|LESTER F. WARD AS SOCIOLOGIST|
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
THE late Lester F. Ward was a many-sided man and his fifty productive years brought forth a great number of contributions to botany, paleobotany, geology, psychology and anthropology. For a long time as paleobotanist of the U. S. Geological Survey he led as it were a double intellectual life, devoting his office hours to fossil plants and his spare time to the sciences relating to man. He had two reading publics, two groups of scientific acquaintances, two sets of correspondence. When traveling about in Europe one day he might hear his own contributions discussed in a university seminar on sociology, while the next day he would be the guest of an Italian count who knew nothing of his sociological writing but loved him as a brother naturalist. Toward the latter part of his life, however, sociology engrossed his energies and it is as sociologist that he will be known to the future.
Thirty years ago when Dr. Ward made his debut with his monumental "Dynamic Sociology," the influence of Spencer was completely dominant save among the handful of socialists. Social evolutionism insisted that the improvement of society must of necessity be slow. No factors could be relied on for the promotion of progress save the blind forces which had brought mankind out of prehistoric savagery. The state, being in origin and spirit coercive, could do nothing to accelerate progress, although by ill-advised intermeddling it could do much to hinder it. Beyond protecting life and property the state should keep its hands off.
Ward was the first who, digging as deep as Spencer and basing himself with equal confidence upon modern science, built up a totally different social philosophy. He rejected the dogma of the superiority of the "natural" and insisted that human progress is a matter of art, is "artificial." There is always an artificial which, from man's point of view, is better than the natural. Instead of "Back to nature!" the cry ought to be "Forward to art!" The social progress we have had has come about by the haphazard contributions of a small number of originative individuals; but the rate of movement can be enormously accelerated provided society intelligently sets about it.
The state has been coercive, but it is fit for higher purposes. We are still in the stone age of politics. It is practicable gradually to mould government into an instrument of collective intelligence. War, oppression