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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/May 1872/The Study of Sociology I

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575886Popular Science Monthly Volume 1 May 1872 — The Study of Sociology I1872Herbert Spencer




MAY, 1872.



I.—Our Need of It.

OVER his pipe in the village ale-house, the laborer says very positively what Parliament should do about the "foot and mouth disease." At the farmer's market-table his master makes the glasses jingle as, with his fist, he emphasizes the assertion that he did not get half enough compensation for his slaughtered beasts during the cattle-plague. These are not hesitating opinions. On a matter affecting the agricultural interest, it is still as it was during the Anti-Corn-Law agitation, when, in every rural circle, you heard that the nation would be ruined if the lightly-taxed foreigner was allowed to compete in our markets with the heavily-taxed Englishman: a proposition held to be so self-evident that dissent from it implied either stupidity or knavery.

Now, as then, may be daily heard, among other classes, opinions just as decided and just as unwarranted. By men called educated, the old plea for extravagant expenditure, that "it is good for trade," is still continually urged with full belief in its sufficiency. Scarcely any decrease is observable in the fallacy that whatever gives employment is beneficial—no regard being had to the value for ulterior purposes of that which the labor produces; no question being asked what would have resulted had the capital which paid for the labor taken some other channel and paid for some other labor. Neither criticism nor explanation appreciably modifies these beliefs. When there is again an opening for them, they are expressed with undiminished confidence. Along with these delusions go whole families of others. People who think that the relations between expenditure and production are so simple, naturally assume simplicity in other relations among social phenomena. Is there distress somewhere? They suppose nothing more is required than to subscribe money for relieving it. On the one hand, they never trace the reactive effects which charitable donations work on bank-accounts, on the surplus capital bankers have to lend, on the productive activity which the capital now abstracted would have set up, on the number of laborers who would have received wages and who now go without wages; they do not perceive that certain necessaries of life have been withheld from one man who would have exchanged useful work for them, and given to another who perhaps persistently evades working. Nor, on the other hand, do they look beyond the immediate mitigation of misery; but deliberately shut their eyes to the fact that as fast as you increase the provision for those who live without labor, so fast do you increase the number of those who live without labor; and that, with an ever-increasing distribution of alms, there comes an ever-increasing outcry for more alms. Similarly throughout all their political thinking. Proximate causes and proximate results are alone contemplated; and there is scarcely any consciousness that the original causes are often numerous and widely different from the apparent cause, and that beyond each immediate result there will be multitudinous remote results, most of them quite incalculable.

Minds in which the conceptions of social actions are thus rudimentary, are also minds ready to harbor wild hopes of benefits to be achieved by administrative agencies. In each such mind there seems to be the unexpressed postulate that every evil in a society admits of cure; and that the cure lies within the reach of law. "Why is not there a better inspection of the mercantile marine?" asked a correspondent of the Times the other day; apparently forgetting that within the preceding twelve months the power he invoked had lost two of its own vessels, and barely saved a third. "Ugly buildings are eyesores, and should not be allowed," urges one who is anxious for æsthetic culture; and, meanwhile, from the agent which is to foster good taste, there have come monuments and public buildings of which the less said the better, and its chosen design for the Law-Courts incurs almost universal condemnation. "Why did those in authority allow such defective sanitary arrangements?" was everywhere asked, after the fevers at Lord Londesborough's; and this question you heard repeated, regardless of the fact that sanitary arrangements, having such results in this and other cases, were themselves the outcome of appointed sanitary administrations—regardless of the fact that the authorized system had itself been the means of introducing foul gases into houses.[1] "The State should purchase the railways," is confidently asserted by those who, every morning, read of chaos at the Admiralty, or cross-purposes in the dock-yards, or wretched army organization, or diplomatic bungling that endangers peace, or frustration of justice by technicalities and costs and delays—all without having their confidence in officialism shaken. "Building Acts should insure better ventilation in small houses," says one who either never knew or has forgotten that, after Messrs. Reid & Barry had spent £200,000 in failing to ventilate the Houses of Parliament, the First Commissioner of Works proposed that "the House should get some competent engineer, above suspicion of partiality, to let them see what ought to be done."[2] And similarly there are continually cropping out in the press, and at meetings, and in conversations, such notions as that the State might provide "cheap capital" by some financial sleight of hand; that "there ought to be bread-overseers appointed by Government;"[3] that "it is the duty of Government to provide a suitable national asylum for the reception of all illegitimate children."[4] And here it is doubtless thought by some, as it is in France by M. de Lagevenais, that Government, by supplying good music, should exclude the bad, such as that of Offenbach.[5] We smile on reading of that French princess, celebrated for her innocent wonder that people should starve when there was so simple a remedy. But why should we smile? A great part of the current political thought evinces notions of practicability not much more rational.

