Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/22

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10
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

required to mould national characters and habits and sentiments, will the truly important results of a public policy show themselves? Let us consider the question a little further.

In a society living, growing, changing, every new factor becomes a permanent force; modifying more or less the direction of movement determined by the aggregate of forces. Never simple and direct, but, by the cooperation of so many causes, made irregular, involved, and always rhythmical, the course of social change can never be judged of in its general direction by inspecting any small portion of it. Each action will inevitably be followed, after a while, by some direct or indirect reaction, and this again by a re-reaction; and, until the successive effects have shown themselves, it is impossible to say how the total motion will be modified. You must compare positions at great distances from one another in time, before you can perceive rightly where things are tending. Even so simple a thing as a curve of single curvature cannot have its nature determined unless there is a considerable length of it. See here these four points close together. The curve passing through them may be a circle, an ellipse, a parabola, an hyperbola; or it may be a catenarian, a cycloid, a spiral. Let the points be farther apart, and it becomes possible to form some opinion of the nature of the curve—it is obviously not a circle. Let them be more remote still, and it may be seen that it is neither an ellipse nor a parabola. And, when the distances are relatively great, the mathematician can say with certainity what curve alone will pass through them all. Surely, then, in such complex and slowly-evolving movements as those of a nation's life, all the smaller and greater rhythms of which fall within certain general directions, it is impossible that such general directions can be traced by looking at stages that are close together—it is impossible that the effect wrought on any general, direction, by some additional force, can be truly computed from observations extending over but a few years, or but a few generations.

For, in the case of these most-involved of all movements, there is the difficulty, paralleled in no other movements (being only approached in those of individual evolution), that each new factor, besides affecting in an immediate way the course of a movement, affects it also in a remote way by changing the amounts and directions of all other factors. A fresh influence brought into play on a society not only affects its members directly in their acts, but also indirectly in their characters. Continuing to work on their characters generation after generation, and modifying by inheritance the feelings which they bring into social life at large, this influence alters the intensities and bearings of all other influences throughout the society. By slowly initiating modifications of Nature, it brings into play forces of many kinds, incalculable in their strengths and tendencies, that act without regard to the original influence, and may produce quite opposite effects.