Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/783

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761
SCIENCE AND MORALITY.

down the bars." "Thou shalt not steal," is a maxim impressed by property holders upon non-property-holders. It is not only conceivable, but it is absolute verity, that a sufficient deprivation of property, and force, and delicacy of temptation, would compel every one who utters it to steal, if he could get an opportunity. In a philosophic sense, therefore, it is not a universal, but a class, law; its prevalence and obedience indicate that the property-holders rule society, which is itself an index of advance toward civilization. No one would say that, if a lion lay gorged with his excessive feast amid the scattered carcass of a deer, and a jaguar or a hyena stealthily bore away a haunch thereof, the act of the hyena was less virtuous than that of the lion. How does the case of two bush men, between whom the same incident occurs, differ from that of the two quadrupeds? Each is doing that which tends in the highest degree to his own preservation, and it may be assumed that the party against whom the spoliation is committed is not injured at all by it. Among many savage tribes theft is taught as a virtue, and detection is punished as a crime. . . . Having control of the forces of society, the strong can always legislate, or order, or wheedle, or preach, or assume other people's money and land out of their possession into their own, by methods which are not known as stealing, since, instead of violating the law, they inspire and create the law. But, if the under dog in the social fight runs away with a bone in violation of superior force, the top dog runs after him bellowing, "Thou shalt not steal," and all the other top dogs unite in bellowing, "This is divine law, and not dog law"; the verdict of the top dog, so far as law, religion, and other forms of brute force are concerned, settles the question. But philosophy will see in this contest of antagonistic forces a mere play of opposing elements, in which larceny is an incident of social weakness and unfitness to survive, just as debility and leprosy are; and would as soon assume a divine command, "Thou shalt not break out in boils and sores," to the weakling or leper, as one of "Thou shalt not steal," to the failing straggler for subsistence. So far as the irresistible promptings of nature may be said to constitute a divine law, there are really two laws. The law to him who will be injured by stealing is, "Thou shalt not steal," meaning thereby, "Thou shalt not suffer another to steal from you." The law to him who can not survive without stealing is simply, "Thou shalt, in stealing, avoid being detected."

So the laws forbidding unchastity were framed by those who, in the earlier periods of civilization, could afford to own women, for the protection of their property rights in them, against the poor who could not. . . . We do not mean, by this course of reasoning, to imply that the strong in society can, or ought to, be governed by the weak: that is neither possible, nor, if possible, would it be any improvement. We only assert that moral precepts are largely the selfish maxims expressive of the will of the ruling forces in society, those who have health, wealth, knowledge, and power, and are designed wholly for their own protection and the maintenance of their power. They represent the view of the winning side, in the struggle for subsistence, while the true interior law of nature would represent a varying combat in which two laws would appear, viz., that known as the moral or majority law, and that known as the immoral or minority law, which commands a violation of the other.

This is strong doctrine, and the passage seemed worth extracting at length. It is curious, both as a specimen of the practical tendencies of a certain school of thought, and as a reply to the historical skepticism which refuses to believe that the teaching of the sophists really