That connections among social phenomena should be so little understood need not surprise us, if we note the ideas which prevail respecting the connections among much simpler phenomena. Minds left ignorant of physical causation are unlikely to appreciate clearly, if at all, that causation, so much more subtle and complex, which runs through the actions of incorporated men. In almost every house, servants, and those who employ them, alike believe that a poker leaned up in front of the bars, or across them, makes the fire burn; and you will be told, very positively, that experience proves the efficacy of the device—the experience being that the poker has been repeatedly so placed and the fire has repeatedly burned; and no comparison having been made with cases in which the poker was absent, and all other conditions as before. In the same circles the old prejudice against sitting down thirteen to dinner still survives: there actually exists, among ladies who have been at finishing-schools of the highest character, and among some gentlemen who pass as intelligent, the conviction that adding or subtracting one, from a number of people who eat together will affect the fates of some among them. And this state of mind is again displayed at the card-table, by the opinion that So-and-so is always lucky or unlucky—that influences are at work which, on the average, determine more good cards to one person than to another. Clearly, those, in whom the consciousness of causation in these simple cases is so vague, may be expected to have the wildest notions of social causation. Whoever even entertains the supposition that a poker put across the fire can make it burn, proves himself to have neither a qualitative nor a quantitative idea of physical causation; and if, during his life, his experiences of material objects and actions have failed to give him an idea so accessible and so simple, it is not likely that they have given him ideas of the qualitative and quantitative relations of cause and effect holding throughout society. Hence, there is nothing to exclude irrational interpretations and disproportioned hopes.

Where other superstitions flourish, political superstitions will take root. A consciousness in which there lives the idea that spilling salt will be followed by some evil, obviously allied as it is to the consciousness of the savage filled with belief in omens and charms, gives a home to other beliefs like those of the savage. It may not have faith in the potency of medicine bags and idols, and may even wonder how any being can reverence a thing shaped with his own hands; and yet it readily entertains subtler forms of the same feelings. For, in those whose modes of thought we have been contemplating, there is a tacit supposition that a government moulded by themselves has some efficiency beyond that naturally possessed by a certain group of citizens subsidized by the rest of the citizens. True, if you ask them, they may not deliberately assert that a legislative and administrative apparatus can exert power, either mental or material, beyond the power proceeding from the nation itself. They are compelled to admit, when cross examined, that the energies moving a governmental machine are energies which would cease were citizens to cease working and furnishing the supplies. But, nevertheless, their projects imply an unexpressed belief in some store of force that is not measured by taxes. When there arises the question—Why does not Government do this for us? there is not the accompanying thought—Why does not Government put its hands in our pockets, and, with the proceeds, pay officials to do this, instead of leaving us to do it ourselves; but the accompanying thought is—Why does not Government, out of its inexhaustible resources, yield us this benefit?

Such modes of political thinking, then, naturally go along with such conceptions of physical phenomena as are current. Just as the perpetual motion schemer hopes, by a cunning arrangement of parts, to get from one end of his machine more energy than he puts in at the other; so the ordinary political schemer is convinced that out of a legislative apparatus, properly devised and worked with due dexterity, may be had beneficial State action without some corresponding detrimental reaction. He expects to get out of a stupid people the effects of intelligence, and to evolve from inferior citizens superior conduct.

But, while the prevalence of crude political opinions, among those whose conceptions about simple matters are so crude, might be anticipated, it is somewhat surprising that the class specially disciplined by scientific culture should bring to the interpretation of social phenomena methods but little in advance of those used by others. Now that the transformation and equivalence of forces is seen by men of science to hold not only throughout all inorganic actions, but throughout all organic actions; now that even mental changes are recognized as the correlatives of cerebral changes, which also conform to this principle; and now that there must be admitted the corollary that all actions going on in a society are measured by certain antecedent energies, which disappear in effecting them, while they themselves become actual or potential energies, from which subsequent actions arise; it is strange that there should not have arisen the consciousness that these highest phenomena are to be studied as lower phenomena have been studied—not, of course, after the same physical methods, but in pursuance of the same principles. And yet scientific men rarely display such a consciousness.

