Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/January 1879/Editor's Table
THOSE who study the influence of legislation in a careful, dispassionate way, and merely as a problem of science, will soon be struck by two things: first, that laws frequently fail to produce their expected effects; and, second, that they give rise to many results which were not at all anticipated. There are various reasons for this; among which are the intrinsic difficulties of a complex subject, false notions in regard to it, and the arrant incapacity of the men who deal with it. In the first place, human society is regulated by laws of its own, which cannot be suspended in their operation by civil interference, and which are, moreover, highly complicated and often obscure and unresolved. And when to the complexities which belong to each locality there are superadded the diversified conditions—climatic, industrial, and racial—which pertain to a vast region of country, the complication of social forces is vastly augmented. Even the most powerful minds, after long application to the subject, are unable to grasp these multifarious conditions so as to know how laws will take effect. Hence the ablest thinkers on social matters are the most cautious, and have least confidence in the production of social good by legislative projects.
But even in those cases that are sufficiently understood to make knowledge valuable for the law-maker's guidance, it is difficult to get the actual benefit of it. Our "legislative wisdom" is too apt to be swamped in legislative folly. There are prevalent superstitions about the dignity, and grand offices, and mysterious potencies of government, which lead people enormously to exaggerate what can really be got out of it. Stripped of this glamour, what is popular government at any time but the office-holding politicians that have been got together to represent and embody it? Constitutions and laws derive their value and virtue from the competency and character of the men chosen to interpret and apply them. If these are low, legislation will be degraded. What government is and does is determined by the quality of those who carry it on. The American Congress is invested with power to abolish past legislation and substitute new legislation; but who will pretend that it is constituted of men capable of comprehending even the rudimental interactions of social forces, much less the far reaching consequences of experimental legislation? A large number of them are illiterate blockheads, who have never seriously studied anything—men who have made money and used it to get office. Many Congressmen are mere practised political bullies and intriguers. Many are shrewd lawyers who know the technicalities of their profession, and but little else. Others are educated men, but in whose education no science of any sort ever entered. And there are a few Congressmen of able minds, who have critically studied the facts and principles relating to human society which should underlie sound legislation. But they are precious few; their chances of getting into Congress are slender, and of remaining there next to impossible—even if their self respect would permit them to wish it. And what chance would really profound men have of influence upon the congressional body? He who speaks of distant results, and the indirect operation of measures, is pooh-poohed as an abstractionist and an impracticable. The statesman is the man of far-sighted forecast, who can act with a reference to remote results; the politician recognizes only that which is direct, immediate, and palpable, such as foolish constituencies can appreciate, and of such is our national Congress mainly made up. If a man of mental grasp and force should undertake to discuss questions of social interest from the scientific point of view, he would not be understood, could not be followed, and would be voted a bore by the majority of mediocrities in the assemblage. Hence the neglect of those remote but often potent consequences of legislation of which short-sighted partisans are apt to take but little account.
