Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/431

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417
LITERARY NOTICES.

ism. So, also, local self-government has peculiar benefits which no tree and intelligent people should ever forego; but local autonomy involves political weakness, which is not to be neglected. And so in attempting to get away from the evils of indissoluble marriage by opening a way of escape, we find ourselves at once in the presence of new evils, and the proper balance of stringency and liberality is by no means clearly seen and ready of attainment.

It was this conception of life, as involving in all its aspects a choice of evils, that led the author on to the study of the necessary antagonisms in the constitution of nature, and which he found to be equally displayed in the lower orders of life, and to be rooted in the actions and reactions of the physical forces themselves. His book is an attempt to trace out this principle of conflict in the order of natural things, from its simplest to its most complicated manifestations.

Part I is intended to show the past prevalence of optimism and the fragmentary and fruitless conceptions of antagonism exemplified in the views of eminent representative men by summaries and brief quotations from their writings. Part II deals with the fundamental conceptions of existence, and speculations concerning the primary forces into which the conception of conflict has entered as an undefined principle of the philosophy of science. Its illustrations are traced through a series of the principal branches of science, physics, chemistry, biology, mind, morals, etc. The last chapter deals with morality in accordance with the ethical systems that have grown out of utilitarian experience, on the hypothesis that the moral instincts become fixed by association and habit, and in which the higher faculties or the later organized or more complex feelings overrule the lower or earlier developed feelings in determining ethical action. This chapter insists on the struggle in life through which morality has taken form as conduct in the direction of least social conflict. The author maintains that the prevalence of moral order has been determined and is maintained through conflict as really and to quite as great a degree as the struggle for existence has produced the local forms among plants and animals.

The writer observes that Mr. Spencer recognizes antagonism in the origin and development of moral systems, but also indulges in optimistic anticipations which are without warrant in "the constitution of things." He interprets Spencer as maintaining that industrialism is to supersede militancy in such a manner that antagonism will be done away with. But the author insists that any possible industrialism only complicates antagonism and changes its forms. Part III illustrates the subject from a survey of history, and Part IV deals with it in connection with the theory of evolution. The doctrine is, of course, accepted, and the exposition of it given in Spencer's "First Principles" is taken as authoritative; but the writer is of opinion that the principle of antagonism is not accorded its due weight, and various exceptions are taken to the Spencerian argument. Part V is chiefly devoted to the discussion from the point of view of geology and meteorology, showing that the necessary conditions of physical life and enjoyment necessarily involve discord and pain. Part VI illustrates the subject in relation to practical life, and aims to show that, whatever schemes of improvement may be adopted, there are always drawbacks, accompanying evils, which stand in the way of perfection in results. The chapter on "Relative Prolificacy" deals with this agency not only as a permanent and perpetual social element, but in its immediate bearing upon the various grades and classes of society, and it involves a criticism of the tendency to overrate the optimistic side of evolution.

It will appear, from what we have said, that this work on conflict is offered as a contribution to the philosophy of life, or as deepening the foundations for such a philosophy. The claims in this direction are brought out in a general way in the final chapter. Its conclusions are broadly practical. The philosophy of conflict inculcates moderate expectations. Avoiding the extremes of optimism and pessimism, of conservatism and radicalism, it aims to do work only where work will be effectual—work that will make things better, and work which prevents them from becoming worse.

We have here endeavored simply to state the general object of the book before