A mathematician, who had agreed or disagreed with the view of Prof. Tait respecting the value of Quaternions for pursuing researches in Physics, would listen with raised eyebrows were one without mathematical culture to express a decided opinion on the matter. Or, if the subject discussed was the doctrine of Helmholtz, that hypothetical beings, occupying space of two dimensions, might be so conditioned that the axioms of our geometry would prove untrue, the mathematician would marvel if an affirmation or a negation came from a man who knew no more of the properties of space than is to be gained by daily converse with things around, and no more of the principles of reasoning than the course of business taught him. And yet, were we to take members of the Mathematical Society, who, having severally devoted themselves to the laws of quantitative relations, know that, simple as these are intrinsically, a life's study is required for the full comprehension of them—were we to ask each of these his opinion on some point of social policy, the readiness with which he answered would seem to imply that in these cases, where the factors of the phenomenon are so numerous and so much involved, a general survey of men and things gives data for trustworthy judgment.

Or, to contrast more fully the mode of reaching a conclusion which the man of science uses in his own department, with that which he regards as satisfactory in the department of politics, let us take a case from a concrete science—say, the question, What are the solar spots, and what constitution of the Sun is implied by them? Of tentative answers to this question there is first Wilson's, adopted by Sir William Herschel, that the visible surface of the Sun is a luminous envelope, within which there are cloudy envelopes covering a dark central body; and that, when by some disturbance the luminous envelope is broken through, portions of the cloudy envelope and of the dark central body become visible as the penumbra and umbra respectively. This hypothesis, at one time received with favor mainly because it seemed to permit that teleological interpretation which required that the Sun should be habitable, accounted tolerably well for certain of the appearances—more especially the appearance of concavity which the spots have when near the limb of the Sun. But, though Sir John Herschel supported his father's hypothesis, pointing out that cyclonic action would account for local dispersions of the photosphere, there has of late years become more and more manifest the fatal objection that the genesis of light and heat remained unexplained, and that no supposition of auroral discharges did more than remove the difficulty a step back; since, unless light and heat could be perpetually generated out of nothing, there must be a store of force perpetually being expended in producing them.

A counter-hypothesis, following naturally from the hypothesis of nebular origin, is that the mass of the Sun must be incandescent; that its incandescence has been produced, and is maintained, by progressing aggregation of its once widely-diffused matter; and that surrounding its molten surface there is an atmosphere of metallic gases continually rising, condensing to form the visible photosphere, and thence precipitating. What, in this case, are the solar spots? Kirchhoff, proceeding upon the hypothesis just indicated, which had been set forth before he made his discoveries by the aid of the spectroscope, contended that the solar spots are simply clouds, formed of these condensed metallic gases, so large as to be relatively opaque; and he endeavored to account for their changing forms as the Sun's rotation carries them away, in correspondence with this view. But the appearances as known to observers are quite irreconcilable with the belief that the spots are simply drifting clouds. Do these appearances, then, conform to the supposition of M. Faye, that the photosphere encloses matter which is wholly gaseous and non-luminous; and that the spots are produced when occasional up-rushes from the interior burst through the photosphere? This supposition, while it may be held to account for certain traits of the spots, and to be justified by the observed fact that there are up-rushes of gas, presents difficulties not readily disposed of. It does not explain the manifest rotation of many spots; and, indeed, it does not seem really to account for that darkness which constitutes them spots; since a non-luminous gaseous nucleus would be permeable by light from the remoter side of the photosphere, and hence holes through the near side of the photosphere would not look dark.

There is, however, another hypothesis which more nearly reconciles the facts. Assuming the incandescent molten surface, the ascending metallic gases, and the formation of a photosphere at that outer limit where the gases condense; accepting the suggestion of Sir John Herschel, so amply supported by evidence, that zones north and south of the Sun's equator are subject to violent cyclones; this hypothesis is, that if a cyclone occurs within the atmosphere of metallic gases between the molten surface and the photosphere, its vortex will become a region of rarefaction, of refrigeration, and therefore of precipitation. There will be formed in it a dense cloud extending far down toward the body of the sun, and obstructing the greater part of the light radiating from below. Here we have an adequate cause for the formation of an opaque vaporous mass—a cause which also accounts for the frequently-observed vortical motion; for the greater blackness of the central part of the umbra; for the formation of a penumbra by the drawing in of the adjacent photosphere; for the elongation of the luminous masses forming the photosphere, and the turning of their longer axes toward the centre of the spot; and for the occasional drifting of them over the spot toward the centre. Still, there is the difficulty that vortical motion is by no means always observable; and it remains to be considered whether its non-visibility in many cases is reconcilable with the hypothesis. At present none of the interpretations can be regarded as established.

