore tending to have the mean centre of its organic processes projected farther and farther into the future, it is evident that it must be the principles and ideas which most effectively subordinate over long periods of time the interests and the capacities of the individuals of which it is composed to the efficiency of the whole which will play the leading part in social evolution. In primitive society, the first rudiments of social organization undoubtedly arose, not so much from conscious regard to The Basis of Modern Sociology. expediency or “increased satisfactions” as from fitness in the struggle for existence. “The first organized societies must have been developed, like any other advantage, under the sternest conditions of natural selection. In the flux and change of life the members of those groups of men which in favourable conditions first showed any tendency to social organization became possessed of a great advantage over their fellows, and these societies grew up simply because they possessed elements of strength which led to the disappearance before them of other groups of men with which they came into competition. Such societies continued to flourish, until they in their turn had to give way before other associations of men of higher social efficiency” (Social Evolution, ii.). In the social process at this stage all the customs, habits, institutions, and beliefs contributing to produce a higher organic efficiency of society would be naturally selected, developed and perpetuated. It is in connexion with this fact that the clue must be sought to the evolution of those institutions and beliefs of early society which have been treated of at length in researches like those of M‘Lennan, Tylor, Lubbock, Waitz, Letourneau, Quatrefages, Frazer, and others of equal importance. For a long period in the first stages the highest potentiality of the social organization would be closely associated with military efficiency. For in the evolution of the social organism, as has been said, while the mean centre of the processes involving its organic identity would tend to be projected into the future, it would at the same time always be necessary to maintain efficiency in current environment in competition with rival types of lower future potentiality. Amongst primitive peoples, where a great chief, law-giver and military leader appeared, the efficiency of organized society resting on military efficiency would, as a matter of course, make itself felt in the struggle for existence. Yet as such societies would often be resolved into their component elements on the death of the leader, the overruling importance—on the next stage of the advance towards a more organic type—of ideas which would permanently subordinate the materials of society to the efficiency of the whole would make itself felt. Social systems of the type in which authority was perpetuated by ancestor-worship—in which all the members were therefore held to be joined in an exclusive religious citizenship founded on blood relationship to the deities who were worshipped, and in which all outsiders were accordingly treated as natural enemies, whom it would be a kind of sacrilege to admit to the rights of the State—would contain the elements of the highest military potentiality. The universal mark which ancestor-worship has left on human institutions in a certain stage of social development is doubtless closely associated with this fact. The new and the older tendencies in sociology are here also in contrast; for whereas Herbert Spencer has been content to explain ancestor-worship as arising from an introspective and comparatively trivial process of thought assumed to have taken place in the mind of early man in relation to a supposed belief in ghosts (Principles of Sociology, 68-207), the newer tendency is to consider science as concerned with it in its relation to the characteristic principles through which the efficiency of the social organization expressed itself in its surroundings. The social, political and religious institutions disclosed in the study of the earliest civilizations within the purview of history must be considered to be all intimately related to the ruling principles of this military stage. The wide reach and significance of the causes governing the process of social evolution throughout the whole of this period may be gathered from treatises like Seebohm's Structure of Greek Tribal Society, Maine's Ancient Law, History of Institutions, and Early Law and Custom, Fowler's City-State of the Greeks and Romans, and in a special sense from the comparative study of Roman law, first of all as it is presented in the period of the Twelve Tables, then as the jus civile begins to be influenced by the jus gentium, and lastly as its principles are contrasted with those of English common law in the modern period. In most of the philosophical writings of the Greeks, and in particular in the Ethics and Politics of Aristotle, and in many of the Dialogues of Plato, the spirit of the principles upon which society was constructed in this stage may be perceived as soon as progress has been made with. comparative studies in other directions.

A very pregnant saying of T. H. Green was that during the whole development of man the command, “Thou shalt love Extension of the Sense of Human Responsibility. thy neighbour as thyself” has never varied. What has varied is only the answer to the question—Who is my neighbour? If in the light of this profoundly true reflection we watch the progress of society from primitive conditions to the higher stages, it may be observed to possess marked features. Where all human institutions, as in the ancient civilizations, rested ultimately on force; where outsiders were regarded as natural enemies, and conquered enemies became slaves; where, as throughout all this phase of social evolution, a rule of religion was a rule of law identified with the principles of the State (Maine, Ancient Law); where the State itself was absolute as against the individual, knowing “neither moral nor legal limits to its power”; and where all the moral, intellectual and industrial life of the community rested on a basis of slavery—the full limits of the organic principle of social efficiency would in time be reached. The conditions would be inherent in which all social institutions would tend to become closed absolutisms organized round the conception of men's desires in the present. And the highest outward expression in which the tendencies in ethics, in politics, and in religion must necessarily culminate would be the military State, bounded in its energies only by the resistance of others, necessarily acknowledging no complete end short of absolute dominion, and therefore staying its course before no ideal short of universal conquest. This was the condition in the ancient State. It happened thus that the outward policy of the ancient State to other peoples became, by a fundamental principle of its life, a policy of military conquest and subjugation, the only limiting principle being the successful resistance of the others. The epoch of history moved by inherent forces towards the final emergence of one supreme military State, in an era of general conquest, and culminated in the example of universal dominion which we had in the Roman world before the rise of the civilization of our era.

The influence upon the development of civilization of the wider conception of duty and responsibility to one's fellow men which Its Influence on Social Efficiency. was introduced into the world with the spread of Christianity can hardly be over-estimated. The extended conception of the answer to the question—Who is my neighbour? which has resulted from the characteristic doctrines of the Christian religion—a conception transcending all the claims of the family, group, state, nation, people or race, and even all the interests comprised in any existing order of society—has been the most powerful evolutionary force which has ever acted on society. It has tended gradually to break up the absolutisms inherited from an older civilization and to bring into being an entirely new type of social efficiency.