An illustration of this is furnished by the long congressional treatment of the subject of "protection." The protective policy has always been defended and urged on the lowest grounds of immediate, palpable, pecuniary advantage, such as unthinking and sordid people can best appreciate. How such legislation will affect this or that business, or operate in this or that locality, has ever been the vital consideration that has obscured all other considerations. What is to be the ultimate outcome of protective legislation in its wide, indirect, subtile influence upon the minds of the people is a question which our national law-makers have not troubled themselves to investigate. Yet agencies that act quietly and take time to develop are often the most momentous at last. Congress has been busy with inquiries as to how tariffs would affect trade and manufactures, but it has had no concern about the habits of thought that the protective system might finally engender among the people. Yet we now begin to be confronted with this serious question. That there is a tendency to the spread of socialistic and communistic doctrines in this country is undeniable; and it is equally certain that the fact inspires grave anxiety on the part of thoughtful and conservative men. Notwithstanding our popular educational system, our numerous colleges, our abundant newspapers and cheap books—unparalleled agencies for the diffusion of intelligence—doctrines are making headway, and are extensively accepted, that threaten the entire subversion of our social fabric. It has not needed much acuteness to connect communistic tendencies with the system of paternal care-taking and protective government which has been growing in strength in this republic for many years. But an English writer of ability on economical questions has lately presented this matter in a way that will command the attention of reflecting people. Prof. Fawcett, who occupies the chair of Political Economy in the University of Cambridge, and is besides an author on economical subjects, and a member of the House of Commons, has published an article in the Fortnightly Review, "On the Recent Development of Socialism in Germany and the United States." He takes the ground that this development is but the natural result of the doctrine of unlimited state functions, and the extravagant notions of what government is capable of accomplishing, which are widely disseminated in both of these countries. In Germany, paternal government, centralization, bureaucracy, and compulsory military service, all conspire to fix deep in the national mind the idea of the omnipotence of the state, which has therefore only to exert its power and it can confer boundless good upon all its subjects. In this country governmental care-taking is most conspicuous in that protective system by which the people's industries are taken charge of by the state. The notion is thus fostered that the people owe their prosperity to the Government, and from this the inference is ready that the state is responsible for their prosperity. But the logic of protection does not stop with its application to business; if it can help people materially it can also help them mentally, and so the belief is now widely maintained that the state owes every citizen an education. With so much conceded, the socialist has no difficulty in drawing still further conclusions in the same direction, and so he plants himself at last on the high protective ground that Government shall take possession of all property and take care of everybody. After a careful survey of the claims of socialists and communists as shown by their works, and the proceedings of their Congresses, Prof. Fawcett sums up their programme in the following propositions:
"1. That there should be no private property, and that no one should be permitted to acquire property by inheritance. That all should be compelled to labor, no one having a right to live without labor.
"2. The nationalization of the land, and of the other instruments of production; or, in other words, the state should own all the land, capital, machinery—in fact, everything which constitutes the industrial plant of a country, in order that every industry may be carried on by the state."
The essence of socialism is thus the subversion of private independence and the substitution for it of entire dependence upon the state; that is, the protection of the citizen is to be no halfway matter, but thorough-going and complete. Carried to this conclusion, the doctrine is of course palpably absurd and insane, but have the people not been actually educated toward it by the established and extending doctrine of state omnipotence and protective guardianship of the people's business interests? It is now demanded that the state shall be simply consistent, and carry out its policy. The state has already far transcended its legitimate function of protecting the rights of its citizens by the enforcement of justice in social relations. It has, in fact, neglected and half forgotten this legitimate and incumbent duty in its zeal to take care of those interests and affairs of citizens with which it has no concern, because they are parts of the liberty and responsibility of individuals in free society. Yet this meddling policy of Government is undoubtedly strengthening, notwithstanding its multiform evils. We are boastfully told that the protective system is not declining in this country, as is evinced by the fact that fourteen hundred articles of commerce are the subjects of protective taxation, so that the prices of almost every purchasable thing are dependent upon legislation, while the people acquiesce in the policy as wise and proper. But this is only so much vantage-ground for the communist who demands the enlargement of the system on the basis of its acknowledged benefits. As Prof. Fawcett justly remarks:
"Each fresh extension of the principles of centralization or of industrial protection may be regarded as directly promoting the growth of socialistic ideas. A people who from their earliest childhood are accustomed to believe that state management is better than individual effort, will not unnaturally think that, if they can place themselves in a position to control the state, they will then possess a power which will enable them to redress every grievance from which they are suffering, and to remedy everything which they may regard as unsatisfactory in their condition."
No doubt these radical communistic claims are too wild and ridiculous to be entertained by intelligent and sober minded people, but many people are neither intelligent nor sober-minded. There is of course no danger that their programme will be carried out, but grave mischief cannot fail to result from the diffusion of such poisonous and destructive notions, and we are now compelled to consider to what extent Government is not itself chargeable with having fostered and encouraged them. At any rate, the honest advocates of the protective system may be led to consider whether it is not productive of an order of evil consequences not foreseen by the politicians who have maintained it.