Here are sundry suppositions which the man of science severally tests by observations and necessary inferences. In this, as in other cases, he rejects such as unquestionably disagree with unquestionable truths. Continually excluding untenable hypotheses, he waits to decide among the more tenable ones until further evidence discloses further congruities or incongruities. Checking every statement of fact and every conclusion drawn, he keeps his judgment suspended until no anomaly remains unexplained. Not only is he thus careful to shut out all possible error from inadequacy in the number and variety of data, but he is careful to shut out all possible error caused by idiosyncrasy in himself. Though not perhaps in astronomical observations such as those above implied, yet in all astronomical observations where the element of time is important, he makes allowance for the intervals occupied by his nervous actions. To fix the exact moment at which a certain change occurred, his perception of it has to be corrected for the "personal equation." As the speed of the nervous discharge varies, according to the constitution, from thirty to ninety metres per second, and is somewhat greater in summer than in winter; and as, between seeing a change and registering it with the finger, there is an interval which is thus appreciably different in different persons; the particular amount of this error in the particular observer has to be taken into account.

Suppose now, that, to a man of science, thus careful in testing all possible hypotheses and excluding all possible sources of error, we put a sociological question—say, whether some proposed institution will be beneficial? An answer, and often a very decided one, is forthcoming at once. It is not thought needful, proceeding by deliberate induction, to ascertain what has happened in each nation where an identical institution, or an institution of allied kind, has been established. It is not thought needful to look back in our own history to see whether kindred agencies have done what they were expected to do. It is not thought needful to ask the more general question how far institutions at large, among all nations and in all times, have justified the theories of those who set them up. Nor is it thought needful to infer, from analogous cases, what is likely to happen if the proposed appliance is not set up—to ascertain, inductively, whether in its absence some equivalent appliance will arise. And still less is it thought needful to inquire what will be the indirect actions and reactions of the proposed organization—how far it will retard other social agencies, and how far it will prevent the spontaneous growth of agencies having like ends. I do not mean that none of these questions are recognized as questions to be asked; but I mean that no attempts are made after a scientific manner to get together materials for answering them. True, some data have been gathered from newspapers, periodicals, foreign correspondence, books of travel; and there have been read sundry histories, which, besides copious accounts of royal misdemeanors, contain minute details of every military campaign, and careful disentanglings of diplomatic trickeries. And on information thus acquired a confident opinion is based.

Most remarkable of all, however, is the fact that no allowance is made for the personal equation. In political observations and judgments, the qualities of the individual, natural and acquired, are by far the most important factors. The bias of education, the bias of class-relationships, the bias of nationality, the political bias, the theological bias—these, added to the constitutional sympathies and antipathies, have much greater influence in determining beliefs on social questions than has the small amount of evidence collected. Yet, though, in his search after a physical truth, the man of science allows for minute errors of perception due to his own nature, he makes no allowance for the enormous errors which his own nature, variously modified and distorted by his conditions of life, is sure to introduce into his perceptions of political truth. Here, where correction for the personal equation is all-essential, it does not occur to him that there is any personal equation to be allowed for.

This immense incongruity between the attitude in which the most disciplined minds approach other orders of natural phenomena, and the attitude in which they approach the phenomena presented by societies, will be best illustrated by a series of antithesis thus: The material media, through which we see things, always more or less falsify the facts: making, for example, the apparent direction of a star slightly different from its real direction, and sometimes, as when a fish is seen in the water, its apparent place is so far from its real place, that great misconception results unless large allowance is made for refraction; but sociological observations are not thus falsified: through the daily press light comes without any bending of its rays, and in studying past ages it is easy to make allowance for the refraction due to the historic medium.

The motions of gases, though they conform to mechanical laws which are well understood, are nevertheless so involved, that the art of controlling currents of air in a house is not yet mastered; but the waves and currents of feeling running through a society, and the consequent directions and amounts of social activities, may be readily known beforehand.

Though molecules of inorganic substances are very simple, yet prolonged study is required to understand their modes of behavior to one another, and even the most instructed frequently meet with interactions of them producing consequences they never anticipated; but, where the interacting bodies are not molecules but living beings of highly-complex natures, it is easy to foresee all results which will arise. Physical phenomena are so connected that, between seeming probability and actual truth, there is apt to be a wide difference, even where but two bodies are acting: instance the natural supposition that during our northern summer the Earth is nearer to the Sun than during the winter, which is just the reverse of the fact; but among sociological phenomena, where the bodies are so multitudinous, and the forces by which they act on one another so many, and so multiform, and so variable, the probability and the actuality will naturally correspond.

Matter often behaves paradoxically, as when two cold liquids added together become boiling hot, as when the mixing of two clear liquids produces an opaque mud, or as when water immersed in sulphurous acid freezes on a hot iron plate; but what we distinguish as Mind, especially when massed together in the way which causes social action, evolves no paradoxical results—always such results come from it as seem likely to come.

The acceptance of contradictions like these, tacitly implied in the beliefs of the scientifically cultivated, is the more remarkable when we consider how abundant are the proofs that human nature is difficult to manipulate; that methods apparently the most rational disappoint expectation; and that the best results frequently arise from courses which common-sense thinks unpractical. Even individual human nature shows us these startling anomalies. A man of leisure is the man naturally fixed upon, if something has to be done; but your man of leisure cannot find time, and the man to be trusted to do what is wanted, is the man who is already busy. The boy who studies longest will learn the most, and a man will become wise in proportion as he reads much, are propositions which look true but are quite untrue—as teachers are nowadays finding out in the one case, and as Hobbes long ago found out in the other. How obvious it appears that, when minds go deranged, there is no remedy but replacing the weak internal control by a strong external control! Yet the "non-restraint system" has had far more success than the system of strait-waistcoats. Dr Tuke, a physician of much experience in treating the insane, has lately testified that the desire to escape is great when locks and keys are used, but almost disappears when they are disused. And in further evidence of the mischief often done by measures supposed to be curative, here is Dr. Maudsley, also an authority on such questions, speaking of "asylum-made lunatics." Again, is it not clear that the repression of crime will be effectual in proportion as the punishment is severe? Yet the great amelioration in our penal code, initiated by Romilly, has not been followed by increased criminality, but by decreased criminality; and the testimonies of those who have had most experience—Maconochie in Norfolk Island, Dickson in Western Australia, Obermier in Germany, Montesinos in Spain—unite to show that, in proportion as the criminal is left to suffer no other penalty than that of maintaining himself under such restraints only as are needful for social safety, the reformation is great: exceeding, indeed, all anticipation. French school-masters, never questioning the belief that boys can be made to behave well only by rigid discipline and spies to aid in carrying it out, are astonished on visiting England to find how much better boys behave when they are less governed—nay, among English schools themselves, Dr. Arnold has shown that more trust is followed by improved conduct. Similarly with the anomalies of incorporated human nature. We habitually accept the assumption that only by legal restraints are men to be kept from aggressing on their neighbors; and yet there are facts which should lead us to qualify this assumption. So-called debts of honor, for the non-payment of which there is no legal penalty, are held more sacred than debts that can be legally enforced; and on the Stock-Exchange, where only pencil memoranda in the respective note-books of two brokers guarantee the sale and purchase of many thousands, contracts are far safer than those which, in the outside world, are formally registered in signed and sealed parchments.

Multitudes of cases might be accumulated showing how, in other directions, men's thoughts and feelings produce kinds of conduct which, a priori, would be judged very improbable. And, if, going beyond our own society and our own time, we observe what has happened among other races, and among the earlier generations of our own race, we meet, at every step, workings-out of human nature utterly unlike those which we assume when making political forecasts. Who, generalizing the experiences of his daily life, would suppose that men, to please their gods, would swing for hours from hooks drawn through the muscles of their backs, or let their nails grow through the palms of their clinched hands, or roll over and over hundreds of miles to visit a shrine? Who would have thought it possible that a public sentiment and a force of custom might be such that a man should revenge himself on one who insulted him by disembowelling himself, and so forcing the insulter to do the like? Or to take historical cases more nearly concerning ourselves—Who foresaw that the beliefs in purgatory and priestly intercession would cause the lapse of one-third or more of England into the hands of the Church? Or who foresaw that a flaw in the law of mortmain might lead to bequests of large estates consecrated as graveyards? Who could have imagined that robber-kings and bandit-barons, with vassals to match, would, generation after generation, have traversed all Europe through hardships and dangers to risk their lives in getting possession of the reputed burial-place of one whose injunction was to turn the left cheek when the right was smitten? Or who, again, would have anticipated that, when, in Jerusalem, this same teacher disclaimed political aims, and repudiated political instrumentalities, the professed successors of his disciples would by-and-by become rulers dominating over all the kings of Europe? Such a result could be as little foreseen as it could be foreseen that an instrument of torture used by the Jews would give the ground-plans to Christian temples throughout Europe; and as little as it could be foreseen that the process of this torture, recounted in Christian narratives, might come to be mistaken for a Christian institution, as it was by the Malay chief who, being expostulated with for crucifying some rebels, replied that he was following "the English practice," which he read in "their sacred books."[6]

Look where we will at the genesis of social phenomena, and we shall similarly find that, while the particular ends contemplated and arranged for have commonly not been more than temporarily attained, if attained at all, the changes actually brought about have arisen from causes of which the very existence was unknown.