Prof. Joseph Henry was a religious man as well as a man of science. He wrote a brief letter to a friend just before his death, suggesting at its close that it is in the "line of theological speculation;" and being an eminent scientist, his religious views are so prized by religious people that this letter has been printed as a tract for gratuitous distribution, and is to be had at the American Tract Society, 150 Nassau Street, New York. It is an encouraging sign of the times to see devout people showing in this way an increasing appreciation of the importance of the beliefs of scientific men concerning theological matters. We heartily commend this practice, for if theological discords are ever to come to an end it must be by the substitution of scientific ideas for dogmatic creeds. The sects will ultimately harmonize just in proportion as they absorb scientific truth.
Prof. Henry did not live to revise his letter (usually a careful habit with him), and it therefore has the interest and value of a spontaneous private expression of his convictions, and it was made, he says, "without stopping to inquire whether what I have written may be logical or orthodox." With this candid carelessness about his orthodoxy we entirely sympathize, and are here interested in this unconstrained avowal of his religious views because of their relation to science.
In the true scientific spirit and method he begins by looking out upon Nature and regarding it as presenting problems that require to be solved. Largely viewed, we are in the midst of its mighty movement; we are a part of it; we emerge and quickly disappear—what view shall we take of it? on what hypothesis explain it? Among the various theories of the universe he accepts the theistic theory as the "simplest conception," and giving the most satisfactory account of things. His solution is that the order of the world is originated and directed by a Divine Being who has made man with a capacity of understanding the universe by means of science. As his own statement is important, we quote his words:
"We live in a universe of change: nothing remains the same from one moment till another, and each moment of recorded time has its separate history. We are carried on by the ever-changing events in the line of our destiny, and at the end of the year we are always at a considerable distance from the point of its beginning. How short the space between the two cardinal points of an earthly career, the point of birth and that of death; and yet what a universe of wonders are presented to us in our rapid flight through this space! How small the wisdom obtained by a single life in its passage; and how small the known when compared with the unknown by the accumulation of the millions of lives through the art of printing in hundreds of years!
"How many questions press themselves upon us in these contemplations! Whence come we? Whither are we going? What is our final destiny? What the object of our creation? What mysteries of unfathomable depth environ us on every side! But after all our speculations, and an attempt to grapple with the problem of the universe, the simplest conception which explains and connects the phenomena is that of the existence of one spiritual Being, infinite in wisdom, in power, and all divine perfections; which exists always and everywhere; which has created us with intellectual faculties sufficient in some degree to comprehend his operations as they are developed in Nature by what is called 'science.' "
Prof. Henry here begins with Nature, and deduces from its study the fundamental conception of religion—the idea of a Divine Spiritual Ruler of the universe, who has made man capable of penetrating its secrets and understanding its laws by the faculty of reason applied to scientific investigation. Nature, God, religion, and science, are thus bound together in one grand synthetic and harmonized conception. In this view Prof. Henry represented the most advanced intelligence of his time, and how advanced was his view we can best appreciate by contrasting it with other states of mind in the theological sphere.
It is well known that, in the language of a recent writer, "the men of the first Christian generation, including the apostles and the writers of the New Testament, lived in the almost daily expectation of the Lord and the end of the world." The notion of the world's coming to an end was an easy one in a state of perfect ignorance of the nature of the world. When it was supposed to be flat and small, and stationary, and there was no such idea as that of the universe, and not the slightest conception of anything like order and stability in the constitution of sublunary things, there was certainly no reason why the world should not come to an end at almost any time. It was supposed to have been made in a somewhat hurried manner, not very long ago, and it was natural to think that it might terminate at almost any hour in a similar sudden way. And, as its creation was considered as belonging to theology, its extinction, it was supposed, would come by a theological catastrophe. The idea that the world might come to an end was made possible by the ignorance of the time, and as men knew nothing about its shape, magnitude, motions, relations, and antiquity, they could not be expected to know anything in favor of its duration. No blame can therefore be attached to the primitive Christians who were in daily expectation of the end of the world.