How, indeed, can any man, and how more especially can any man of scientific culture, think special results of special political acts can be calculated, when he contemplates the incalculable complexity of the influences under which each individual, and a fortiori each society, develops, lives, and decays? The multiplicity of these factors is illustrated even in the material composition of a man's body. Every one, who watches closely the course of things, must have observed that at a single meal he may take in bread made from Russian wheat, beef from Scotland, potatoes from the midland counties, sugar from the Mauritius, salt from Cheshire, pepper from Jamaica, curry-powder from India, wine from France or Germany, currants from Greece, oranges from Spain, as well as various spices and condiments from other places; and if he considers whence came the draught of water he swallows, tracing it back from the reservoir through the stream and the brook and the rill, to the separate rain-drops which fell wide apart, and these again to the eddying vapors which had been mingling and parting in endless ways as they drifted over the Atlantic, he sees that this single mouthful of water contains molecules which, a little time ago, were dispersed over hundreds of square miles of ocean-swell. Similarly tracing back the history of each solid he has eaten, he finds that his body is made up of elements which have lately come from all parts of the Earth's surface.

And what thus holds of the substance of the body, holds no less of the influences, physical and moral, which modify its actions. You break your tooth with a small pebble among the currants, because the industrial organization in Zante is so imperfect. A derangement of your digestion goes back for its cause to the bungling management in a vineyard on the Rhine several years ago; or to the dishonesty of the merchants at Cette, where imitation wines are produced. Because there happened a squabble between a consul and a king in Abyssinia, an increased income-tax obliges you to abridge your autumn holiday; or, because slave-owners in North America try to extend the "peculiar institution" farther west, there results here a party dissension which perhaps entails on you loss of friends. If from these remote causes you turn to causes at home, you find that your doings are controlled by a plexus of influences too involved to be traced beyond their first meshes. Your hours of business are predetermined by the general habits of the community, which have been slowly established no one knows how. Your meals have to be taken at intervals which do not suit your health; but under existing social arrangements you must submit. Such intercourse with friends as you can get is at hours and under regulations which everybody adopts, but for which nobody is responsible; and you have to yield to a ceremonial which substitutes trouble for pleasure. Your opinions, political and religious, are ready moulded for you; and, unless your individuality is very decided, your social surroundings will prove too strong for it. Nay, even such an insignificant event as the coming of age of grouse affects your goings and comings throughout life. For has not the dissolution of Parliament direct reference to the 12th of August? and does not the dissolution end the London season? and does not the London season determine the times for business and relaxation, and so affect the making of arrangements throughout the year? If from coexisting influences we turn to influences that have been working through past time, the same general truth becomes still more conspicuous. Ask how it happens that men in England do no work every seventh day, and you have to seek through thousands of past years to find the initial cause. Ask why in England, and still more in Scotland, there is not only a cessation from work, which the creed interdicts, but also a cessation from amusement, which it does not interdict; and for an explanation you must go back to successive waves of ascetic fanaticism in generations long dead. And what thus holds of religious ideas and usages, holds of all others, political and social. Even the industrial activities are often permanently turned out of their normal directions by social states that passed away many ages ago; as witness what has happened throughout the East, or in Italy, where towns and villages are still perched on hills and eminences chosen for defensive purposes in turbulent times, and where the lives of the inhabitants are now made laborious by having daily to carry themselves and all the necessaries of life from a low level to a high level.