But when we pass over a period of eighteen hundred years and reach the nineteenth century, the case is different. It is not surprising that the early traditions should have long been tenaciously held in the sphere of theology, but it certainly is a matter of some amazement that a belief in the predicted destruction of the earth as the sequel of a theological programme could have been seriously entertained so late as the middle of the present century. Yet the sudden ending of mundane affairs in accordance with Scripture predictions was not only profoundly believed by multitudes, but the exact time was assigned and extensive preparations made for the grand event. The epidemic of Millerism spread over large parts of the country not many years ago, and, although the exact calculations were discredited, revised calculations took their place, and societies of "Second Adventists" in different parts of the country have kept alive the exhilarating prospect that the earth would soon be wrapped in conflagration, and, if not reduced to nothing, that the terrestrial order would at any rate come to an end.
A Second Advent Convention has recently been held in New York, which was devoted to a modified form of this old doctrine. A church was crowded with its adherents, coming from all the religious denominations in various parts of the country, and the subject was discussed for days with great fervor and enthusiasm. Nothing was said in the proceedings about the end of the world, but they were redolent of the expectation of great supernatural events which it was supposed by many may happen at any time. A great array of theological talent was present, and many learned disquisitions were read. The conference was Pre-millenarian in sentiment, and Dr. West, a Presbyterian clergyman of Cincinnati, explained the doctrine as follows: "Christian Chiliasm, or Pre-millenarianism, is the doctrine of the personal reign of Christ one thousand years after beast, false prophet, and apostate Christendom, have been judged and perished in a common doom. It is the doctrine of a visible and external sovereignty of Christ upon earth as the outcome of history, the redeemed church of all ages rejoicing in the fullness of a resurrection-life, in the actual presence of Him who is the 'Prince of the kings of the earth'—a kingdom of outward glory established upon the ruin of the polities of all nations wide as the canopy of heaven."
Furthermore, "Pre-millennialism is a protest against the doctrine of the unbroken evolution of the kingdom of God to absolute perfection on earth apart from the visible and miraculous intervention of Christ. It is an equal protest against that vapid idealism which volatilizes the perfect kingdom into a spiritual abstraction apart from the regenesis of the earth."
What Dr. West here understands by "vapid idealism" and volatilizing the kingdom into a "spiritual abstraction" is simply a protest against the enlarged interpretation of Scripture passages in which many modern theologians are inclined to indulge. The convention went unanimously for the literal meaning of Biblical texts. "Outside of its lids" (the Bible), said Dr. Tyng, Jr. "we decline to follow our disputants." Again: "One verse in every twenty-five or about three hundred verses of the New Testament speak of this future event." Dr. Goodwin planted himself "on the self-sufficiency of the Scriptures to explain themselves." The discussion throughout was filled with theological technicalities, the import of adverbs and pronouns, the rendering of Greek and Hebrew passages, and the ransacking of Biblical books from the Pentateuch to the Apocalypse for hints, allusions, and declarations, that might be made to sustain the hypothesis to which the body was committed.
We refer to all this merely as a curious and instructive phenomenon of our times. There was but one reference, as we observe, to science in all the proceedings. A distinguished clergyman remarked: "Look at that audience; you can't get such a gathering at secular conferences. Why, at a scientific convention a paper an hour long nearly always succeeds in thinning the audience down to the specialists in the topic of which it treats." This observation seems to have exhausted the entire interest of the convocation in scientific matters. All the knowledge that has been developed in the last five hundred years regarding the order of the world was as so much idle wind to these Second Advent theologians. Prof. Henry, as we have seen, began his theology with the consideration of Nature; this conference neither began with Nature nor ended with it, nor made any more reference to it than as if it had been composed of disembodied beings who had never heard of natural things. Though their theories were maintained as taking effect upon human life and the earthly destiny of humanity, there was not a reference to the natural world as being in its existing order an embodiment of Divine wisdom, or entitled to the slightest serious consideration. In fact, the whole scheme of doctrine put forth was impliedly based upon the old assumption that Nature belongs to Satan, and deserves destruction as the embodiment of all sin. Dr. Brookes, of St. Louis, discussed the doctrine of the convention in relation to the fall of Adam and the universal curse that it entailed, saying, "From that day to this the curse has smitten the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the king and the peasant, the philosopher and the savage alike, and diffused its virulent poison through the whole system of Nature."
It is clear that a great deal is yet to be done before such enlightened opinions as those of Prof. Henry become accepted and assimilated in the religious world; and such conventions as this of the Second Adventists are extremely useful as indicating the amount of conscientious ignorance that has yet to be overcome before the scientific truths of Nature are even so much as recognized.