The extreme complexity of social actions, and the transcendent difficulty which hence arises of counting on special results, will be still better seen if we enumerate the factors which determine one simple phenomenon, as the price of a commodity—say, cotton. A manufacturer of calicoes has to decide whether he will increase his stock of raw material at its current price. Before doing this, he must ascertain, as well as he can, the following data: whether the stocks of calico in the hands of manufacturers and wholesalers at home are large or small; whether by recent prices retailers have been led to lay in stocks or not; whether the colonial and foreign markets are glutted or otherwise; and what is now, and is likely to be, the production of calico by foreign manufacturers. Having formed some idea of the probable demand for calico, he has to ask what other manufacturers have done, and are doing, as buyers of cotton—whether they have been waiting for the price to fall, or have been buying in anticipation of a rise. From cotton-brokers' circulars he has to judge what is the state of speculation at Liverpool—whether the stocks there are large or small, and whether many or few cargoes are on their way. The stocks and prices at New Orleans, and other cotton-ports throughout the world, have also to be taken note of; and then there come questions respecting forthcoming crops in the Southern States, in India, in Egypt, and elsewhere. Here are sufficiently numerous factors, but these are by no means all. The consumption of calico, and therefore the consumption of cotton, and therefore the price of cotton, depends in part on the supplies and prices of other textile fabrics. If, as happened during the American Civil War, calico rises in price because its raw material becomes scarce, linen comes into more general use, and so a further rise in price is checked. Woollen fabrics, also, may to some extent compete. And, besides the competition caused by relative prices, there is the competition caused by fashion, which may or may not presently change. Surely the factors are now all enumerated? By no means. There is the estimation of mercantile opinion. The views of buyers and sellers respecting future prices, never more than approximations to the truth, often diverge from it very widely. Waves of opinion, now in excess, now in defect of the fact, rise and fall daily, and larger ones weekly and monthly, tending, every now and then, to run into mania or panic; for it is among men of business as among other men, that they stand hesitating until some one sets the example, and then rush all one way, like a flock of sheep after a leader. These characteristics in human nature, leading to these perturbations, the far-seeing buyer takes into account—judging how far existing influences have made opinion deviate from the truth, and how far impending influences are likely to do it. Nor has be got to the end of the matter even when he has considered all these things. He has still to ask what are the general mercantile conditions of the country, and what the immediate future of the money market will be; since the course of speculation in every commodity must be affected by the rate of discount. See, then, the enormous complication of causes which determine so simple a thing as the rise or fall of a farthing per pound in cotton some months hence!

If the genesis of social phenomena is so involved in cases like this, where the effect produced has no concrete persistence but very soon dissipates, judge what it must be where there is produced something which continues thereafter to be an increasing agency, capable of self-propagation. Not only has a society, as a whole, a power of growth and development, but each institution set up in it has the like—draws to itself units of the society and nutriment for them, and tends ever to multiply and ramify. Indeed, the instinct of self-preservation in each institution soon becomes dominant over every thing else; and maintains it when it performs some quite other function than that intended, or no function at all. See, for instance, what has come of the "Society of Jesus," Loyola set up; or see what grew out of the company of traders who got a footing on the coast of Hindostan.

To such considerations as these, set down to show the inconsistency of those who think that prevision of social phenomena is possible without much study, though much study is needed for prevision of other phenomena, it will doubtless be replied that time does not allow of systematic inquiry. From the scientific, as from the unscientific, there will come the plea that, in his capacity of citizen, each man has to act; must vote, and must decide before he votes; must conclude, to the best of his ability, on such information as he has.

In this plea there is some truth, mingled with a good deal more that looks like truth. It is a product of that "must-do-something" impulse which is the origin of much mischief, individual and social. An amiable anxiety to undo or neutralize an evil often prompts to rash courses, as you may see in the hurry with which one who has fallen is snatched up by those at hand; just as though there were danger in letting him lie, which there is not, and no danger in incautiously raising him, which there is. Always you find among people, in proportion as they are ignorant, a belief in specifics, and a great confidence in pressing the adoption of them. Has some one a pain in the side, or in the chest, or in the bowels? Then, before any careful inquiry as to its probable cause, there comes an urgent recommendation of a never-failing remedy, joined probably with the remark that, if it does no good, it can do no harm. There still prevails in the average mind a large amount of the fetishistic conception clearly shown by a butler to some friends of mine, who, having been found to drain the half-emptied medicine-bottles, explained that he thought it a pity good physic should be wasted, and that what benefited his master would benefit him. But, as fast as crude conceptions of diseases and remedial measures grow up into Pathology and Therapeutics, we find increasing caution, along with increasing proof that evil is often done instead of good. This contrast is traceable not only as we pass from popular ignorance to professional knowledge, but as we pass from the smaller professional knowledge of early times to the greater professional knowledge of our own. The question with the modern physician is not as with the ancient—shall the treatment be bloodletting? shall cathartics, or shall diaphoretics be given? or shall mercurials be administered? But there rises the previous question—shall there be any treatment beyond a healthy regimen? And even among existing physicians it happens that, in proportion as the judgment is most cultivated, there is the least yielding to the "must-do-something" impulse.