The Princess Louisa received an address from a deputation of the Ladies' Educational Association of Montreal, and they got from her a very sensible reply. But what will the operators of our fashionable girls' schools and of our female colleges and normal schools say to the closing observation of this royal and court-bred lady, which was as follows: "May I venture to suggest the importance of giving special attention to the subject of domestic economy, which properly lies at the root of the highest life of every true woman?" This is a momentous truth; none the more true, of course, because uttered by a princess, but perhaps some will be induced to reflect upon it on account of the distinguished source from which it comes. For if what the princess here says is correct, our schools for the education of women are very far from what they should be. Domestic economy, in its full significance as a foundation of the highest life of woman, happens to be just the one particular thing which our female boarding-schools, colleges, and normal schools systematically avoid. They learn languages, and history, and algebra, and music, and many other fashionable things, but the science of domestic life and the art of home-making find no place in the feminine scheme of studies. Here and there a little attention is paid to it, but it nowhere has the rank and importance which is rightfully its due, and which this most sensible princess claims for it.
The term "domestic economy" has been hitherto used in so narrow and misleading a sense that there is considerable prejudice in regard to it. Its common implication is a mere improved mechanical housekeeping, or domestic drudgery made methodical, with a chief view to economy in home expenditures. The term has participated in the vulgarity that attaches to the menial and servile associations of the kitchen, so that little books upon domestic economy are thought the proper things to put into the hands of cooks and hireling housekeepers. But domestic economy, as something "which properly lies at the root of the highest life of every true woman," is a very different thing, implying culture and intelligence in the whole circle of home duties and responsibilities, and the consequent renovation and elevation of the domestic sphere. This view happily begins to be more clearly and widely appreciated. We have just read with great interest a lecture on scientific housekeeping delivered by Mrs. Arthur Bate before the Popular Science Society at Milwaukee College, which explains in an admirable way how many new subjects and questions there are upon which women require to be trained in order to make them competent and skillful administrators of home affairs. Mrs. Bate shows conclusively that science has exactly the same office to perform in guiding domestic art that it has had to perform in giving efficiency to all the other arts, and that it will confer the same interest and dignity upon household affairs that it has already conferred upon other departments of activity. She well observes that in gaining the knowledge necessary to make the home a sanitarium—the house of health—educated housekeepers would do more to emancipate the world from fleshly ills than doctors have ever done or ever can do.
Mrs. Bate makes an important point in showing that the ignorance of women is a fatal hindrance to the introduction of many improvements by which domestic operations could be greatly facilitated, if only housekeepers knew enough to make them available. An illustration of this is just now at hand. The use of gas-stoves for cooking is one of the most important ameliorations that have been conferred upon the kitchen in a long time; but, as that realm is given over to tradition and blind habit, but little advantage has been taken of the improvement. Gas-stock holders are losing their sleep for fear Edison is going to destroy their business, but, if the benefits to be gained by the consumption of gas in cooking were generally understood, there would be but little occasion to fear from a diminished consumption of the article. A lady trained in the South Kensington Cooking-School, and who has taught in the Culinary College of Edinburgh, has recently come to this country and given a course of demonstrative lessons in cookery in New York. Her mode of working has been a sort of new revelation to the large class of ladies which has attended her instructions. Cooking has hitherto been associated with dingy kitchens and fiery ranges that evoked the free perspiration of the attendant; but Miss Dods uses a gas-stove, and does her work so neatly that it might be carried on in a parlor. In the dozen lessons she gave, scores of dishes of all kinds were prepared rapidly by the use of gas, and that they were well made was sufficiently evinced by the eagerness of the ladies to purchase them at the close of each lecture. To a curious inquirer she said, that in her practical demonstrations she had cooked by gas alone for years in preparing hundreds of dishes of a great variety in teaching. This is but one example, of which many might be cited, showing how people suffer in their domestic life because women are not properly instructed in the principles of practical household art, and in the resources that might be commanded for its improvement.
- Reprinted in The Popular Science Monthly Supplement for December.