Is it not possible, then—is it not even probable—that this supposed necessity for immediate action, which is put in as an excuse for drawing quick conclusions from few data, is the concomitant of deficient knowledge? Is it not probable that, as in Biology so in Sociology, the accumulation of more facts, the more critical comparison of them, and the drawing of conclusions on scientific methods, will be accompanied by increasing doubt about the benefits to be secured, and increasing fear of the mischiefs which may be worked? Is it not probable that what in the individual organism is improperly, though conveniently, called the vis medicatrix naturæ, may be found to have its analogue in the social organism? and will there not very likely come, along with the recognition of this, the consciousness that in both cases the one thing needful is to maintain the conditions under which the natural actions may have fair play? Such a consciousness, to be anticipated from increased knowledge, will diminish the force of this plea for prompt decision after little inquiry; since it will check this tendency to think of a remedial measure as one that may do good and cannot do harm. Nay, more, the study of Sociology, scientifically carried on by tracing back proximate causes to remote ones, and tracing down primary effects to secondary and tertiary effects which multiply as they diffuse, will dissipate the current illusion that social evils admit of radical cures. Given an average defect of nature among the units of a society, and no skilful manipulation of them will prevent that defect from producing its equivalent of bad results. It is possible to change the form of these bad results; it is possible to change the places at which they are manifested; but it is not possible to get rid of them. The belief, that faulty character can so organize itself socially as to get out of itself a conduct which is not proportionately faulty, is an utterly baseless belief. You may alter the incidence of the mischief, but the amount of it must inevitably be borne somewhere. Very generally it is simply thrust out of one form into another; as when, in Austria, improvident marriages being prevented, there come more numerous illegitimate children; or as when, to mitigate the misery of foundlings, hospitals are provided for them, and there is an increase in the number of infants abandoned; or as when, to insure the stability of houses, a Building Act prescribes a structure which, making small houses unremunerative, prevents due multiplication of them, and so causes overcrowding; or as when a Lodging-House Act forbids this overcrowding, and vagrants have to sleep under the Adelphi-arches, or in the Parks, or even, for warmth's sake, on the dung-heaps in mews. Where the evil does not, as in cases like these, reappear in another place or form, it is necessarily felt in the shape of a diffused privation. For, suppose that by some official instrumentality you actually suppress an evil, instead of thrusting it from one spot into another—suppose you thus successfully deal with a number of such evils by a number of such instrumentalities—do you think these evils have disappeared absolutely? To see that they have not, you have but to ask, Whence comes the official apparatus? What defrays the cost of working it? Who supplies the necessaries of life to its members through all their gradations of rank? There is no other source but the labor of peasants and artisans. When, as in France, the administrative agencies occupy some 600,000 to 700,000 men, who are taken from industrial pursuits, and, with their families, supported in more than average comfort, it becomes clear enough that heavy extra work is entailed on the producing classes. The already-tired laborer has to toil an additional hour; his wife has to help in the fields as well as to suckle her infant; his children are still more scantily fed than they would otherwise be; and, beyond a decreased share of returns from increased labor, there is a diminished time and energy for such small enjoyments as the life, pitiable at the best, permits. How, then, can it be supposed that the evils have been extinguished or escaped? The repressive action has had its corresponding reaction; and, instead of intenser evils here and there, or now and then, you have got an evil that is constant and universal.

When it is thus seen that the evils are not got rid of, but, at best, only redistributed, and that the question in any case is, whether redistribution, even if practicable, is desirable, it will be seen that the "must-do-something" plea is a quite insufficient one. There is ample reason to believe that, in proportion as scientific men carry into this most involved class of phenomena the methods they have successfully adopted with other classes, they will see that, even less in this class than in other classes, are conclusions to be drawn and action to be taken without prolonged and critical investigation.

Still there will recur the same plea under other forms. "Political conduct must be matter of compromise." "We must adapt our measures to immediate exigencies, and cannot be deterred by remote considerations." "The data for forming scientific judgments are not to be had: most of them are unrecorded, and those which are recorded are difficult to find as well as doubtful when found." "Life is too short, and the demands upon our energies too great, to permit any such elaborate study as seems required. We must, therefore, guide ourselves by common-sense as best we may."

And then, behind the more scientifically-minded who give this answer, there are those who hold, tacitly or overtly, that guidance of the kind indicated is not possible, even after any amount of inquiry. They do not believe in any ascertainable order among social phenomena—there is no such thing as a social science. This proposition we will discuss in the next chapter.

  1. Of various testimonies to this, one of the most striking was that given by Mr. Charles Mayo, M.B., of New College, Oxford, who, having had to examine the drainage of Windsor, found that, "in a previous visitation of typhoid fever, the poorest and lowest part of the town had entirely escaped, while the epidemic had been very fatal in good houses. The difference was this, that, while the better houses were all connected with the sewers, the poor part of the town had no drains, but made use of cesspools in the gardens. And this is by no means an isolated instance."
  2. Debates, Times, February 12, 1852.
  3. Letter in Daily News, November 28, 1851.
  4. Recommendation of a Coroner's Jury, Times, March 26, 1850.
  5. Revue des Deux Mondes, February 15, 1872.
  6. Boyle's "Borneo," p. 116.